Welcome to 10 Insights and Observations. Every week, I’ll use this space to highlight teams, players, storylines and general musings around the NHL.
This week we look at an impressive Devils rookie, Charlie McAvoy taking the final step, goalie assists, bank passes, Showtime and much more.
McAvoy evolving into the ultimate dual-threat defenseman
Charlie McAvoy has always been a reasonably productive defenseman, but this season he's taken it to a whole new level.
Last year, he put up a career high 0.72 points per game and he’s followed that up with another leap this season at 0.91 points per game. Along the way he has become a human highlight reel. This fake slap shot and dance around Alex DeBrincat before sending a cross-ice pass to set the table for David Pastrnak to score his 40th was beautiful and ridiculously creative. Can’t recall ever seeing a fake quite like this in an NHL game before:
A month ago he scored this beautiful goal during some 4-on-4 action against the San Jose Sharks.
McAvoy has always been viewed as a strong defenseman who can match up against top players. He even has some physicality and jam to his game. He’s 6-foot-1 and listed at 209 pounds (which truthfully sounds light), and he’s physically strong. Playing with Matt Grzelcyk, they have controlled play and matched up well against top players. They have outscored opponents 24-9 at 5-on-5. The last step for McAvoy was blossoming into an offensive force, and he’s doing that this season.
Fabian Zetterlund playing unsung hero role for Devils
The New Jersey Devils have so many good players that it’s hard to keep track of them. One of those players falling under the radar is Fabian Zetterlund.
Last season, he had a cup of coffee in the league, including three games in November — he went pointless — before playing all of April and putting up eight points in 11 games. He hasn’t carried that exact production over in his first full season in the league but he’s up to 20 points in 44 games and looks like a player.
To level-set a bit here, Zetterlund is turning 24 this year and he’s played primarily with Tomas Tatar and Nico Hischier. If you don’t show anything at this point, you risk the league forgetting you. At the same time, those are not easy minutes. Hischier is used as a matchup center because he’s such a strong two-way player. To slot beside him in, effectively, your rookie season, means you have to have a high level of detail in your game. He’s only 5-foot-11, but he’s feisty.
This is just a great shift, pursuing the puck, muscling a defender off the puck and getting body positioning, then feeding a beautiful pass for a goal.
He’s shooting only 7.5 percent which does not match up with how he can shoot (he ripped a one-timer by Connor Hellebuyck last week — he can definitely hum it). He’s a smart, tenacious player with only six penalty minutes so far this season. The Devils suddenly have a number of stars, but you need the support players to round out your team and Zetterlund is showing really well so far.
Return of the bank pass
When the Detroit Red Wings were a dynasty, one thing they were able to weaponize is using the boards to create offense. The famed bouncy boards of Joe Louis Arena created all sorts of chaos with the way the puck would hop off of them. This was pretty well a set play for the Red Wings:
It’s a smart idea and something we should see teams do more while on offense. Defenses pack the house now, making it difficult to simply get shots through traffic. One counter to that is simply not trying to get the puck through by expanding your shooting zone. The Anaheim Ducks recently scored a goal like this:
🚨 Vatrano off the end boards!
We lead 2-0! pic.twitter.com/BQWF0fXweA
— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) February 20, 2023
Florida actively lets Derek Grant stand in front all alone. They are focused on challenging the shooter (in this case Kevin Shattenkirk) and preventing the puck from getting to the net altogether. Whether Shattenkirk meant to do that is a different story altogether but there’s a play to be had here. We should see it more often.
Long live goalie offence!
When the NHL introduced the trapezoid coming out of the 2004-05 lockout, many wondered if it was the beginning of the end of puck-handling goalies. There’s just something fans enjoy about it. A good goalie fake is magical. A goalie outlet pass is awesome. They can single-handedly break a forecheck at times… or give away an empty net goal.
Well, it looks like goalies passes are very much alive and well. There are 32 goalies with at least a point so far this season (last season there were 28). Andrei Vasilevskiy and Tristan Jarry are tied for the lead in goalie points with four assists each. Frederik Andersen has already hit that mark with months to go, including this gorgeous pass in the outdoor game:
Are you kidding me? That is over the defense and on the tape. There are defensemen who can’t make that pass. A good pass up the ice can burn teams in so many ways, including catching bad changes, like Ilya Samsonov did here against the Boston Bruins.
Who will pull the trigger on a Patrick Kane deal?
Watching Patrick Kane lament the Rangers trading for Vladimir Tarasenko, you started to wonder who in fact would be interested in No. 88 if not them. Compounding matters were his decline in play, his always spotty defensive play and an apparent hip injury. The Rangers traded for Tarasenko on Feb. 9. From Feb. 10 to 15, Kane played four games and was pointless — and lifeless — in that time. If he wanted to get moved still, then he had to show something.
Well, he has done that. In the four games since he apparently shook that off, he has 10 points. That doesn’t include an amazing overtime winner that unfortunately did not count. The "showtime" nickname has always been well earned — he is a game breaker. To win in the playoffs you need big-time offensive contributors and he’s showing he can still do exactly that.
It was sad to hear that Jonathan Toews is unhealthy and won’t be moved — I still believe he could have offered something of note to a playoff contender were he healthy — but at least Kane is now showing he still has it. He’s an exciting player and the playoffs are better with him there. Kane did his part to show someone he's worth trading for. Now we wait to see who will do so.
Kyle Dubas and his feathers
It was mildly entertaining to hear Kyle Dubas complain about his his players constantly being plucked on waivers last year after he tried to sneak Harri Sateri out of the KHL.
"We’ve had 11 guys claimed, which I think is double (any other team in the NHL), so it’s a good advertisement for agents if you want your players to come to a place where they’re going to get lots of attention and get claimed, probably a feather in our cap," Dubas said with sarcasm. "It hurts in moments like this when you have guys claimed."
The Sateri claim was particularly puzzling — he ended up playing six games for Arizona, had an .866 save percentage and shockingly won two of those games. He’s in Switzerland now. But that has not been the norm. In fact, many of their waiver claims have actually played some pretty good hockey since being claimed.
Jimmy Vesey and Travis Boyd were both claimed by Vancouver but have been pretty good players since leaving the Canucks. Boyd had 17 goals last season for Arizona. Vesey has managed to stick in the Rangers top six for long stretches and earned a contract extension. Mike Amadio had a career year with Vegas last season and is topping that again this year. If nothing else, he's a reasonable NHLer who can play every night. Rewind a few years to when Curtis McElhinney got claimed by Carolina, then played 33 games with a .912 save percentage that season. This season, Nicolas Aube-Kubel was claimed and he has since carved himself a role on the Capitals.
There were, of course, a number of players that did not work out at all: Adam Brooks, Calvin Pickard, Ryan Dzingel and Dmytro Timashov, to name a few. But it’s not all fun and games. There has been legit value found from claiming guys away from the Leafs, which in some ways is a feather in Dubas’s cap.
The Stadium Series is back
The outdoor games can sometimes have a bit of a "been there, done that" feel to them. The game played in Carolina over the weekend was not that. The stadium, the fans and the atmosphere were unbelievable. If you have not seen the introduction yet, it is worth your time.
The college band is a great touch. The NHL reaped the benefits with the ratings, too.
Via ESPN PR: Saturday's Stadium Series game at Carter-Finley played rather well on TV.
Most viewed SS game since 2019, huge increase from last year, second-most viewed game this season and the most-watched regular season game ever in this market. pic.twitter.com/3uBMxSt3Q8
— Andrew Schnittker (@aschnitt53) February 22, 2023
Truly, the only real problem with the game was the game itself, a 4-1 clunker that felt all but over halfway through. You have to give credit where it’s due, though. You can’t always have a great game, but where the NHL falls short at times is by not having a great event, regardless of the outcome. All sports leagues are seemingly grappling with them to some degree. It can’t just be about the game, it has to be a day/night out that is enjoyable just because you went. This event accomplished that.
Sabres struggling at home
The Buffalo Sabres have been a nice surprise so far this season, but there are two things that simply can’t be overlooked. The first is their record at home. They are a stunning 11-15-2 at home, which is the fourth-worst home record in the league. In terms of capacity, the Sabres rank dead last in the league. It’s a shame because they are a fun, young team that for the first time in awhile is clearly on the rise. At the same time, they have not played well at home. Their most recent game against the Leafs was all but over not 10 minutes into it. The other thing of note is that they haven’t performed well against the good teams. In their games against the top six teams in the East (Boston, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Carolina, New Jersey, New York Rangers), their record is 1-7-1.
The Sabres have missed the playoffs for 11 straight seasons, which is an NHL record. It is very difficult to take the jump from bottom dweller to playoff team. The first step is simply climbing out of the basement and beating the other teams at the bottom of the league. They have done that now. They are a very real bubble playoff team. But they have to be better at home and they have to be better against real playoff teams if they too want to become one themselves.
Bogosian has crafted a decent NHL career
Steven Stamkos was the first-overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft and the rest of the top five saw a run on defensemen.
Everyone knew this would be the case, and the story was really just which defensemen would go where. Drew Doughty went second-overall, Zach Bogosian went third, Alex Pietrangelo went fourth and Luke Schenn went fifth. Other than Doughty, who instantly made the league and was a stud from Day 1, they have all had ups and downs.
Bogosian, in particular, has become a very interesting case. He played 47 games as an 18-year-old and flashed with nine goals and 19 points for the Atlanta Thrashers. The next season was his first full season in the league and he had 10 goals. Hhe has not had more than nine goals in one season since those two campaigns.
The Thrashers played one more season in Atlanta before moving to Winnipeg and then he had to play on a struggling Jets franchise. Eventually, he was traded in a big multi-player deal that saw Evander Kane end up in Winnipeg, which meant Bogosian then had to move to the dysfunctional Sabres. By the end of his time with the Sabres, he was put on unconditional waivers, refused to report to the minors and was bought out. He decided to sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning to end the season. In 2020, 12 years after getting drafted, he played his first playoff game with the Lightning. He won the Cup that year. The next season, Bogosian signed with the Maple Leafs and put together a strong season as a stabilizing, third-pairing regular. Then he re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning and bounced in and out of the lineup. He was a healthy scratch in Game 1 of the playoffs that season. Tampa lost that game, he dressed for Game 2, then never sat again.
This season he’s playing a modest 14:46 per game and has just three points in 31 games, but if you look at who they are partnering him with, it speaks volumes to his own game. There is nobody Bogosian has played more with this season than Victor Hedman. They have been regular partners for each other this season and for good reason — they have done well together. They are above water in all major underlying categories and have outscored opponents 15-9 at 5-on-5.
Originally drafted as a two-way force with offensive abilities, he has become a veteran, stay-at-home defenseman. His offensive skill results in almost no production, but it’s not gone completely to waste. He can make a crisp outlet pass and the puck doesn’t die on his stick. Bogosian knows who he is at this point in his career and he plays to it.
Scratching for 'trade-related reasons' getting out of hand
Feb. 10 is the last time Jakob Chychrun played a hockey game (he played 29:57 in that game!). He has been scratched ever since for trade-related reasons, with the Coyotes ostensibly sitting him because a deal is on the horizon. Other players have started to join this list, including Vladislav Gavrikov and Luke Schenn.
For teams, the logic is understandable in that they don’t want to risk injury during a failed season for a player they are hoping to get a haul for. They have nothing to gain by playing these guys, but they have everything to lose.
At first I didn’t think much of it, but it has now dragged on and for a player like Chychrun in particular, the Coyotes could conceivably hang tight and simply not trade him at all. He’s a good player under contract for years to come (side note: has a player ever regretted signing long-term for a bargain more? Maybe Roberto Luongo?). Sitting a guy for nearly a month only to not trade him at all is simply unacceptable. What is the line here? Can you just sit players for months on end because you know you are and will be a seller? Vancouver was all but done about 10 games into the season this year, for reference.
The league needs to sort this out. Having players sit this long is openly tanking and if there is term on the contract and they don’t end up moving at all, there should be ramifications. Sitting guys the week of the trade deadline is frankly understandable and not bothersome. Sitting guys for nearly a month? That can’t be a thing the league allows going forward.