Every summer, there’s a flurry of player movement. Some skaters hit the ground running with their new clubs while others might take some time to acclimate. Now that every team has a dozen games under its belt, it’s time to check in and see how some of those players are clicking in their new surroundings.
It’s not often that superstars are moved, especially after taking home hardware for their last season. The reigning Norris Trophy winner was traded from the rebuilding San Jose Sharks to a team looking for another run with their aging core. Karlsson managed to have a special season in 2022-23 despite the team around him, leading to a lot of hype about what he’d do with legitimate talent in Pittsburgh.
In their first few games of the year, the team looked top-heavy and out of sync. But the Penguins are raising their level — thanks to systematic adjustments to maximize the skills on this roster, and some high-end performances from their stars. And that includes Karlsson.
The Penguins’ addition may have had a seemingly quiet start to the season, but he’s picked that up lately with nine points over his last five games. Karlsson’s been excellent over this last stretch, and not just offensively. Pittsburgh’s a better team both on the scoresheet and below the surface, on both ends of the ice in his minutes. That’s why he’s currently third in average game score in the league, at 1.92. While the defender may not repeat last year’s scoring heights, he looks like he could be a real difference-maker for a club trying to contend again.
With nine goals and 13 points over his first seven games, DeBrincat raced out to a hot start in Detroit. He was quickly living up to the hype with his new team, especially alongside Dylan Larkin who was helping drive their success, and seemed to have the puck luck that his game was missing last season in Ottawa.
But some of the shine from those first couple of weeks has faded a bit, with DeBrincat only notching two points over his next eight games. The team’s play-driving in his minutes has trended in the wrong direction as of late; Detroit has given up more than it’s created over those last eight games at five-on-five. Individually, in all situations, there haven’t been big swings in DeBrincat’s shot creation, but there has been a dip in the quality of those shots.
The winger’s actual value probably falls somewhere in between his hot start and this cold streak, and it’s more of a team-wide issue than one that falls on his shoulders alone. That torrid start put him on a 152-point pace in seven games that was never attainable, but this last stretch is one he should bounce back from. DeBrincat’s brought finishing talent to the Red Wings’ top six and looks to be a solid fit with Larkin, who’s elevated his game. As the season rolls on, Detroit just has to hope for some more consistent production.
With Dubois in the fold, the Kings bolstered their strength down the middle and overall forward depth. His presence gave the team more potential to have three real scoring lines. On a roster that already has Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault, there’s room to give Dubois more sheltered minutes to help maximize his game. And Dubois has been a mainstay center for winger Kevin Fiala, who didn’t always skate alongside high-caliber teammates last year (although, that duo was split up last game for the first time this season).
Through their first 14 games of the season, Dubois has been a solid scoring threat but hasn’t screamed ‘star power’ just yet. He’s generating scoring chances from the quality areas of the ice at a high pace in all situations. And at five-on-five, the ice is tilted in the Kings’ favor in his minutes. But Dubois isn’t pushing the pace of play as much as he possibly could just yet — relative to his teammates, the Kings’ expected and actual generation is a little below average in his minutes. The bright side is that the Kings’ depth is helping them click even when the center looks a little more hesitant. Maybe that’s due to the adjustment of playing with a new team, but moving forward this team could use a more assertive game from Dubois.
Welcome to New Jersey, Toffoli. The winger has gotten off to a very strong start with the Devils and has put his finishing touch on display. On paper, he has the skill set a team like the Devils has been missing: finishing talent. They have a ton of playmaking at their disposal, and he pairs best with a strong puck-mover. To start the year, he was skating alongside one of the best at that in Jack Hughes. The two got off to a hot start on the scoresheet, especially on the power play. That’s boosted his scoring rate up to a strong 3.48 points-per-60 start. For context, his career-best over a full season was 3.26 earned last year in Calgary.
While there’s a need for a sustainability check whenever there’s a spike, once Hughes returns and this duo can get cooking again, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him keep scoring at a high pace. What helps his case is that the team is playing better at both ends of the ice in his minutes at five-on-five.
A stint in Toronto last spring showed what the veteran center had left in the tank after a tricky start to the season in St. Louis. On the Predators, he wouldn’t have the same support he had on the Maple Leafs’ second line with Mitch Marner and John Tavares. But that’s been no problem for O’Reilly, who has had a really strong start in Nashville alongside Filip Forsberg.
At five-on-five, O’Reilly boosted the Predators’ expected goal creation by 0.81 per 60 relative to his teammates and their scoring by 1.42 goals. Nashville’s getting a lot of quality offense right in front of the crease between O’Reilly and Forsberg, who have been really complementary to each other to start the year. That’s provided a spark to a team that needs it offensively, even if the defensive side isn’t the center’s usual standard just yet.
The DeBrincat situation put the Senators in a tough position this summer. To avoid taking a major step back, the Tarasenko signing helped keep the top-six winger depth afloat.
The veteran forward got off to a hot start in Ottawa and seemed to click with Ridly Greig, who stepped up as the team’s second-line center in Shane Pinto’s absence. But Greig’s injury put a pin in their early-season chemistry.
The most recent deployment for Tarasenko is on the top line with Josh Norris and Brady Tkachuk together. It could be a good bet to bolster some of the winger’s iffy five-on-five numbers — the team’s only generating about 40 percent of the expected goals share in his minutes, and the team’s early season puck luck in his minutes tends to be trending the wrong direction. Here, he highlights some of the flaws in the Senators’ top-six construction that he contributes to — there are a lot of shooters, but not as many pass-first players in Ottawa. And that could be what’s missing to take Tarasenko’s game up a notch.
On paper, Bertuzzi seemed like a perfect fit for the Maple Leafs. While he brings some of the sandpaper the team was looking for, it doesn’t come at the cost of actual skill. The winger’s proven he can be a solid secondary scorer who can generate scoring chances in some of the most dangerous areas of the ice.
But he got off to a slower scoring start than likely anticipated, despite his placement on the top line with Auston Matthews and Marner. The trio generated about 62.5 percent of the expected goals share in their minutes but only broke even in scoring with two goals for and against.
A shift to the second line with Tavares and William Nylander seems to have helped get Bertuzzi going with his new club, though. The team’s tilting the ice in his minutes and it keeps ticking upward. With that combination on the ice, Toronto’s outscoring opponents 5-3. It’s a big step in the right direction but there’s still room for improvement. Bertuzzi’s upped his shot volume this year but hasn’t matched it in quality or finishing. If he can change that, he’s going to up his value with the Maple Leafs and ahead of his contract expiring next summer.
The defender has really been everything the Rangers have needed and more. He’s provided more than just more puck-moving on their third pair, and the team now has three reliable pairs to lean on. Similar to last year, he’s stepped up when his team’s top defender has been sidelined with injury. Last year it was John Carlson in Washington, and now Adam Fox in New York. Gustafsson’s taken on a more significant role at even strength and on the top power-play unit since and has helped keep this team afloat. On the season as a whole, he’s had one of the best two-way influences at five-on-five and has helped keep the power play clicking.
Gustafsson may be the best value signing in the league, at $825,000 on the cap — and he’d probably be a welcome addition to any of the previous teams that opted to move on from him.
Talbot seemed like a riskier pick for the Kings to bet on considering his last couple of seasons. Behind a high-event Senators team, he was pretty average. But the more concerning year was 2021-22 when he had the support of the Wild’s defense. That paired with age-related decline shed some doubt on his abilities at this point.
The veteran goaltender has been much better than expected to start, which has been pretty pivotal in Los Angeles considering some of Phoenix Copley’s early season struggles. Obviously it helps to have the support of the Kings’ top-notch defense, but he’s responded really well to his workload so far. Talbot’s put together six quality starts so far, and through 12 appearances has saved 4.18 goals above expected. The fact he’s risen to the occasion to start is encouraging. So now the question is how he maintains this level moving forward, which will determine whether management has to make further changes in net.
Betting on a player after a career year can be risky, especially for goaltenders. Korpisalo had an excellent 2022-23 behind two very different teams: a defensively disastrous Blue Jackets club and then a stout Kings team. But all in all, his performance over the year was only his second really strong season to date, which put a red flag on the significance of this contract.
The Senators have struggled this year defensively, falling to the bottom 10 in shots and scoring chances against. Korpisalo’s faced 3.35 expected goals against per 60, the third toughest workload in all situations in his career. But he’s responding pretty well to it now after a shaky start. Following three poor showings to start the season, he picked it up with four straight quality starts. Now he’s saved 1.99 goals above expected. With a little more support — both from the team in front of him and his goalie partner — Korpisalo should be in a better position to succeed moving forward this season.
Data via Evolving-Hockey, HockeyViz, HockeyStatCards, AllThreeZones and NaturalStatTrick. This story relies on shot-based metrics; here is a primer on these numbers.
(Photos of Erik Karlsson, Alex DeBrincat and Tyler Bertuzzi: Ronald Martinez, Bruce Bennett, Sam Hodde / Getty Images)