We are about 45 days into the shortened season, which means we are nearing the half-way point of the 2013 NHL regular season. With the majority of teams already playing at least 22 games each, we’ve been able to take a good look at the players who have been showing this 48-game season what they’re made of. As usual, guys like Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos are sticking to the status quo and owning the top of the stats charts. But I’m not here to state the obvious. I’m here to give a nod to the players whom I believe have been the biggest surprises thus far.
Below are my top 7 player picks for this seasons biggest surprises:
#1. Chris Kunitz– There are only three players in the NHL with more points than Pittsburgh’s top line winger, and they are Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, and Marty St. Louis. With 28 points on the season, Kunitz is on pace to score just shy of 60 points in this 48 game season. Sure, he plays along-side the best player in the world, but he has shown that he is more than just Crosby’s wing-man. Along with his impressive offensive ability (12g-16a-28p), Kunitz has shown a stellar defensive game as he is tied for the league lead in plus/minus with a +17 rating and a dangerous 54 hits. If he continues showing this great amount of energy and production he has been show casing all season, he will most likely remain atop of the points leader board for the remainder of the season.
(Impressive Stat: Chris Kunitz recorded his first ever 4-goal game on February 3rd against the Washington Capitals.)
#2. Nazem Kadri- Since he was drafted by the Maple Leafs in 2009, Kadri has spent a lot of time going back and forth between the Leafs and their minor league affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. But given the fact that he currently leads the Maple Leafs in practically every offensive category in just 23 games, I think Nazem Kadri is here to stay. After recording an additional 2 points in Monday nights 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils, Kadri now sits 14th in points in the NHL (9g-14a-23p). It may be too early for fans to start worshiping Kadri for assisting the Toronto Maple Leafs to their first playoff berth in 7 years, but they can certainly thank him for their current success.
(Impressive Stat: Nazem Kadri is currently on a five game point-streak and has recorded 9 points in that span.)
#3. Jakub Voracek- If you know anything about me at all, you know that I do not like anyone in a Philadelphia Flyers uniform. But one thing I cannot deny is the tremendous offensive skill Jakub Voracek has possessed this year. Voracek was traded from Columbus to the Flyers in 2011 along with a 1st rounder (Sean Couturier), and a 3rd rounder (Nick Cousins) for Jeff Carter. What was Scott Howson thinking? He wasn’t, obviously. Voracek currently sits at 9th in points in the NHL (10g-17a-27p), along with 5 power-play goals and two game-winning goals. He currently leads all Flyers in goals (tied), assists, points, and power play goals (tied).
(Impressive Stat: He recorded a hat trick against his team’s rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 20th.)
#4. Jiri Tlusty- If you think you saw everything there was to see from Jiri Tlusty last season when he recorded a career high 37 points in 79 games, think again. During last nights 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres, the Hurricanes center-man (turned winger), recorded 2 points, which puts him at 18 in total so far this season (on pace for 67 points in an 82 game season). Since being moved to the first line where he plays along-side Eric Staal and Alexander Semin, Tlusty has shown a great deal of confidence both offensively and defensively. Tlusty is becoming a much more notable two-way forward which has awarded him with plenty of time on the power play and penalty kill. With Tlusty’s defensive responsibilities, it not only makes himself look better, but it also helps the offensive game of Staal (28 pts) and Semin (23 pts) greatly as both players are in the top 20 of the scoring race.
(Impressive Stat: He has recorded 15 points in his last 12 games (10g-5a-15p))
#5. Viktor Fasth- As a 30-year-old just stepping onto the NHL scene for the first time in his career, no one knew what to expect of Swedish net-minder, Viktor Fasth. Similar to Tim Thomas’ situation, Fasth played quite a few years overseas before making his way to the States for the first time. And just like Thomas, it didn’t take long for Fasth to make a name for himself as he was making history after just 8 games into the 2013 season. On February 16th, Fasth became the third NHL goal-tender in NHL history to win his first eight career decisions. Now with a healthy Jonas Hiller back in the line up, Fasth has been continuing his greatness as a back up goalie for the Anaheim Ducks. He currently holds a .922 save percentage and sits at 6th with a respectable 2.08 Goals against average.
(Impressive Stat: Fasth recorded his first NHL shut out against the Colorado Avalanche after only 4 starts. He stopped all 31 shots he faced in the 3-0 win.)
#6. Paul Martin- “Do you want out?” These were the words Ray Shero, General Manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins asked Paul Martin in his office last year after a disappointing season. Martin responded with “I don’t want to be traded. And if I do come back, you’ll see a different person”. And a different person we have seen. Paul Martin, now 10 pounds heavier and playing the right side of the blue line has shown a remarkable confidence that he lacked greatly in the 2011-2012 season. Even with an injury that has side-lined him for two games, Martin sits 6th amongst all defenseman with 15 points in 21 games. This season, he is seeing an incredible amount of ice time on both the power play and penalty kill units, which shows in his impressive average 25:12 TOI.
(Impressive Stat: Paul Martin has 12 points over his last 13 games played. (3g-9a-12p))
#7. Drew Shore– While Jonathan Huberdeau has been a breath of fresh air for the Florida Panthers this season, his rookie dominance was expected by most. But the breakout performance of Denver native, Drew Shore was a nice surprise. Shore was called up to Florida to play in his first NHL game on January 22nd against the Montreal Canadians. Although he was not awarded his first NHL point until six games later, Shore made his presence on the ice known. In all the years I have spent watching the Florida Panthers, Drew Shore brings something to the table that not many of their players have possessed. He is an extremely hard worker with a knack for both offensive and defensive hockey. He isn’t afraid to crash the net, nor is he afraid to shoot the puck. Luckily for Shore, all of his hard work has paid off as he was the runner-up for Rookie of the Month with 10 points, only to be beaten by teammate and line-mate, Jonathan Huberdeau.
(Impressive Stat: Drew Shore began this season with the Panthers as only a minor league call up in place for Kris Vertseeg. Usually a rookie begins his year with a number they did not choose. (Drew Shore was given number 50). But only after proving themselves to the coaches, the rookies are awarded a new number of their choosing, as well as a spot on the team. After only a hand full of games, Drew Shore was given the honor of choosing his own number which he’s worn his whole life, number 15.)
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