It seems like just two weeks ago that us NHL fans were unsure if we would have any hockey to talk about at all in 2013. Yet here we are, several games into a new season, and there are already some interesting and unforeseen storylines emerging.
Arguably the most interesting part of the season thus far has been the league's leading scorers list.
Find me a pundit that thought that Daniel Winnik would be among the league's hottest scorers out of the gate, and I'll give up my Goldfish Cracker habit for a month. And that's my way of saying that you won't find that pundit...because there is no way I would give up my Goldfish crackers for a month.
There are some surprising names on the list, and some not-so-surprising names on the list.
We're going to rank the likelihood of each of the NHL's current leading scorers being able to maintain a spot on that list.
I'm considering points only at this juncture. This isn't a list of the leading goal scorers, but the leading point-earners.
(This list is accurate as of the morning of Sunday, January 27. There are several games on the docket tonight, so there could be some changes in the top 15 scorers.)
Daniel Winnik may be called a lot of things throughout the rest of his NHL career, but Rocket Richard Trophy winner won't be one of them.
If, for whatever reason, someone just started watching pro hockey after the lockout ended (perhaps wondering what all the fuss was about) then they might think that Winnik is one of the most prolific goal scorers in our game.
That obviously isn't the case. His hot streak is one of the funnest stories of the young season, but I feel that he is the least likely player to maintain his spot in the top 15 scorers.
Upon watching one of the Tampa Bay Lightning's first games of the season, I quickly found myself wondering who the hell no. 89 was. He was uber-fast, slick with the puck and seemed to fit right in on Tampa's top line.
I quickly got my answer, and Cory Conacher has gone from AHL scoring sensation to household (fantasy) hockey name in less than a month.
He is in the right situation to maintain a solid scoring clip. I just am not going to bet that he continues to outshine Daniel Sedin, Pavel Datsyuk and Sidney Crosby—all guys that are currently outside of the top 15, but within striking distance.
That said, the kid has talent, and if you haven't caught a period or two of Lightning hockey yet, I'd recommend you tune to catch Tampa's top six in action. There are a lot of fun, creative players there.
Jason Pominville is probably one of the most underrated and consistent scorers in the NHL. He quietly racked up 30 goals and 73 points for the Buffalo Sabres last year, and has come out of the gates quickly in 2013.
He is currently the sixth-leading scorer in the NHL with eight points in four games. Call me pessimistic, but I just don't think that he can maintain that pace.
Pominville is a top-25 or 30 point-scorer without a doubt. There is just too much of the "old guard" not currently in the top 15 for me to like his chances of hanging on to a spot on the list. How long could he hold off a charge from a player like Evgeni Malkin?
We may not have to wait long to find out.
The San Jose Sharks have been scary good to open the NHL season. As such, they have four players within the top 15 scorers right now.
I have a hard time believing that this quad of forwards will be able to finish with this kind of lion's share, and I believe that Logan Couture is the least likely among them to hang on to a spot on the list. It comes down to averages, and someone on the Sharks is going to have to regress back to his mean a bit.
He was outstanding through his first three games, putting up the seven points he boasts now, but was held scoreless in San Jose's recent thumping of the Colorado Avalanche. Again, Couture is more of a top-30 guy that happened to start the season hot.
Joe Pavelski has taken notes from another Joe that plays for the San Jose Sharks, posting eight assists and scoring exactly zero goals.
He is the second of four Sharks to be among the top 15 scorers in the NHL, and has benefited from the scorching-hot starts of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Pavelski seems to have settled into a comfortable 50-to-60-points-a-season pace, and his current trend would shatter that average.
Again, he'll fall back to his mean a bit and finish among the top 30 scorers in the league.
What is it about an NHL lockout that causes Russian rookie phenoms to pop up around the league?
I'd be hard-pressed to think of a more electrifying player through the first four or five games' worth of action than Vladimir Tarasenko. I've had the chance to watch almost every team play at least a few periods, and few forwards have looked better than Tarasenko.
My gut says to have some fun with it and push him further down the list, but there are too many variables in play here. The current Calder favorite could very well hang on to his top-15 spot, but he'll have some big hurdles to climb and some talented players to fight off.
That said, he's been one of the best players outside of the NHL for a few years, and he now looks like one of the best players inside the NHL.
Thomas Vanek has always been one of the NHL's more streaky scorers, but his offensive explosiveness typically outweighs his mild stretches of non-productiveness.
Vanek was sitting pretty among the NHL's leaders in everything after Buffalo's first game against the apparently hapless Philadelphia Flyers. On that opening day, he scored two goals and posted three assists.
He hasn't quite come back down to earth yet, putting up four more points in his last three games, but this could be a tough pace to maintain for a guy who isn't quite known for putting together lengthy scoring runs.
The shortened season could help Vanek hold on to his top-15 spot if he is more hot than not, though it's hard to imagine many more five-point outbursts.
It's very hard to find pictures of Patrick Marleau doing something besides celebrating goals these days.
He's been an absolute puck hound in front of the net for the San Jose Sharks, and has scored two goals in each of the team's first four games. That's pretty astounding in and of itself. However, this just is not a realistic and maintainable pace for the 33-year-old winger.
The historic value of what he has done to this point will overshadow and kind of mild drop-off, which is sure to come at some juncture for Marleau.
He could still maintain a solid point-per-game clip with Joe Thornton and finish among the top 15 without question. It'll just be more of an uphill battle than the first few games have been.
This isn't me betting against Martin St. Louis finishing among the top 15 scorers in the NHL. In fact, I believe he will finish the season there in 2013. Again, this is ranking the likelihood of each player's ability to maintain his current ranking as a top-end scorer.
St. Louis has already proven time and time again that he is a capable and talented player for the Tampa Bay Lightning. While he has been held scoreless in one of Tampa's opening games, he's managed to steadily supply points in his usual fashion the rest of the time.
Great things were expected of Zach Parise heading into the 2013 NHL season for about 100 million obvious reasons, and thus far he has not disappointed. A 13-year marriage is a long one, but four games in Parise has not let the Minnesota Wild down.
He is shooting a ton, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a more dominating top line in the NHL than Parise-Mikko Koivu-Dany Heatley.
He is getting equal opportunity to score and dish with these guys, and I wouldn't bet on his production to slip any time soon.
One of the few top lines that can top that of the Minnesota Wild is that of the New York Rangers.
The Rick Nash-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik connection couldn't have gone any better or any sweeter for fans of the Blue Shirts. While the team may have had a bit of a rocky start, it's certainly not the fault of this trio.
The best of the bunch thus far has been Gaborik, who already had scored a hat trick in this young season. The wheels on the Rangers machine appear to be getting going, and this slick winger will continue to be in the thick of scoring chances all year.
Barring injury, he could very well finish among the league leaders in scoring and challenge for a Rocket Richard trophy.
The Chicago Blackhawks have got off to an outstanding and ridiculous start, and no one in the NHL has rolled four lines better than these guys through the first couple games of action.
Marian Hossa, fresh off of recovering from a concussion, has never looked better. Something happens every time he touches the puck, and the 'Hawks have been all the better for it. The sky is the limit for this underrated two-way player, as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have been equally as impressive.
Hossa has been a Hulkish monster on the power play for Chicago, already posting five goals with the extra man. Don't end up in the box against the Blackhawks or they'll burn you, and more often than not it'll be Hossa with the finish.
Joe Thornton has scored like this before, so this 11 points in four games really shouldn't be surprising to onlookers.
He's been psychic with the puck as usual, dishing to guys with insane no-looks and bank passes that defenders just have not been able to keep up with. To go along with his usual gaudy assist totals, Jumbo Joe has also found the back of the net twice.
Both of his goals have come on the power play.
Like Chicago, San Jose has found some crazy success with the extra man, and the guys who can get it done on the power play are thriving so far in the shortened NHL season.
Some fans and pundits never learn: Be careful what you wish for.
Since the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup three years ago, few players have been more embattled than Patrick Kane. He's shown up in more drunken Twit pics than Britney Spears in her heyday (mostly because there was no Twitter during her heyday, but I digress) and drawn the ire of fans around the NHL.
Well this is what a focused Kane looks like, and teams may soon be aching for the kid that couldn't stay out of bars to return. To this point, he hasn't been able to stay off of the scoresheet, and has been dynamite every time the puck is on his stick.
The 'Hawks seem to have found their identity this year, and that is in no small part thanks to a focused Patty Kane.
The track record and pedigree speak for themselves here.
Three straight 90-plus-point seasons and Steven Stamkos is picking up right where he left off last year. Among the hardest-working and best-conditioned players in the NHL, he missed little time getting back to his old ways, posting two points in Tampa Bay's season opener while turning heads on a line with Martin St. Louis and newcomer Cory Conacher.
He won't finish outside the top three in NHL scoring unless there is some kind of fluke injury, and as such, he is the least likely player currently in the top 15 scorers to not finish there.