Five great NHL performances sneaking under the radar this season

Adam Gretz

On Friday we looked at five players having slow starts this season and are no doubt looking for a fresh start with the new year.

Now we want to look at some players on the other end of the spectrum.

Players that have enjoyed great starts and are not really getting much attention for it.

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1. Teuvo Teravainen, Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes acquisition of Teravainen is one of the great steals of the decade.

All it cost was a couple of draft picks and the ability to take Bryan Bickell’s contract off Chicago’s hands.

In the years since, Teravainen has become one of the most important core players on one of the league’s best up-and-coming teams. Sebastian Aho is the superstar and Andrei Svechnikov makes the highlights, but Teravainen is the one helping drive the bus to success.

He scores at a top-line rate, is one of the best possession drivers among all NHL forwards, and is one of the most overlooked, impactful players in the league. How good is he at dictating the pace of play? When he is on the ice at 5-on-5, the Hurricanes give up just 46 total shot attempts per 60 minutes and controlling more than 60 percent of the total attempts. Both are best in the league.

You know who could really use a 25-year-old top-line forward signed to a cap-friendly deal for the next five years? The Blackhawks.

2. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks raised a lot of eyebrows over the summer when they traded a future first-round pick to Tampa Bay for Miller. He is a fine player, but did not seem to be enough to move the needle much in their rebuild. And given where there the team has finished in the standings the past few years there is always the possibility that draft pick could be very high.

But so far Miller has been a perfect fit for the Canucks and is putting together a career year.

Entering play on Friday he is on track to shatter all of his career highs offensively with underlying numbers that place him among the league’s elite forwards. His shot-attempt and expected goal differentials are both in the top-10 league wide.

He spends a significant chunk of his ice-time playing on a line with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, and that certainly helps his cause, but there’s a lot to be said for being able to establish a chemistry with top-line players and take advantage of your minutes. Miller is doing exactly that.

3. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights

At his peak Pacioretty was one of the most dangerous goal scoring forwards and one of the biggest salary cap steals in the league, and I don’t know that Montreal ever fully appreciated what they had with him. When they traded him to Vegas before the 2018-19 season they did so at a time where his career seemed to be heading toward its downward decline. But he is showing this season that he still has some elite hockey left, even after turning 31 in November.

He is in the middle of one of the most productive seasons of his career and is currently on pace for his first 30-goal season in three years. He is also producing at a near point-per-game clip, has the highest shot rate of his career, and is leading the Golden Knights — a top contender in the Western Conference — in every meaningful offensive category.

4. Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers

Provorov’s restricted free agent situation this past summer was one of the most intriguing ones in the league. The Flyers have used him like a top-pairing defender, but he has not always performed like one. Despite that, they still committed to him with a six-year, $40.5 million contract.

If he performs like the Flyers hope he can and expect him to perform, it’s a steal.

If he does not, it becomes a problem.

So far this season the former situation has played out. He’s been great for a Flyers team that has exceeded expectations and is hanging around in a wildly competitive division.

He is excelling offensively and has been the Flyers’ top performing defensive defenseman across the board.

5. Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators

Duclair is only 24 years old. He has top-six talent and was at one time a highly regarded prospect and the centerpiece of the trade that sent Keith Yandle from Arizona to New York. He has played more than 320 games at the NHL level and for his career has averaged a 20-goal pace per 82 games. And despite all of that, he is still playing for his fifth different organization in six years.

A lot of teams missed here (one badly) and right now Ottawa is benefitting from it.

Duclair is one of the bright spots in what is yet another dismal season of Senators hockey and with 20 goals in 36 games has already matched his career high and is on pace for 45 goals this season. The only players with more goals entering play on Friday are David Pastrnak, Jack Eichel, Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon, Sebastian Aho, and Leon Draisaitl.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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