By Brian Monzo
The sizzling hot topic during the first week of the 2016-17 season has been Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews taking over the world with his four-goal performance to kick off his promising NHL career.
I was just as impressed as everyone. Matthews is likely going to be the face of that franchise for a long time. However, even with Mitch Marner and William Nylander, I have a hard time believing this season will mark the resurrection of the Leafs.
I like what Toronto did by adding Frederik Andersen in net, but I can’t get excited about the Leafs’ defense enough to believe the club is ready to compete.
Just look at Wednesday night. The Leafs were up four goals and dominating the Jets, but Winnipeg rallied to win 5-4 in overtime, a comeback fueled by a hat trick from the “other” top rookie, Patrik Laine.
I like Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardiner, as well as savvy vet Matt Hunwick, but are they enough to help the Leafs make the playoffs? I don’t think so.
Here are some more of my hot takes from around the league:
— Has Chris Kreider finally taken that step that Rangers fans have been waiting for? After signing a four-year contract worth over $18 million in the summer, which I was not fond of at the time, he dominated in training camp and has six points in his four games to start the regular season.
Kreider has been taking over games physically with his size and his speed. Internally, the Rangers expected this to be the season he finally takes the leap into stardom, and the early returns have been spectacular. If the Blueshirts are going to exceed expectations, outside of the defense not completely falling apart, Kreider has to be a big part of everything.
— I couldn’t be happier Marian Hossa scoring his 500th NHL goal. Hossa has been such an under-the-radar star in the league for almost 20 years. He has won three Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks, had three 40-goal seasons and has nearly 1,100 points. He has a few years left in him, but his next stop afterward his playing days are over will be Toronto, site of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
— I’m not sure what to expect from the Detroit Red Wings this season. The structure of the team seems solid enough, with Henrik Zetterberg, Dylan Larkin and Gustav Nyquist, but to me it seems like something is missing (and I am not referring to Pavel Datsyuk).
But, one thing that has been paying early dividends has been the signing of Thomas Vanek. After two disappointing and puzzling seasons with the Minnesota Wild, Vanek was bought out. He then was signed on the cheap ($2.6 million) by Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.
“You’re always looking for goals,” Holland said after inking the veteran winger, who has scored 318 career goals.
Vanek looks like his old self, is scoring goals, and at $2.6 million could be the bargain signing of the offseason.
— I have been extremely critical of the Edmonton Oilers for some time, and it has been well deserved. How many times are they going to get the first pick in the draft and still be a complete disaster on the ice? Maybe things are about to change for them. The emergence of Connor McDavid as a top player has been quite obvious. And with McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl and Mark Letestu up the middle, it finally appears that the perennially sinking ship has reached the surface again. The Oilers are finally a “buy” stock, and I am buying a ton.
— I am not sure when it exactly clicked, but I can say with confidence that Boston Bruins pesky winger Brad Marchand is one of the best players in the NHL. Marchand came into the league as a gritty player, who could bang in a few goals. He’s now coming off a 37-goal season, working the power play, killing penalties and still doing all the hard work in the corners and mixing it up with the opposing players.
Marchand solidified his emergence by scoring the pivotal goal in the World Cup of Hockey for Team Canada. Love him or hate him, he’s one of the top players in the league.
Here’s my current Top 5 in the NHL:
1. Patrick Kane — Rarely do players score 100 points in a season anymore. The Blackhawks’ star put up 106 last season and he is already averaging over a point per game this season. Most importantly, he’s a winning player.
2. Connor McDavid — The main cog in the early success for the Oilers, the 19-year-old controls the game whenever he is on the ice. His explosive speed and nose for the net make him a very dangerous player. I expect him to be in my top slot soon.
3. Brent Burns — The bearded San Jose Sharks “defenseman” is coming off a 24-point playoff run, and has picked up where he left off. He has a monster shot and is one of the most underrated players in the league.
4. Vladimir Tarasenko — The St. Louis Blues are a top team in the Western Conference, and he’s the main reason. Perhaps the best pure goal scorer in the league, I expect him to be one of the few players to tease 50 goals this season.
5. Brad Marchand — In the words of the great Chris Jericho, “you just made the list!” As I stated earlier, the Bruins are another team that is still trying to figure itself out. Marchand is the reason the Bruins will be a top team in the East. If he plays 80 games, he could finish with 85 points.
Follow Brian on Twitter at @BMonzoWFAN