In the world of professional sports, the off-season has turned into a period of perpetual risk. When even the slightest move is scrutinized and analyzed with such severity, teams are trying harder and harder to minimize those gambles.
This summer saw a few key story lines for some of the leagues biggest franchises, and many of them are providing early dividends. Let’s take a look at some of the most talked about players of the summer, and where they sit just a few games into the seasons.
Auston Matthews – Toronto Maple Leafs:
The first big name to drop, Matthews was selected first overall by the Maple Leafs after they held on to their #1 spot in the draft. Seen as a franchise-type talent who could make an impact right away, Matthews proved he could play at this level at both the World Championships and the World Cup, before setting an NHL record in his first game with four goals.
With six points in his first four games (and two more assists tonight), the 19-year old Arizona-born centerman has already made an impact. He was made the second star in the first week of the season, and saw his jersey sales skyrocket to the top of the league. While it’s extremely unlikely he’ll continue at this pace for his entire rookie season, the Maple Leafs have to be please with his play thus far.
Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay Lightning
Expected to hit the open market and garner the most interest of any free agent in the history of the NHL, Stamkos instead decided to sign back with the Lightning at the beginning of the summer. GM Steve Yzerman committed long-term to the 26-year old, handing him an eight year, $68MM deal just before free agency started.
Stamkos hasn’t taken the money and sat back, with four points in his first four games (and another goal tonight). The former 60-goal man is off to a blistering start and will again battle for the Rocket Richard trophy. Fans everywhere will wonder what he could have done for their team had he decided to head somewhere else.
Jimmy Vesey – New York Rangers
The biggest (deserved or not) story of the entire center was the saga of Jimmy Vesey, a college standout who refused to sign with first the Nashville Predators, and then the Buffalo Sabres. After months of speculation and build up, the winger decided to go to New York, where he would play with former teammate Kevin Hayes.
Though he had just one goal through his first four, Vesey has two more tonight, making people wonder just how effective he truly will be this season. The pendulum of “top-six winger”-“third line ceiling” that we heard all summer isn’t determined yet, but his three goals are already more than most Rangers fans expected through five games.