For poolies, each game of the NHL season is heavily scrutinized, especially by those in daily leagues. Below, we feature five players off to hot starts and five still looking to find their way.
Johnny Boychuk, D, NY Islanders: Is it too early to call the 30-year-old Edmonton native a late bloomer? After a career-best 23-point season in 2013-14, Boychuk has six points in three games entering play Wednesday. Upset at being traded from Boston on Oct. 4, perhaps he’s taking out his anger by displaying an improved offensive game. Boychuk could benefit from a consistent season as he’s an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay: The Lightning blue-liner had his breakout season a year ago with 13 goals and 55 points, but Hedman appears determined for more with seven points in four games to share the NHL scoring lead with four others. He only had five points through 12 October games last fall, so if teammate Steven Stamkos can stay healthy all season, there’s a good chance Hedman will best last season’s output.
Darcy Kuemper, G, Minnesota: In two games this season entering Wednesday, Kuemper had two shutouts, matching the total of his previous 32 starts. The 24-year-old from Saskatoon showed promise after a January call-up, posting 12 wins in 26 games along with a 2.43 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. The Wild could use a netminder capable of 50-55 outings and the six-foot-five Kuemper is looking the part.
Rick Nash, LW, NY Rangers: Nash appears to be a goal-scorer again with an NHL-leading six through four games. Despite a league-high 83 shots, he only managed three goals in 25 playoff games last spring for a New York squad that reached the Stanley Cup final. The 30-year-old from Brampton, Ont., did top the Rangers with 26 goals in the regular season and only once in 11 NHL seasons has he scored fewer than 21.
Brock Nelson, C, NY Islanders: Nelson surprised many with four goals and seven points in his first three games this season, but Islanders head coach Jack Capuano obviously saw offensive potential from the 23-year-old last season when Nelson was promoted to the No. 1 centre’s role after John Tavares suffered a season-ending knee injury at the Sochi Olympics in February. Nelson had 14 goals in 72 games last season and a minus-10 rating compared to plus-3 this season.
Zdeno Chara, D, Boston: The Bruins’ bruising six-foot-nine, 255-pound rearguard disappointed poolies with zero points in his first four games but he is 37 and might be slowing down a little. He only mustered four points in the 2014 post-season. Chara is also a minus-1 after being a plus player since the 2006-07 season. There probably isn’t a lot to worry about here since Chara had three five-game stretches without points last year.
Andrew Ladd, LW, Winnipeg: Ladd, 28, had one point and a minus-4 rating in three games this season, down from three points and a plus-3 rating in as many games to start the 2013-14 campaign. The plus-minus might not be a big concern but he was plus-8 and plus-10 in each of his previous two seasons. The native of Maple Ridge, B.C., was a strong starter last season with three goals and 10 points in October.
Gabe Landeskog, LW, Colorado: This was the season the six-foot-one, 210-pound Swede was going to build on last year’s breakout, right? Landeskog may still surpass his 26 goals and 65 points of last season but zero points in his first four contests isn’t exactly comforting for poolies who own Landeskog. Maybe the Avalanche forward is still bothered by a hand injury that hampered him in last year’s playoffs.
Roberto Luongo, G, Florida: Maybe “Bobby Lou” was excited about this season’s fresh start with the Panthers but the team, fans and poolies can’t be too thrilled with the early-season results. Luongo’s 3.78 goals-against average ranked 39th entering Wednesday while his .870 save percentage – his career mark is .919 - was 44th. The 35-year-old returned to Florida in a trade from Vancouver last season and had 2.46, .924 totals in 14 games.
James Neal, LW, Nashville: Unlike Johnny Boychuk above, Neal hasn’t yet flourished with his new team. The former Pittsburgh Penguin has the potential to be a consistent 40-goal scorer because of his quick release. However, the feisty, sniping winger failed to register a point in his first three outings as a Predators. Neal, a 27-year-old native of Whitby, Ont., fired a career-high 45 goals in 2011-12 and notched 27 in 59 games last season.