The Biggest Takeaways from the 1st Month of the 2016-17 NHL Season

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistNovember 11, 2016

The Biggest Takeaways from the 1st Month of the 2016-17 NHL Season

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Every NHL team has now played at least a dozen games, and there are some amazing stories and surprising trends emerging. Rookies are grabbing more headlines than normal, the Eastern Conference is dominating the Western Conference and some perennial bottom feeders are making their moves into playoff positions.

    These are still relatively early days in the 2016-17 season, but some trends are clear, and the new impact players are obvious. Connor McDavid has the Edmonton Oilers near the top of the Pacific Division standings, and the Dallas Stars surprised everyone with a slow start.

    Here are the biggest news items from the early portion of this season.

7. Injuries Having Major Impacts Across the NHL

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    Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

    The Lead Story: Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres was projected to be a big part of the team's success this year, but a high ankle sprain has held him out of action for a month. Eichel is one of many major contributors who have spent time on injured reserve this year.

    How Did It Get This Way? This season's injuries have hit some teams—such as the Dallas Stars—in big ways. Losing Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky and others has impacted the team's record. The New York Islanders have also been hit with injuries to right-handed defensemen Travis Hamonic and Ryan Pulock, and that could impact the club's chances moving forward.

    Will This Sustain? While it is true that all teams sustain injuries, it is also true that successful contenders usually face fewer of them during impact seasons. For the Montreal Canadiens or any strong team to sustain their early records, good health across the roster is an important component.

6. Edmonton Oilers Finally Turn the Corner

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Lead Story: The Edmonton Oilers haven't made the playoffs since the spring of 2006. A big summer of trades and free agency meant names like Adam Larsson and Milan Lucic were added to a cluster of young stars already on the roster. Connor McDavid was named captain, and the expectation was improvement.

    How Did It Get This Way? The Oilers have spent many years lacking in goal and on defense. General manager Peter Chiarelli has added goalie Cam Talbot and defenders Andrej Sekera, Larsson and Kris Russell, as well as bigger players up front like Lucic and Patrick Maroon. The Bruinization of Edmonton was completed this past summer.

    Will This Sustain? Edmonton's hot start looks legitimate, and the longer into the season this young team can go without a losing streak is a positive. No one is suggesting this team is playoff-bound, but the early indications are positive, and improvement is everywhere.

5. Dallas Stars' Early Struggles Could Be Serious

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    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

    The Lead Story: A year ago, the Dallas Stars were off to a strong start, posting 22 points in 14 games. The team's 50 goals led the Western Conference, and the Stars were a feared offensive team. This year, though, after 14 games, Dallas has just 13 points and has allowed 48 tallies while scoring only 37 times.

    How Did It Get This Way? The Stars have injury issues, as noted on Hockey-Reference.com. The goaltending is also poor—the average save percentage this year is .912, and Dallas sits at .890—and some of the veteran scorers are not finding their range.

    Will This Sustain? Jamie Benn had a slow start but picked things up against the Calgary Flames, and he appears to be coming out of his early-season slump. If he and Tyler Seguin can provide enough offense to outscore the struggling goaltending, the Stars could jump back into contention. When healthy, this team is too talented to be outside the playoffs.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets Finally Turning North?

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    The Lead Story: The Columbus Blue Jackets arrived in the NHL in 2000-01 and have outscored their opposition only twice—in 2012-13 and 2013-14. Although it's early, the Blue Jackets currently own a 37-28 goal advantage over opponents.

    How Did It Get This Way? John Tortorella's team has tremendous goaltending and an emerging group of defensemen, led by phenomenal rookie Zach Werenski. Although there are no impact players up front, the roster boasts several capable forwards who are on track to score 20 or more goals. Brandon Saad, Josh Anderson, Nick Foligno and Cam Atkinson are all contributing, among others.

    Will This Sustain? Columbus has made the playoffs only twice in its existence, and this could be the third time. One thing that seems to be different this time is balance across the roster. The Blue Jackets have arrived at a point where quality, depth and balance at each position mean a chance to compete every night. This could be a special season in Columbus, with the Blue Jackets possibly winning a playoff round.

3. Winnipeg Jets Winger Patrik Laine Is Shooting Lights Out

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    Jason Halstead/Getty Images

    The Lead Story: The Winnipeg Jets won the chance to move up at the 2016 draft lottery, and the prize was brilliant winger Patrik Laine. He is ripping up the NHL, scoring 11 goals in his first 15 games, a clip that reminds some of Alexander Ovechkin.

    How Did It Get This Way? Laine scored one goal in his first three games but has been on fire since then. He appears to have found a home with center Mark Scheifele and winger Nikolaj Ehlers, and their even-strength performances have been off the charts.

    Will This Sustain? If he stays healthy, Laine is going to score a lot of goals. Since 1990, the top scorers as rookies are Teemu Selanne—with the Winnipeg Jets—Ovechkin and Eric Lindros. No other player in those years scored as many as 40 goals, so Laine could post some of the best numbers in the last 25 years.

2. New York Rangers Might Be a Special Team

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Lead Story: The New York Rangers made the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and have changed much of the roster since then while still icing a contender. It looks as though the club may have taken another major step forward, using young and talented forwards to drive results.

    How Did It Get This Way? New York has turned over a lot of its roster and is now faster and more skilled while getting younger. Mika Zibanejad, Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich are all new arrivals who give the club outstanding skill and depth across three scoring lines. The Rangers have 58 goals in 14 games, and they come in waves.

    Will This Sustain? Zibanejad is a proven but inconsistent NHL player, with Vesey and Buchnevich boasting solid resumes. Combined with the established forwards, they give New York the kind of offensive arsenal rarely seen in the NHL today. If the team avoids injury, this year's Rangers may rank with the 1974-75 and 1991-92 editions as elite offensive teams.

1. Eastern Conference Shows Early Strength Against Western Conference

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    Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

    The Lead Story: The Western Conference has traditionally been more powerful in the last several years, led by teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings. This season, the tide seems to have turned, with the Eastern Conference holding a 48-25-12 edge in head-to-head results.

    How Did It Get This Way? The Pittsburgh Penguins turned a corner last season, and clubs like the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers have been competitive in recent seasons. Carey Price is healthy, and that has helped the Montreal Canadiens dominate early in the year, and the Columbus Blue Jackets have shown surprising early strength.

    Will This Sustain? Chances are that the Western Conference recovers to make this closer as teams like the Anaheim Ducks and Kings improve their records against Eastern Conference teams. It is worth monitoring, though, and the gap is strong enough to suggest we could be seeing a change in the balance of power.

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