5 questions at the NHL's quarter-season mark

The 2017-18 NHL season has hit the first-quarter mark and the U.S. Thanksgiving break. It’s also a time when general managers take stock and contemplate a possible roster move or two to strengthen their clubs.

There have been several developments, disappointments and surprises that have caught our eye this fall.

The Edmonton Oilers have been a major disappointment, while the New Jersey Devils, Winnipeg Jets and Los Angeles Kings have exceeded expectations and have their fan bases excited about the rest of the season.

Here are five questions that were raised after the first-quarter pole:

1. Who’s Brock Boeser and why should we care?

The 20-year-old Vancouver Canucks right wing has been on a tear lately. He has put together a five-game point streak and leads all rookies with 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) in 19 games.

Since Broeser left the University of North Dakota after his sophomore season last March, the native of Burnsville, Minn. has checked in with 15 goals and 26 points in his first 28 NHL games. An outstanding start to his pro career, considering the player who was selected 22 spots in front of Boeser in the 2015 draft, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, collected 10 goals and 31 points in his first 28 outings.

2. Can Gerard Gallant and his expansion Golden Knights make the playoffs?

Why not? Vegas jumped out of the gate with a 13-6-1 record after their come-from-behind 2-0 victory against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday. The win matched the start of Joe Malone and the 1917-18 Montreal Canadiens, who began their inaugural season at 13-7-0.

Vegas has received some timely goal scoring from James Neal, who also has scored four game-winners, and strong goaltending from five different netminders due to injuries.

The Golden Knights goaltenders list includes Maxime Lagace (4-5-1), Oscar Dansk (3-0-0), Marc-Andre Fleury (3-1-0), Malcolm Subban (2-0-0) and 19-year-old Dylan Ferguson of Lantzville, B.C., who played nine minutes and 14 seconds in relief earlier this month after being promoted from the Kamloops Blazers.

3. Are Tampa Bay and St. Louis on a Stanley Cup collision course?

The Eastern Conference-leading Lightning (16-3-2) and the Western Conference-front-running Blues (16-5-1) certainly have been the class of the league in the first six weeks with their high-powered offences.

But it should be noted the Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks were in conference leaders at U.S. Thanksgiving a season ago and both teams didn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

So where in the standings were the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins and finalist Nashville Predators at U.S. Thanksgiving a year ago? Pittsburgh was fourth in the East at 12-5-3 and Nashville was eighth in the West at 9-7-3.

4. What else can we learn from the standings after U.S. Thanksgiving?

Oilers Ducks Hockey

The Edmonton Oilers and superstar captain Connor McDavid have a lot of work to do if they are to return to the playoffs. (The Associated Press)

Since the 2004-05 lockout-cancelled season, an average of three teams that currently occupy a playoff spot won’t make the postseason at the end of the regular season.

For example, last year the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames each rallied to supplant the Lightning, Devils and Kings in the final standings. The Lightning were obviously stung by the injury to Steven Stamkos.

But Toronto, Boston and Calgary were all close in the standings at U.S. Thanksgiving. The Bruins were only a point back of the final playoff spot in the East, while the Maple Leafs and Flames were two points out of a playoff spot in the East and West, respectively.

So, it doesn’t look good for the Oilers, who are five points back in the West.

5. Why do I believe the Predators are the Stanley Cup favourites?

The Nov. 5 three-way trade between the Predators, Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche will benefit all three clubs. The Senators received Matt Duchene, while the Avalanche scored first, second and third round draft selections and some young talent. The Predators gained centre Kyle Turris.

The early returns show Nashville has gained the most, going 6-1-0 since the blockbuster deal with the Avalanche at 3-3-1 and the Senators at 2-3-1.

The Predators also will see the return of defenceman Ryan Ellis in the New Year from his off-season knee surgery, so if they can stay healthy they look like the team to beat.

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