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Three NHL teams that deserve to be taken more seriously early in the season

It’s been a wild start to the 2017-18 NHL season, in which the defending champions have refused to let an abhorrent goal differential tear them down a la the Edmonton Oilers and teams like the New Jersey Devils and Vegas Golden Knights have boasted top-10 status, and there are a handful of early competitors that downright deserve attention for their success.

Some of them have already been in the spotlight. Others not as much. Here are three teams that need to be taken more seriously as we near the middle of November:

Tampa Bay Lightning

OK, the reasoning here is obvious. They’re dominating. They lead the league in goals scored outside of the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’re on a hot stretch with seven wins in their last 10 games. They own the NHL‘s most dangerous scoring duo at the moment thanks to Nikita Kucherov and a refreshingly healthy Steven Stamkosracking up points left and right. (Did you know Kucherov is actually in contention for this 50-goals-in-50-games thing?)

Andrei Vasilevskiy has quietly been a standout for Tampa Bay early in 2017-18. USATSI

But the excitement also can’t be overstated. We knew the Lightning might be special if Stamkos came back like normal, but now we know they are special. Andrei Vasilevskiy is an overlooked star for Tampa, and there’s no question this group has a firm grip on the title of No. 1 team.

St. Louis Blues

It’s a little dangerous to equate them with the Lightning just because they’re right there in the standings, winners of eight of their last 10 entering the weekend. But the Blues can no longer be written off as fringe contenders in the Central Division.

Coupled with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko has seen St. Louis surge early on. USATSI

Yes, we realize that everything said in this space is subject to change over the course of the season, but right now, St. Louis has a first line that rivals them all. Consider that Mike Yeo’s unit has started this well in the wake of some big injuries and there’s more reason to buy into what’s happening out of Missouri. On a side note, Blues fans have even more reason to love the Brayden Schenn move and what it’s done for Vladimir Tarasenko pairings.

Winnipeg Jets

Maybe Steve Mason really does have a shot in this goalie competition, but the reason the Jets are what they are right now is this: Connor Hellebuyck is 8-0-2 with a 2.12 goals-against average in the net. There’s more to it than that, of course, but Winnipeg should be pleasantly surprised that Mason has been usurped so early in the year, even if it’s not permanent.

Connor Hellebuyck has made a big name for himself, driving the Jets’ early success. USATSI

Entering the season, the Jets would’ve made sense as a fringe wild-card candidate — one that might have some serious Stanley Cup potential in a few years’ time. Now, though, they’re more positioned for a playoff push than you’d think. The youth they have driving the offense is still green, but much like the Devils, it also makes them potential spoilers.

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