Around this time last season, I wrote an article talking about the most improved players on every NHL team. The players I talked about were those that had improved their performance from the previous season, especially if they had hit a significant milestone or were having a career season.
Well, this year, I decided to do it again. With the end of the NHL regular season coming in a little over a month, I figured this would be a good time to look around the league and see who has stepped up their level of play.
Of course, to narrow down the need to research so many players, I established some criteria. First, the player had to spend most of last season in the NHL. This means that rookies were not eligible. Also, players could not have missed significant time due to injury or other problems, as they would most certainly have improved after playing a full season to this point.
Finally, and most obvious, their statistics had to be improved over the 2010-11 season.
Here are the players I designated as most improved on every team, along with honorable mentions for others who were considered, but didn't make the final cut.
2010-11 stats: 17 points, minus-eight, one power-play goal
2011-12 stats: 20 points, minus-four, two power-play goals, one game-winning goal
Beauchemin was traded to the Ducks from the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and has five points in 27 games upon being moved. He also finished first on Anaheim with 182 blocked shots and second with 23:04 of ice time, making him a valuable part of Anaheim's blue line.
This season, he is seeing more ice time at 25:58 per game (first on the Ducks) and is tops with 4:27 of ice time on the penalty kill, over a minute-and-a-half more than last year. He remains first with 143 blocked shots.
Although he has 122 hits, his total from 2010-11, this puts him in third on the team rather than seventh.
Beauchemin is fourth on the Ducks with his two man-advantage goals.
Last Year's Choice: Corey Perry, Right Wing
Honorable Mention: Luca Sbisa, Defenseman
2010-11 stats: 22 points, minus-four, one power-play goal
2011-12 stats: 54 points, plus-35, four power-play goals, six game-winning goals
Seguin, the second-overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft, had a little bit of a slow start to his NHL career, posting just 22 points in the 2010-11 season.
However, he has had a breakout season this year and is currently second on the Bruins in scoring. His four power-play goals are tied for third, and he is first in game-winning goals. Furthermore, he is first in the NHL in plus/minus rating.
In addition, he is seeing more ice time overall, ranking ninth with 16:51 played per game. Last season, he logged 12:12. On the power play, he is sixth with 2:33 of ice time, as opposed to last year's 1:21.
Last Year's Choice: Tim Thomas, Goaltender
Honorable Mentions: Andrew Ference (Defenseman), Chris Kelly (Center), Brad Marchand (Left Wing), Tuukka Rask (Goaltender)
2010-11 stats: 52 points, plus-one, five power-play goals, one shorthanded goal, two game-winning goals
2011-12 stats: 59 points, minus-six, six power-play goals, one shorthanded goal, four game-winning goals
Pominville, the Sabres captain, is currently the team's leading scorer and ranks second in both power-play and game-winning goals. Last season, his 52 points were second in scoring, while he was third in power-play goals and fourth in game-winning goals.
He has improved in the faceoff circle this season, as he is tied for sixth with a 47.3 percent faceoff-win percentage. Last year, he was seventh with a 43.2 percent success rate.
Pominville is also seeing more ice time on the power play (3:16 as opposed to 2:55 in 2010-11) and the penalty kill (2:17 this season, with 1:57 logged last year).
The Sabres have been struggling all season, so it is good to see their captain can continue to produce and lead by example.
Last Year's Choice: Drew Stafford, Right Wing
2010-11 stats: 37-24-6 with six shutouts, .906 save percentage, 2.63 GAA
2011-12 stats: 28-19-7 with four shutouts, .921 save percentage, 2.35 GAA
Despite consistent mediocrity in Calgary, Kiprusoff has remained a bright spot.
The veteran netminder has increased his save percentage and lowered his GAA on a Flames team that can't seem to get off the playoff bubble. He will likely produce another 30-win season, and he currently sits seventh in the NHL in wins and eighth in shutouts.
Last Year's Choice: Alex Tanguay, Left Wing
Honorable Mention: Olli Jokinen, Center
2010-11 stats: 10 points, plus-five
2011-12 stats: 21 points, minus-one, two power-play goals, two game-winning goals
Harrison is one of the NHL's most underrated defensemen, and he seems to like it that way. In 2010-11, he was seventh with 111 hits and sixth with 100 blocked shots while logging 15:16 of ice time. He was also sixth with 2:05 of ice time on the penalty kill.
This year, he has received more ice time, ranking fourth with 21:09 played per game. Although his penalty kill ice time is down to 1:40 per game, this is still good enough for fifth on the Hurricanes. His 86 hits also put him in fifth, and he is second with 117 blocked shots.
Last Year's Choice: Erik Cole, Left Wing
Honorable Mention: Jiri Tlusty, Center
2010-11 stats: 57 points, plus-nine, eight power-play goals, two shorthanded goals, two game-winning goals
2011-12 stats: 64 points, plus-24, eight power-play goals, two shorthanded goals, four game-winning goals
Hossa is in his third year with the Blackhawks and has improved over the last two seasons. He had 57 points last year despite missing 17 games, and this season, he has posted his best points total since putting up 71 points with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008-09.
He has increased his ice time in all categories, most notably ranking fifth with 3:05 of power-play time. Although his hits (53) and blocked shots (30) totals are not ranked in the top 10 on the Hawks, he is still bringing a more physical edge than he was last season. In 2010-11, he had 48 hits and 23 blocked shots.
Hossa is currently ninth in the NHL in points, plus/minus and shorthanded goals. He is first on Chicago in points and power-play goals.
Last Year's Choice: Patrick Sharp, Left Wing
Honorable Mentions: Niklas Hjalmarsson (Defenseman), Viktor Stalberg (Left Wing)
2010-11 stats: 26 points, minus-seven, two power-play goals, one shorthanded goal
2011-12 stats: 50 points, plus-one, four power-play goals, three game-winning goals
O'Reilly had identical 26-point seasons in 2010 and 2011, but he has broken out this year and currently has a career-high 50 points. This is good enough to lead Colorado in scoring, and his three game-winning goals are also ranked first.
His ice time has gone up from 16:03 per game to 19:18, which is third on Colorado. He was second last season with a 51.8 percent faceoff-win percentage, and although he is sixth in the category this year, he has improved to a 53.1 percent success rate on the draw.
The Avs are just one point out of a playoff spot, and if players like O'Reilly can keep rolling, they can make a late playoff push.
Last Year's Choice: Matt Duchene, Center
Honorable Mentions: Steve Downie (Right Wing), Jean-Sebastien Giguere (Goaltender), Shane O'Brien (Defenseman)
2010-11 stats: nine points, plus-one
2011-12 stats: 21 points, minus-11, two power-play goals, one game-winning goal
It was pretty difficult to find a most improved player on the struggling Blue Jackets, but I finally settled on Nikita Nikitin, who came to Columbus this season in a trade with the St. Louis Blues.
Nikitin's ice time is up this year from 16:23 in 2010-11, as he is currently third with 23:37 played per game. He is also third with 2:41 of penalty kill ice time and 79 blocked shots. Both of those totals are up from 2010-11, when he logged 1:36 when his team was shorthanded as well as 52 blocked shots.
He is currently third among Jackets defensemen in scoring.
Last Year's Choice: Derrick Brassard, Center
Honorable Mention: Aaron Johnson, Defenseman
2010-11 stats: 34-24-11 with three shutouts, .914 save percentage, 2.55 GAA
2011-12 stats: 26-15-4 with two shutouts, .922 save percentage, 2.29 GAA
Lehtonen has improved every year since coming to Dallas, posting his third 30-win season in the 2010-11 campaign.
This year, he has made solid improvements to his GAA and save percentage while losing less games overall. He is currently ninth in the NHL in GAA, while his save percentage is ranked 11th, giving the Stars hope in goal as they sit in third place in the Western Conference.
Last Year's Choice: Jamie Benn, Left Wing
Honorable Mentions: Eric Nystrom (Left Wing), Michael Ryder (Right Wing), Tom Wandell (Center)
2010-11 stats: 37-17-5 with two shutouts, .908 save percentage, 2.79 GAA
2011-12 stats: 33-13-2 with six shutouts, .923 save percentage, 2.05 GAA
Howard is in his third full season on the Wings and has already posted 30-win campaigns each year. Currently, he is second in the NHL in wins, fifth in GAA and 10th in save percentage. He also ranks third with six shutouts.
On Jan. 12, he won his 100th career game against the Phoenix Coyotes, making 25 saves on 27 shots in a 3-2 shootout win. He also participated in his first NHL All-Star Game.
Last Year's Choice: Darren Helm, Center
Honorable Mentions: Valtteri Filppula (Center), Jiri Hudler (Center)
2010-11 stats: 43 points, minus-12, four power-play goals, two shorthanded goals, five game-winning goals
2010-12 stats: 62 points, plus-two, nine power-play goals, three game-winning goals
Last season, Eberle was limited to 69 games, but he was still the Oilers' leading scorer with 43 points. He was also second with four power-play goals.
He is currently leading Edmonton with 62 points and is second with 3:15 of ice time on the power play. In 2010-11, he logged 2:32 on the man advantage.
Although Eberle missed more than 10 games last year, he was chosen because the options for the Oilers were limited for this list. However, this does not make him any less of a dynamic player.
Last Year's Choice: Andrew Cogliano, Center
Honorable Mention: Nikolai Khabibulin, Goaltender
2010-11 stats: 46 points, minus-nine, six power-play goals, one shorthanded goal
2011-12 stats: 49 points, plus-two, seven power-play goals, one shorthanded goal, five game-winning goals
Versteeg split last year between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Toronto Maple Leafs, finishing the season with 46 points. He also finished 10th on the Flyers with 17:43 of ice time and seventh with 2:52 of ice time on the power play.
This season, he has settled into an improving Panthers team, as he is currently the leading scorer with 49 points. He is also sixth with 20:05 of ice time and second with 3:35 logged on the power play.
Last Year's Choice: Sergei Samsonov, Left Wing
Honorable Mention: Jason Garrison, Defenseman
2010-11 stats: 35-22-3 with six shutouts, .918 save percentage, 2.24 GAA
2011-12 stats: 27-18-11 with seven shutouts, .931 save percentage, 1.96 GAA
Quick was also the Kings' most improved player last season, and as he gains more experience, he continues to get better.
This season, he is ninth in the NHL in wins and fourth in save percentage and GAA. His seven shutouts are second in the league.
While it can be argued that Quick gets a boost because of the Kings defense (third in the NHL with 2.03 goals allowed per game), there is no denying that he can be considered one of the league's elite goaltenders.
2010-11 stats: 22-23-5 with three shutouts, .916 save percentage, 2.66 GAA
2011-12 stats: 17-17-6 with four shutouts, .920 save percentage, 2.44 GAA
Backstrom has had a better season despite recently suffering an injury and the Wild dropping off after a hot start to the season. He currently sits eighth in the NHL with four shutouts, and his save percentage and GAA rank in the top 20 among NHL goalies.
Before getting injured on March 1, he had won two out of his last four stats.
Last Year's Choice: Cal Clutterbuck, Right Wing
Honorable Mention: Josh Harding, Goaltender
2010-11 stats: 17 points, minus-four, two game-winning goals
2011-12 stats: 23 points, minus-one, one power-play goal, two shorthanded goals, one game-winning goal
Eller is in his second full NHL season after being traded to Montreal from the St. Louis Blues before the 2010-11 season. Last season, he was eighth in both faceoff-win percentage (42.3 percent) and hits (85) while logging 11:08 of ice time.
So far this year, he has seen more ice time on the penalty kill (seventh with 1:38 logged per game) and overall (14:55). He has also improved in the faceoff circle, ranking 10th with a 45.4 percent success rate, and is seventh with 47 blocked shots.
In addition, his two shorthanded goals lead the Canadiens.
Last Year's Choice: Carey Price, Goaltender
2010-11 stats: 14 points, minus-10, one power-play goal, two game-winning goals
2011-12 stats: 19 points, minus-two, three game-winning goals
Spaling has slipped under the radar in Nashville, but he is one of the team's most consistent players. This season, he has seen 16:04 of ice time per game after averaging 13:55 in 2010-11. He has improved significantly in faceoffs, as he is fifth with a 54.7 percent success rate on the draw. Last season, he was fourth with a 50.9 percent faceoff-win percentage.
He is also tied for third on the Predators with three game-winning goals.
Last Year's Choice: Shea Weber, Defenseman
Honorable Mentions: Mike Fisher (Center), Hal Gill (Defenseman)
2010-11 stats: 18 points, minus-20, one power-play goal, five game-winning goals
2011-12 stats: 38 points, minus-nine, seven power-play goals, six game-winning goals
Clarkson, a fifth-year pro, has had a career season this year and is rounding out his game as a goal scorer. He has hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career and is second on the Devils in goals, as well as tied for first in power-play and game-winning goals.
For the second year in a row, he is first on the team in hits (170 in 2011; 143 this year) and is seeing more ice time. After logging 13:37 per game last year, he is getting 16:19 of ice time this season. He is also fifth on the Devils with three minutes of power-play ice time.
Last Year's Choice: Patrik Elias, Left Wing
Honorable Mentions: Ilya Kovalchuk (Left Wing), Dainius Zubrus (Right Wing)
2010-11 stats: 53 points, minus-eight, nine power-play goals, two game-winning goals
2011-12 stats: 59 points, minus-two, six power-play goals, two game-winning goals
Parenteau is currently second on the Islanders in scoring and is tied for second with six power-play goals. Furthermore, his 44 assists are fourth in the NHL.
He has made marked improvement in the faceoff circle this season. After finishing with a 36.7 percent faceoff-win percentage in 2011, he is 10th on the Islanders with a 41.7 percent success rate on the draw. In addition, he is seventh with 18:39 of ice time; he was 10th last season with 18:13 per game.
Last Year's Choice: Frans Nielsen, Center
Honorable Mention: Matt Moulson, Left Wing
2010-11 stats: 11 points, minus-five, two power-play goals
2011-12 stats: 35 points, plus-26, two game-winning goals
Del Zotto played 40 games with the Rangers last season, posting 11 points. He was sent to the Connecticut Whale for a brief stint in the AHL, where he had seven points in 11 games.
However, now that he is on the Rangers roster once again, Del Zotto has had a breakout year. He leads Blueshirts defensemen in scoring and is first on the team in plus/minus. His plus-26 rating is also fourth in the NHL.
He has improved in every area, seeing more ice time overall (third with 22:23 per game) and on the power play (first with 3:57 per game). He's also hitting more, as he is fifth with 132 hits after ranking seventh last year with 92. In the blocked shots category, he is third on New York with 79 blocked shots. Last season, he was tied for seventh with 72.
Last Year's Choice: Brian Boyle, Center
Honorable Mention: Henrik Lundqvist, Goaltender
2010-11 stats: 45 points, minus-30, four power-play goals, four game-winning goals
2011-12 stats: 67 points, plus-14, three power-play goals, five game-winning goals
In his third year in the NHL, Karlsson is having a career season and in the discussion for the Norris Trophy. He leads all NHL defensemen with 67 points (good for sixth overall in the league) and is third in the league with 51 assists. This puts him second on the Senators in scoring.
Karlsson is rounding out his physical game, as he tied for seventh with 51 hits. For the second season in a row, he is first in ice time per game (25:15). He is also first on Ottawa with 3:53 of ice time on the power play. Last season, he was second with 3:39 logged on the man advantage.
Last Year's Choice: Ryan Shannon, Right Wing
2010-11 stats: 30 points, minus-two, one power-play goal, three game-winning goals
2011-12 stats: 40 points, even rating, nine power-play goals, four game-winning goals
Simmonds spent last season with the Los Angeles Kings, where he posted 30 points for the second straight year. He was also seventh with 125 hits while logging 13:27 of ice time.
Since being traded to the Flyers, he has gotten a bigger role with 16:12 of ice time and is seventh with 3:16 of ice time on the power play. He has also improved in the faceoff circle, going from a 36.8 percent success rate with the Kings to a 37.5 percent faceoff-win percentage with the Flyers.
Last Year's Choice: Claude Giroux, Right Wing
Honorable Mentions: Scott Hartnell (Left Wing), Maxime Talbot (Center)
2010-11 stats: 13-6-1 with one shutout, .899 save percentage, 2.90 GAA
2011-12 stats: 29-17-7 with four shutouts, .925 save percentage, 2.32 GAA
After spending four seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning but never getting off the ground, Smith has turned his career around this season with the Phoenix Coyotes.
He is currently fifth in the NHL with 29 wins, and his .925 save percentage is seventh. He is also eighth with four shutouts and 11th with a 2.32 GAA.
The signing of Smith seemed like a questionable one this past summer, but so far, he is proving all his doubters wrong as the Coyotes sit seventh in the Western Conference.
Last Year's Choice: Lauri Korpikoski, Right Wing
Honorable Mentions: Radim Vrbata (Right Wing), Ray Whitney (Left Wing)
2010-11 stats: 45 points, plus-seven, five power-play goals, three game-winning goals
2011-12 stats: 62 points, plus-three, 13 power-play goals, three game-winning goals
Neal spent last season with the Dallas Stars before being traded to the Penguins. Upon his arrival in Pittsburgh, he had some trouble adjusting, posting one goal and six points in 20 games.
But this year, Neal is comfortable in his first full season with the Penguins. He is second on the team with 30 goals as well as 62 points. He is seventh in the NHL in goal scoring and second in power-play goals.
His performance, which gives him career highs in goals and points, earned him a six-year contract extension with the Penguins, as well as a spot at the 2012 NHL All-Star Game.
Last Year's Choice: Kris Letang, Defenseman
2010-11 stats: 18 points, plus-14, two game-winning goals
2011-12 stats: 19 points, plus-14, one game-winning goal
Vlasic, one of the league's most underrated defensemen, remains consistent with his offensive production in his sixth season in San Jose.
This season, he is seeing more ice time with 23:14 per game after logging 20:51 last season. He is also first in blocked shots again this season with 126. Last season, he blocked 147 shots.
He has also stayed steady with penalty kill ice time. After ranking first with 2:16 logged last season, he is second on the Sharks with 2:18 played.
Last Year's Choice: Joe Pavelski, Right Wing
2010-11 stats: 15-27-9 with three shutouts, .892 save percentage, 3.51 GAA
2011-12 stats: 20-8-2 with six shutouts, .937 save percentage, 1.63 GAA
Elliott spent last season with the Ottawa Senators and the Colorado Avalanche, and spending the year with two struggling teams dragged his statistics down after a 29-win season in the 2009-10 campaign.
However, since going to the Blues, Elliott has turned things around. He is currently first in the NHL in save percentage and GAA, while his six shutouts are third. In January, the Blues signed him to a two-year contract extension, and he also earned a spot in this year's NHL All-Star Game.
Elliott and Jaroslav Halak make up one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL, and they have helped lead St. Louis to a playoff spot after the team faltered in the early part of the season.
Last Year's Choice: Patrik Berglund, Center
Honorable Mention: Jaroslav Halak, Goaltender
2010-11 stats: 51 points, three power-play goals, one game-winning goal
2011-12 stats: 53 points, six power-play goals, two game-winning goals
Purcell has hit the 50-point mark for the second time in his career, and this is good enough to put him third on the Bolts in scoring and second in power-play goals.
He is seeing more ice time this season, logging 15:13 per game after averaging 14:06 in the 2010-11 season. Although he is seeing less time on the power play (2:13 this season compared to 2:45 in 2011), he is still sixth on the team in that category.
Last Year's Choice: Victor Hedman, Defenseman
2010-11 stats: 64 points, minus-20, 12 power-play goals, one shorthanded goal, six game-winning goals
2011-12 stats: 70 points, minus-two, eight power-play goals, five game-winning goals
Kessel has improved for the second year in a row as a member of the Maple Leafs. He is currently third in the NHL with 33 goals and fifth with 70 points; these totals also put him in first on the Leafs. Furthermore, his five game-winning goals lead the team.
Kessel's ice time has remained steady. He logged 19:38 per game last season (third on the Maple Leafs) and is currently fifth with 19:51 of ice time per game. Meanwhile, he is third with 3:23 played on the power play, and was in the same spot last year with 3:45 of ice time on the man advantage.
Last Year's Choice: Nikolai Kulemin, Left Wing
Honorable Mentions: Tyler Bozak (Center), Joey Crabb (Right Wing), Jonas Gustavsson (Goaltender)
2010-11 stats: 16-4-2 with one shutout, .929 save percentage, 2.23 GAA
2011-12 stats: 14-6-1 with two shutouts, .932 save percentage, 2.09 GAA
Schneider can clearly handle starting netminder duties with another team, but for the time being, he continues to impress as Roberto Luongo's backup in Vancouver.
His save percentage and GAA have gotten better during his time with the Canucks, and his .932 save percentage is currently third in the NHL. Meanwhile, his 2.09 GAA is ranked seventh.
His numbers make him one of the best back-up goaltenders in the league, if not the best. This will help the Canucks as they look to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Last Year's Choice: Roberto Luongo, Goaltender
Honorable Mentions: Jannik Hansen (Right Wing), Maxim Lapierre (Center)
2010-11 stats: 26 points, minus-10, two power-play goals, one game-winning goal
2011-12 stats: 31 points, plus-one, two shorthanded goals, four game-winning goals
In the middle of on and off-ice drama in Washington, Jason Chimera continues to be a bright spot on the Capitals offense.
In addition to posting his best season since 2008, when he was a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, he is also the only Capitals player to score shorthanded this season. His two shorthanded goals are ninth in the NHL, and he is also second on the Caps with four game-winning goals.
Chimera has also shown improvement in faceoffs, ranking fourth with a 55.8 percent success rate after finishing fifth in 2011 with a 51.3 percent win percentage. He is fourth with 109 hits after finishing seventh in the category last year with 98. Although he does not rank in the top 10 in any ice time categories, he is seeing more minutes in every situation.
Last Year's Choice: Dennis Wideman, Defenseman
Honorable Mention: Karl Alzner, Defenseman
2010-11 stats: 44 points, plus-10, two game-winning goals
2011-12 stats: 54 points, plus-12, six power-play goals, three game-winning goals
Wheeler spent last season with the Boston Bruins and the Atlanta Thrashers. He finished the year ranking eighth in hits (74) and blocked shots (47) while logging 16:14 of ice time per game. He was also ninth with 1:19 of power-play ice time and 10th with 1:20 played on the penalty kill.
This season, he has already posted the best points total of his career while ranking seventh on the Jets with 18:31 of ice time per game. He is seeing more time on the power play (sixth with 2:31) and is sixth with 106 hits.
His 54 points are enough to lead Winnipeg in scoring, and he is tied for first with six power-play goals. His three game-winning goals are second on the team.
Last Year's Choice: Dustin Byfuglien, Defenseman
Honorable Mentions: Alexander Burmistrov (Center), Evander Kane (Left Wing)