Wild West: Tortoises and Hares Among Forwards

Kevin Wickersham

2017-11-06

As NHL teams hit about the 15-game mark in the campaign, we start to see what we might have hoped to be some players’ short lulls turn into more serious patterns of below-expectation play, or initial hot streaks look a bit more enduring. We’ve now gained enough of a sample size to start evaluating a player’s year. That’s not to say players can’t completely turn things around, but the longer they wait, the more risk they bring. Here are a few forwards that have come out strong and appear continuing in that vein, and others whose slow starts increasingly indicate possible slow years.  

 

Tortoises

 

Jussi Jokinen – Edmonton (0 goals, 1 assist, 10 games)

An offseason sleeper, coming into the year Jokinen was looked at as a possible top-sixer who might help mentor some of the upcoming Oilers and re-kindle the scoring he’d exhibited in the not-too-distant past. With 60 points in 2015-16 and 57 two years prior, and as a new member of high-octane Edmonton, it seemed he should at least hit the 40-50 point range. Edmonton hasn’t been scoring though, and that includes Jokinen. With just one assist, that on a power play goal by Ryan Strome a few weeks ago against Carolina, the 34-year-old vet’s twelfth NHL campaign is off to an excruciatingly slow start. It’s a bad sign that he’s seen just 12:22 in average ice time over this initial span, with two contests under ten minutes in the past four games. Currently he’s most often on third line duty with Strome and Drake Caggiula. We’ll see if that helps him snap out of his slump or if, at this stage of his career, he’s more of the 11-goal, 17-assist player we saw in Florida last year.

 

Martin Hanzal – Dallas (1 goal, 0 assists, 11 games)

Hanzal was supposed to up his production on the Stars second line skating with Jason Spezza and a left wing to be determined. Instead he’s registered just one point on the young year – an empty-net goal against Detroit in the campaign’s third contest – and a minus-9 while most frequently lining up with Devin Shore, Mattias Janmark and Remi Elie. Prior to a recent lower-body scrape forcing him to miss the last three contests, their prized free-agent acquisition missed much of training camp with an ankle injury and the results may be showing. He’s averaged a little under two minutes per-game on the power play but has yet to rack up a point. His overall TOI is 14:53, more than three minutes short of his career mark. 

 

Joel Eriksson Ek – Minnesota (1 goal, 2 assists, 12 games)

Perhaps the expectations were too great, but after a prolific 15-game NHL showing last year (three goals, four assists) and another solid year in Sweden’s top league, the 20-year-old Eriksson Ek was considered a strong candidate for a third-line center role this offseason. On a Wild team finishing second behind Cup-winning Pittsburgh in goals scored in 2016-17, the potential for decent numbers is still there. But, in an injury-marred first month Minnesota’s produc