The NHL season may be on hold, but there were some major surprises that can not be forgotten. Here are the five teams that were a positive surprise.
The start of every NHL season is a clean slate and a chance to start fresh. Expectations are set and everyone has their own opinions of who the real contenders are. However, even if predictions are based on stats and science, hockey has a way of throwing people off the scent.
These five teams have exceeded everyone’s expectations and have had surprisingly strong performances.
5. New York Rangers
In 2018, the New York Rangers released a letter to their fans outlining their plan for a rebuild. They said that fan favourites would have to leave the door in order for them to build a Stanley Cup contender and they kept their promises. Now, it seems like the rebuild is wrapping up much faster than intended.
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Mika Zibanejad has finally established himself as a number one center and was in the Hart Trophy race before the season went on pause. The Rangers now have a plethora of promising young goaltenders to backstop their team into a new era and the acquisition of Artemi Panarin has worked wonders. The Rangers have undergone one of the most successful and efficient rebuilds the league has seen and are reaping the rewards.
4. Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers have received a lot of criticism as they have only made it to the playoffs once since they drafted Connor McDavid back in 2015. Management was under fire for failing to provide their star center with legitimate support and it seemed like the 2019-2020 season was going to be no different.
Then in came Ken Holland and the Oilers seemed to slowly right themselves. Dave Tippett became the new head coach and Leon Draisaitl found yet another gear in his play. Trading away Milan Lucic for James Neal gave the Oilers two solid lines and Mike Smith had a great season.
Edmonton saw major improvements in their offensive categories, going from 2.8 goals a game in 2018-19 to 3.1 this season. Their power play now leads the league (29.5%) beating out juggernauts like the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. This team is finally starting to become the powerhouse that they were meant to be when they drafted McDavid five years ago.
3. Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks are in the middle of a rebuild of their own but their incredible drafting skills have sped up the process tenfold. In the blink of an eye, the Canucks now have a legitimate core of skilled young players that they can build their next dynasty around.
Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, the list of talent goes on. However, they were also lucky to take advantage of a weak Pacific Division. This gives their young stars a taste of what competitive hockey is like and will only help build mental toughness for the future.
Jacob Markstrom did wonders in the net before his injury and the Canucks’s 24.2% success rate on the power play is fourth-best in the league. The talent that Vancouver has been able to acquire through the draft totally sped up their rebuild and now they’re ready to dance again.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets
Jarmo Kekalainen went all in for the playoffs last year. He traded for all the big fish and the team went the furthest it has ever gone in its 19-season history. However, when the summer came, all the big names left town and it seemed like a rebuild was imminent. Not every day do you lose your star goal-scorer and goaltender and come out a better team.
The Columbus Blue Jackets were like the Vegas Golden Knights during their inaugural season. Everyone expected nothing from them and the players and coaches received this as a challenge. John Tortorella has done wonders with this team and deserves a ton of credit for rejuvenating the Blue Jackets.
What is the most impressive thing about this Columbus team is the fact that they also had to fight injuries. They are second only to the Pittsburgh Penguins in man-games lost to injury and even lost their star goaltender, Joonas Korpisalo.
When Korpisalo went down, Elvis Merzlinkins came in and continued right where his partner left off. The Blue Jackets have had a “next man up” mentality and it has been very impressive to watch them fight through everything and remain relevant in the playoff race.
1. Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers were one of the best teams in the NHL and before the season break, they were just one point back from the Washington Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division. Their nine-game winning streak propelled them up the standings and they were the hottest team in the league.
This was Carter Hart‘s first completely full season of his NHL career and he passed with flying colours. The team has been playing full 60-minute games and is a good example of the type of hockey style that we will see in the future. A possession-oriented game in which every battle along the boards is critical and hard-fought. Head coach Alain Vigneault has done a great job with this group and they have done everything they can to make Hart’s life as easy as possible.
Hart has played 43 games but has just faced 1100 shots, the 23rd most among NHL goaltenders. The Flyers have run a very tight ship defensively which gives both Hart and Brian Elliott a much easier time in the crease.
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At the beginning of the season, no one thought that the Flyers would be fighting the Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan and yet here we are. What a wonderful surprise for Philadelphia fans.