** All stats are as of November 17th, 2016 **
We are now a little bit more than 1/5 of the way through the 2016-17 NHL season, one that has been filled with twists and turns. The New York Rangers (26 points, 17 games) and Montreal Canadiens (28 points, 17 games) have been pleasant surprises, seriously outplaying their preseason expectations, while the New York Islanders (13 points, 16 games) and Nashville Predators (15 points, 15 games) have disappointed. But one thing is for sure: this year’s draft class has been phenomenal. Nearly every high draft pick has met or exceeded expectations, but there have been 3 clear winners from the draft: the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, and Patrik Laine.
Key rookie acquisitions for the Toronto Maple Leafs:
Auston Matthews (19), Center – 3rd Line
William Nylander (20), Right Wing – 2nd Line
Mitch Marner (19), Right Wing – 1st Line
This year’s draft could not have gone any more perfectly for the Toronto Maple Leafs, as they drafted 3 studs, who have already exceeded expectations thus far. The Maple Leafs’s draft class, as predicted, has been led by the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft, Auston Matthews. While each member of the trio has been lethal individually (2nd, 4th, and 5th in points among rookies), what has truly been incredible is the combined success among them.
Toronto’s first line, usually composing of Mitch Marner, Tyler Bozak, and James van Riemsdyk has averaged more than one goal per game thus far and has potentially been the best line in the NHL. The effect of Marner on van Riemsdyk’s performance has been absolutely huge; van Reimsydk is averaging .5 goals per game this year, way up from .35 last year and .329 the year before. While Toronto has been by no means “good” this year (17 points in 16 games), this first line, mainly fueled by rookies, has led to significant improvement from last year (69 points in 82 games).
Obviously, Matthews’ and Nylander’s effect has been felt as well. Nylander has been a key figure on the first powerplay unit, already scoring 4 powerplay goals in just 16 games. Additionally, Nylander is 3rd among rookies in points with 14. Matthews, the number #1 pick in this past year’s draft has been quite stellar as well, recording 6 goals and 7 assists thus far.
Key rookie acquisitions for the New York Rangers:
Jimmy Vesey (23), Left Wing – 2nd Line
Pavel Buchnevich (21), Left Wing – Line depends on night
Brady Skjei (22), Defenseman – 3rd Pair
Both the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers have hit the jackpot on rookies they have acquired this past offseason, but the New York Rangers have enjoyed much more success so far, as they are leading the Metropolitan Division with 26 points and the NHL with a goal differential of +32. Their rookie class, primarily led by Jimmy Vesey, Pavel Buchnevich, and Brady Skjei, has played a crucial role in the Rangers’ success this season.
Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich have been absolutely crucial to the Rangers’ offense because of their superb passing. Additionally, they have revitalized the once lackluster powerplay, as the Rangers have the 7th ranked powerplay unit in the NHL (in terms of scoring percentage), up from 14th last year. While Vesey and Buchnevich have not been “outstanding” statistically this year, both have put up very respectable performances, averaging a little less than 1 point a game each (.7 points per game for Vesey and .8 points per game for Buchnevich).
Brady Skjei has also proven to be a valuable member of the Rangers’ defense, not only defensively, but also offensively. Skjei has been a lockdown defender so far with his physical play. Additionally, Skjei is 2nd among all rookie defensemen (Werenski is first) in points, with 11 points in just 18 games.
Patrik Laine (18), Right Wing – 1st Line
Patrik Laine has been nothing short of spectacular this season, leading the NHL, not just rookies, in goals (12) and hat tricks (2). Additionally, Laine is 2nd in the league in goals created (8.1), 2nd in power play goals (5), 9th in points (17), and 4th in offensive point shares (2.4). To put this into perspective of how amazing it is, Laine leads rookies in all 6 of these stats, and in most categories, the race isn’t even close.
While Laine’s performance thus far has not been record-breaking (he can thank Teemu Selanne for that), it is nonetheless still quite impressive. Laine is on pace for 55 goals, 22 assists, and 77 points this season, as well as an astonishing 23 power play goals and 36.9 goals created. What’s even more incredible about Laine’s season is that he hasn’t even hit his full potential; Laine is still a developing player who has not yet hit his peak performance.
Data courtesy of NHL.com, Fox Sports, ESPN, CBS Sports, and Hockey Reference. Thanks for reading!
Written by Jason Platkin
Cover Photo Credits: John Woods / The Canadian Press