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Friday Four: Devils, Kings among early-season surprises

NHL Network's Kevin Weekes also discusses Maple Leafs, impressive rookies

by Kevin Weekes @KevinWeekes / NHL Network Analyst

Each Friday throughout the season Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.

 

New Jersey Devils

The Devils have been perhaps the biggest surprise in the NHL this season. They have seven new players including center Nico Hischier, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, who scored his first two NHL goals in a 5-4 overtime win at the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. Defenseman Will Butcher has nine assists through seven games, and forward Jesper Bratt, a sixth-round pick (No, 162) in the 2016 draft, has three goals and six points. Not only did Bratt make the team out of camp, but he's been an impact player. Forward Marcus Johansson, acquired in a trade with the Washington Capitals, has also added to the offense.

New Jersey is 6-1-0 with a plus-10 goal differential. Cory Schneider was injured on Thursday, but he's been a different, more confident goalie this season. Keith Kinkaid, who came on in relief and got the win against Ottawa, has been good as well. I think bringing in Roland Melanson as goalie coach was a really wise move by general manager Ray Shero. Melanson has worked with Schneider before and they had great results. New Jersey moves the puck better and is faster. Overall, the Devils are a move entertaining team to watch this season.

Video: NJD@OTT: Hischier pots first two NHL goals 1:51 apart

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs are 6-1-0 and lead the League in goal differential (plus-12). They are still learning how to defend but are making strides in that area. Auston Matthews is a very unique center. The way he shoots the puck and the amount of shots he generates from a five-foot radius of the net is impressive. William Nylander handles the puck as well as any center in the League. They have balanced scoring with forwards Nazem Kadri, Zach Hyman, Connor Brown and James van Riemsdyk.

It was a big week for them, shutting out the Washington Capitals 2-0 on Tuesday and then coming back with a 6-3 win against the Detroit Red Wings the next night. Patrick Marleau, 38, played in his 1,500th NHL game and already has three goals. They are going to be a tough team to beat in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.

 

Los Angeles Kings

Out West, it's the Kings who are making noise. After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in three seasons, they've come out on fire. Their 5-0-1 start is the best in franchise history. Goaltender Jonathan Quick is healthy and playing like Jonathan Quick again. Adrian Kempe, who had two goals in 25 games last season, had a hat trick with three goals in the third period of a 5-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday. In that same game, Mike Cammalleri had a four-point night after getting scratched the previous two games.

Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown look invigorated. The Kings are a balanced team and a little bit faster with some of the younger players in their lineup, but it is hard to earn your space against them. The loss of center Jeff Carter, who is out indefinitely with a leg injury, will hurt them, but he didn't have any goals in six games after leading them in scoring last season.

Video: MTL@LAK: Quick turns away Byron's backhander

 

Rookies coming up big

We're two weeks into the season and have already seen rookies do some big things. We already mentioned Hischier getting his first two goals and his teammate Butcher, who leads rookies in scoring. Center Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders also scored his first NHL goal against the New York Rangers and defenseman Mikhail Sergachev of the Tampa Bay Lightning got his first two goals against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. Also, forward Clayton Keller scored twice for the Arizona Coyotes.

We can't forget forwards Alex Tuch and Vadim Shipachyov scoring their first NHL goals for the Vegas Golden Knights earlier this week and goaltender Malcolm Subban stepping in for the injured Marc-Andre Fleury and getting his first two NHL wins.

 

Honorable mention

It's been a tough start for the Rangers; huge expectations and very slow out of the gate with one win in eight games. The biggest challenge for me is that they are giving up way too much in the middle of the ice. I would also say they aren't getting that much help in front of Henrik Lundqvist and expect him to be all-world. He expects that of himself, but he needs help. When they are on their game, they play fast, which they haven't done for most of the season.

Hats off to Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov for scoring a goal in seven straight games to start the season. The Lightning forward didn't score Thursday in a 2-0 win against the Blue Jackets, but he had an assist on each of Sergachev's goals and leads the NHL with 14 points.

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