Every week of the NHL season you can find a column here on everything that may not be making headlines yet — but probably should be.
We're getting deep enough into the NHL season that small-sample-size anomalies are harder to come by while evaluations of teams and players are starting to solidify.
That doesn't mean there still isn't plenty of strangeness around the league to examine, and that's what we plan to do here. This edition of Under the Radar begins with the guys who simply can't buy a goal even though we're nearly one-fifth of the way through the season.
When it comes to not scoring, Alexander Wennberg is in a league of his own
More than a month into the season, there are still some high-profile players looking for their first goals.
Rickard Rackell hasn't found the twine despite firing 37 shots and playing the majority of his minutes alongside Evgeni Malkin and Reilly Smith. T.J. Oshie hasn't lit the lamp despite playing on the Washington Capitals' top power-play unit and scoring at least 1.2 goals per 60 minutes in four of the last five seasons. Josh Anderson hasn't translated time on the Montreal Canadiens' top line into a tally.
The most surprising name on the list has to be Wennberg, though.
That's not because Wennberg is a superstar. The Seattle Kraken forward has never topped 17 goals in a season.
Instead, it's bizarre because of the massive workload the Swede has logged. No Kraken forward gets more ice time than Wennberg on a nightly basis (19:09) and while the 29-year-old is used in plenty of defensive situations he centers the team's second line and occasionally appears on the power play.
Wennberg ranks 24th in the NHL in ice time among forwards — right between Leon Draisaitl and Mark Stone. There have been 11 Kraken goals scored when he's been on the ice, but none of them have come off of his stick.
Because he's not a household name, there probably won't be too much consternation about his early-season slump outside of Seattle — but the Kraken were probably hoping for more from a guy with a $4.5 million cap hit, even if he's chipping in defensively.
Columbus is surrounding Adam Fantilli with freaks
When you're bringing a blue-chip prospect into the NHL it can be beneficial to surround him with veterans who have a strong hockey sense and know what it takes to succeed in the NHL. There's a reason the Chicago Blackhawks traded for Taylor Hall to pair him with Connor Bedard.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have gone in a different direction with their third-overall pick. Fantilli is currently pivoting a line with some of the strangest players the NHL has to offer.
Not only did the wing duo of Kirill Marchenko and Dmitri Voronkov have a collective 59 games of NHL experience entering 2023-24 (all belonging to Marchenko), they are both massive outliers in their own ways.
Marchenko is an extreme triggerman coming off a season that saw him score 21 goals with just four assists. Since the beginning of 2022-23, he has six more goals than any NHL player with fewer than 10 helpers. His contribution has been more balanced this season so far, but his career track record indicates that he's a shooter first. In his 132 KHL games prior to reaching the NHL — including playoff contests — he produced 40 goals against 33 assists.
Voronkov is an outlier in a more basic way in that he's massive. At 240 pounds he's the largest forward currently playing in the NHL.
So, Fantilli is playing with the ultimate shoot-first man and a rookie giant. That's an odd way to get your feet wet at the NHL level, but it seems to be working out well.
In the 45:12 the trio have played together at 5v5, the Blue Jackets have outscored their opponents 4-2 with an expected goal rate of 49.83% — well above the team's season-long average (45.99%).
Nick Bonino is a warrior
It's safe to say that Nick Bonino's name hasn't been top of mind much for even the most die-hard NHL fans this season.
That makes sense considering the 35-year-old is playing limited minutes (11:46/game) with the New York Rangers and making no offensive contribution whatsoever.
Despite his lack of point production, Bonino deserves a little recognition for his work on the defensive end — specifically his prolific shot-blocking. The veteran leads all NHL forwards with 37 blocks, and the man second on the leaderboard (Boone Jenner) has just 22.
Considering his low ice-time totals, Bonino's willingness and ability to get in front of shots is particularly impressive. He leads all NHL skaters in blocks per 60 minutes (13.48) and no forward with more than five games played has a number above 7.86.
Bonino is truly in a class of his own, which helps explain why the Rangers have only allowed three goals in his 5v5 ice time, and two in over 29 minutes of his penalty-killing work.
The lack of offense remains an issue, and Bonino's possession numbers are rough. He wouldn't be in a position to block so many pucks if he was driving the puck to the offensive zone. It's tough to argue that he's having a standout season overall, but he deserves credit for the sacrifices he's making.
Dallas Stars' PK continues to astonish
The Stars get plenty of credit for the quality of their penalty kill, which has consistently been excellent over the last two seasons. Even so, the team's start to 2023-24 deserves another look.
That's because the 4v5 unit had an outstanding game during the team's shellacking of the Minnesota Wild on Sunday scoring two short-handed goals.
As a result of that game the Stars now have a penalty-killing unit that is tied for the NHL lead in goals scored while conceding the fewest. Those two things aren't always neatly correlated as teams that score a disproportionate number of short-handed tallies are often the most aggressive, risk-taking groups.
In their first 14 games of the season Dallas has a neutral goal differential when penalty killing. Put another way they've played just over four periods worth of time (83:29) a man down and managed a 4-4 tie. They only own an expected goal share of 18.05% during those minutes (which still ranks second in the NHL), but the results are impressive.
This unit is the best single explanation for the team's hot start as no other club has a goals for percentage above 33% on the penalty kill and 13 have a goal differential of -10 or worse. Most of the Stars' +12 goal differential overall is driven by the difference between their best-in-class penalty-killing unit and their rivals' attempts to keep their head above water in 4v5 situations.
Hard work isn't paying off for the Flames
The story of the Calgary Flames last season — and during the beginning of 2023-24 — has been strong fundamentals failing to lead to solid results.
Since the beginning of the 2022-23 season, the Flames rank third in the NHL in 5v5 expected goal percentage (54.89%) and 18th in actual goal share (50.24%). Despite driving the play, Calgary has been average from a results standpoint, which isn't ideal for a team that hasn't been able to convert on the power play consistently.
The NHL's new player tracking data seems to back up the notion that the Flames are putting in work, which makes it even more painful for Calgary that the results aren't there.
According to NHL Edge, no team in the league has skated a greater distance on a per-minute basis than the Flames, who travel 9.82 miles per 60 minutes. That number leads the NHL by a greater margin (0.16 miles/60) than the difference between the number two team (the New Jersey Devils) at 9.66 and the 10th-ranked squad (the Colorado Avalanche) at 9.51.
Based on the quality of the teams in the top 10, which include the Devils, Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets, and Pittsburgh Penguins it seems likely that being a high-activity team is helpful for winning games.
But it hasn't worked that way for the Flames who have a dreadful 4-8-2 record.