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The NHL’s Hidden Gem Plays in Ottawa

There have been plenty of discussions and fanfare this season over finding ways to increase goal-scoring in the NHL, with cries for bigger nets, some wanting the referees to call the rules as written, and even suggestions that the league needs to do the long change in all three periods.

Even goaltenders have chimed in, deflecting blame from themselves, and onto coaches.

It’s even to the point where national media outlets are openly taking sides in order to spark some excitement in the way the NHL plays hockey (all in good fun, of course).

If the NHL truly has become a boring and dull league, plagued by defensive structures and systems, void of creativity and excitement, then one player seems to have not gotten that memo.

Mike Hoffman, the Ottawa Senators forward who has taken the league by storm and almost single-handed made the Senators a must watch hockey team this season, figuratively asks, “What memo?”

Hoffman is quick, shifty, creative, and most importantly, racks up points like it’s nobody’s business. The 26-year-old is currently 5th in the NHL in points per game, ahead of stars such as Alexander Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Taylor Hall, and Evgeni Malkin. In 24 games, he has garnered 15-12-27, an expected goals percentage of 51.9 percent, and a relative expected goals percentage of 8.3 percent.

This is a player who has had an incredible developmental curve, and didn’t even make the NHL until last season at the age of 25. The way Hoffman has developed into one of the NHL’s best goal scorers is nothing short of incredible, and really speaks volumes to the now 26-year-old’s work ethic and perseverance.

It also gives us a glimmer of hope for the future. Late round picks very rarely crack NHL rosters, and when they do, they usually end up playing third or fourth line minutes in defensive roles designed to limit scoring. Seldom do offensive talents such as Jamie Benn and Mike Hoffman come out of later rounds in the NHL Draft.

As such, development is mostly focused on getting players to “buy-in” to coaching systems, or on improving defensive play with and without the puck. Though these two things are surely important for players who want to make it into the NHL, more defensive play makes the game slow and boring.

The more success that Mike Hoffman has in the NHL, the more likely it is that teams will start trying to find the next “Mike Hoffman” at the draft tables. Skilled offensive players may be given more of a leash in the lower levels of the game, and players with potential might be told to focus more on their offensive abilities than they have in the past.

After all, the NHL is a copycat league. This is a big part of why Sean McIndoe of ESPN.com argued that the Dallas Stars were the team to root for this season. NHL teams like to copy success, and right now, Mike Hoffman is helping the Senators be successful.

It might be a bit of a longshot to expect general managers across the league to start changing the way that they operate at the draft tables, but already we can identify teams that are prioritizing skill, speed, and hockey IQ. The Toronto Maple Leafs are one such example, as the team drafted 5’11”, 161 pound Mitch Marner fourth overall in 2015, and 5’10”, 192 pound Dymtro Timashov in the fifth round of the 2015 Draft. Both players are averaging over a point and a half per game in their respective junior leagues.

Timashov in particular is an interesting prospect, as the 19-year-old native of Sweden has the potential to be a late round pick who develops into an extremely skilled player, like Hoffman, and one has to assume that more of these small, skilled players could earn a shot at the NHL if Mike Hoffman and others like him continue to impress.

After all, goals and scoring chances are exciting. Giving players the opportunity to develop into goal scorers and playmakers will make the game more exciting to watch. A guy like Mike Hoffman may just be the player that the league needs to see before general managers start to realize that these players are available in the draft, or in free agency, just waiting to be developed.

Hoffman has been one of the most exciting players in the league this season. Let’s hope there are more players just like him in the future.

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