Under the radar guys having an impact through the NHL’s first half.
We have reached the halfway point of the NHL season, and it has been one of the most surprising in recent memory. The expansion Vegas Golden Knights are first in the West. The Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers are both in the bottom six of the entire league. The Tampa Bay Lightning have two of the three leading scorers in the entire league.
At the midway point, the following six players have surprised, impressed, and made contributions that have had deeper impacts than just their stat lines would suggest. The six named here aren’t headline grabbers or team superstars. Instead, they are playing hockey in a way that every coach, general manager, and teammate can appreciate.
Forward: William Karlsson
While the Golden Knights are making waves in the NHL on and off the ice, William Karlsson has been mostly overlooked as a key contributor. Karlsson is putting up a team-leading 22 goals. He’s also a team-high +20 and is shooting at a blistering 25% shooting percentage, second in the NHL (minimum of 30 games). Yet when it came to all-star selections, the NHL selected teammates James Neal and Marc-Andre Fluery for trips to Tampa instead.
Karlsson is on pace for 44 goals shooting at his high percentage, and while converting a quarter of his shots into goals may not seem sustainable over an entire season, he has shown he can maintain it over 41 games. On top of goal scoring, he is playing the first line center role, logging over 18 minutes a night, and starting about half his shifts in the defensive zone. The strong two-way game of Karlsson should make him more of a focus for both Vegas and opposing teams in the season’s second half.
Forward: Brock Boeser
Vancouver Canuck Brock Boeser may be the only player on this list receiving coverage, as he is a Calder Trophy candidate for the league’s top rookie. However, because he is on the west coast and plays in later games, it is hard for the casual NHL fan to watch Boeser play on a consistent basis.
Starting with the basics, Boeser is leading rookies with 22 goals and 40 points. More impressively, though, is that he is an offensive juggernaut but does not have a ton of support from the back end. Boeser is a -1 in terms of plus/minus, but considering Vancouver has allowed the fifth most goals in the entire league and scored the fourth least, it is actually a strong argument for the rookie’s play.
Something interesting is the statistic of PDO for Boeser. PDO is essentially the team’s shooting percentage with that player on the ice added to their save percentage with that player on the ice. A PDO of 100 would mean that the team is shooting at the same percentage as their opponent. Having a PDO above 100 would indicate they’re shooting better than their opponent, with a PDO at less than 100 indicating they are shooting at a worse percentage than their opponent.
Boeser is only getting a 90% save percentage while on the ice from his respective goalies, which is in the bottom five on his team. Since Vancouver shoots 10.3% with him on the ice, his PDO is over 100, which only four Canucks total can claim.
Forward: Sean Couturier
The Philadelphia Flyers have long enjoyed the defensive side of center Sean Couturier‘s game but are now starting to see an offensive emergence in his seventh year in Philadelphia. Couturier has never put up more than 15 goals this season yet already has 23 through 42 games, good for fourth in the entire NHL. He is poised to almost triple his career high.
Similar to Karlsson, Couturier has stepped into the number one center role and is playing more than 21 minutes a game while starting more than 56% of his shifts in the defensive zone. Looking at the three players in the NHL who have scored more goals than Couturier this season, all start over 55% of their shifts in the offensive zone. The Flyer’s center only starts 43% of his shifts in the offensive zone.
Couturier also faces the same uphill battle as Boeser, receiving a poor 90.8 save percentage while he’s on the ice but still turning in a positive PDO at 103.7. He is overcoming average goaltending, putting up a +14 rating, good for first on the Flyers. Couturier’s offensive numbers this year should put him in the conversation for one of the best two-way players in the NHL.
Defense: Will Butcher
On a team that has defied expectations, New Jersey Devils’ rookie Will Butcher has quietly put together a solid offensive season. He has put up 25 points and stayed on the positive end of plus/minus at +1. He is among the top 20 defensemen in terms of scoring and has quietly had a good first season in the NHL.
Butcher is one of only three members of the Devils who have put up a Corsi over 50%. He has carved out a role at power play quarterback with the fifth-most points on the man advantage among defensemen. The Devil’s rookie still has a ways to go to make his game more efficient at even strength, but he has been a force setting up New Jersey on the man advantage, with their power play unit ranking sixth in the NHL.
Defense: Mikhail Sergachev
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s play on the ice this season has been unmatched, but a move off the ice may prove to be the icing on the cake for the best team in the league. Getting young defenseman Mikhail Sergachev for forward Jonathan Drouin, has proved to be a win for Tampa Bay. General Manager Steve Yzerman turned a cap casualty in Drouin into another core piece, with Sergachev contributing immediately to a team that was already built for another playoff run.
Sergachev has posted a +13 for the Lightning and is among the top 20 scoring D-men in the NHL with 26 points so far this season. He is also shooting at a nine percent clip, good for 13th among defensemen. Sergachev has been sheltered, starting over 70% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Similar to Butcher, the Lightning defenseman will become a force in the NHL once his defensive game rounds out.
Goalie: Carter Hutton
Perhaps the most overlooked player on this list is St. Louis Blues’ backup goalie Carter Hutton. Hutton is second in goals allowed average and save percentage among goalies who have played in 10 games this season. He is one of only two goalies who have allowed less than two goals per game. Seeing limited action with the Blues, there is a case Hutton should be the starter in St. Louis.
Hutton has posted a goals allowed percentage of 69, meaning that relative to an average goalie he has allowed 30% fewer goals. With eight wins in 12 starts, Hutton should see an increased workload in the second half of the season.
He has covered for starter Jake Allen’s terrible season so far, with Allen logging a .908 save percentage and a career-worst 2.75 goals allowed per game. Even with mediocre play from the St. Louis starter, they are poised to make the playoffs this season. If the Blues do not consider making a temporary switch to the hot hand of Hutton, they will risk having another early exit.
Edited by Kat Johansen.
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