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Twelve surprises in first quarter of 2015-16 season

by Brian Compton

The most exciting part of any season is the unexpected twists and turns.

Some teams that were projected to have success inexplicably hit roadblocks. Others that were expected to struggle scratch and claw to remain competitive.

And then there are the individual struggles and success stories. Young players work their way into the spotlight, while some veterans can't seem to get going.

Here are the 12 biggest surprises in the season's first quarter, in no particular order:

Columbus Blue Jackets -- A popular pick to win the Metropolitan Division prior to the start of the season, the Blue Jackets got off to a rotten start and fired coach Todd Richards on Oct. 21 after losing their first seven games, all in regulation. Richards was replaced by the fiery John Tortorella and Columbus has improved, going 8-7-0 since the coaching change.

But if the Blue Jackets are going to somehow get back in the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they're going to need more from their captain. Nick Foligno, who had 31 goals last season, has one goal in 22 games.

John Klingberg -- The Dallas Stars are off to a phenomenal start (17-4-0) and Klingberg, a 23-year-old defenseman, has much to do with it. He has thrived in his second season and leads all NHL defensemen with 23 points (four goals, 19 assists) in 21 games. He had 40 points in 65 games last season.

Jakub Voracek -- After leading the Philadelphia Flyers last season with 81 points (22 goals, 59 assists), Voracek was rewarded with an eight-year, $66 million contract July 30 with the expectation that he would build on a spectacular season.

But Voracek has struggled mightily. He went the first 16 games of the season without a goal. His inability to produce has hindered the Flyers, who have won six games and are averaging a League-low 1.70 goals per game.

Anaheim Ducks -- Projected by many as the favorite to reach the Stanley Cup Final from the Western Conference this season, the Ducks have struggled. They are fifth in the Pacific Division, mainly because of an inability to generate offense. Corey Perry leads the Ducks with five goals in 21 games; Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler have one goal each.

Mats Zuccarello -- The New York Rangers forward was the victim of a frightening injury during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he was struck in the head by a slap shot from teammate Ryan McDonagh. Zuccarello didn't speak for four days because of a brain contusion, bleeding on his brain and a hairline fracture of his skull. There was great concern about him returning to a normal life, let alone ever playing again.

But Zuccarello was a full participant in training camp and has been outstanding for the Rangers; he leads them in goals (10), assists (11) and points (21).

Arizona Coyotes -- If the Coyotes were supposed to be a bottom-five team in the NHL this season, they didn't get the memo. Led by captain Shane Doan, young forwards Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, and No. 1 defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the Coyotes are finding ways to stay in the playoff race. More consistency from starting goalie Mike Smith will be key as the season progresses.

Pittsburgh Penguins -- Remember when the acquisition of right wing Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer was going to turn the Penguins into an offensive machine? The Penguins have 44 goals in 20 games and Kessel, a five-time 30-goal scorer, is tied for the Penguins lead with seven goals.

But Kessel isn't the only one who isn't reaching his projections; captain Sidney Crosby has three goals and center Evgeni Malkin has seven. Defenseman Kris Letang, known for his ability to contribute offensively, has one goal.

Connor McDavid
Center - EDM
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 12
SOG: 24 | +/-: -4

Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl -- McDavid, the No. 1 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, performed as advertised for the Edmonton Oilers with 12 points in 13 games before fracturing his collarbone Nov. 3. But Draisaitl, the third player selected in 2014, has been dynamite in McDavid's absence; he has a five-game point streak, which includes three multipoint games.

Travis Hamonic -- A heart-and-soul defenseman for the New York Islanders, Hamonic confirmed last week he asked general manager Garth Snow for a trade prior to the start of the season because of personal reasons.

Hamonic has four years remaining on a contract that has an average annual value of just over $3.8 million, according to, and averages 23:23 of ice time per game. Hamonic could have to wait until the 2016 NHL Draft before Snow can accommodate him.

Tampa Bay Lightning -- The 2014-15 Eastern Conference champions have been plagued by inconsistency this season. The Lightning simply aren't scoring enough goals to win games; center Tyler Johnson, who was a contender to win the Conn Smythe Trophy last spring after leading Tampa Bay with 23 points in 26 playoff games, has three goals in 19 games this season.

The Lightning also need more from the back end. Jason Garrison is their only defenseman who has more than one goal; he has two.

Mike Condon -- An undrafted goalie out of Princeton University, the Montreal Canadiens relied on Condon, 25, in a big way after losing Carey Price for three weeks because of a lower-body injury. Condon's play helped the Canadiens stay atop the Atlantic Division.

In 11 games this season Condon is 7-2-2 with a 2.23 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. Montreal was 5-2-2 in Price's absence.

San Jose Sharks -- Some may have thought the Sharks were going to start rebuilding when former coach Todd McLellan and the franchise agreed to mutually part ways after last season. But new coach Peter DeBoer has the Sharks playing hard and winning; they swept their just-ended six-game road trip and sit atop the Pacific Division with 26 points. Starting goalie Martin Jones has won 11 of 17 games, leads the League with three shutouts and has a 2.02 GAA and .929 save percentage.


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