1. Florida Panthers
Heading into the 2019-20 season, many expected the Florida Panthers to be a very good team in the Eastern Conference. They brought in not only two-time Vezina Winner Sergei Bobrovsky, but also three-time Stanley Cup winning head coach Joel Quenneville. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter, as their defensive play left plenty to be desired and Bobrovsky’s play was very inconsistent. This season didn’t seem overly promising coming in, as they still had many questions on the back end and had also lost both Mike Hoffman and Evgeny Dadonov to free agency. Despite this, they are off to a fantastic 13-4-2 start which leads the Central Division.
Reasons for Success: Again, the top of the list isn’t surprising, as Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov have combined for 43 points and continue to be two of the most underrated players in the entire NHL. One move that is paying off huge for the Panthers right now is a trade they made in September with the Pittsburgh Penguins which saw them acquire Patric Hornqvist for Mike Matheson. The 34-year-old has looked incredible early on in Florida, as he has eight goals and 16 points thus far.
Another huge reason for the Panthers’ hot start is the play of blueliners Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad, who have a combined 24 points on the season. In net, Bobrovsky has still failed to recapture his elite level play that he had in Columbus, but Chris Driedger has more than made up for that, as he has a 2.18 GAA along with a .928 SV% and a sparkling 7-2-1 record.
To this point, these three teams have been very surprising, though it is still early. With still three quarters of the season remaining, we could see any if not all three of these teams drop off, and perhaps other unexpected teams begin to go on a run. The one thing for sure is, we still have plenty of exciting hockey left to be played in the 2020-21 NHL season.