Early Risers: Five players who saw their stock rise this pre-season

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Following a pair of disappointing campaigns, Max Pacioretty made his mark with 10 pre-season points. Here are five others whose pre-season performances could mean big things for the coming campaign.

Max Pacioretty|David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images

Talk about a man on a mission.

Vegas Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty is coming off of back-to-back dreadful campaigns, finishing with 37 and 40 points over the past two seasons, respectively. Injuries have slowed down his production over the past half-decade – insert joke about him carrying the Canadiens on his back during his time in Montreal here – and all of a sudden, a player who used to be considered one of the NHL’s top wingers has quickly become an afterthought.

But after posting 11 points in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last season, Pacioretty appears ready to make a case that he’s back and better than ever. Not only did he kick off the exhibition slate with a hat trick, he led the league in scoring over the past few weeks, posting 10 points in four pre-season games. Now, the question is whether or not he can return to form and hit the 60-point plateau once again.

Pacioretty isn’t the only player who made a statement in the pre-season. Here are five other players whose pre-season performances could mean big things for the coming campaign:

Sammy Blais, LW, St. Louis Blues – 6 Points
Blais recorded a mere two goals and four points in 32 games last season, but he was all over the scoresheet in the pre-season, registering a goal and six points for the Blues. Of course, playing with top-six stalwarts Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz helped Blais’ cause, but he played like someone gunning for a top-six spot. While he’s known more for his physical play, his speed has improved and he showed he can hang with the best in the pre-season. Don’t be surprised if the Blues give Blais a shot in the top six.

Justin Schultz, D, Pittsburgh Penguins – 6 Points
If anyone is in need of a rebound season, it’s Schultz. One of Pittsburgh’s top-four defensemen, Schultz was injured mere weeks into the 2018-19 campaign and was ultimately limited to just 29 games. He returned by season’s end and was a solid contributor when healthy, but the Penguins could use a full, effective season out of the rearguard. The good news is that his chemistry with Marcus Pettersson is apparent and Schultz seems to take back his role on the top power-play unit. The Penguins need all the help they can get on the blueline, and having Schultz return is vital.

Ethan Bear, D, Edmonton Oilers – 5 Points
After years of absolute mediocrity on the blueline, there’s finally some hope thanks to an influx of young talent. It was hard not to be impressed with Bear’s play in the pre-season, especially his two-goal performance against the Winnipeg Jets. Last season, Bear spent significant time on the sidelines, which prevented him from making his way back to the NHL after earning an 18-game look two seasons ago. With top prospect Evan Bouchard starting the season in the AHL, Bear has earned his right to play on Edmonton’s opening-night roster and he has potential to become a long-term fixture in the organization.

Carter Verhaeghe, C, Tampa Bay Lightning – 5 Points
Good thing Verhaeghe had a strong pre-season, because if there’s one thing the Lightning lack, it’s scoring depth, right? Once a prominent scoring star in the OHL, Verhaeghe has yet to play an NHL game and there were questions as to whether the 24-year-old’s game was rounded enough to make the jump. But Verhaeghe had 34 goals and 82 points in the AHL last season, leading the league in both categories, and he exploded with five points in the pre-season playing on a line with Alexander Volkov and Yanni Gourde. Lightning coach Jon Cooper called Verhaeghe a “pleasant surprise” and praised his skating improvements, and while a roster spot isn’t guaranteed, finding a spot for him is far easier thanks to Verhaeghe’s league-minimum deal.

Cory Schneider, G, New Jersey Devils – 2 Wins
Schneider has had consecutive nightmare seasons in New Jersey and went 14 months without a victory before finally breaking the drought in February, leaving many questioning if he still had what it takes to remain an NHL starter. But Schneider was lights out in the pre-season, posting a .951 save percentage in four games, including a couple of starts where he was absolutely the star of the show. Sure, MacKenzie Blackwood outperformed him last season, but that belies the fact Schneider had a .921 save percentage in his final 17 games of the 2019-20 campaign. With an improved roster in front of him and the addition of P.K. Subban to the blueline, maybe the former all-star netminder has what it takes to return to form.

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