Yesterday, we looked at teams who surprised and defied expectations one way or another in October. Today, we’ll be looking at the same but for players who stood out last month, good or bad. Let’s dive in and review some individual standouts from October.
Tied for the league lead in goals, Alex DeBrincat had a fantastic first month with his hometown team, the Detroit Red Wings. He totaled nine goals and 13 points in 10 games and was instrumental in helping the team enter November with a 6-3-1 record.
DeBrincat is shooting 28.1 percent, so his goal-scoring will regress (it appears it’s already started), but there’s no denying he’s a great fit for the Red Wings. He’s fit in alongside Dylan Larkin and has given the team the scoring punch they needed on the wing heading into the season.
But even with DeBrincat coming back to Earth, he’s still a good bet for a minimum of 30 goals and even for 40. We’ll see if he alone will be enough to help carry the Red Wings to the playoffs, but there’s no doubt general manager Steve Yzerman made the correct call trading for DeBrincat this summer.
Tied with DeBrincat for the league lead in goals, Frank Vatrano has gotten off to quite the start for the Anaheim Ducks, who look miles better to begin 2023-24 compared to a season ago.
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Vatrano has nine goals in nine games, namely due to two hat tricks he scored in the first month. I don’t think anyone expects him to total 82 goals, but he’s topped 20-plus goals two times in his career.
Vatrano is also playing alongside some skill — Ryan Strome and Mason MacTavish are his linemates — for now. There’s probably a good chance he can get close to 20 goals or above if those are his most common linemates this season, even if what he’s doing now isn’t sustainable.
Reports of Artemi Panarin’s demise proved to be false. Sure, he may be approaching his mid-30s, but he’s still at the top of his game. He finished October with 15 points in nine games — putting him on pace to total 136 points if he plays in all 82 games.
The New York Rangers have struggled to score at five-on-five, but that hasn’t been the case for Panarin. He’s averaged 2.88 points per 60 minutes, comfortably making him the team’s most efficient scorer at that game state.
What’s notable about Panarin’s start to the season is that he’s shooting the puck much more often than in 2022-23. He averaged 2.48 shots on goal per game last season but is averaging 3.66 so far. His five goals in nine games put him on pace for 46. He’s never been a big-time goal scorer, but it seems he could be heading for a career season in that regard.
Let’s move on from forwards for a second and talk about a defenseman. Quinn Hughes isn’t the only Hughes brother we’ll mention in this post, but he’s off to a terrific start for the Vancouver Canucks. He finished October with three goals and 11 points in nine games — putting him on pace for 27 goals and 100 points.
Erik Karlsson was the first defenseman in just over three decades to total 100 points, so I don’t think Hughes will hit that mark. But he’s making it known he’s one of the best defensemen in the league.
What stands out about Hughes’ start is that he’s firing nearly three shots on goal a game and is averaging 1.91 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five. Those numbers are what you’d expect from a first-line winger, not a defenseman. He may not hit 100 points, but it sure appears it’ll be a career year for Hughes.
We just talked about one Hughes, so why not another? Jack Hughes ended October with some absurd numbers, finishing with 18 points in eight games, making him the NHL’s leading scorer and the first star of the month. That puts him on pace to finish with 184.5 points, and while that’s highly, highly unlikely, 100 points seem like a good bet.
If Hughes does crack 100 points, he’d become the first New Jersey Devils skater to do so in their 40-plus-year history. There’s no reason to think he can’t do it, either. The Devils’ power play looks like one of the best in the league, even if it’s due to regress. And Tyler Toffoli, who the Devils acquired this summer, has been the perfect linemate.
There’s still another level to Hughes’ game, too, at least at five-on-five. He’s only shooting 6.25 percent at that game state and is creating plenty of quality chances. So even when his power-play production regresses, he may be in line for a jump in five-on-five scoring.
Nazem Kadri & Jonathan Hubderdeau
If the Flames were to rebound from a disappointing 2022-23 season, Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Huberdeau would have to lead the way. At least to start this season, it doesn’t appear that will be the case.
Huberdeau ended October with five points in nine games, and there’s legitimate reason to be concerned with his play. He’s averaging less than two shots on goal per game, and he has an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 45.27 percent. This is the first year of an eight-year extension he signed last offseason, and if this is the Huberdeau the Flames will be getting moving forward, that’s a problem.
Kadri hasn’t fared much better, either. In fact, he’s struggled even more, finishing October with just two points in nine games. His xG% of 46.66 percent last month is only slightly better than Huberdeau’s, another red flag.
Kadri is in the second year of a seven-year free-agent deal he signed in the summer of 2022. The Flames need both players to get going, or they may have to consider wholesale changes to their roster at the trade deadline.
The Canucks have plenty invested in Miller, who signed a seven-year extension a year ago worth $56 million. It’s only the first year of that extension, but the (very) early returns have been positive. He finished October with 13 points in nine games — putting him on pace for 118 points over 82 games.
Miller has come close to touching 100 points, but he hasn’t done so to this point in his career. One hundred eighteen points is a stretch, and his 23.8 shooting percentage suggests he will cool off at some point. But for now, Miller has been what the Canucks need as they try to make it back to the playoffs.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi was a highly-touted prospect after going third overall to the Montreal Canadiens in the 2018 draft. It didn’t work out in Montreal, which is why the Canadiens walked away from an offer sheet that he signed with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2021.
Kotkaniemi’s first two years in Carolina were average, but he did show increased production and stout defensive play. Now entering his third season with the Hurricanes, he finished October at a point-per-game pace, with 10 points in 10 games.
Is this the sign of a true breakout for Kotkaniemi? Time will tell, but his on-ice metrics are encouraging. The Hurricanes won’t ask him to play first-line minutes, either, and he’s playing with some skill alongside him in Michael Bunting and Teuvo Teravainen. It looks like he may finally be in a position to succeed.
After taking another step forward in his sophomore campaign in 2022-23, Dawson Mercer has gotten off to a very slow start. The expectation was he’d take another step forward for the Devils coming off a 27-goal, 56-point season.
But that may not be the case based on his October, as he finished with no points in eight games. His underlying numbers were not encouraging, either, as his shot and chance generation were some of the worst among Devils skaters.
Eight games is a small sample size, and there’s plenty of time for Mercer to figure it out. But the Devils will need his depth scoring at some point. He hasn’t looked like the same player he was in his first two seasons, and that’s at least mildly concerning to start 2023-24.
Jeremy Swayman & Linus Ullmark
I’m not sure why I’m surprised Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman are once again dominating for the Boston Bruins, but here we are. Most people (myself included) expected the Bruins to take a step back this season. That didn’t necessarily mean missing the playoffs. It just meant not finishing with 135 points again.
They probably won’t finish with 135 points again, but this Bruins team looks better than expected. A significant reason for that has been Ullmark and Swayman, who finished October with .939 and .957 save percentages, respectively.
Swayman will come down to Earth from a .957 SV%, but Ullmark won the Vezina Trophy by posting a .938 SV% a season ago. At the very least, the Bruins’ goaltending will keep them in the conversation for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
Shayne Gostisbehere is not Quinn Hughes, but he’s quietly gotten off to a great start. He ended October with nine points in 10 games, putting him on pace for a career-high 74 points this season.
Gostisbehere has always produced from the back end, so while he probably won’t end the season with 74 points, the Red Wings should expect somewhere close to 50 points from him. He might be a bit of a power-play merchant, but that could help the Red Wings stay competitive in what’s looking like a tough Atlantic Division once again.
It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Trevor Zegras is off to a slow start after missing almost all of training camp due to a contract holdout. But he did finish October with only two points in nine games, well below what most expect out of the highly skilled forward.
The good news is that Zegras probably won’t stay off the scoresheet forever. He shot just 3.7 percent in October, an unsustainably low shooting percentage. His five-on-five metrics look solid, too, so he’ll likely pick it up at some point. But there’s no doubt that missing camp and the preseason has probably been a factor in his slow start.
It’s too early to get carried away about an individual’s good or bad performance. But some players have set themselves up better than others after impressive Octobers. That should make for some exciting scoring races in 2023-24.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick