Welcome to the inaugural edition of Top Cheese — your weekly source for all of the fun things happening around the NHL.
In a league filled with so much talent and a schedule too full to enjoy all the little things, it’s easy to overlook some of the cool storylines happening across all 32 teams.
That’s where this column comes in.
Join me as I dive into some of the top storylines happening in hockey right now from old pals Frank Vatrano and Jaromir Jagr to Jake Walman and Noah Dobson.
Frank Vatrano: Flying High with The Ducks
Remember when Auston Matthews had two hat tricks in a row to start the season?
Well, there is one other player in the NHL with at least two hat tricks this year.
His name? Frank Vatrano.
The former Florida Panthers forward scored his first hat trick of the year on Oct. 15 against the Carolina Hurricanes before getting his second of the year in Philly on Oct. 28.
Frankie V. is playing with a ton of confidence right now.
Vatrano is tied for second in the league in goals with nine, adding three assists for 12 points this season.
He had two assists in a 4-2 Anaheim victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday — their first regulation loss 13 games in.
The 7-4-0 Ducks also handed the Boston Bruins their first loss of any kind this season, a 4-3 overtime win on Oct. 26.
Boston stayed unbeaten in regulation for another week after that and stand at 9-1-1.
Reminder that these Ducks had the worst record in the Western Conference last year, by the way.
He, Ryan Strome and Mason MacTavish have clicked to form one of the most productive lines in hockey early in the season.
And it has helped the young Ducks surge into wild card contention.
Vatrano, meanwhile, is almost halfway to his career-high in goals of 24, which he set with the Panthers in 2018-19.
These numbers may not be sustainable for either Vatrano or the Ducks but it will be fun to watch while it lasts.
With the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers both off to horrid starts, the Pacific Division might be more wide-open than expected.
Jake Walman: Master of Celebrations Helps Red Wings Surge
Jake Walman uncorked a blast of a one-timer to tie the Detroit Red Wings clash with the Boston Bruins with 10 minutes to go in second period — and his celebration was gold:
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) November 5, 2023
Along with the viral dance moves it brought, Walman’s blast helped jumpstart the Detroit Red Wings offense before it handed Boston its first regulation loss of the season with a 5-4 victory.
And he did so with a flash of personality that is oftentimes rare in this league.
Walman is known for showing his personality, famously hitting the ‘Griddy’ after scoring an overtime winner against the Penguins last season.
And, yes, he took the opportunity to reference the celebration in a TikTok about Fortnite…
(That new season brings back so many memories)
Anyways, back to the hockey.
Walman has quietly been a stable partner for Mortiz Seider on Detroit’s top defense pair for the last couple of years and it is really showing on the ice this year.
After being known for his play on the defensive end in his first full season with the Red Wings — scoring nine goals and 18 points in 63 games — Walman already has a third of that production through 12 games this year.
He already has a career-high three power play points after taking on a role on Detroit’s second power play unit.
The 27-year-old has quietly become a big part of why the Red Wings have made the jump into becoming a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference.
There’s a whole lot of hockey left, but Detroit is sitting in second place in the Atlantic Division at 7-4-1 and they have not shown many signs of stopping just yet.
Return of the Traveling Jagrs
The Calgary-based “Traveling Jagrs” made the trip out to Kladno, Czechia to hang out with the man himself.
The Calgary-based Travelling Jagrs met up with their hero in Kladno today, where none of them could replicate the current lid being sported by the legend.
The group is there to play several games, meet up with Jags and honour their founder, Trevor Freeman, who died this week. pic.twitter.com/9zwPgVPk1Q
— Eric Francis (@EricFrancis) November 5, 2023
The crew sporting Jaromir Jagr signature mullets were in town to play a couple of games in honor of their founder, Trevor Freeman, who died this past week.
They have traveled to cities across North America, and now Europe, to watch the NHL legend as his career has gone on.
“We encourage everyone to be a traveling Jagr,” Freeman said, when the group was looking for a new member after Jagr signed with their hometown club in Calgary in 2017.
“Grab a mullet, buy a jersey, go to the game; just remember to be a great fan, have fun, cheer for (Jagr) and most importantly, love this great guy game just like (Jagr).”
Their tradition has brought a lot of fun to the game of hockey and the man who inspired it knows that.
Noah Dobson: Long Island Break Out
After slowly finding his footing in his first four seasons in the league, New York Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson is finally hitting his breakout season.
The 23-year-old defenseman already has three goals and 10 points in 10 games — a point-per-game pace which is already a fifth of the way to his previous career high of 51.
His confidence has clearly been showing in his game so far. Just look at this goal:
Oh my Noah Dobson 😳 pic.twitter.com/xxmWCqEAjN
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) November 5, 2023
The dangle, the backhand shot through traffic. Those are signs a guy knows he has it, and he certainly has proved that so far.
On top of his play in the offensive zone, Dobson has stepped up and taken on a bigger role defensively as well.
With notable defensive stalwarts Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield dealing with injuries this year, he has stepped up onto their penalty kill and has done a fine job in relief.
He is one of a few great storylines on an Islanders team knee-deep in a competitive Metropolitan Division race.
PANTHERS ON DECK
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Monday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5 FM-2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL/Panthers App
- Last Season: Florida won 2-1
- This Season: @Florida Monday, Ap. 11; @Columbus Dec 10
- All-time Regular Season Series: Columbus leads 26-17-4
- Up Next for the Panthers: Wednesday at Washington (TNT), 7:30 p.m.