One year ago no one saw the Columbus Blue Jackets coming as an Eastern Conference powerhouse. Here are three teams that could be this year’s big surprise in the NHL.
It’s no longer weird to see the Columbus Blue Jackets near the top of the NHL standings. After collecting 19 points in their first 14 games the Jackets own the third-most points in the Eastern Conference a feat they also accomplished last year.
However it’s easy to forget that one year ago no one saw the Blue Jackets coming. Columbus was coming off a 15th-place finish in the East the previous season missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years and 13th time in their 14 years of existence.
The Jackets even started last season slowly dropping four of their first six games before a 10-0 rout of the Canadiens kick-started a stretch in which the Jackets earned points in 26 of 28 outings.
Could there be another big surprise in store for us in 2017/18? Here are three teams that are already making their case to be this year’s Columbus Blue Jackets rags-to-riches story.
1. New Jersey Devils
New Jersey’s 9-3-1 start to the season is no fluke. The Devils’ victims this year include the Senators (twice) Lightning and Maple Leafs and they’ve collected at least one point in six of the seven road games they’ve played.
The obvious reason for New Jersey’s improvement is the offense. Led by Taylor Hall’s 17 points in 13 games the Devils are averaging the fifth-most goals per game in the National Hockey League… not exactly the kind of scoring we’re accustomed to seeing in the Meadowlands.
Rookie Nico Hischier has already contributed 10 points in his first 13 career games winger Brian Gibbons (seven goals in 13 games) is on a 40-goal pace and 22-year-old Will Butcher is tied for second among NHL defencemen with 12 assists already.
2. Winnipeg Jets
Goal scoring hasn’t been an issue recently for the Jets. Last year they were seventh in the NHL in goals with 246 yet missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six years since moving back to Winnipeg.
Connor Hellebuyck has since taken over the starting goaltender chores posting a 7-0-2 record 2.24 goals-against average and sparkling .932 save percentage in his nine starts.
Six times this season already the Jets have limited their opponents to one goal in regulation time including twice against the high-scoring Penguins. Winnipeg is 4-0-2 in those games which should make continuing to play strong defence an easy sell job for Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice.
3. Vegas Golden Knights
Expansion teams aren’t supposed to be good right away. Of the nine franchises to join the NHL in the last 26 years the 1993/94 Florida Panthers were the only club to post a winning percentage higher than .433 in its first season.
Going into this year there was speculation that the Golden Knights might be better than typical expansion clubs because of some favorable franchise-building terms granted to them by the NHL. But even with Vegas playing seven of its first nine games at home no one could have seen the Knights carrying a 9-4 record into Monday’s visit to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Vegas is already building a reputation for being the hardest-working team in the league. The Golden Knights have scored at least three goals in 10 of their last 11 games. And they’re also a credible 13th in the league in goals against per game despite having already used four different goaltenders.
Many expected the Knights to crumble once they went on an extended road trip but they carried a third-period lead into their visit to the Rangers lost by just one goal in Boston and then beat the Senators 5-4 on Saturday. Maybe these Golden Knights are actually pretty good after all.
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