5 Pleasant Surprises from the Start of the NHL Season | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors

VANCOUVER, CANADA - OCTOBER 22: Rasmus Dahlin #26 of the Buffalo Sabres is congratulated by teammates after scoring during their NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena October 22, 2022 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

One of the best things about hockey is the uncertainty. We make our predictions, study the game to death, pretend to understand the charts that say the players we like are good and hope for the best. A lot of the time all of the preparation works out, but sometimes hockey forces us to throw it all out the window and enjoy the ride.

The 2022-23 NHL season isn’t even one month old yet and there’s already so much to be wrong about. Yay! I’m sure we’ll get to the unpleasant surprises eventually, but for now, why don’t we enjoy the good?

As it turns out, a lot of the pleasant surprises through the first two weeks of the season are oddly connected to each other. Noted Ottawa Senators fan Alanis Morissette said it best, “Life has a funny way of helping you out.” Clearly, she was talking about the Vegas Golden Knights.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the most pleasant surprises in the NHL while the season’s still a baby.

1. Rasmus Dahlin and the Sabres

Breaking news, folks: 2018 first overall draft pick Rasmus Dahlin might actually be good.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever learn our lesson when it comes to this stuff, but let Dahlin’s current tear be another reminder to have some patience with the guys who go straight to the NHL. Next time an 18-year-old draft pick joins a bad team and doesn’t immediately blow us all out of the water, shall we give it a few years? No? A girl can dream.

Looking back with context, Dahlin wasn’t ever even performing at a level where I’d seriously think he was a bust. He was on a great trajectory before the pandemic, struggled along with his team in 2020-21 and showed more spurts of potential in 2021-22 with 13 goals and 53 points in 80 games. Of course, those spurts of potential came when Dahlin had a greater opportunity following Rasmus Ristolainen’s trade, and they also came with a bad plus/minus—such is life as the best defenseman on a bad team.

But is the 22-year-old entering his true breakout season now, following a full season of important experience?

Six games in and the Buffalo Sabres are 4-2-0, and it was a particularly vibey 4-1-0 before Tuesday night’s 5-1 loss to the Seattle Kraken. Dahlin is currently leading all NHL defensemen in points with nine and goals with five in six games played, and the five-game season-starting goal streak he just snapped became an NHL record among defensemen.

Then there’s goaltender Craig Anderson at the top of the league with his 2-0, 1.0 goals against average and .970 save percentage. We aren’t kidding ourselves into believing this two-game sample means more than it does, but it’s a good start.

All of this and we haven’t even touched on Alex Tuch’s seven points in six games or Tage Thompson’s hot start, including his selection of “Fishin’ in the Dark” for his goal song.

Obviously, it’s ridiculous to read too much into things less than a month into the season, and like many, I’ve been fooled by a Sabres hot start or two in the very recent past. But I like what I see here, we’ll see how they bounce back from this big loss to Seattle, and sometimes giving people room to spread their wings is the only way they get off the ground…

2. Jack Eichel and the Golden Knights

Speaking of the Sabres, Jack Eichel is off to a hot start in Vegas with three goals and seven points in eight games. The Golden Knights are doing better than expected in general at 6-2-0.

Eichel’s hot start accounted for, you also have to give credit to goalie Logan Thompson, who has worked himself up from the ECHL to Vegas’ No. 1 with Robin Lehner likely out for the season following hip surgery. Adin Hill hasn’t been a shabby 1a, either.

I described every team with one word heading into the season, and for the Golden Knights, that word was “karma.” They’d been flying too close to the sun with all the cap-space maneuvers and coaching hot seats already amassing in their short team history. It looks like they listened to Taylor Swift’s new album, Midnights, and adopted her philosophy on karma—”Karma’s a relaxing thought”—instead of mine, though.

There’s also ironman Phil Kessel, who exudes good karma and sweats blue Powerade everywhere he goes.

And finally, there’s new head coach Bruce Cassidy, who the team snatched up just over one week after the Boston Bruins somewhat surprisingly let him go. Now that I’ve laid it all out like this, I’m starting to feel bad about ever wishing ill upon this team…

3. The Bruins

Speaking of the Bruins, I tried to warn y’all that this team is not done. Despite the naysayers, Boston is 6-1-0 to start the season—and yes, Bostonians, I will mention they’re doing that without Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy before you beat me to it in the comments.

What’s working?

David Pastrňák, aka Mr. Blank Check, for starters.

Pastrňák not only has five goals and 12 points in seven games, but he’s making it look fun in true Pastrňák fashion. That’s an easy one, especially with his friend David Krejčí back in the mix. Arguably even more encouraging for the Bruins has been their scoring depth. Of all who have skated in every Bruins game, everyone except Tomáš Nosek has recorded at least one point. Twelve have recorded a goal, and Nick Foligno’s three goals already surpass last season’s total.

I’ve long thought this team’s performance can be measured in Jake DeBrusk’s vibes per 60. If DeBrusk looks like he’s having a good time, you can bet the team is in a good place, and this kid seems like he’s having the time of his life these days.

Goaltender Linus Ullmark is also having a strong start with a 5-0-0 record and a .936 save percentage.

4. The Flyers

This is where the connections end unless we really want to stretch it and tie Foligno’s hot start to his former coach and current Philadelphia Flyers coach John Tortorella.

Say what you will about Torts and his no-nonsense approach, and it definitely doesn’t work for everyone, but at least for now it’s seeming to jibe with the Philly market and apparently with what was supposed to be a bottom-five team in the league. The Flyers are a team that needed Torts if there ever was one. They started out the season undefeated through three games and currently sit at 4-2-0. I do think the team will trend down sooner rather than later, the offense is already severely lacking at times, and it doesn’t help that James van Riemsdyk is going to be out for at least one month after finger surgery.

But what’s the point in saying all this when we weren’t even expecting a hot start to begin with out of this team? Enjoy it while it lasts.

5. The Retro Reverse Jerseys

The NHL released its latest set of alternate jerseys via Adidas last week, and it might be my favorite batch of jerseys the league has ever put together. Between the Panthers’ ode to Florida, the Bruins’ ode to the Pooh Bear and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s ode to a throwback so bad that it’s good, I was thoroughly impressed. I loved that teams were branching out and giving the people what they actually want. More fun, please!

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