Ranking the Biggest Surprises at the Start of the 2016-17 NHL Season

Adrian Dater@@adaterNHL National ColumnistOctober 19, 2016

Ranking the Biggest Surprises at the Start of the 2016-17 NHL Season

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    Boston Bruins rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo was a plus-seven his first three games.
    Boston Bruins rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo was a plus-seven his first three games.Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Vladimir Tarasenko had four goals in his first three games for the St. Louis Blues. That's not really a surprise. Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators is off to a great start offensively, with seven points. No surprise. Same for the San Jose Sharks' Brent Burns, with eight points.

    Most of the names at the top of the various statistical categories, you expect to see them there. But there have been some notable surprise players through the first week of the season, and we come here to pay them homage. It might be the only time the rest of the season they get their names on a list like this, but better to be a one-hit wonder than never at all.

    The following six players made the list, although they are not ranked in any particular pecking order. They're all of equal surprise in our way of thinking. There is no set criteria to make the list either, though rookies who weren't considered blue-chip prospects did get a longer look, along with veterans whose careers seemed in something of a crossroads.

    On with the slideshow:

Brandon Carlo, Boston Bruins

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Why he's been a surprise: Most reports about the 19-year-old native of Colorado Springs, Colorado, had him pegged as years away from being NHL-ready. A second-round pick in the 2015 draft by Boston, Brandon Carlo wasn't supposed to be able to play at this level just yet.

    Surprise. Carlo has been Boston's best defenseman so far. In his first three games, Carlo had a goal, two assists and a plus-seven. At 6'5", 205 pounds, Carlo certainly already had better-than-average NHL size. So far at least, his play been above average too. 

    His defensive partner is 39-year-old Zdeno Chara, not a bad guy to learn from. Already, he appears to have gained growing trust from coach Claude Julien, as he played nearly 25 minutes in a win over Winnipeg Monday night, nearly eight minutes more than his NHL debut last week against Columbus.

    Carlo has drawn praise for his speed and smooth skating stride. Yeah, it's early, but Bruins fans are already quietly excited that they may have a diamond-in-the-rough future heir apparent to Chara as a No. 1 D-man.

Joe Colborne, Colorado Avalanche

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Why he's been a surprise: The former Flame and Maple Leaf, whom Boston originally drafted in the first round in 2008, scored a hat trick in his first game with Colorado Saturday against Dallas. Joe Colborne went scoreless in the following two games but contributed in other ways in a win at Pittsburgh in his second game.

    Colborne's goals against Dallas weren't cheapies. He dug hard for pucks around the net and parked himself solidly in front much of the night. Scouts have always loved his size (6'5", 220 lbs), but he developed something of a reputation for being too soft earlier in his mostly disappointing career. 

    But after a 19-goal, 44-point season with Calgary and a fast start with the Avs, maybe Colborne just needed a little more time to bloom.

Richard Panik, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

    Why he's been a surprise: Richard Panik, the 25-year-old Slovakian, scored only six goals in 30 games with Chicago last season. After the first four games this year, he's got four.

    Three of them came in one game against Nashville, but he had a goal and assist in three other games. He's currently skating on the right side on a line centered by Jonathan Toews, so scoring chances should keep coming. After struggling earlier in his career, Panik might have finally found a home with the Blackhawks. In many ways, his career journey resembles Colborne's.

    There is a lot of pressure on Panik to perform, given his top-six designation by coach Joel Quenneville. But this season anyway, so far, so good.

Thomas Vanek, Detroit Red Wings

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Why he's been a surprise: Signed to a one-year, $2.6 million contract, Thomas Vanek has made Red Wings general manager Ken Holland look good so far. He scored two goals in the season opener at Tampa Bay and assisted on three goals in Detroit's first win, Monday against Ottawa.

    At 32, Vanek represents the classic "Low risk, potentially high reward" kind of acquisition Detroit has often had good luck with in the past. (Larry Murphy, Luc Robitaille are just a couple of examples.)

    The former Buffalo star has produced despite playing only 12 to 15 minutes a night on the third line, with Darren Helm and Gustav Nyquist. Vanek is a two-time 40-goal scorer, and 32 isn't retirement age. Right now, he's looking like one of the summer's best bargains.

    "I listened to a lot of people that I knew real well that said he's got a great heart and wants to win, and that's all he's shown me," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill told NHL.com's Nicholas Cotsonika. "He's pushed hard. He's worked hard."

Al Montoya, Montreal Canadiens

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Why he's been a surprise: Canadiens fans would have been excused for panicking a little, when Carey Price suddenly was listed out with a severe flu before the start of the season. The Habs' decline when Price went down last year with a knee injury has been well-documented.

    Enter the journeyman Al Montoya, who has been tremendous so far. Montoya went 2-0-1 with a .962 saves percentage in his first three starts for the Canadiens. Montreal is Montoya's fifth team since joining the league in 2008. 

    According to Yahoo Sports' Sean Leahy, Price hopes to make his season debut Thursday against Arizona. If he needs more time, it's got to be nice for GM Marc Bergevin that he has a potentially better backup than his team did last year.

David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Why he's been a surprise: After scoring 10 and 15 goals, respectively, the last two seasons, David Pastrnak had four in his first three games with Boston, playing right wing on a line centered by veteran newcomer David Backes.

    He was drafted 25th overall by Boston in 2014, so it's not like he's faced small expectations. But like several Bruins, his play wasn't quite strong enough to help get his team into the playoffs the last two years. Maybe that's all changing now.

                       

    Adrian Dater covers the NHL for Bleacher Report.

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