The NHL always has a quirky schedule at the start of the year, but this first month has been extra strange. It's Thursday morning as I write this, and tonight the Canucks will play their league-leading 12th game as they travel to New Jersey to take on the Devils. Meanwhile, the Rangers, trooping along on an extended season-opening road trip thanks to the renovations at Madison Square Garden, will be in Philadelphia, playing their eighth game of the year.
That's right – after tonight, Vancouver will have played half again as many games as the Rangers, who seem (at least to this point) to have gotten the short end of the two teams' offseason coaching swap.
By the way, the Blueshirts are going to have to vacate the Garden in 10 years anyway, after which the building will be knocked down. If you've never been, the clock is ticking, so plan your trip for sometime in the next decade.
Let's talk about some prospects now, shall we?
Mika Zibanejad, C, OTT – Zibanejad's early experiences in pro hockey after being taken No. 6 overall in 2011 weren't much to write home about. The young pivot's initial nine-game trial with the Sens back in 2011-12 was quiet, and he wasn't a high scorer in the SEL either. He only put up a middling 11 points in 23 AHL games last year, and his returns in 42 NHL games (seven goals, 13 assists) weren't that much more promising, though it's not bad for a third-line role and he did go plus-9. This year, instead of burying him on a depth line, the Sens sent the 20-year-old back to the AHL, and he responded with seven points (two goals, five assists) in the first six games. That got him called up, and though he's still buried in bottom-six duty for now, he got an assist off a nifty pass in his season debut with Ottawa.
Chris Kreider, LW, NYR – The Rangers – and fantasy players – are still trying to figure out what to make of Kreider, the Boston College star who debuted effectively for New York in the playoffs two years ago, but has largely been looking for answers since. He couldn't score effectively either at the AHL or NHL level last year, a situation that's cause for no small concern for the 2009 first-rounder (19th overall). However, he's off to a decent start in the AHL this year with four points and 16 PIM in six games, and the Rangers are desperate for whatever help he can give them with Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash out. Expect him to see a lot of ice time if he can get out of his own head and play effectively, starting Thursday in Philly.
Brock Nelson, C, NYI – After making the Isles out of camp, Nelson played limited minutes and went minus-2 with an assist in four games before being sent down. However, he came right back up again Monday after only missing a few contests thanks to Michael Grabner's suspension, and he responded with his first NHL goal despite seeing only 10 minutes of ice time. A former first-round draft pick (No. 30, 2011), Nelson had a big rookie year in the AHL last season, totaling 25 goals and 27 assists in 66 games. His current stay with the Isles will probably be a short one, though, as Grabner only got a two-game ban.
Magnus Hellberg, G, NSH – While most fantasy owners may be flocking to snatch up Carter Hutton in the wake of the news that Pekka Rinne is out a month or more, Hutton's nearly 28, a career minor leaguer and the owner of a .908 save mark in the AHL last year. The more interesting way to go is Hellberg – though he's just 22 years old, the Swedish minder has impressed since coming over to North America. Last year, he went 22-13-0 with a .924 save mark and 2.14 GAA in his first season with AHL Milwaukee. With great size for a goalie at 6-5 and notable pedigree as a 2011 second-round pick, he's the sneaky pickup in Rinne's absence.
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA – One of the most underrated goaltending prospects in the game, Andersen has done nothing but dominate at every level of hockey. He starred in the Danish and Swedish professional leagues at a very young age before coming to America, where he's been simply incredible for AHL Norfolk – after putting up a sparkling .929 save percentage and 2.19 GAA last year, he got off to a red-hot start this year, winning both of his first two starts while giving up a total of two goals before getting the call to Anaheim. With Viktor Fasth on the shelf with a lower-body injury that he may have aggravated Wednesday, Andersen could get some extended run as Jonas Hiller's backup. He made his NHL debut in relief of a shaky Hiller on Sunday, stopping all 24 shots he faced in a comeback win. Hiller's been inconsistent in his career, so if Fasth remains out long-term, Andersen will likely see some opportunities to carve out some playing time.
Prospect of the Week
Anthony Mantha, RW, DET – The Wings' first-round pick this year, 20th overall, Mantha – who scored 50 goals in the Q last year – is off to an incredibly massive start to this season, as he's not far short of averaging a ridiculous three points per game. In 13 games, he's got three hat tricks, three five-point games (here's one), and an insane total of 19 goals and 16 assists. Mantha's the total package – size (6-4, 190 at age 19), a super-hard shot and respectable speed, and though there have been concerns about his consistency, it's getting harder to question it by the day, considering he's only gone one game without a point this year. Last year's 89 points in 67 games were pretty good, but this year's scoring rate is more than twice as rapid.
2014 Draft Prospect of the Week
Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara IceDogs – The OHL's second-leading scorer in the early going, all Perlini's done so far is average a goal per game and more than one assist per game in his 12 contests thus far. For those counting at home, that's 12 goals in as many games and 14 assists for the 17-year-old in his second OHL season. Despite his youth, the kid already stands at 6-2, 182, and he's got impressive hockey pedigree – his brother, Brett, was drafted by the Ducks in 2010, and his father, Fred Perlini, played in eight NHL games before moving to England and scoring massive piles of goals in the British Hockey League.
Let's just have a little sidebar here about Fred Perlini: He scored 89 goals in a 35-game season in England in 1986-87. Then he scored 103 goals the next year. Though he played only 24 games the season after that, he scored 103 goals for the second straight season. It goes on from there.
The point is, let's hope that he saved some of those goals for his kids.
As for Brendan, he's absolutely blowing up this year. He showed sparks last year – take a look at this shootout goal – and he looks like a man among boys this season. The video quality's not awesome, but check out his five-point game. If he keeps this up, he'll certainly be in the conversation for the 2014 NHL Draft's top five picks.