Sat. May 25th, 2024

So we’ve seen a week and a half of NHL action. With the sample sizes so small, it would be hasty to offer any decisive takes on what we’ve seen so far. But we’re going to do it anyway. After all, sometimes a very early trend points to something real. Remember when the New Jersey Devils started last season on fire?

With that, Roundtable members: What is your early-season overreaction that you already think is true? Can be team-related or player-related.

MATT LARKIN:
This is the Jake Sanderson Year. He’s only played four games and already looks like an absolute star for the Ottawa Senators. He’s leapfrogged Thomas Chabot and Jakob Chychrun to become the team’s best defenseman already. Sanderson has already ascended to the top power-play unit, too. A few weeks ago, debate raged over whether Ottawa was projecting too much, playing him north of $8 million after 77 career games. He might make that deal a bargain by the time it kicks in next season. A top-10 Norris Trophy voting finish looms.

STEVEN ELLIS: I felt like Evan Rodrigues‘ $3 million cap hit was going to be a steal when the Florida Panthers signed him and that he’d become the best free agent signing of the summer. At his current pace, I’m sticking with it. He produced with Sidney Crosby, he had some success in Colorado, but Florida just seemed like a good fit for a guy who can produce in spurts. He’s playing alongside Aleksander Barkov and Sam Reinhart, bringing the energy and an attacking mindset every shift. This will be the first year he’ll break the 50-point barrier, but I really think 60’s possible.

SCOTT MAXWELL: I think the Detroit Red Wings might become the most fun team to watch this season. Last season looked like they were trying to skip that step of a rebuilding team where the offense is off the walls and the defense is mediocre, but they’ve seemed to reach that phase this season. Alex DeBrincat has fit in perfectly with Dylan Larkin, Daniel Sprong is looking to be an excellent depth add for their offense, and young guns like Lucas Raymond seem to be taking that next step, with many other forward prospects knocking on the door. They’ve got the goals, and their defense adds to the fun by consisting of either strong offensive threats like Moritz Seider, Jake Walman or Shayne Gostisbehere, or hot defensive messes like Justin Holl and Ben Chiarot. On top of that, their goaltending is inconsistent AND they have an amazing new goal song in “Without Me” by Detroit’s own Slim Shady a.k.a. Eminem. They may not be good, they may not make the playoffs, but they’ll certainly be entertaining.

COLBY COHEN: After one week into the season, I confidently affirm that Sean Couturier still reigns as a dominant NHL center. Couturier has seamlessly resumed his league status and continues to provide total reliability, making him a formidable presence down the middle. Despite skeptics doubting his return and potential, he has, in just one week, reclaimed his status as a high-end NHL center. If anything he looked refreshed so maybe the time off will add good years to his career. It’s easy to forget previous to his two-year absence, Couturier was elevating his offensive game (while showcasing his defensive and penalty-killing abilities). He began producing offensively at nearly a point per game in 2017, maintaining this performance until the 2021-2022 season when injuries intervened. Throughout that period, even on a struggling team, he rivaled Patrice Bergeron as one of the league’s premier two-way centers. Since training camp started, there’s been minimal evidence of rust in his game, highlighted by a spectacular goal, and he looks right at home on the top power-play unit. The intriguing question now is whether he will remain with the Flyers or find a new home. It’s challenging to picture him elsewhere, but sticking through a five-year rebuild might not be ideal for either the Flyers or Couturier. The future remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: he’s back to his old self, and that’s a welcome sight.

MIKE GOULD: I’m gonna go ahead and say it: Auston Matthews will be the first player to score 65 goals in a season since Alex Ovechkin in 2007–08. Connor McDavid came within one goal of that mark last year, and Matthews is going to get there this season. Not only that, he’ll surpass it. I won’t say by how much, but I don’t think 70 is completely out of the question for the Toronto Maple Leafs sharpshooter. He’s not going to score a hat trick every night (he didn’t get any against the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday or the Florida Panthers on Thursday) but there’s no doubt Matthews can get to 65. He already reached the 60-goal mark just two seasons ago, and he missed nine games that year. Now, he’s about to take that next step. (The Leafs will lose in the first round, though.)

FRANK SERAVALLI: Man, overreaction season is tough, and I hate to double down but I don’t feel out of place picking the Seattle Kraken to miss the playoffs this season. We’re only five games in but it feels like it’s going to be a grind for them to score this season. The Kraken had three goals in their first four games before erupting for seven in their fifth game. Which version of them are we going to see night to night? And this is a team that last year mauled the league with depth scoring – as 13 skaters scored at least 13 goals. It’s a bananas stat. They had all 18 skaters collect at least 20 points. So many of those were career years, and it’s difficult to duplicate that. The funny thing about their start this year is goaltending hasn’t been the problem, but last year they outscored it. We’ll see if they find that scoring touch consistently – and if their goaltending can drag them into the mix. It’s still early. I just wouldn’t bet on it. 

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