The Most Surprising Success Stories of the 2015-16 NHL Season so Far

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2016

The Most Surprising Success Stories of the 2015-16 NHL Season so Far

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Every NHL season gives fans a fresh crop of impressive rookies, but there are some freshman sensations who come out of nowhere. It is also true that a change in team or role can produce major spikes in performance from veteran players and allow us to appreciate players for their progress season over season. Finally, there are teams that appear to be leveling off and then suddenly emerge as powers in their division.

    This year is no exception, with some impressive talents impacting their teams and divisions. In some cases, the rich are getting richer—Artemi Panarin is ripping it up for the Chicago Blackhawks—and in others, new additions are helping second-division teams find their way up the standings.

    Here are the most surprising success stories of the 2015-16 season.

Carolina Hurricanes' Justin Faulk Is a Power-Play Monster

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    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

    The Story Before the Season: The Carolina Hurricanes scored only 188 goals in 2014-15 and were not expected to have an easier time this year. Goals were going to come at a premium for Carolina

    The Story Now: Justin Faulk started the season scoring power-play goals and hasn't stopped. His 12 goals with the man advantage lead all NHL defensemen and represent almost 12 percent of Carolina's total goals for the season.

    What Does the Future Hold?: Faulk is a fine young defender and one of the pieces the Hurricanes are building their future around. He can score goals—Faulk had seven power-play goals a year ago—but this represents a major spike in performance. If he emerges as an impact offensive defenseman, the Hurricanes will have a massive part of their next championship team.

Chicago Blackhawks Get Big Production from Artemi Panarin

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    The Story Before the Season: Artemi Panarin was impressing fans and coaches before the season began. Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville discussed his success in training camp with's Brian Hedger in September.

    The Story Now: Panarin has been outstanding for the 'Hawks and leads all rookies in scoring by a wide margin. He looks like one of the best additions of the summer, as he was procured for only money by the Stanley Cup champions.

    What Does the Future Hold?: He is currently blowing past opposing defensemen on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, as noted by If NHL teams have found a way to contain him, they have not yet deployed their plan.

Edmonton Oilers' Leon Draisaitl Phenomenal at Even Strength

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Story Before the Season: The Edmonton Oilers were going to rely on a youngster at center—Connor McDavid. The No. 1 overall selection in the 2015 draft, McDavid was regarded as an immediate difference-maker. 

    The Story Now: McDavid was injured early in the year, and the Oilers made the call for Leon Draisaitl, who was toiling in the minors. Draisaitl found instant chemistry with winger Taylor Hall, and the duo had enormous success through the fall and early winter. Despite a recent cooling period, Draisaitl is tied for No. 2 in even-strength scoring among centers across the NHL.

    What Does the Future Hold?: Edmonton has a pleasant problem when McDavid comes back, as they will ice three bona fide centers for the top two lines. Although Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the veteran incumbent and McDavid is going to play based on pedigree and early returns, Edmonton will make room for Draisaitl. 

Florida Panthers Keep Winning

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    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

    The Story Before the Season: The Florida Panthers were expected to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Sean Leahy of Puck Daddy suggested they would still be in the mix for the postseason when the February 29 trade deadline approached.

    The Story Now: The Panthers have been winning a lot this year and are now in first place in the Atlantic Division. There is good news everywhere—balanced scoring, quality and depth on defense, and two goalies who are topflight and effective.

    What Does the Future Hold?: Florida had a 13-game winning streak snapped in Vancouver, but it did grab a point. General manager Dale Tallon's work in Chicago reaped multiple championships after he left; we could be looking at a team that makes a deep run in 2016—and Tallon is likely to be active at the deadline. 

Philadelphia Flyers Find a Defenseman in Shayne Gostisbehere

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Story Before the Season: The Philadelphia Flyers had some major issues on defense. Unheralded Shayne Gostisbehere showed promise but wasn't a lock for a major role. 

    The Story Now: Gostisbehere has played in both the AHL and NHL, but he is establishing himself as a useful defender this season. He is exactly what the team needed: an unexpected value contract on a defense that is badly overpaid for what they bring as detailed by

    What Does the Future Hold?: GM Ron Hextall is making room for youth who can help, and Gostisbehere should be an everyday player—when healthy. A recent injury suffered while playing against the Minnesota Wild—described by Tim Panaccio of Comcast Sportsnet—has him out of the lineup at this time.

Pittsburgh Penguins Rely Heavily on Marc-Andre Fleury

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    Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

    The Story Before the Season: The Pittsburgh Penguins made some major moves over the summer to improve their offense, notably adding Phil Kessel in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

    The Story Now: The Penguins can't score, but their goaltending is fantastic. Marc-Andre Fleury, who appeared to be fading a few short seasons ago, has resuscitated his career in a big way. Travis Yost of TSN goes into detail about the turnaround.

    What Does the Future Hold?: Pittsburgh has too much talent to be this poor offensively all year. If they can capture their previous offense under new coach Mike Sullivan—and Fleury keeps playing lights out—we could see a deep run for the Penguins this spring.

Washington Capitals on Pace for 60 Wins

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    Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

    The Story Before the Season: The Washington Capitals were expected to be a strong contender in the 2015-16 season. Scott Burnside of suggested in his season preview that it was reasonable to expect the team to win its division—and make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. 

    The Story Now: The Capitals are not just the best team in their division; they are No. 1 in the entire NHL. The club is on track for 60 wins—a rare feat—and its goal differential of plus-49 is by far the best in the league. They are an impact team at this time. 

    What Does the Future Hold?: This is a team built to win now, and as Burnside's article suggests, the offseason tweaking has worked out well. It will be an active trade deadline for the club, and Washington could see its first Stanley Cup parade in the summer.

    All advanced stats courtesy of


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