Welcome, once again, to THN.com’s Three Stars of the Week – a regular THN.com feature in which we pick out the NHL’s top trio of players in the past seven days. We’re a few weeks into the NHL’s regular season, and there’s no shortage of players thriving. Here are our choices for this week’s Three Stars:
3. Erik Karlsson, San Jose. No NHL skater averaged more time on ice than Karlsson did (29:18) did this week, and Karlsson’s stats on offense reflected his stellar performance: with four goals and eight points in just three games, the 32-year-old blueliner finished tied for first in the league in goals and tied for second in the league in points. Karlsson now has 10 goals in 14 games this year – the same total he scored last season in 50 games. His career-best goal total for a single season is 21, but that was back in the 2014-15 campaign, so it may still be a stretch for him to get back to and over the 20-goal plateau. Still, if Karlsson is traded to a genuine Stanley Cup playoff contender, his numbers could be even more impressive.
It’s true the Sharks have lost four games in a row, but without Karlsson’s offense, they wouldn’t have been able to force each of San Jose’s past three losses to a shootout. Karlsson is the best offense-minded D-man in the league at the moment, and he certainly can help a better team than the Sharks.
2. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg. Last season, Hellebuyck had an off-year for the Jets. Winnipeg didn’t do much to help him out last year, but the 29-year-old has rounded into form early this year, and shone this week in particular: in three games, he went 2-0-1 with one shutout, a sparkling .960 Save Percentage and a 1.29 Goals-Against Average. Those stats were worlds better than the next-best netminder, and that’s why he has helped the Jets to win five of their past six games.
Hellebuyck is still in his prime, and with two shutouts already this season, he’s halfway toward matching the four shootouts he posted in 66 games last year. The Jets needed him to have a rebound showing compared to the 2021-22 campaign, and so far, he’s delivering. In nine games this season, he’s got a .936 SP and 2.07 G.A.A., and he’s proving himself to be Winnipeg’s most valuable player. If the Jets are to be a playoff group again, they need Hellebuyck to be as dominant as he is at the moment.
1. Tage Thompson, Buffalo. Thompson had a breakout year for the Sabres this past season, generating 38 goals and 68 points in 78 games. But for as good as he looked last year, it was only one season, and so there were skeptics the 25-year-old would be able to replicate his prodigious ways on offense. However, give Thompson credit – he’s picked up just where he left off last season, leading Buffalo in points (15) through 12 games. That total includes four goals and an NHL-best nine points in four games this week.
On a Sabres team that rolls its forward lines fairly evenly, Thompson is second among ice-time leaders, averaging 17:38 per game. One can imagine how much better his stats on offense would be if Buffalo coach Don Granato threw him out into action more frequently.
Still, Sabres brass must be relieved Thompson is playing like someone who will earn more than $7.14 million – Thompson’s salary beginning next season, and for the six years that follow. Right now, he is one of the best salary-cap-bargains in the game at a $1.4-million cap hit, and he’s giving Buffalonians much reason to be excited for the rest of the year and beyond.
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