The Biggest Surprises and Disappointments for Every Team in the East Divison
The MassMutual East Division. See, I got it right that time. There's the North Divisions high goal-scoring and Canadian rivalries. Then you have the Central Divisions 4 team race for the 4th seed in the Division. Then there’s the West Division. Moving swiftly on there’s my favourite division to watch, the East Division. There’s playoff intensity in games between 5 of the 8 teams 8 times a season. Most of the teams already hated each other, let alone 8 games and a few mini-series later. You also have the Buffalo Sabres. At least they didn’t lose 19 in a row. Today I’ll be looking at the biggest surprise and disappointment from every team in a division. I did this same concept with the North Division which you can find here. We’ll be going in alphabetical order, so first up, Boston.
The Boston Bruins
I certainly didn’t expect most of what has happened to Boston this year. 4th in the division, Tuukka Rask struggling with both injuries and his stats, and a lot of disappointing players so far. The Bruins are 19–10–5 so far this season and have missed a lot of people's expectations of this roster. They do have at least 3 games in hand on every team ahead of them in the standings. The one thing you can say about them is that they have been surprisingly good defensively even after losing Krug and Chara for nothing in the offseason and doing nothing to replace them. It’s pretty hard to pick a surprise for his team.
Nick Ritchie — LW
Nick Ritchie was the 10th overall pick in 2014 for the Anaheim Ducks. He found his way to Boston, and he has fit in there perfectly. He was born to be a Bruin. He’s a 6'2" player who seems like he is a giant on the ice. He has been the perfect guy for the Bruins to place in front of the net on the powerplay, and he has done a great job there. He has 20 points so far and 9 of them are on the powerplay. I have also liked his defensive game so far. He’s a rough player and a great net-front presence. A traditional Boston Bruin.
23 points in 30 games for David Krejci. Only 2 goals on the year, however. He has been so underrated during the dominance of the Bruins since the 2010s. I feel like you don’t hear enough about Krejci.
Charlie Coyle — C/RW
He has been very disappointing so far for this team. He was brought in from Minnesota to be one of the best 3rd line centres in the NHL, and he was just that in the playoffs for them in 2019. 37 points last year was really good too. However, so far this year he has 10 points in 33 games. You don’t want to see that from a guy you just signed to a 5.25 x 6 deal. I expect him to bounce back, but if he doesn’t that contract is going to sting.
Jake Debrusk. I was very close to having him as the main guy. 7 points in 21 games is the worst point pace he’s been on in his 4-year career. You want more out of him if you’re a Bruins fan.
The Buffalo Sabres
Thankfully I’m writing this after they snapped their losing streak or else this would be a disaster. It still will be. They’re 8–23–6 and have been shutout 7 times. Until last night they had the same amount of wins as times they have been shutout. They are last in the NHL by 6 points which is the same gap between 1st and 10th in the league standings. I don’t want to talk about this team, but here we go.
Jacob Bryson — D
Oh yeah, of course, I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel in this one. I haven’t seen much of his game, but I have liked what I‘ve seen from him. Bryson is certainly more of an offensive guy, but he isn’t too shabby defensively either. He wasn’t expected to be much of anything for this team, but he has solidified himself as a decent third pairing guy in the NHL at the least. He has only played 19 games, so this could really go either way for him in the future.
Linus Ullmark. He was out with injury for most of the losing streak. A 0.921 Save% in 16 games in front of this team's defence is worthy of an award of some kind.
Rasmus Dahlin — D
Dahlin has been on the wrong end of an uncountable amount of highlight-reel goals. He has been atrocious everywhere this season. This is the franchise defenceman who was the 1st overall pick a few years ago. I don’t expect him to stay this bad but whoa boy has he been awful everywhere on the ice this season.
Literally every other name on the roster. Jeff Skinner, Taylor Hall, Jack Eichel, Rasmus Ristolainen. Everyone else. Everything is bad.
The New Jersey Devils
I expected New Jersey to be the worst team in this division by a decent margin, so at least they have that going for them. The Devils still haven’t been good, and I think it’s about time for a complete retooling. They have been rebuilding since they made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012, and they haven’t really gone anywhere. 5 playoff games in 9 seasons is far from successful. Right now they sit at 7th in the East with a 13–16–6 record. You can’t exactly get mad at them for this poor season because of the level of competition in their division. I think if they don’t make some noise next season there will need to be some big moves with this roster.
Ty Smith — D
If you were paying attention to the Devils this offseason you would’ve known that 20-year-old Ty Smith was going to get a shot at the NHL this season. Through 35 games Smith has 19 points and leads the Devils in both assists and points. He has solidified himself as a top 4 defenceman in this league right now and I certainly didn’t see that coming this quickly. He is below average defensively but that’s something that comes with time when you’re a rookie defenceman. So far he has been a shining gem in the mud pile that is known as the New Jersey Devils 2021 season.
Janne Kuokkanen. Since he was acquired from Carolina I thought he was maybe going to be a 3rd line winger in the future. His 16 points in 30 games so far in his rookie season is promising for the 22-year-old.
Andreas Johnsson — LW
I thought this was a fantastic trade for the Devils last offseason. A 26-year-old with a 20 goal rookie season? He entered his 3rd season in the NHL with a much bigger role on the Devils compared to when he was on the Leafs. So far he has 3 goals and 8 points through 35 games. I, as well as Devils fans, thought that he was going to be very good next to Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier this year. Instead, he’s playing on the 4th line next to Michael McLeod. He hasn’t been good enough, and the Leafs certainly aren't missing him this year.
Will Butcher and Nikita Gusev. What happened to these guys? Butcher was the Hobey Baker winner in 2017 and had a fantastic rookie season in New Jersey. He has only declined ever since and has only played 8 games this season, mostly due to being a healthy scratch. Nikita Gusev was a fantastic player in the KHL and he had a great rookie season last year for New Jersey. Yes, he’s a liability defensively but 44 points in 66 games is nothing to scoff at. He has only played 20 games so far this season, and he only has 5 points. He has been a healthy scratch at points and he has also been placed on waivers. They’ve both fallen off of a cliff.
The New York Islanders
I think I have learned my lesson. I have underrated this team for the past 3 years and I think it’s about time I look at them for what they are. The Islanders have a 24–10–4 record and are currently tied for 1st in the East with 52 points. They are a very good team with a very good, but boring system. They also have Matthew Barzal, a player that would be above a point a game on almost any other playoff team in the NHL. He is so good. I have more respect for the Isles after watching them a lot more this season.
Oliver Wahlstrom — RW
This kid is going to be something. I guarantee it. So far in his rookie season, he has 9 goals and 16 points in 31 games. He has a wicked wrist shot and I see him being one of the best pure snipers in the NHL in the future. It’s scary to imagine him next to Barzal. He is only 20 years old and I have a lot of hope for this kid's future. I didn’t expect him to be on a 42 point 24 goal pace this soon, however.
Nick Leddy. I know Leddy has always been pretty solid offensively, but 25 points in 38 games with the system the Islanders have is pretty impressive for a defenceman. He already has more points than he had last season and is not far off from his 26 points the year before in 82 games.
Anthony Beauvillier — LW
Every season since his rookie year in 2016 -2017 I’ve expected Beauvillier to improve the next season and he just didn’t. Until last season, when he got 39 points in 68 games. So far this season Beavillier has been back to what he was before. 14 points through 29 games. He is only 23 years old and I think he’ll be a great winger for a long time, but I’m starting to think he is what he will be. He has a lot of time to improve and I hope he does. I love his 200ft game and I want to see him be recognized for it, but he isn’t quite there offensively this season.
No one. It was hard enough to pick one guy for the Islanders, they have all been pretty impressive this season.
The New York Rangers
Ryan Strome — C/RW
Ryan Strome is 2nd in scoring for the Rangers. That’s something I didn’t think would ever say. His 34 points in 37 games is very impressive, especially when you consider that Zibanejad has been cold for the majority of the season until recently and Panarin missed around 10 games earlier in the year. He has also improved a whole lot defensively this season and it’s very noticeable. I really like his game right now, and I think he’s a perfect fit for the Rangers.
Pavel Buchnevich. He has 32 points in 36 games and has looked absolutely fantastic overall.
Alexis Lafreniere — LW
I think he’s had the most disappointing rookie season for a 1st overall pick since Jack Hughes. He hasn’t looked good whatsoever. 11 points through 37 games isn’t what anyone expected from a guy like Lafreniere. From watching him in junior he looked NHL ready and had an Auston Matthews level of potential. So far in his NHL career, he has come nowhere close to showing that possible ceiling. My opinion on his game hasn’t changed at all, and hopefully, this is just because of the unfortunate situation the whole world is in right now.
Kaapo Kakko. Last season his 23 points in 66 games were disappointing, as after being picked 2nd overall in 2019 he was seen as the most NHL-ready player in the draft class. So far this season he has had 7 points in 30 games. The only reason why he isn’t more disappointing than Lafreniere is that most people thought Lafreniere would be having a better season this year. So far he has, and Kakko has not been nearly good enough.
The Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers are THE most disappointing team this season. Sadly, I have to pick a surprise and narrow down the disappointments. The team that was the most on fire at the end of last season and had high hopes this season is currently 17–14–5 and 5th in the East Division. This division was supposed to have 5 teams battle it out for a playoff spot, but instead, the Flyers decided to drop a tier and are tied with the Rangers with 39 points. People picked them to make the Stanley Cup Final this year, and they more than likely aren’t even going to make the playoffs. According to Dom Luszczyszyn’s Playoff Probability model on the Athletic, the Flyers only have a 5% chance to make the playoff right now.
Joel Farabee — LW/RW
As a Penguins fan, I am very much not excited that this guy is a Flyer. He has had an amazing sophomore season, putting up 14 goals and 27 points in 35 games. Farabee already has 6 more points than he had in his rookie season, in 17 fewer games. He is currently on the first line with Sean Couturier and James van Riemsdyk, and he certainly deserves to be there right now. The Flyers may have been on a humongous slump recently, but that is certainly not because of Joel Farabee.
James van Riemsdyk. This is the best season JVR has had in a long time. 31 points in 36 games is the highest point pace he has had in his career.
Carter Hart — G
You probably knew this was coming. A fair few people thought that he was going to be a Vezina candidate for this season. He had a 0.926 Save% in the playoffs for this team last year, so it wouldn’t be the most surprising thing ever. However, the 22-year-old has posted an absolutely abysmal 0.871 Save% this season. I still think that this kid can be one of the best goalies in the NHL one day, but he needs to look at his game and think about what is wrong here. It has gotten to a point where it’s getting embarrassing.
Nolan Patrick. He needs a change of scenery. 7 points in 35 games for the 2nd overall pick in 2017. He has been very bad for Philly.
The Pittsburgh Penguins
The team that never dies eh? A lot of people thought that the odd team out of the East this season would be the Pittsburgh Penguins. Well, they are currently 24–12–2 and are in a great spot with 50 points and a stable 3rd place in the division. They have done this the usual way the Penguins do things, bruised and battered with some of their best players out of the lineup.
Teddy Blueger — C
Teddy Blueger has been very good for the Penguins. His defensive play was elite last season, but that’s all Blueger was last year. He had 22 points in 69 games, which is fine. His defensive ability outweighed that. This season he has 15 points through 28 games. That is a 44 point pace, and if you mix that with his defensive ability, he is a very impactful player that deserves more respect from around the league. Unfortunately, he has been injured recently, but when he comes back this on-fire Penguins team is going to look a lot scarier.
Cody Ceci. I was very, very close to talking more about Ceci here. I have no idea what they did to this man in Canada for 7 years but man oh man is he loving playing in the good ole US of A. He has been fantastic in both ends of the ice this season for the Pens.
Marcus Pettersson — D
Marcus Pettersson has sure been something this season. As a 24-year-old you would’ve expected Pettersson to improve on his solid play from the past 2 seasons in Pittsburgh. In those two years, he played solid defence with 19 and 22 points in 57 and 69 games respectively in Pittsburgh. That is a very good top 4 defenceman. This year he has been pretty bad defensively and his offensive game has seemed to have poofed away. 4 points in 29 games is nowhere near how he played the past couple of seasons. I hope this is a one-year thing as I loved his game before, but this year he hasn’t been good.
John Marino. I am a big fan of Marinos, but he is currently in a sophomore slump. I think that is all it is, as he was absolutely fantastic in his rookie season last year for the Penguins. I expect him to have a bounce-back year next season, and I’m not even worried about it. He has looked much better as of late, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has already broken the slump.
The Washington Capitals
The Capitals have certainly proven me wrong so far this year. I thought they would be too slow to compete at this high of a level, but right now they are at the top of the East Division with a 24–9–4 record, which is good for 52 points. Despite this, there is still some questions about this team. After their poor performance last year in the first round against the Islanders. Their record against the top teams in the division isn’t fantastic so far this year, and you might wonder if they might have gotten hot at the right time. Either way, they’re a scary team.
Justin Schultz — D
I really liked Schultz in Pittsburgh until his last season there. I thought he had lost his offensive touch, and that made his poor defensive game much more apparent. However, it seems like Schultz has been reawakened in Washington. He has 17 points through 33 games so far this year and has actually slightly improved that disastrous defensive game of his. He isn’t as good as he once was in Pittsburgh, but he does deserve some credit for his game so far in Washington.
Daniel Sprong. Another former Penguin, but this one’s different. He was a prospect that after leaving Pittsburgh went through Anaheim before arriving in Washington. In Washington, he has had 12 points in 26 games so far. Not bad for everyone thinking he was already a bust at just 23.
Evgeny Kuznetsov — C
Before I start, yes I know he had complications with COVID. If you put that aside, he has had a disappointing season for the standards he has set for himself. Over the past 3 seasons before this one, he has played 218 games scoring 207 points. So far this year he has had 18 points in 27 games. He is currently on the third line for the Capitals, and if he doesn’t pick up his game soon his numbers aren’t going to change very much. He had 12 points in 14 games in March, so hopefully that is a sign for things to come. This lowered production is completely understandable, and I hope that he is and stays to be healthy.
Ilya Samsonov. I also understand that he had complications with COVID, but so far this season he has had an 0.896 Save% in 12 games. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets that number higher very soon. Like Kuznetsov, I understand why his numbers might be lower than expected and I hope that he is feeling much better today and he stays healthy in the future.