Six games into the season the leading goal scorer for the Minnesota Wild is, as everyone expected, Chris Stewart. Stewart is just one of 19 players with six or more goals in the NHL this season. He is tied for fourth in the league in goals among the likes of James Neal, Tyler Seguin, Filip Forsberg, Brad Marchand, Anze Kopitar and Evander Kane.
Stewart just had 13 goals for the Wild last season, and his role was pretty similar to what he had started out this year as -- a mainly fourth-line guy. But due to injuries, Stewart has gotten a bump in ice time -- nearly three minutes more than last year -- and has made the most of it. “He’s going to get good matchups when you have players as good as Chris playing on the bottom-six,” Tyler Ennis told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “He’s going to be able to outperform the other team’s bottom-six.”
While most are surprised about Stewart's hot start, head coach Bruce Boudreau is not and offered this up over a week ago on his winger: "He's got a very good offensive IQ. He's got great vision from the top of the circles in and he's very dangerous."
So what exactly has been different for Stewart this year besides the increased ice time? Let's dip into the video and see how he has scored his six goals this year.
Goal one -- Detroit
After Tyler Ennis fires the puck around the boards, Stewart fires it right back past an unsuspecting Mike Green. The puck goes back to Ennis – behind the net – who draws Xavier Ouellet away from out front. Stewart, seeing that neither Red Wings defenseman is in a correct place here, crashes the net and receives a centering pass from Ennis. Jimmy Howard is dead to rites here, and Stewart is able to bury it for the tying goal.
Goal two -- Carolina
This is one Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin would like to have back. Stewart goes wide on the wing, and Jared Spurgeon hits him with a pass on the Carolina blue line. Hanifin gets caught not paying attention to Stewart, and the Wild winger is able to skate in on a breakaway for a goal. As Marcus Foligno told the Star Tribune: “The goal in Carolina is something I’ve seen before where he’s just beat guys wide. And I think defenses don’t give him the respect that he should have out there.”
Goal three -- Chicago
This is about the worst-case scenario for anyone playing the Wild. A bouncing puck skips over defenseman Brent Seabrook's stick at the blue line, and the attacker is Jason Zucker. Seabrook tries to tie up Zucker, but the winger is able to collect the puck in the neutral zone and skate into the offensive zone on a 2-on-1 with Stewart. As soon as Duncan Keith begins to challenge Zucker at the top of the left faceoff circle, Zucker gets a pass over to Stewart for an easy tap-in goal.
Goal four -- Chicago
On the faceoff, the Keith makes a pinch in the zone to try and get the puck back, but Ennis quickly gets the puck to Stewart on the wing. At this point, it's off to the races for Stewart, who just has to stay ahead of Seabrook and it’s a tap-in, empty-net goal to secure the Wild’s first win of the season.
Goal five -- Winnipeg
Stewart gets the play started in the offensive zone by making a check on Josh Morrissey behind the net. The puck comes loose to Jacob Trouba, who fires an errant pass on to the stick of Zucker, who was making a run at him. Zucker quickly collects the puck and gets it out front to Stewart, who moved there after making the initial hit on Morrissey. Stewart is still skating away from the goal when he scores, and is able to put a backhander past Connor Hellebuyck to get the Wild on the board.
Goal six -- Calgary
With the Wild on a 5-on-3, Stewart gets some power play time here and rewards Boudreau for doing so. Stewart just comes off the wall towards the goal, and since the Flames are down to three men, and the defensemen respect the pass, not the shot. So Stewart fires a bad angle shot, Mike Smith makes the initial save but the rebound kicks right back to Stewart who swats home the puck to give the Wild the lead.
Basically, what Stewart has done, and done well, to begin this season is crash the net. Either on odd-man rushes or just by offensive play, he has been able to get in close to the goaltender and has been able to capitalize on his goal-scoring chances. No, his 42.9 percent shooting is not sustainable, but right now he is a big source of offense for the Wild at a time when a major part of their top-six has gone down with injuries.
On his hot start, Stewart added, "I've just been keeping it simple. Just trying to take care of my responsibilities defensively and it's been leading to chances offensively. I'm pretty comfortable in my role, and I know what I have to do to be successful in this league."