NHL: Connor McDavid thrilling for the Oilers as several Stanley Cup contenders emerge

After a breathless opening month of the NHL season it's time we checked in with how the runners and riders are getting on.

It has been a typically frantic start to the NHL season, with plenty of surprises to go with the exhilarating hockey.

Connor McDavid has been posting ridiculous numbers, cementing his reputation as the best hockey player on the planet right now, while a couple of pre-season favourites have struggled to get going.

As we move past the 'start of the season' phase and into the nitty-gritty of the campaign, we thought it was a good time to check in with how the NHL is looking right now.

Atlantic Division

Patrick Hornqvist of the Florida Panthers

The Atlantic division definitely feels like one of the strongest in the NHL and so far it has been dominated by the Florida Panthers.

The Miami-based franchise came into the season with big expectations, and they have certainly delivered on them so far.

Tampa Bay Lighrtning, who are gunning for a Stanley Cup three-peat this season have started relatively slowly, although there is more than enough quality on that roster to expect them to be right up there after 82 games as per usual.

Toronto Maple Leafs are always worth watching too with their talented attack, but they have done little so far to suggest they have improved sufficiently this year to be anything greater than a strong outside contender for the Divisional title.

Central Division

Mats Zuccarello of the Minnesota Wild

Colorado Avalanche was just about everyone's pick to boss the Central Division back at the start of the season, but they have really struggled to get going.

They are a little behind most in terms of games played, but you'd have expected them to be looking much stronger at this stage than they have.

Just like Tampa Bay Lightning, though, expect quality to tell in the end and they'll get going sooner rather than later.

It is Minnesota Wild and St Louis Blues who have taken full advantage of the poor start by the Central Division favourites to set the early pace.

In an 82-game season it can be tough to maintain momentum without the quality to back it up, but both rosters have plenty to work with so they certainly have a shot.

Winnipeg Jets are still going to be real contenders, too, and you'd expect Dallas Stars to pick up at some point as well.

Metropolitan Division

Carolina Hurricanes celebrate

There have been no real surprises in the Metropolitan yet, where Carolina Hurricanes have absolutely lived up to their pre-season billing.

The 2006 Stanley Cup champions have been utterly dominant so far in their division and will take some catching.

They will, of course, experience a dip in form at some point. The pace at which they have started is simply not sustainable long-term, but right now you can't help but take your hat off to them.

If they do falter, Washington Capitals are probably best-placed to take advantage. Alexander Ovetchkin is still going strong, and that makes them serious contenders alone.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have had a horrendous start, but there current position is a false one. COVID has swept through their roster and denied them many of their top players. Expect them to improve and still contest a play-off spot.

Pacific Division

Calgary Flames getting to grips with San Jose Sharks

The Pacific Division is still as strong and tight as ever, and it's the Albertans who currently lead the way.

Connor McDavid has returned even better than last season, and he scored one of the greatest goals of all time in a recent win over the Rangers. With Leon Draisaitl also in top form you can expect the Oilers to be competitive every time they play.

While the Oilers starting strongly was always expected, Calgary Flames have been more of a surprise.

The Flames have a Stanley Cup-winner coach in Daryl Sutter and he seems to be getting the best from his roster right now. Long term, they could easily be a play-offs team.

Vegas Golden Knights were expected to be leading this particular pack, but they have been hit with an early-season injury crisis.

That's not going to last forever, though, and expect them to slowly improve as the season progresses.

Stanley Cup

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The Golden Knights were many a tipsters prediction for Stanley Cup success this season, and their early-season blip should not change that.

They have also traded for Jack Eichel. That won't help them much in the season itself, as he is expected to be out injured until March, but he should give them a timely boost for the close-season should they make it there.

Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers look like real contenders at this point, and the Oilers will take some stopping too if their young key players have learned the harsh lessons of previous play-offs disappointments.