Inside The Box: The best early standout performers in the NHL so far

Arizona Coyotes right wing Phil Kessel (81). Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Arizona Coyotes right wing Phil Kessel (81). Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Inside The Box is Puck Prose’s brand new daily bulletin, covering all the latest news in the NHL and highlighting the content you need in your lives.

We’re less than a week into the 2020-21 NHL Season but already we’ve seen a plethora of eye-catching performances across the league, with certain players already putting their teams on their backs and carrying them.

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Of course, we’re yet to see the Dallas Stars who had their season delayed due to a COVID-19 outbreak, while the Florida Panthers only played their first game of the season on Sunday, beating the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks 5-2. However, we’ve seen well over 20 games in the opening few days and it has been a wild start to 2020-21 so far.

We’ve also witnessed some real stellar eye-catching individual performances, ranging from the breathtaking to the sublime and, in today’s Inside The Box, we are going to delve into some of the (very) early standout performances from the 2020-21 NHL season so far. Let’s delve right in…

Best Standout Performers in the NHL so far…

Phil Kessel, RW, Arizona Coyotes

There were some doubts over Phil Kessel heading into 2020-21 given that he endured a rough first year in Arizona with the Coyotes, recording just 38 points (14 G, 24 A) in 70 regular-season games last year before flaming out in the Playoffs with four points (1 G, 3 A). That, coupled with Arizona’s lack of offense, had a few critics suggesting that it wasn’t going to get any better in the desert.

However, and while only a two-game sample size, Phil The Thrill appears to be back with three goals while the Coyotes have scored at least three goals in their opening two games of the season, a shootout loss to the Sharks and then a 5-3 win over the same opponents.

Kessel looks significantly dialled in and the Arizona Coyotes are finally seeing tantalizing signs of the pure goalscorer they traded for from the Pittsburgh Penguins. He looks incredibly dangerous with the puck on his stick and he’s battling for pucks which is a good sign, and if Phil Kessel can keep up his hot start then not only will he surpass last year’s total of 14 goals pretty quickly, but he will also give the Coyotes a great chance of being a Playoff team again.

Bobby Ryan (54)
Detroit Red Wings right wing Bobby Ryan (54). Mandatory Credit: Eric Bronson-USA TODAY Sports /

Bobby Ryan, LW, Detroit Red Wings

Bobby Ryan was one of the feel-good stories of a tough 2019-20 season after scoring a hat trick for the Ottawa Senators shortly after returning from seeking treatment for alcohol abuse. It was an incredibly touching and heartfelt moment for one of hockey’s good guys, someone who has had to battle a lot in his life.

Bought out by the Ottawa Senators during the offseason, Ryan was brought to HockeyTown by Detroit Red Wings General Manager Steve Yzerman to bring some experience and leadership to a young locker room, while also adding a scoring punch to a team that endured a historically bad year in 2019-20.

And, so far, it is proving to be a match made in heaven. Ryan has settled into his new life with the Red Wings perfectly, recording four points (3 G, 1) in two games including a goal and an assist in today’s loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Ryan has goals in consecutive games and, while it is still incredibly early, it isn’t out of the realms of possibility that the forward could score 30 goals in the NHL again. After all, he’s still in his prime and, clearly showing a lot of confidence, there is every chance that Bobby Ryan could carve out a monster year for the Detroit Red Wings. Whatever happens, though, this hot start is good to see for a player who deserves all the success in the world.

Travis Konecny (11)
Travis Konecny #11 of the Philadelphia Flyers. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Travis Konecny, RW, Philadelphia Flyers

It has been an incredibly good start to the 2020-21 NHL Season for the Philadelphia Flyers who blew the doors off rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins in both games of a two-game series, and a lot of their success has to be attributed to Travis Konecny.

After enjoying a career-year in 2019-20 with 61 points (24 G, 37 A) in 66 games, Konecny has carried on from where he left off this season with five points (3 G, 2 A) in just two games, including a hat trick, with the Flyers back in action against the Buffalo Sabres later tonight.

Rapidly establishing himself as one of the best young forwards in the National Hockey League, Travis Konecny has been electric to start the year and he’s really starting to become a lethal net-front presence for the Flyers too. He will be key to their hopes of starting a season 3-0-0 for the first time since the 2011-12 season, and it also wouldn’t be surprising if he goes and produces another career-year either.

Steven Stamkos (91)
Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning

It has been all forwards on this list so far but Steven Stamkos has been sensational so far in 2020-21 and it would be ridiculous not to include him. After undergoing second successful injury to repair his core during the offseason, the forward seems to be back and bigger than ever and he has been vintage Steven Stamkos to start the new season.

Through two games the 30-year-old has five points (2 G, 3 A) for the Lightning, while showing off his trademark one-timer from the left circle. He’s also averaging 16:57 of TOI and, with Nikita Kucherov out for the entire regular-season, Tampa Bay will need Steven Stamkos to maintain this hot start and continue to produce the goods for all 56-games, which seems a pretty good bet right now.

Kirill Kaprizov (97)
Kirill Kaprizov #97 of the Minnesota Wild. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Kirill Kaprizov, LW, Minnesota Wild

Okay, last forward we promise. Arguably the most impressive rookie to emerge from the first few days of the 2020-21 NHL season has been Kirill Kaprizov without a doubt. The left winger has taken the league by storm and has looked every bit the natural talent Wild fans have been hoping he was for a while now.

Boasting four points (1 G, 3 A) in two games, including the Overtime winner in the Minnesota Wild’s Opening Night win over the LA Kings and the primary assist on the OT winner in their second win over the Kings, Kaprizov has come as advertised, perhaps better than that, and he is the kind of exciting offensive game-changer that this franchise has craved for years. Leading all rookies in points and assists, Kirill Kaprizov could really seize control of the Calder Trophy race if he can maintain this blistering start over a sustained period of time.

Jeff Petry (26)
Jeff Petry #26 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images) /

Jeff Petry, D, Montreal Canadiens

Finally, we’re off forwards and now on to arguably the most impressive performance from a defenseman so far in the 2020-21 NHL season, Jeff Petry of the Montreal Canadiens. The veteran has really flown out of the gates this year and he leads all blueliners in points with four (2 G, 2 A), including scoring an early goal of the year candidate with this ridiculous effort, even if he didn’t mean it.

Petry, along with Shea Weber, are mainstays on what looks set to be the most competitive Canadiens teams in years and, if Petry can continue to contribute offense while coming up with big plays in his own zone – he’s blocked five shots already – and logging monster minutes (22:48 ATOI), then don’t be surprised if Montreal are one of the best teams in what is an already compelling and hugely competitive North Division.

Michael Del Zotto (15)
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Michael Del Zotto (15). Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

Michael Del Zotto, D, Columbus Blue Jackets

We are going to give some quick love to NHL veteran and gritty blueliner Michael Del Zotto, who has made quite the impression with the Columbus Blue Jackets already. After signing a one-year, $700,000 contract with the franchise late into Training Camp, the 30-year-old has fitted in perfectly and has already contributed three assists and, while perhaps not sustainable, it just proves that Head Coach John Tortorella knows how to get the best out of his players.

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So, that’s our very early list of standout performers in the 2020-21 NHL Season so far and, before anyone shouts at us, it was hard to include a goalie given one, the amount of goals flying in and, two, most teams have split starts between their netminders to start the year so we would be going off a one-game sample size, which isn’t ideal. They will get their due in this space soon, though.