Top-10 Surprise Players of 2019-20

January 27, 2020

As NHL teams near the fifty game mark with over half the season already completed, the status of teams and players became much more definitive. The sample size is comfortably large enough to start assessing and it becomes easier to predict the remainder of the season. It makes the success that certain players are currently experiencing representative of how they will perform for the entirety of this season rather than a simple hot-streak. What I have noticed in this season is that a lot of players who typically slow down by this point continue to find unexpected success. This list consists solely of those players. The list is composed of players who are currently exceeding expectations this season ranging from players who had underperformed and are now over-performing to players suddenly producing more. Either way, its unexpected success rather than natural progression.

 

Due to the unpredictable nature of rookies, I’ve excluded them from this list. It is difficult to measure their success as some particular circumstances may have affected their play at other levels. Progression in the game of young players is also expected. Had they been included, I think that it's safe to say that Sabres forward Victor Olofsson would have certainly made it. A case could have been made for both Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes too. Even Blackhawks forward Dominik Kubalik among other rookies would have been considered. Each player has translated their success seamlessly to the NHL level — to an extent that could be considered surprising.

 

10. Andre Burakovsky (46 GP, 15-18-33)

Burakovsky has always had the talent to become a productive player but for whatever reason that never came to fruition. This was especially evident last season when he only scored 25 points. Burakovsky had seemingly stagnated if not somewhat declined after the 2015-2016 season as his point totals had continued to decrease. This season must be refreshing. The change of scenery has done wonders for him and he currently has 33 points — a total that he hasn’t exceeded since 2016-17. 

 

9. Tony DeAngelo (48 GP, 12-25-37)

This one is unlike the others since DeAngelo’s surprise season was actually last season. After a spectacular 30 points in 61 games, expectations were scattered. This was largely unforeseen as his previous career high was 14. He has now surpassed last seasons output in thirteen fewer games. He currently ranks seventh in scoring by all blue-liners in the NHL which, quite frankly, is absolutely incredible. To me, due to the increased step taken, he deserves a spot on this list. I personally did not see this coming.

 

8. Jaden Schwartz (49 GP, 16-24-40)

After producing at a near point per game rate in 2017-2018, Schwartz fell off and only scored a paltry 39 points in 2018-2019. So far, he has already surpassed that total this season and is on pace for a career-high in points barring any potential injuries.

 

7. Jean-Gabriel Pageau (46 GP, 19-12-31)

The highlight of his season was certainly the month of November. At times, he concurrently led the league in scoring while boasting the best plus-minus in the entire NHL. Much can be said about the use and practicality of a statistic like plus-minus but to lead the league while playing on a team of that caliber is an impressive feat nonetheless. While he didn’t conclude the month as the leading scorer, finishing fourth with merely two goals goals behind Connor McDavid is a fate that he, in all likelihood, would easily accept.

 

6. Tanner Pearson (49 GP, 14-23-37)

After a slow start, Pearson has produced at a point per game rate in his last 31 games. A far cry from last season when he bounced around a few teams and produced a measly 15 points in his first 61 games. After stops in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, he arrived in Vancouver and finally performed at a rate expected from him. Problem was that the season was nearly over and that the late season success was mostly meaningless. Coming into this season expectations were varied but I can confidently admit that he’s surpassed the majority, including mine. He experienced a drought that provoked some concern but soon after found himself on a streak of points, one that has lasted until now. 

 

5. Kevin Shattenkirk (48 GP, 7-20-27)

Kevin Shattenkirk’s success in Tampa Bay is largely surprising due to the optics of the situation. A once top-tier blueliner, injuries have resulted in a quick decline that eventually prompted a cap-strapped Rangers team to buy-out his contract. I was never a huge fan of the decision due to the contract structure. Considering his signing bonuses, the Rangers are effectively paying him full salary next season despite the buy-out. He was still a decent offensive contributor too. His defensive game was often a focal point of criticism but his decent offensive value could have offset that. After the buy-out, he had a few suitors and decided to sign with the Lightning where he has seen incredible success. Shattenkirk currently ranks 22nd among all NHL defenders in points.

 

4. Anthony Duclair (47 GP, 21-12-33)

Duclair currently leads the Senators in points while being on pace for 37 goals. This has been fantastic for him as he’s spent time in four different organization since 2017-18. After peaking with 44 points in 2015-16, he only accumulated 30 points over the following two seasons. He has already reached a career-high in goals as well while currently ranking 17th in goals among all NHL players. Once again, surprising.

 

 

3. Alex Killorn (46 GP, 20-19-39)

He has already reached a career-high in goals and is one point off his total from the previous season. Was leading the team in scoring a few weeks ago too. Wasn’t too long ago when he was considered a negative asset due to a ludicrous contract but he has certainly performed worthy of the deal this season. He is 15th in scoring among all NHL left-wingers so it is absolutely safe to say that he has performed well. This level of success likely isn't sustainable but it is fun to see nonetheless.

 

2. Ryan Strome (48 GP, 12-31-43)

Similarly to Pearson, Strome had a rough go to begin last season. He tallied a single goal and assist in eighteen games and a struggling Edmonton decided that moving on would be the best decision. Fortunately for Strome, he was successfully able to salvage his season in New York as he scored 18 goals and 33 points in the 63 games he played. Despite that success, there was still some uncertainty as he had done this while scoring at an unsustainable rate with a 22.5 percent shooting percentage which is over double his career average of 10.5 percent. Despite those concerns, he has returned and produced at a much better rate than the previous year too. He has already surpassed his points total from the previous season and is on pace for a whopping 73 points. His success in all likelihood is largely due to the impact that Artemi Panarin, his most common line-mate, has had on the entire team. Even then, 73 points is a lofty amount and that pace is one that is certainly surprising to see. 

 

1. Bryan Rust (36 GP, 21-22-43)

Rust has been known to be many things throughout his career and an elite player is definitely not one of them. Rust currently ranks ninth among wingers league-wide in points and fourth among the exact same group in points per game played. Simply amazing for a player who’s previous career high was 38, attained in 2017-18. Like many, he has already surpassed that total and is on pace to smash it. 

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