We have a week's worth of hockey under our belts now and perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise so far has been the Edmonton Oilers. Back in 2018-19, the Oilers had the 20th ranked offense in the league despite Connor McDavid scoring 41 goals and 116 points and Leon Draisaitl scoring 50 goals and 105 points. Their offensive depth was just that bad. It’s still very early, but the Oilers’ 3-0-0 start to the 2019-20 campaign is due in large part to Edmonton getting more out of their supporting cast.
McDavid has been his usual dominate self with two goals and eight points in three games while Draisaitl hasn’t been far behind with a goal and seven points in three contests. However, James Neal has been the talk of the town with a stunning six goals in his first three games. Neal is coming off an abysmal season with the Calgary Flames and some wrote him off as a result, but Edmonton seems like a far better spot for him.
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Keep in mind that the Flames were giving Neal a far smaller role than he was used to. He averaged 14:57 minutes in 2018-19, down from 17:11 minutes in 2017-18 with Vegas. By contrast, he’s logging 18:13 minutes so far with Edmonton and he’s been getting ice time with Zack Kassian and McDavid. Speaking of Kassian, he’s stepped up too with three goals and four points in three contests, though I think it’s far more likely that Neal will go on to have a strong season from a fantasy perspective than Kassian. Neal has traditionally been a solid goal scorer while Kassian is more of a power forward who has leaned more towards the grit side than skill.
In contrast to Edmonton’s explosive start, the San Jose Sharks are off to their worst start since 1993. The Sharks are 0-4-0 and have scored just five goals so far. Clearly losing Joe Pavelski, who had 38 goals last season, over the summer hasn’t helped, but there should still be enough left on this team to be a serious contender. It’s too early to panic, but honestly, given how high expectations are this season, they do need to start showing life fairly soon or there will be changes.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson already made his first attempt to right the ship by signing 40-year-old forward Patrick Marleau to a one-year deal. Marleau is a great addition to the team from a sentimental perspective given his former status as the team captain and the fact that he logged 1,493 games with the Sharks before joining Toronto in 2017. However, at this stage of his career, he’s not going to do a lot to help San Jose’s offensive woes. He had 16 goals and 37 points in 82 games last season while averaging 16:21 minutes. Still, he is a boost for the team and might help the situation in the locker room.
San Jose is set to play in Chicago on Thursday and this might prove to be a telling game. Perhaps the adrenaline Marleau is feeling after the signing is contagious. If not, Wilson might have to start thinking about what more he can do to right the ship.
New Jersey has gotten off to a rough start too, but their situation is a bit different. They’re 0-2-1 with just six goals scored, but while the Sharks entered the season as Stanley Cup hopefuls, the Devils are a team that’s still in a rebuilding stage. Certainly the Devils had an amazing summer between taking Jack Hughes with the first overall pick and adding PK Subban, Wayne Simmonds, and Nikita Gusev, but these growing pains aren’t shocking.
Hughes in particular has some growing to do. He has no points and a minus-three rating in three games. We’ve seen some highly regarded prospects step into the NHL and make their mark right away, but just because Hughes hasn’t doesn’t necessarily mean anything in the long run. He’s been adapting to the league and it shouldn’t be long before he makes an impact. Once he does, it will go a long way towards putting the Devils on the right track.
At the end of the day, if New Jersey doesn’t make the playoffs, in some ways that wouldn’t be devastating for them. That’s obviously not the ideal scenario, but the Devils’ young core will only get better. The only real reason for urgency is with regards to Taylor Hall. He can become an unrestricted free agent this summer and is likely hungry for success rather than promise. After all, Hall has spent most of his career with teams in a rebuilding phase and has just five career playoff games under his belt. So the question is: Do the Devils need to have a good year in order to convince Hall to re-sign is the promise of Hughes and co enough to convince Hall to stick around?
Let’s close out with perhaps the biggest disappointment thus far: Jonathan Quick. He’s allowed 14 goals in just two starts for a 7.17 GAA and .750 save percentage. If there’s a silver lining there, it’s that he can only go up from here. Some fantasy owners are already jumping ship, which is understandable given that he posted a 3.38 GAA and .888 save percentage in 46 starts last season. Quick is a talent goaltender and his playoff heroics are obviously well documented, but he can’t single-handily fix the Los Angeles Kings. This is a franchise paying for its past success. It needs to pivot to a rebuild, but it’s having difficulty fully committing to one because of the glut of veterans still tethered to long-term contracts. Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter are still signed for three more seasons. Jonathan Quick and Anze Kopitar have four seasons left on their deals. Drew Doughty has seven years remaining. Even Ilya Kovalchuk and Alec Martinez have another season left on their respective contracts after this one.
It’s created an awkward transitional phase for the Los Angeles Kings that could last for years. In the meantime, Quick isn’t getting any younger. I think with a better team in front of him, he’d have some worth, but under these circumstances, he’s more of a fringe goaltender as far as having value in standard fantasy leagues go. I wouldn’t recommend giving up on anyone after just two starts, but don’t set your expectations high with him.