The Nashville Predators have lacked dynamism at the forward position for years, but they appear to have bolstered the group significantly in that department this offseason.
One move was obvious, adding James Neal in a trade for Patric Hornqvist. Maybe Neal won't score 40 times without Evgeni Malkin feeding him the puck, but he's still scoring plenty on Nashville's top line.
The other "addition" came from within. Filip Forsberg had a goal and five points in 13 games last season with Nashville, at times looking like a tantalizing prospect and others looking like a guy not ready for the NHL. If it weren't for Vladimir Tarasenko, Forsberg might be the breakout star of the 2014-15 season to date.
Forsberg leads all rookies with seven goals and 17 points, and it would be hard to not call him the leader in the Calder Trophy race, though Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad has been even better than advertised and deserves to be on the short list.
Expected to be one of the top picks in the 2012 NHL Draft, Forsberg slipped (a little) to No. 11 for the Washington Capitals. Drafted to be a center, the Capitals reportedly soured on Forsberg before trading him to the Predators in what currently looks like one of the more ill-fated transactions of this century.
It is possible Forsberg will not be able to make the transition to center, but like another player competing for the Calder, Los Angeles Kings forward Tanner Pearson, previous concerns about his skating ability appear to have either been off-base or the young players deserve a lot of praise for correcting the problem. Forsberg's hands and hockey smarts certainly look like potential world-class assets.
His breakout only solidifies a developing theme about the 2012 draft class. It could go down as one of the best ever for European-trained talents. Nail Yakupov was the No. 1 pick, and he looks like a much-improved player in his third season for the Edmonton Oilers. The Montreal Canadiens' Alex Galchenyuk won't technically count with this group, but he did spend most of childhood in Europe and didn't move back to the United States until he was 15. He looks like a future superstar.
Olli Maatta, Tomas Hertl and Frederik Andersen had fantastic rookie seasons last year, while Forsberg, Hampus Lindholm and Zemgus Girgensons could all be great players as well. The accompanying table takes a look at how the European kids (skaters, sorry Freddie) from the Class of 2012 are performing in 2014-15.
|N. Yakupov, EDM
|A. Galchenyuk, MTL*
|H. Lindholm, ANA
|F. Forsberg, NAS
|Z. Girgensons, BUF
|T. Hertl, SJS
|O. Maatta, PIT
|Key: TOI/GP = average time on ice per game; CF% = Corsi for percentage; CF%rel = Corsi for percentage relative to team average
Don't forget this draft class also includes maybe the best forward and goaltender prospects not currently in the NHL (Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Vasilevskiy) and the obvious caveat that there will almost certainly be a late-bloomer or three from the later rounds who are currently playing across the pond as well.
DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, it focuses more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information.
1. St. Louis Blues (10-4-1)
It is not just the Vladimir Tarasenko Show in St. Louis, though the dynamic Russian is part of why Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz are second and third on the team in scoring. It's the hottest line in the NHL, and has helped the Blues overcome injuries and a slight dip in production from the team's typical top-line guys David Backes and Alexander Steen, who have combined for one less goal and one less point than Tarasenko. Though not eligible for the Calder Trophy because of his age, Lehtera would be second in the League in rookie scoring if he were.
MUST READ: If you live in St. Louis, Denver, Pittsburgh or New York City, the much-anticipated and well-reviewed documentary "Red Army" is playing in your city this weekend (the official U.S. release date is in January). Charles McGrath and Jeff Z. Klein wrote about the film for the New York Times.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (10-3-1)
Even after getting blown out by the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the Penguins have a League-best plus-23 goal differential. If the power play were operating at 28.8 percent (still tops in the NHL) and if goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was stopping 91.8 percent of shots instead of 92.4 (which would still tie his best rate since 2007-08), Pittsburgh's goal differential … would still be second in the NHL at plus-15. The power play (certainly) and Fleury (probably) are likely to regress, but a mostly healthy Penguins team remains firmly among the Stanley Cup contenders.
MUST READ: Smriti Sinha writes about ice hockey in the Himalayan Mountains (be sure to check out the videos too) for Vice Sports.
3. Anaheim Ducks (11-3-3)
A healthy Ryan Kesler might really be the difference for the Ducks, especially if he authors a few games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs like the one he had Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Kings. Kesler basically lost two seasons of optimal effectiveness from trying to play through injuries during the 2011 playoffs, but did score 25 goals last season and looks a lot more like the pre-2012 version in 2014-15. Anaheim has had one player put up 20 goals and 60 points that didn't predominantly play on the top line since winning the Cup in 2007, and that was Teemu Selanne (twice, in 2010-11 and 2011-12).
MUST READ: Matt Eaken of Anaheim Calling breaks down Anaheim's ability to score off the cycle, and suggests focusing on trying to do it less.
4. Chicago Blackhawks (9-6-1)
Four teams have had a Fenwick-for percentage of better than 56 percent in the past seven seasons. Three of them won the Stanley Cup (Detroit in 2008, Chicago in 2010, Los Angeles in 2014) and the fourth lost Game 7 of the Cup Final on home ice (Detroit in 2009). The Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild are currently collecting the non-blocked shot attempts at a rate of better than 56 percent. If that were to hold for the entire season, one of them would become the first plus-56 percent Fenwick team to miss the Cup Final since the Red Wings did so in 2006 and 2007.
MUST READ: Sam Hitchcock of Intelligent Hockey writes about how the stretch pass, of which Chicago is one of the best in the NHL at deploying, can turn defense into offense in a hurry.
5. Los Angeles Kings (8-4-4)
The Kings looked great against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, but otherwise it is now six losses in eight games and only scant traces of the dominant puck possession team they have been for the previous three seasons.
Some of it is undoubtedly motivation related after three consecutive deep playoff runs. Some of it also is very likely health-related from the residual effect of said postseason adventures. Some of it has been player availability, which is part health and part Slava Voynov's suspension.
While Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik have combined to miss 11 games, the rest of the forward corps has remained pretty much intact. Goalies Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones certainly haven't been the problem.
The defense corps, which also lost Willie Mitchell after he signed with the Florida Panthers in the offseason, is where the deficiencies have been most noticeable. The accompanying table takes a lot at how the minutes were divided up last season among the top-seven defensemen compared to 2014-15.
|Key: TOI/GP = average time on ice per game; CF% = Corsi for percentage at even strength; QoT = quality of teammates at even strength; ZS% = percentage of non-neutral zone starts in the offensive end
Three guys are playing in excess of two-and-a-half minutes more than they did last season. To this point, it hasn't led to the type of results expected in Los Angeles.
MUST READ: Andrew Leafman of Jewels From The Crown writes about the Kings' troubling possession numbers to this point.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning (11-3-2)
The Lightning might be the best team in the Eastern Conference, but it would be hard to say they are without Victor Hedman. The second-year guys like Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Ben Bishop (second year as a No. 1 goaltender) have all avoided taking a step back, and Jonathan Drouin has eight points in 11 games with probably more to give as he gets more adjusted to the new level.
MUST READ: Clare Austin of Puckology writes about evaluating goaltenders based on shots faced by areas on the ice.
7. Minnesota Wild (7-7-0)
Zach Parise has missed the past 10 periods, and the Wild have scored three goals in that span. Minnesota has still managed to control at least 54.3 percent of the shot attempts at even strength in the past four games, which have all been losses. The fewest power-play goals scored in a full season since 2005 is 27, which the Florida Panthers had in 2013-14. The next fewest is 32. Minnesota is on pace for 11. The Wild will not score fewer than 27 power-play goals, or less than 32 for that matter.
MUST READ: Tony Wiseau of Hockey Wilderness writes about what a potential Mikael Granlund contract extension might look like.
8. Nashville Predators (10-3-2)
While Forsberg offers an exciting present and future up front, Nashville remains one of the teams best set up for success on the back end. The Predators have four players among their top-five defensemen yet to celebrate their 25th birthdays. Those four have combined to play 60 games (each has appeared in all 15 for Nashville). That's the most U-25 games played for a team to this point in the season. Only one other team, the Florida Panthers, has four defensemen who will not be 25 years old on Feb. 1 that have played at least 12 games this season.
MUST READ: Jeremy Sargent of On The Forecheck writes about Forsberg. (Side note: Prince Filip might be the perfect nickname for Forsberg, who is very polite, composed and affable during media interviews. Prince-like, even.)
9. Boston Bruins (10-7-0)
Phil Kessel scored two goals Wednesday against the Bruins. One came with Torey Krug and Zach Trotman on the ice; the other with Joe Morrow and Adam McQuaid. This is life without Zdeno Chara. Not only can Claude Julien not put his world-class defenseman on the ice against a player like Kessel, but away from TD Garden opposing coaches have an easier time avoiding Dougie Hamilton and Dennis Seidenberg as well. Put Chara and David Krejci back in this lineup, and they might be a top-two or three team, but top-five is certainly still in play.
MUST READ: Arik Parnass writes for AP Hockey that while playing the rested goalie in back-to-back games might work out for most teams, some (like the Bruins) should still consider going with their ace in important situations.
10. Vancouver Canucks (12-5-0)
The Canucks were considered a top-heavy team and traded away their best player whose last name isn't Sedin in the offseason. One of the best developments for any team this season has been Vancouver's ability to find offense beyond the NHL's most prolific twins. Six forwards have at least four goals and another three have each scored three. The only team in the Western Conference with more four-goal scorers is the Calgary Flames, and three of their players who have done so are defensemen.
MUST READ: Thomas Drance writes that while the Canucks had a successful California road trip with four points in three games, they are going to have to play better to prove they belong in the same class as the Golden State trio.
11. Detroit Red Wings (7-3-5)
The Red Wings are 0-3 in the shootout, but 7-3-2 in games that end in 65 minutes or less is a 109-point pace. Detroit has a great opportunity to continue racking up points in the near future as well. After a game Friday against the Blackhawks, 19 of the next 20 are against teams not ranked above them on this list. None of the 20 are against the top nine.
MUST READ: Sean McIndoe of Grantland explores the Hall of Fame resume for ex- and maybe still future-Red Wings forward Daniel Alfredsson.
12. New York Islanders (10-5-0)
The Islanders have six players with a Corsi-for percentage of better than 55 percent. None of them were regulars for New York last season. Four were added during the offseason (Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolay Kulemin, Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk) and two (Ryan Strome and Anders Lee) spent less than half of 2013-14 at the NHL level.
MUST READ: Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post writes about what the Islanders learned during a successful trip to the Western side of the continent.
13. San Jose Sharks (8-7-2)
It is far too early to panic, but a not-so-little bit of concern about how the Sharks have started this season is certainly defensible. They are a middle-of-the-pack team in Corsi-for percentage and a bottom-third team in Fenwick-for percentage at even strength. The top guys are producing but there has been inconsistent play, particularly against teams considered to be inferior. The bottom of the roster remains a problem, and the youth movement has tapered off after a strong start.
MUST READ: Craig Custance of ESPN.com writes about how Defending the Blue Line helps military families with the costs of playing hockey.
14. Montreal Canadiens (11-4-1)
The Canadiens were a confusing team at times last season with concerning underlying statistics, then they made a couple of moves before the NHL Trade Deadline and improved. The concerning numbers are back, but the roster looks better and the results to this point are there. Confusing they still remain, it would seem.
MUST READ: Jack Han of Eyes On The Prize writes about a couple of areas the Canadiens need to improve in.
15. Washington Capitals (7-5-3)
Hey look, the goaltender with a pretty strong track record started to play closer to expectations and the offense was strong enough against an inferior team and suddenly a previously unlucky team is now in the midst of a three-game winning streak with a pretty manageable schedule between now and Christmas.
MUST READ: Adam Stringham and Jon Press of Japers' Rink dive into what has really been ailing the Capitals when they try to protect a lead.
16. Winnipeg Jets (8-6-2)
When the Jets have a low PDO, it is almost always because of Ondrej Pavelec's save percentage. He is in the midst of a strong six-game run, though it should be noted four of his previous eight starts were substandard. The problem at this point has been a League-worst 4.72 percent shooting percentage at even strength. The Jets have always been able to score, and the goals will come in the near future. How much of this possible improvement Pavelec can retain will determine if the Jets can continue to compete in the brutal Central Division.
MUST READ: Garret Hohl of Arctic Ice Hockey writes about how much can be read into Pavelec's current form.