Sunday, July 14, 2024

NHL Star Power Index: Red Wings’ Alex DeBrincat off to hot start in new home, Mikko Rantanen pacing Avalanche

Welcome to the NHL Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players who are controlling substantial buzz around the league. When a player is included on this list it may not be a good thing — it means that they are capturing a large amount of the hockey world’s attention.

These players are in no particular order when it comes to the amount of buzz that they’re creating. We’ll revisit the Star Power Index every week throughout the regular season.

Alex DeBrincat landed on his third team in three seasons when he was traded from the Ottawa Senators to the Detroit Red Wings during this past offseason. DeBrincat quickly signed a four-year contract extension with the Red Wings, and after a hot start to the 2023-24 season, it appears he has found a suitable home to thrive in.

Through the first two weeks of the season, DeBrincat leads the NHL in goals (9), while only trailing teammate Dylan Larkin (14) and New Jersey Devils star Jack Hughes (14) with 13 points to his credit.

DeBrincat has scored at least one goal in three of his last four games, tallying six goals during that span. The Detroit winger’s most impressive performance came in a 6-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Sunday when he registered three goals and an assist.

DeBrincat, who hails from Farmington Hills, Michigan, became the fifth Michigan-born player to record a hat trick as a member of the Red Wings.

He has also scored a goal in five of the Red Wings’ seven games, while also tallying multiple goals in three of those contests. A large reason for that success has been his chemistry with teammate Dylan Larkin, who is also lighting the world on fire from an offensive standpoint.

In the second period of Sunday’s game, the Red Wings’ dynamic duo displayed their spectacular rapport as they connected on DeBrincat’s second goal of the contest. Detroit brought the puck up the ice and Larkin ended up with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. With DeBrincat on the opposite side of the ice, Larkin slid the puck right over to DeBrincat, who buried the one-timer to give the Red Wings a commanding 4-1 lead.

DeBrincat has been playing out of his mind through Detroit’s first seven games. As a result, the Red Wings have the fourth-most point in the entire league thus far. If DeBrincat can keep being a key offensive producer, it’s quite possible Detroit could return to the postseason for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign.

The Colorado Avalanche have gotten off to one of the hottest starts in franchise history, and star winger Mikko Rantanen is a key reason for their success.

Through the early portion of the 2023-24 season, Rantanen has been an offensive force for Colorado as he’s registered 12 points (five goals and seven assists) in the team’s first six games. The Avalanche star has racked up two goals and three assists over his last two games, including recording a goal and three assists in a 7-4 win over the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Early in Wednesday’s contest, Rantanen got into the assist column with ease. After defenseman Cale Makar flipped the puck ahead to Rantanen, Rantanen brought the puck into the face-off circle and passed it cross-ice to teammate Ryan Johansen, who ripped a shot past Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin for the power-play goal.

When the dust settled, Rantanen earned the primary assist on all three of his assists in Tuesday’s game. 

While Rantanen is a gifted goal scorer, he continues to establish himself as one of the league’s premier playmakers. In fact, he leads the Avalanche in points (12), goals (5) and assists (7) in addition to shooting 20.8 percent (second-best on the team). Rantanen also ranks third in assists across the league and only trails league-leader Jack Hughes by two helpers.

Rantanen has also recorded points in five of Colorado’s six games thus far this season, while registering multiple points in three of those contests. 

The Avalanche are looking like a juggernaut thus far as they’ve yet to lose on the season. Rantanen was able to stay healthy and productive throughout the 2022-23 season, so as long as that continues, the Avalanche could be a very serious threat to make a Stanley Cup run this spring.

During the opening weeks of the 2023-24 season, Jake Sanderson has proved to be a force on both ends of the ice for the Ottawa Senators.

Sanderson is currently tied for second on the Senators in points (7) and only trails Vladimir Tarasenko (8) for that distinction. After failing to register a point in the team’s season-opening 5-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Ottawa blue-liner has tallied points in five consecutive games.

Sanderson recently put together a two-point performance in a 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. The young defenseman registered a goal and an assist in that contest, and he got into the scoring column early. 

Late in the first period, Sanderson initially helped keep the puck in the offensive zone and then was rewarded. Senators star forward Brady Tkachuk put a pass right on the stick of Sanderson out near the blue line, and Sanderson didn’t miss as he blasted a one-timer past Red Wings goaltender Ville Husso to open the scoring.

Sanderson has racked up two goals and two assists over his last three games and has a pair of multi-point games thus far on the year. 

The 21-year-old put together an impressive rookie season in 2022-23 as he recorded 32 points (four goals and 28 assists). Sanderson appears to be picking up right where he left off, and he could be on his way to an even better sophomore campaign if this level of production keeps up.

Jake Oettinger is entering his third season as the Dallas Stars primary netminder and has gotten off to a stellar start in 2023-24.

In four starts this season, Oettinger has put together a 3-0-1 record to go along with a 1.44 goals-against-average and a .952 save percentage. The 24-year-old has allowed two or fewer goals in all four of his starts, while yielding just one apiece in two of those outings.

Most recently, Oettinger was a huge part of the Stars’ 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday. In that contest, Oettinger turned aside 38 of the 39 shots that he faced, including keeping the Penguins off the scoreboard following a late first-period goal.

Entering Thursday, Oettinger has the fourth-lowest save percentage (.952) behind only Linus Ullmark of the Boston Bruins (.962), Joseph Woll of the Toronto Maple Leafs (.958) and Jeremy Swayman of the Bruins (.957). 

Oettinger has improved in each of his professional seasons up to this point. If Oettinger can continue to thrive like he has been early in the season, a Vezina Trophy-caliber campaign could definitely be in the cards.

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