The 2016-17 campaign has only barely begun, so of course using what's happened thus far isn't necessarily a safe indicator of what's to come, but at least the very early stages of the Calder Trophy race have been exciting.
Of course Auston Matthews kicked off his campaign with a four-goal game, which I talked about and tried to put into greater context in last week's Nuggets. He had no goals and an assist in the two games that followed, but at the same time Patrik Laine score a hat trick against the Matthews and the Maple Leafs Wednesday night.
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That's propelled Laine into a tie with Matthews for first among rookie scoring as they both have four goals and five points, though Laine has played in four games to Matthews' three. To make matters even better if you're rooting for an exciting rookie pool, Matthews and Laine aren't even running away with that scoring race despite their hot starts. Toronto's William Nylander has a goal and four points in three games while Philadelphia's Travis Konecny has four assists in three contests. Then there's Devin Shore, who has a goal and three points in three games and defenseman Zach Werenski has a goal and an assist in his first two contests.
When Matt Murray, who is recovering from a hand injury, comes back he could very well be a factor in this race too. In the meantime though there's been some other interesting news regarding him as he signed a three-year, $11.25 million contract. That would make him fairly inexpensive as a starter, but expensive if the Penguins intend to use him as a backup goaltender. More to the point, Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury would cost a combined $9.5 million in cap space in 2017-18 if the Penguins opt to keep both of them. That's a considerable amount to be allocating to goaltending, though doesn't necessarily mean that the Penguins won't do it.
"The focus seems to be on what happens with Mar-Andre. But let this play itself out first," Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said, per Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Dave Molinari.
So we'll see what's to come there, but in the meantime Montreal received some great goalie news as Carey Price is healthy enough to start tonight. Price's season debut had been delayed because he was battling the flu and one imagines that was particularly frustrating given that injury troubles forced his 2015-16 campaign to end on Nov. 25. That being said, Price recently helped lead Team Canada to victory in the World Cup, so rust isn't as big a concern as it otherwise might have been.
This will also be an interesting night in Edmonton as it will be Nail Yakupov's return after being dealt to St. Louis just before the start of the 2016-17 campaign. Yakupov's time with the Oilers was obviously a huge disappointment as the 2012 first overall pick declined to the point where he was limited to 23 points in 60 games last season. In the end, it didn't cost the Blues much to acquire him, though whether he's worth the price is still to be determined.
Yakupov's role with St. Louis started off rather limited, but his playing time has slowly increased and he's projected to play with Paul Stastny and Robby Fabbri tonight. That gives him an opportunity to have a big game against his former team, so I'm looking forward to seeing what comes of that.
Another thing to keep an eye on in this early portion of the season is which teams significantly under or overperform in terms of expectations. We're not quite at the stage yet where a team's record can be too exciting or discouraging, but there are some teams trending towards that kind of storyline. For example, if Anaheim (0-3-1) and Los Angeles (0-3-0) don't turn things around over the next couple of weeks, then there could be significant concerns about their viability this season, especially given the Ducks' inconsistent 2015-16 campaign and the potential that the Kings are being crushed under the weight of their injuries.
At the other end of the spectrum though, you have teams like Vancouver (3-0-0), Edmonton (3-1-0), and Ottawa (3-1-0) that have been pleasant surprises so far. It takes a lot for them to be thrown off course at this early stage, but if those teams have solid records towards the end of this month then the question will be if they weren't given enough credit going into this season. Edmonton in particular is always an interesting case given the amount of raw talent on their squad, though certainly that has been brought up before over the years and we all know what the Oilers' track record is.
One final thing I want to close out on is the fact that Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson are both off to tremendous starts with eight points and seven points in four games respectively. Burns is the NHL scoring leader right now and Karlsson is in a three-way tie for second place. I don't expect either of them to end up winning the scoring title, but it wouldn't be shocking to see them both finish with over 70 points again, so long as they stay healthy. We saw that happen last season, but just to underscore how unusual that was, dating back to 2010-11, there have only been four examples of a defenseman reaching the 70-point mark in a single season. Beyond Burns and Karlsson doing it last season, the other two examples were Karlsson's 2011-12 and 2013-14 campaigns.