Biggest Surprise Players Of the 2020-21 NHL Season

Bobby Ryan will make his Red Wings debut on Saturday. (Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

There has been a number of surprising performances throughout the first three weeks of the 2020-21 NHL season. Players across the NHL have exceeded expectations in one way or another, but these players have been most impressive:

Vitek Vanecek, Washington Capitals

Vanecek was the Capitals’ No. 3 goalie before Henrik Lundqvist announced that he’d be unable to play this season due to a heart condition. After Vanecek beat out veteran Craig Anderson for the backup job in training camp, the 25-year-old rookie immediately obtained the starting job when Ilya Samsonov went into quarantine in accordance with NHL COVID-19 protocols.

Vanecek has thrived, going 5-0-2 with a 2.75 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage in seven games. A second-round pick (No. 39) in the 2014 NHL Draft, Vanecek is leading the Capitals to a strong start to the 2020-21 NHL season. 

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

The Kings’ No. 1 center and captain has always been a key contributor for the Kings in his first 14 NHL seasons. He’s as consistent a forward as you’ll find. But it’s been seven seasons since the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2014 and Kopitar finds himself one of the few remaining Kings amid the rebuild. With so much inexperience surrounding him, his numbers were bound to take a hit. Surprisingly, Kopitar leads the NHL with 11 assists and he’s been the catalyst to the Kings’ 3-3-2 start.

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks 

The Ducks goalie has started this season in strong fashion, going 3-2-2 with a .942 save percentage (fifth in the NHL) and two shutouts. Gibson has needed to be at his best each game because the Ducks are 3-3-2 but last in the NHL with an average of 1.75 goals per game.

Gibson continuously puts on a show for the strong Ducks defense, because their offense is somewhat stagnant. Gibson’s early-season performances put him in the way-too-early conversation for the Vezina Trophy as NHL’s most valuable Goaltender. 

Bobby Ryan, Detroit Red Wings 

The forward has scored one-fourth of all of the Red Wings’ goals this season. Ryan recently said that a fresh start was welcome for him after he took an extended leave of absence last season to enter the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program.

He returned later in the season and won the Masterton Trophy as the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. So far, the change of scenery from Ottawa to Detroit has helped Ryan put up outstanding numbers. 

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