Welcome back to the THN.com feature known as “Three Stars of the Week,” wherein we select three NHL players who, over the course of the previous seven days, have had the most positive impact on their team. Let’s dive straight in:
3. Karel Vejmelka, Arizona Coyotes
Early in December, Connor Ingram, Vejmelka’s tandem partner in Arizona, was one of the players of the week. Vejmelka had a fantastic week, keeping the Coyotes in the thick of the playoff chase with a 3-0-0 record, 0.73 goals against average, a.973 save percentage, and one shutout.
Vejmelka, a 27-year-old Czech, has been quietly good for Arizona over the past two seasons. Last season, he posted a 3.43 goals-against average and a.900 SP for the Coyotes, which isn’t Vezina Trophy-caliber but is still respectable on a poor team.
Vejmelka is a good value asset because he will make $2.725 million this season and next. If he stays in Arizona, he’s earned the opportunity to play in at least half of the team’s games. If not, the rebuilding Coyotes may decide to trade him for younger players and/or draft picks.
Vejmelka could have much better individual stats on a team that was more competitive than the Coyotes. However, he and his employer are currently quite pleased with his performance from the previous week.
2. Gabriel Vilardi, Winnipeg Jets
Vilardi has given the Jets what they were hoping for since joining them in the sensational Pierre-Luc Dubois trade this past summer.
Vilardi scored seven goals and fifteen points in 14 games this season, including five at even strength, in four games this week. This puts him on track to surpass his career-best 63 games played with Los Angeles last season, when he scored 41 points and scored 23 goals.
The 24-year-old is contracted through the 2024–25 season, and his current salary is $3.43 million. He will remain an excellent deal for the foreseeable future because, even then, he will only be an RFA. Vilardi would be well served by a long-term contract from the Jets, but an extension would likely result in a sizable pay increase for the general manager. In any case, he’s still years away from reaching his peak and is Winnipeg’s first-line winger right now.
Vilardi’s play has played a significant role in the Jets’ satisfaction with the Dubois trade.
1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
The 28-year-old center has had an incredible season so far, and this week he produced a league-high six goals and 12 points (five of which came from assists on the power play) in four games. With 33 games played this season, MacKinnon has a whopping 35 assists and 53 points, putting him on pace to surpass his career-best 2022–2023 totals of 42 goals, 69 assists, and 111 points in 71 games.
MacKinnon averages 22:37 minutes of ice time per game and is paid $12.6 million. He’s the straw that stirs the Avalanche beverage, and Colorado is paying him a whole lot of money for that. Having already won one Stanley Cup, MacKinnon has established himself as one of the top five players in the NHL, and he’s not signs of tapering off on offense.
Being a player of a generation, MacKinnon seizes every chance opponents present him with. He is very capable of scoring 120 or 130 points in a season, and if he stays healthy, he will compete to be the NHL’s top scorer and win the Art Ross Trophy.
Even though the Avs have a strong roster, they couldn’t compete with any of the top teams in the league without MacKinnon. This week, MacKinnon demonstrated his strength through a flex.