Eastern Edge – Strong Finishers in the East

by Russ on September 5, 2017
Brayden Point - USA TODAY Sports Images

 

Sometimes players get off to bad starts. It can happen to even the best players. What I’d like to focus on this week are the players that finished 2016-17 strong. I’ve looked at two periods of time that overlap, one from March 1st until the end of the regular season, and the other is from February 1st to the conclusion of the campaign.

Below are a selection players from Eastern Conference teams that made a big push from the first day of March until the end of the regular season:

 

No. 1 on the list shouldn’t come as a big surprise, Connor McDavid, who had 28 points in 18 games, but Nikita Kucherov finished with only one less point over the final 20 contests. Another Tampa player went along for the ride; Ondrej Palat scored 22 points in 21 matches. That was the same number of points as Sidney Crosby and Nicklas Backstrom had over the same period.

Brayden Point played more than 75 percent of his even-strength shifts beside Kucherov and Palat at the end of the season, and the rookie rewarded his fantasy owners with 16 points in 21 games. Victor Hedman finished the season on a hot streak as well, recording 21 points in as many games.

Even though the team traded away a very good offensive player in Johnathan Drouin, it’s not hard to envision the Lightning making a return to the playoffs, especially with a healthy Steven Stamkos leading the way.

 

A surprising name No. 1 on the list, at least for me, was Jeff Skinner. Of course, he’s a very good player, but his numbers were off the charts from the beginning of March until the end of the season. He led the league with 17 goals and had 23 points in 22 games. Of those 23 points, surprisingly only one came with the man advantage.

Skinner had 81 shots on goal during that period, bested only by Evander Kane (88), Alexander Ovechkin (86), Vladimir Tarasenko (85) and Jack Eichel (82). Skinner's shooting percentage of 21.0 was quite a bit over the 13.2 percent he had on the season.

It’s hard to believe Skinner’s only 25 years of age. He just had a career year registering 37 goals and 281 shots on goal and tied his best point total with 63 markers. He’s also missed only a total of eight games over the past three seasons. Many people still see Skinner as a band-aid boy.

With Carolina’s offense improving, can Skinner push it to the next level? I could see him maintaining this level with maybe a five-point bump. I don’t see much more than 40-goal, 70-point upside, however, he is a little underrated in rotisserie leagues that count goals and shots on goal, where he finished sixth and seventh in the NHL, respectively.

 

Three Red Wings are high up on this list. You shouldn’t be completely surprised to see Henrik Zetterberg here with 20 points in 21 games. Riding Z’s coattails were both Gustav Nyquist with 19 points and the Tomas Tatar who recorded 18 points over that period.

The Sens Mike Hoffman tied with Jack Eichel for 12th, registering 20 points in 20 games, outscoring Erik Karlsson, who had 16 points in 16 contests.

 

Two Pens benefitted from playing with Crosby; Jake Guentzel had 18 points in 16 games and Conor Sheary, who notched 18 points in 19 matches. Guentzel carried over that momentum to the playoffs where he shone, recording 13 goals and 21 points in 25 postseason contests. Sheary’s role diminished in the playoffs, where he had seven points in 22 games.

 

One name I did not expect to see so high up on this list was the Flyers Sean Couturier. He had 17 points in 20 games. When you score half of your points during a 20-game stretch like Couturier did, that’s not exactly a model of consistency. On the season, he scored at a 42-point pace. The previous year, he scored at a 50-point pace, but that season he recorded seven power-play points, his best total to date. Last season, he had just two points with the man advantage in his 66 games. Couturier might have 50-point upside, but he’ll likely top out somewhere in the low-40s.

 

Let’s add another month to the period and see who makes the list. From February 1 until the end of the regular season:

The top of this leaderboard has the usual suspects; Kucherov with 41 points in 30 games, exactly the same numbers as McDavid. Patrick Kane and Nicklas Backstrom were next with 40 and 38 points respectively.

Kucherov’s Tampa teammates were present again on this list; Hedman was 11th with 31 points in 31 matches, while Palat notched 28 in 29 contests.

Jack Eichel is fifth with 36 points in 33 games. I think it’s safe to assume that barring injury, this guy is a lock for 80 points this season.

Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg makes the list at No. 8 tying Sidney Crosby with 33 points over 32 games. How much longer can the venerable Swedish superstar put up these kinds of numbers? This year we might see Father Time take a bite out of the 36-year-old center’s point total. Though the end is nigh, I can still see at least 50 points.

 

We are not surprised anymore with Brad Marchand recording 34 points in 27 games, good for seventh best over the period, but he didn’t do it alone. David Pastrnak was 10th with 32 points in 29 contests, and Patrice Bergeron scored at nearly a point-per-game pace, registering 28 points in 29 games.

Toronto’s future makes an appearance at No. 14; Auston Matthews and William Nylander had an identical 30 points in 34 games. Mitch Marner had 20 points in 29 matches, as the future appears bright for this young trio.

Erik Karlsson was able to record 30 points over 29 games during this period, good for No. 14 on this list. Mike Hoffman fell off the point-per-game pace, but still had 26 points in 31 matches.

I did not expect to see the Islanders' Anders Lee in this group, but there he was sitting 25th with 27 points in 34 games. He was no doubt aided by John Tavares and his 25 points in 29 contests.

Finally, Florida’s Aleksander Barkov made the list in 25th place also with 25 points in 25 games. The only thing holding back the big Finn from 80 points is the number of games he will play. In his four NHL campaigns, he’s played in 54, 71, 66 and 61 contests. Don’t count on a full slate of games and draft for between 70-75 points.