Connor Bedard's electric shooting, and seven other early season trends worth watching

From Ilya Samsonov's tumble out of the gate to the suddenly stout Montreal Canadiens, we've got our eyes peeled on these early anomalies in the NHL season.

The early portion of the NHL calendar is always intriguing, particularly if you’re into statistical trends. Because of varying games played, coaches experimenting with different line combinations and players working their way back into game shape, there are many eye-popping stats for the average fan to parse through.

We’re going through a few trends that have emerged during the opening weeks of the season and will determine whether they're sustainable or just a mirage.

Connor Bedard is already one of the NHL’s best shot-creators

Bedard is the best prospect to enter the league since Auston Matthews and he’s already exceeding the colossal hype placed upon him. A marquee television draw, Bedard is already one of the NHL’s elite shot-creators through the opening two weeks.

The 18-year-old can’t do it all by himself as the Blackhawks are 2-4-0 but he’s going to try his damndest. Bedard ranks second in individual expected goals, tied for fifth in shots, tied for third in rush attempts and tied for first with Matthews in scoring chances at 5-on-5 via Natural Stat Trick. He’s a one-man offense unto himself. I had a chance to watch Bedard in person when the Blackhawks faced off against the Maple Leafs and Bedard’s spatial awareness and resting speed stood out, along with the threat of his supernatural shot.

Connor Bedard is firing pucks on net at a blistering pace. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Connor Bedard is firing pucks on net at a blistering pace. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Prediction: Bedard will finish within the top five of all shot-creation metrics and will run away with the Calder Trophy after a 40-goal campaign.

Ilya Samsonov has stumbled out of the gate as the NHL’s worst starting goaltender

Ilya Samsonov finished 10th in goals saved above expected last season, a cumulative metric designed to take into account the quality of shots each goalie faces. He’s been brutal out of the gate for the Maple Leafs and was pulled after allowing three goals on four shots against the Lightning on Saturday. Samsonov ranks dead last with -5.71 goals saved above average in four games.

Joseph Woll excelled once called upon in relief and steadied the team to a comeback victory and is now poised to take a run at the Maple Leafs net with a start Tuesday against the Capitals.

Will Samsonov remain as the league’s worst starting goaltender?

Prediction: Woll will take the starting job from Samsonov, who will eventually work his way back into form in a contract year. He won’t finish as the league’s worst starting goaltender but Woll will emerge as a top-15 goalie, while Samsonov will likely look to begin courting new teams.

Jaccob Slavin leads all defensemen in points

Jaccob Slavin is arguably the NHL’s best defensive defenseman. He is the best player in the league at breaking up odd-man rushes, he’s rarely out of place and perhaps best embodies the Hurricanes’ unwavering defensive structure. Slavin leads all NHL defensemen with seven points — three goals and four assists — prior to Tuesday’s slate.

An elite defender, Slavin has never posted more than 42 points in a single season. Is the Hurricanes top defenceman due for an unexpected offensive explosion?

Prediction: Slavin and Brent Burns will continue as one of the NHL’s elite defensive pairings but the former’s offensive numbers will eventually regress to the mean. He will finish within the top 15 in defensive scoring and should be among the leading Norris Trophy contenders again. It’s just too difficult to imagine a player with a proven track record exceeding their career-best eight goals this late into their career.

Devils rank last in 5-on-5 goals

Wait, what? New Jersey boasts one of the NHL’s most explosive offenses, led by Hart Trophy candidate Jack Hughes, with ample secondary scoring. What do you mean they’re last in five-on-five goals!?

New Jersey has registered just three goals at 5-on-5 in four games and they’re a paltry 2-1-1. How is this possible? New Jersey’s power play is clicking at a league-best 42.9 percent clip and is tied with Detroit for a league-best nine power play goals. The offense is completely imbalanced at the moment and something’s gotta give.

Prediction: New Jersey will buck this trend and get depth scoring from the rest of their roster. Nico Hischier, Dawson Mercer and Ondrej Palat are without a single goal this year and that is sure to change at any given moment. If the Devils remain last in 5-on-5 goals by the end of November, I will eat my hat on camera.

Canadiens allow fewest 5-on-5 goals

Montreal’s oft-maligned defense has defied all critics, allowing a league-best two goals at 5-on-5 through five contests — one on a speculative angle from Toronto’s Noah Gregor, another one where Montreal sent four defenders to converge on Alex Ovechkin, only for him to find a wide-open Dylan Strome. Aside from that, it’s been stellar defending from the Canadiens.

Can they sustain this form?

Prediction: Montreal will regress eventually and drop into the bottom-12 of goals allowed at 5-on-5. The Canadiens simply lack a true shutdown pairing and this is contingent upon Jake Allen playing like a top-10 goalie for the rest of the season. If we’re wrong about this, we’ll be sure to hear it from Canadiens fans worldwide!

Seven teams killing penalties at a 90 percent clip or better

This is where the numbers get a bit zany. Dallas, Colorado, Calgary, Boston, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Buffalo are all killing penalties at an above-90 percent rate to start the year. Has there been a league-wide improvement in penalty killing, or is the data merely distorted?

Expect the Bruins penalty kill to once again be amongst the league's elite this season. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Expect the Bruins penalty kill to once again be amongst the league's elite this season. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Prediction: Boston will emerge at a 90 percent clip exactly, leading the NHL in penalty kill percentage for the second consecutive year. It’s worth noting that the Bruins led the NHL at an 87.2 penalty kill rate last year, so this surmises that the league’s best unit will improve despite Patrice Bergeron’s retirement.

Ben Chiarot and Justin Holl’s elite partnership at 5-on-5

Ben Chiarot and Justin Holl both needed a change of scenery to play the best hockey of their careers. Chiarot played his best hockey since 2020 upon joining the Red Wings last year and now Holl, freed from a market that turned sour on him, is going through a renaissance period himself.

Chiarot-Holl have played 36:46 together at 5-on-5 and haven’t been on the ice for a goal against while being on the ice for seven Red Wings goals, earning a 55 percent share of the expected goals. That’s pretty, pretty good. Holl had become a defensive liability while in Toronto. Will this pairing remain a top-15 unit throughout the season?

Prediction: We love to see Holl thriving in a new market but we don’t see it here. Holl is better offensively than he’s given credit for but his tendency to cheat way up the ice is a hallmark of his game. Chiarot-Holl will get burned eventually and Detroit’s second unit has rarely shown any inclination to mitigate their risk profile. So far, so good, but we’re not believers just yet.

All stats from Natural Stat Trick,, MoneyPuck