Five of this season’s most surprising success stories
Shayne Gostisbehere (Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
Five of this season’s most surprising success stories
Vincent Lecavalier, who has scored in each of his past three games, has a chance to become one of the best stories of the season if he can continue contributing in Los Angeles. But with the all-star break approaching, these five players have already surprised everyone with their outstanding play.
To say the expectations surrounding Vincent Lecavalier when he came in Los Angeles weren’t high would be an understatement.
In Philadelphia, Lecavalier was a healthy scratch more often than not and had contributed just 21 points over his final season and a half with the Flyers. His contract seemed a burden in Philadelphia and it looked like Lecavalier may retire sooner than he’d ever become a regular in the Flyers lineup again. So when Philadelphia swung him to Los Angeles, he seemed like a depth piece that could maybe help out, but wasn’t likely to make a difference for the Kings.
Much to everyone’s surprise, though, the 35-year-old center has found some offensive spark. In his past three games, he’s scored three goals and he’s up to four points with the Kings in six games. That’s great production from a veteran brought in with the hope he could be a half-decent depth contributor. If Lecavalier keeps it up, he could pot at least 20 points in the back half of the campaign, and it’d be hard to think of a more unlikely success story this campaign than Lecavalier’s.
Whether or not the former 50-goal scorer keeps up his scoring pace is to be seen so it’s too soon to crown him one of the great stories that no one saw coming. There are five players who have been unexpectedly turning heads this season, though.
5. Jaromir Jagr, RW, Florida Panthers
Jagr’s play with the Panthers at the tail end of the 2014-15 season was great. After coming over from the New Jersey Devils, Jagr notched six goals and 18 points in 20 games, but that looked like more of a hot streak than a true telling of how he would perform in Florida. Turns out it was a window into what Jagr was actually capable of.
At a time when players in their late 30s are having trouble staying in the league, the 43-year-old Jagr has posted 15 goals and 32 points in 43 games to lead the Panthers in scoring. Not only that, he’s been a veteran leader on a team full of young talent that seems primed to make a surprising post-season appearance after missing the playoffs by only a handful of points the year prior. Oh, and he’s heading to his 10th career All-Star Game at the end of the month as Atlantic Division captain.
4. Rasmus Ristolainen, D, Buffalo Sabres
Sure, the Sabres are still among the worst teams in the league, but Ristolainen gives hope that Buffalo might have a cornerstone defenseman ready to aid in the turnaround. The Sabres busy off-season has given the team a number of interesting storylines and, for obvious reasons, Jack Eichel is the talk of the town, but Ristolainen is making a name for himself as a potential franchise defenseman. I
Through 46 games, Ristolainen, 21, has scored eight goals and 31 points, good enough for eighth in scoring by blueliners. One multi-point game and he could realistically shoot up to as high as fourth one the scoring list, too. With the offensive talent surrounding Ristolainen, he could be among the top-five scorers for defenseman for years to come. t’s no wonder the Sabres were OK with shipping Nikita Zadorov to the Colorado Avalanche in the Ryan O’Reilly deal.
3. Colton Parayko, D, St. Louis Blues
Rookie defensemen don’t often break into the league without at least a few years worth of seasoning in the AHL, but Parayko made his case for an NHL job in the pre-season and is making the coaching staff and front office in St. Louis look brilliant for keeping him around. The 22-year-old has excelled as a second-pairing defenseman for the Blues and got a jump in the rookie scoring race with five goals and 12 points in the first two months of the campaign.
While his scoring pace has slowed, his play on the backend in St. Louis has only improved, and he’s gotten a bigger role as injuries have piled up for the Blues. Over his past seven games, he’s averaging more than 21 minutes of ice time per game and is sure to garner at least some attention for the Calder Trophy. He’s not likely to win the award, but he’ll probably take being a part of the Blues’ success over the hardware.
2. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Washington Capitals
Kuznetsov is immensely talented and showed his offensive ability in the 2015 post-season. He’s proving this season that his scoring ways were no mirage in the playoffs, either. After what some would consider a disappointing 2014-15 campaign in which Kuznetsov scored 11 goals and 37 points in 80 games, he’s contributed more than a point per game for the Capitals this season. In 46 games, he has 15 goals and 48 points.
Some of that can be attributed to playing on a lethal Capitals power play, but don’t go thinking his point totals have been inflated by playing with Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin. Kuznetsov’s most common linemates this season have been Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson, and recently he’s played more with Andre Burakovsky. No slouches, to be sure, but they’re not super-snipers like Ovechkin.
No one would have picked Kuznetsov to be a top-10 scorer in the league heading into the all-star break, but that’s exactly where he stands to end up, and by season’s end he could more than double his output from last season.
1. Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Philadelphia Flyers
After completing his NCAA career with Union in 2013-14, Gostisbehere got his first taste of professional hockey with the Adirondack Phantoms. The next season, he was set for a full year of AHL action but his season was derailed by an ACL injury. He missed nearly the entire year. He came back this season but started his year in the AHL before eventually getting a call up to the big club. Since that time, he’s been nothing short of incredible.
In 26 games since joining the Flyers, Gostisbehere has eight goals and 17 points. Not to be overlooked is that three of his goals have been overtime game-winners, too. He’s not yet a top pairing blueliner, but his offensive ability has been a bright spot in an otherwise so-so season for Philadelphia. He’s not among the rookie leaders in scoring, but that’s simply because he hasn’t seen the same amount of action. On a points per game basis, Gostisbehere ranks sixth among rookies, ahead of Jack Eichel and just barely trailing Dylan Larkin and Max Domi.
It may seem unlikely that he achieves it, but Gostisbehere is on pace for a 20-goal, 42-point season. That would give him three more points than Aaron Ekblad, the rookie blueliner who won the Calder Trophy in 2014-15.