NHL Players Thriving Under New Coaches in the 2014-15 Season

Steve Macfarlane@@MacfarlaneHKYFeatured ColumnistNovember 18, 2014

NHL Players Thriving Under New Coaches in the 2014-15 Season

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    Sometimes it takes a change of scenery or a new addition to the status quo to spark new life into an NHL career or really get one started. A number of players seem to be thriving under new coaches in the 2014-15 season so far.

    Whether it's because of the coach's technical teachings, simple mannerisms as a leader or offered opportunities that make the difference, there are noticeable changes in some statistics for a bunch of NHLers who've experienced the switch this season.

    Here are our offerings in order of their leaps in numbers or overall games as compared to their previous season.

    Let us know who you'd add to the list in the comments section.

    All statistics via NHL.com unless otherwise noted.

Honorable Mentions

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars (Lindy Ruff): Putting Spezza on the top line wasn't the plan when he was picked up, but it's worked out well for Spezza and the Stars.

    Nick Bonino, Vancouver Canucks (Willie Desjardins): Bonino has done a great job filling the Ryan Kesler role as a second-line center for the Canucks.

    Mike Ribeiro, Nashville Predators (Peter Laviolette): After a tumultuous ending to his time in Arizona, Ribeiro was given a shot by the Predators organization, and his offensive gifts are being utilized by Laviolette.

No. 9: Ryan Kesler, Anaheim Ducks (Bruce Boudreau)

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Last year: 77 games, 25 goals, 18 assists, 43 points, 239 shots

    This year: 19 games, six goals, nine assists, 15 points, 54 shots, one game-winner

    What's changed: Kesler went from second fiddle to the Sedin twins (Henrik and Daniel) to the Ducks' star pairing of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. He's much happier with the change of scenery, though, after determining it was time to leave Vancouver last year (something he talks about with Sportsnet's Dan Murphy here).

    How much credit for coach?: Maybe Kesler would have been pleased with the Canucks' addition of Willie Desjardins after a miserable losing season under John Tortorella. He's being utilized in all situations by Boudreau. Keeping a veteran like Kesler happy is no easy task, so give Boudreau credit for that so far. It's always easier when you're winning, however.

No. 8: Johnny Boychuk, New York Islanders (Jack Capuano)

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Last year: 75 games, five goals, 18 assists, 23 points, 142 shots, plus-31

    This year: 16 games, two goals, 10 assists, 12 points, 40 shots, plus-six rating

    What's changed: Boychuk's offensive numbers are skyrocketing with the Islanders, and he's set to eclipse career highs in those categories. He has a bigger role on the Isles defense than he did in Boston and is taking full advantage.

    How much credit for coach?: Capuano was in great need of defensive depth this season and got it with Boychuk and fellow newcomer Nick Leddy. Boychuk would probably have broken out on this team regardless of who was running it just based on his increased role.

No. 7: Jonas Hiller, Calgary Flames (Bob Hartley)

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Last year: 29-13-7 record, .911 save percentage, 248 GAA, five shutouts

    This year: 8-4-1 record, .922 save percentage, 2.30 GAA, one shutout

    What's changed: Technically, Hiller's numbers were pretty solid for Bruce Boudreau and the Anaheim Ducks last season. But he fell out of favor late in the year after a couple of bad losses and was on the bench down the stretch and into the playoffs while the Ducks played their rookie goalies for most of April and May.

    How much credit for coach?: Bob Hartley rotated Hiller and Karri Ramo in a competition for the top spot but didn't hesitate in giving it to the free-agent signing when he pulled ahead. He's shown confidence in his goalie, and that's given Hiller confidence in returning to top form after so much disappointment in the way things ended in Anaheim.

No. 6: Mike Green, Washington Capitals (Barry Trotz)

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Last year: 70 games, nine goals, 29 assists, 38 points, 172 shots, minus-16 rating

    This year: 16 games, three goals, nine assists, 12 points, 35 shots, plus-four rating

    What's changed: On pace for 60 points, the defenseman is having his best offensive output in a season since 2010. He's healthy, which factors into the equation for Mike Green after a string of bad luck over the past few years. His defensive game is much-improved as well this season, as his big turnaround in the plus-minus category indicates.

    How much credit for coach?: Barry Trotz has helped Green focus on play in his own end, complementing what he's capable of doing on the power play and when he has the puck in the neutral and offensive zones. Green's Corsi-for rating is a team-high 57.5 percent, good for top 20 in the league right now.

No. 5: Jimmy Hayes, Florida Panthers (Gerard Gallant)

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Last year: 53 games, 11 goals, seven assists, 18 points, 71 shots, minus-six rating

    This year: Nine games, three goals, three assists, six points, 27 shots, plus-six rating

    What's changed: Over a full season, Hayes' numbers project to more than 50 points this season. He's on the plus side of the plus-minus scale and averaging three shots per game. He showed small glimpses last year of the talent that made him a second-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2008. This year he's enjoying a much bigger breakout.

    How much credit for coach?: Gerard Gallant has been reinforcing the use of his size and speed, telling Hayes to be conscious of keeping his feet moving. The head coach told the Miami Herald's George Richards he's been happy with the results:

    He’s skating and he’s going to the net and he’s working hard. He’s a guy who can score goals. He’s a big-bodied guy and when he’s playing the way he is, he’s a very effective player for us.

    Gallant has brought out the best in him so far, with lots of room to grow for the 24-year-old.

    Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/sports/nhl/florida-panthers/article3871952.html#storylink=cpy

No. 4: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (Mike Johnston)

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Last year: 80 games, 36 goals, 68 assists, 104 points, 259 shots, plus-18

    This year: 16 games, seven goals, 18 assists, 25 points, 54 shots, plus-three

    What's changed: Mike Johnston took the helm in June and discussed his system at a press conference, via NHL.com's Wes Crosby: 

    My basic framework of the system is puck possession, puck management, tempo and pace. You want your players to have options in a game, so in every part of the game, from breakout getting out of our zone to offensive zone entries, we want to give our players as many options as possible. We want them to use those options and we want to pick the right options. Our defensive habits and the details for our defensive habits will be ingrained, for sure. But I'm more inclined in teams I've coached over the years, to really play a pace game. You hold the puck, you play defensively a lot less.

    Crosby is on pace for a slightly higher point total than last year's. And what Johnston wants to see from his captain and players is paying off. Crosby may be playing the best hockey of his career. From the advanced-stats perspective, he's improved from a low-50s Corsi-for percentage to nearly 60 percent.

    How much credit for coach?: Johnston is a nice change from the Dan Bylsma era, and the results have been impressive so far. It helps when you're talking about the best player in the game at the moment, but Johnston deserves kudos for getting the Penguins to refresh their image.

No. 3: Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks (Willie Desjardins)

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    Last year: 70 games, 11 goals, 39 assists, 50 points (Henrik); 73 games, 16 goals, 31 assists, 57 points (Daniel)

    This year: 18 games, five goals, 12 assists, 17 points (Henrik); 18 games, four goals, 12 assists, 16 points (Daniel)

    What's changed: Whatever the reason, the Sedin twins did not fare well under head coach John Tortorella, which is one major reason the controversial bench boss is no longer in Vancouver after serving for one season. Aside from the addition of Willie Desjardins, not much has changed.

    How much credit for coach?: It seemed anybody might have been better for the twins than Tortorella, but Desjardins has made a huge effort to connect with his stars, even traveling to Sweden to see them in the offseason, via Derek Van Diest of the Edmonton Sun. That's something Daniel says was a surprise:

    That showed that he cares about his players, and he wants us to do really well. He wants to get a head start on everything. He wanted to know what kind of people we were and all that, it was neat. That’s the first time it happened to us. I was a bit surprised, but it was good. I think his communication is top notch. I think that’s why we like him here and that’s why it’s been successful. He listen to his players.

No. 2: Riley Nash, Carolina Hurricanes (Bill Peters)

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    Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

    Last year: 73 games, 10 goals, 14 assists, 24 points, 86 shots

    This year: 17 games, four goals, eight assists, 12 points, 86 shots, 18:06 ice-time average per game

    What's changed: Opportunity and ice time for Nash, who had to fill in with bigger minutes in the absence of Eric Staal in the early part of the season, has turned into a chance for him to play a much more critical role even though Staal is healthy again.

    How much credit for coach?: Because the move to upgrade Nash's ice time came out of necessity, the player deserves more credit for taking advantage of his opportunity.

No. 1: Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators (Peter Laviolette)

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    Last year: 13 games, one goal, four assists, five points, 20 shots, minus-eight

    This year: 17 games, eight goals, 12 assists, 20 points, 50 shots, plus-19, two game-winning goals

    What's changed: The defensive era of Barry Trotz is over in Nashville, with the addition of Peter Laviolette turning the Predators into a much more potent team offensively. No player has thrived under the new philosophy more than the 20-year-old from Sweden.

    How much credit for coach?: After starting his NHL career with a fizzle, the highly touted prospect has done a total 180 under Laviolette. The new coach has helped with the kid's confidence by putting him on the top line early.