Paradoxically (great word to start an article on isn't it), the unexpected is anything but unexpected in an NHL season. We has seasons that fit that description from Steve Bernier and Scott Gomez last season and, to a lesser degree, even Jordin Tootoo. But the fact that players like this emerged during the season is anything but unexpected. In fact, it's mundane. The chart below is a list of the largest increases in each statistic from an individual on the indicated team. All stats are even strength only and are pulled from war-on-ice.com
Now I haven't adjusted this at all for games played so some of these may very well be fluky. However there were only three teams that did not have a player from the previous year score at least 10 more even strength points. What this tells me is that you can always expect some player to improve whether or not that reason is obvious to all (gaining experience, getting healthy, being traded), obvious to stats people (PDO, shooting percentage, scoring chances), or obvious to no one.
So who will take the not-so-unexpected leap this year? Well your guess is probably just about as good as mine, but I'll take a few stabs here.
1. Jacob Josefson
JJ's shot percentage was actually the highest of his career, however it was still a very normal 9.8% and his goals per attempt was around 3% (NHL average ~5%) and his goals per scoring chance was 4.3% (NHL average ~8%). Couple this with his team-leading CF%Rel of 4.03 (ignoring Jagr) and he has been vastly outperforming his basic statistics for much of his career. He logged 12 minutes per game last year, but fits the mold of the Shero/Hynes vision so would see a significant uptick in opportunities which would only enhance the regression for which he is already due.
2. Reid Boucher
To some, this might not seem "unexpected" since he was our most highly touted offensive prospect until we drafted Zacha. That being said, he has not yet lived up to the hype from his record-setting Sarnia days. However, Boucher's typically had very solid attempt and scoring chance statistics when he's played in the NHL. Similar to JJ, he should expect to get extra time as the new coaches and front desk attempt to get valid assessments of the prospects. His absurdly low corsi shooting percentage could flip the switch and he could luck into a 15 goal season easily. If he played 82 games and had an NHL average shooting percentage he would have gotten 13.5 even strength goals based on his attempts. So with a little luck/powerplay time he could even end up with 20...probably not though.
3. Patrik Elias
I went young with the first two so I'll flip it around this time. The case against Elias flipping it around is that he has declined considerably in recent seasons. His WAR has decreased significantly 4 years in a row (go to the 2nd tab, scroll down, and type Patrik Elias in the name box) and his points per minute have declined relatively consistently since 2010. Really this make him a pretty good candidate as an "unexpected" contributor though. Among forwards that played 500 minutes, only Gio and Zubrus had lower ZS%Rel than Elias. For those not stat-savvy, this means that Elias was used in the defensive zone a higher percent of the time than anyone other than the aforementioned grinders. AND, he skated against the opponents best players, logging the highest CorC% (Competition's Cors percentage) on the team. If we use him less in the defensive zone, against slightly worse competition, and at a higher powerplay/shorthanded ratio, then he could easily turn in an extremely productive season.
The Devils have one of the youngest, most mobile, and potentially dynamic bluelines in the NHL. And yet the below is a chart of how many points the leading scorer among defenders has on each team.
You'll notice that, despite the hulabaloo about our young guns on defense, only Buffalo had a top defender that contributed less points. I consider this one of the most likely things to change this year. It could be Adam Larsson living up to his contract, it could be Damon Severson playing a full year with one already under his belt, it could even be Eric Gelinas logging an absurd amount of playoff shots. Someone on defense will need to prove they can add some offense otherwise we might be coming to grips with an even longer rebuild than we've prepared for. Hynes and Shero likely recognize this as well and will give them every opportunity to prove themselves.
There are plenty of spots from which I could see unexpected production on this team. Those listed above seem like the most likely to me. I didn't even mention the possibility that the higher profile players (Zajac, Henrique, Palmieri) could exceed expectations, though it is possible. Some players like Tootoo and Gionta could also have Bernier-esque contributions, (Gionta in particular wouldn't be surprising at all). The real conclusion is, The average NHL team scores 225 goals, a bad one (2014-15 Devils) scores 180. Someone has to get them. I look forward to seeing what Mike comes up with this year.
Who do you think scores for the Devils in 2015-16?