Puck Daddy Bag of Mail: Is Dunn the real deal?

Vince Dunn has gotten off a hot start to his NHL career.

Y’know, you really don’t need to look at the standings every day, especially at this point in the season. Things are going to happen as they happen, and there’s not a lot of headway to be made up on any one night. But the standings right now are crazy.

The top six teams in the Metro, for example, are separated by just five points, and five teams in the Pacific are separated by four, including all-of-a-sudden-not-white-hot Vegas. And hell, in the Central, Minnesota is dead last with 10 points, while second-place Dallas has just 14 with two extra games played. You’ll forgive the pun: Wild stuff.

This is what parity looks like in the NHL, one supposes, and as much as you see it at the end of the year, it’s kinda weird that even less than a month into the new season, 24 of the 31 teams in the league are technically at or above what the NHL would like you to believe is .500.

But given all these issues, it’s understandable that people have questions about the quality of teams and players they’ve seen so far.

Let’s get to a few now:

David asks: “Local media is all over the Blues’ new young defenseman Dunn. Is he worth the hype? Or is it too soon to tell?”

Well, Vince Dunn, so far, seems like he might be worth the hype, yes. He’s being used as a No. 4 defenseman, more or less, but he’s lugging Robert Bortuzzo up and down the ice to great effect. That alone is cause for celebration, because Bortuzzo is quite bad.

The possession numbers are not only “there” for him, but they’re also sparkling more or less across the board; when he’s on the ice, the Blues shoot more and allow fewer shots. That’s all great news. With that having been said, he’s also playing behind the Tarasenko line pretty regularly, and the Blues, generally speaking have a pretty good top-six that’s going to help him look good. So too is his being the only Blues defenseman with a OZS% north of 54… and he’s at more than 59.

But when you’re a 21-year-old rookie, you’re going to get sheltered, so let’s not hold that against him.

Dunn put up big numbers in both the OHL and his one season in the American league, so there’s no real reason to think he won’t be a good player at this level. So with all that said, it is probably too soon to tell, but the early returns are very, very good and one wonders what he could do with a little more room to run.

Andrew asks: “Why are the Pens so trash at even-strength play?”

Simply put, the big guys are getting a rough ride right now. Crosby, Malkin and Letang are all sub-50 percent possession players. Usually, it’s those guys doing the driving and the depth guys struggling.

The good news, one supposes, is that this isn’t going to last. Maybe one of those guys can have a down season (though that, too, is unlikely) but all three at once? I’m not panicking on Crosby and Malkin. These are two of the best centers to ever play the game.

Letang, though, I dunno. Is it rust from the injury that caused him to miss an entire Cup run? Is it Brian Dumoulin not being as-advertised? Is it bad luck? Is it all three? The unfortunate answer is, “Possibly.”

I will say, though, that things look worse for now than they actually are. While they’re sub-50 in most possession numbers at 5-on-5, they’re at 31 percent in terms of goals thanks to a 93.2 PDO. That won’t last.

It’s weird. This is a team that has been absolutely blown out of the water in three games so far this year (versus Chicago, Tampa, and Winnipeg by a combined score of 24-3), and that seems to be really skewing their numbers. Also worth noting that all three of those games were on the second night of back-to-backs for which they had to travel. After they played Edmonton last night, they went to Calgary to play tonight. Something to watch for there.

You can’t “take out” those back-to-back games, but if you could, you’re talking about a marginally positive possession team with a 53.8 xGF% that’s only minus-1 in 5-on-5 goals instead of the current minus-21 (not including that Edmonton game). Pretty big swing, that one.

So yeah, don’t worry too much. They’re the Penguins. They didn’t start being horrible overnight.

Kyle asks: “Are the Kings and Blues for real?”

A week ago I would have been a bit more emphatic in saying yes, but now it’s more of a guarded yes. St. Louis is in the same camp as Pittsburgh insofar as they’re a little underwhelming (but mostly on the right side of things) but where they differ is that the Blues have scored almost two-thirds of the 5-on-5 goals in their games. Mostly because they’re converting on scoring chances at a phenomenal rate and they’re getting .948 goaltending.

Neither of those things are built to last, but again, this is a mostly good team that’s mostly keeping the puck on the right end of the ice, so they’re “for real” as far as being a legitimate team within their division. I don’t think they’re Cup contenders or anything like that, but they’ll be a tough out in the postseason.

As for the Kings, well, you have to like what they’re doing so far. Top-10 in possession, shots on goal, and goals. They’re also not going to score 60 percent of the 5-on-5 goals forever, and Jon Quick is punching well above his weight right now. But this team seems to have figured something out for now, with John Stevens’ new system. Pretty surprising,

Dan asks: “Most surprising non-Vegas team and player so far?”

Speaking of the Kings, Dustin Brown being a point-a-game player with huge possession numbers is something I don’t think anyone saw coming. It really defies explanation that he’s been this good.

As for the team, I’m really surprised at Edmonton being so bad. You’d have thought Connor McDavid alone would be enough insurance against the rest of the team being bad, but nope. They entered last night’s game with only seven points from 10 games. Truly bizarre.

Mikhail asks: “How do you expect the US will fare in the Olympics this year?”

Not great. This is Russia’s gold to lose because they will be sending actual NHL talent and no one else will. The US and Canada are at a huge disadvantage for this Olympics because the vast majority of their even remotely good players play in either the AHL or NHL, which aren’t participating, by and large.

Elite college or junior players players and just-okay guys plying their trade in the KHL or another Euro league aren’t going to be enough to beat a team with Ilya Kovalchuk and Slava Voynov on it.

Zach asks: “Is tanking regardless of the draft class a good idea? Or is it better to stockpile picks and hope you hit on more than just 1 great player?

The idea of tanking is that you’re not only icing a bad team, but also actively trading anyone you can and taking on bad contracts in exchange for draft picks. So ideally, you’re doing both of those things. And you can go ahead and ask the Devils if tanking in a bad draft year is worth it. What’s the alternative? Trying and failing to be good, finishing like 12th from the bottom, and getting a guy who might be an okay second-line winger three years from now?

The key to any tank is getting as many picks as possible, as high as possible. The NHL is actively trying to discourage teams from tanking, but they never will because as long as you incentivize losing, a smart GM who sees he doesn’t have a playoff team on his hands is going to say, “What are we doing here?” Just because it’s better picking seventh.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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