4 NHL Players Who Need to Step up Early This Season

The 2020-2021 NHL season may have only just begun, but it has been full of surprise. The start to the season is always when players are put under the microscope, especially if they don’t start off very hot. There have been more than a handful of players who have not performed up to their expectations early on this season but below are 4 of the most noteworthy players who need to start improving. 


Igor Shestyorkin


There were a lot of expectations for the New York Rangers rookie goaltender ahead of his first full season in the NHL. With Hendrik Lundqvist out of the picture, Igor Shestyorkin and Alexander Goergiev were each expected to split the workload with Shestyorkin getting a larger role. He was one of the most exciting young talents in the NHL last season giving fans a glimpse of a future Vezina winning goaltender. The Rangers are still a young team looking to find their identity, however Shestyorkin has not played at the level he did last year. Through 5 starts, Shestyorkin owns a 1-2-1 record with a .894 sv% and a 2.73 GAA. If the Rangers look to climb up from the Easts basement, then Igor Shestyorkin will need to find his game.


Evgeni Malkin


For someone who is a surefire lock for the Hockey Hall Of Fame, Evgeni Malkin has had a tough start to the season. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been one of the more interesting teams to follow this season. With multiple notable losses during the offseason and losing their longtime general manager Jim Rutherford just last week, the Penguins are in an uphill battle which they are holding their own in as they currently sit in 4th place in the East Division. While the Penguins are standing tall, the question has to be asked, “how much better would the team be if Evgeni Malkin was performing?” Malkin has just 4 points in 9 games this season and while it is not a bad total, it is not a reflection of his skill level. The Penguins offence has not been lighting it up as much as you would expect from a team with Evegni Malkin and Sidney Crosby at the helm, they have been getting the job done. 


Mika Zibanajad

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Since joining the New York Rangers, Mika Zibanajad has taken his game to the next level. In the past two seasons Zibanajad has recorded 149 points in 139 games with 71 of those being goals. Emerging as one of the league’s top centermen, Zibanajad was expected to kick off the season with a bang as he helped lead his team back to their winning ways. After 8 games however, the Rangers alternate captain has not looked like his usual left. Through 8 games, the Rangers center has recorded just 1 goal and 1 assist which is not what you would expect from a top-line center who plays a key role in the team’s power play. 


Jake Virtanen


Despite the shortened season, 2019-2020 was a career year for Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen. Through 69 games, the Canucks winger scored 36 points, 18 of which were goals. Fast forward to this season and the 2014 6th overall pick is reminding fans why he is nicknamed “shotgun Jake”. His 1 goal in 9 games puts him on pace for the lowest total in his career. His limited ice-time can likely be attributed to his production as the right winger is averaging just 11:57 of TOI a night.

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