Power Ranking the Top 25 Players Early in the 2013 NHL Season

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IFebruary 6, 2013

Power Ranking the Top 25 Players Early in the 2013 NHL Season

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    Each team has already played roughly 10 games this season, which means that the season is about 20 percent over.

    With that in mind, here is an early season power ranking of the top 25 players of the season thus far. A player's past performance is not a major factor in compiling this list.

    Keep in mind this is not just a list of the top 25 scorers in the league, although plenty of highly productive players are included. We have defensemen and goalies in this list, so overall performance is considered.

    Also remember that these are the best 25 players this season so far. There are still nearly three months of hockey to be played. Some of these players will continue to shine, others are just off to hot starts and will fall back to the pack.

    Here are the early season power rankings of the NHL's top 25 players (so far).

25. Alex Pietrangelo

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    In his third NHL season, St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo seems to have taken his game to yet another level.

    Through the season's first eight games, the King City, Ont. native has scored one goal and added seven assists. He has two power play assists and one helper shorthanded.

    Pietrangelo's point totals have increased in each of his first two seasons. If he becomes a point-per-game player (or close to it), the Blues will have a stronger attack this season.

24. Kris Letang

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    Penguins' defenseman Kris Letang is off to a fast start this season and is one reason the Pens find themselves in the thick of the thick of the Eastern Conference race.

    Letang has three goals and eight points and is a plus-four in nine games. Three of his assists have come on the power play.

    Letang also plays solid defense and has 14 blocked shots already.

    The Montreal native is playing closer to his 2010-11 level when he finished the season with 50 points.

23. Vincent Lecavalier

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    Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier has had a return to form in the early part of this season with four goals and 11 points in eight games.

    Lecavalier is a plus-four which is even more impressive when you consider that nearly half of his points have come on the power play.

    Unfortunately for the Lightning, Lecavalier suffered a bone bruise on his foot and is now considered day-to-day.

    The Bolts need their 32-year-old captain to provide scoring depth if they hope to continue this season's fast start.

22. Kevin Shattenkirk

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    It looks like 24-year-old Kevin Shattenkirk is picking up where he left off last season.

    The former first round pick of the Colorado Avalanche is off to a blistering start, scoring one goal and adding eight assists in eight games.

    The Blues' young defenseman is a plus-five, and four of his points have come while the Blues were on the power play.

    The Greenwich, Conn. native scored one point every other game last season but is nearly doubling that pace in the early going in 2013.

21. Antti Niemi

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    Antti Niemi is off to a torrid start and is one of the bigger reasons his club is also getting out of the gates quickly.

    The 29-year-old Finn is 6-0-1 in the early going with a GAA of just 1.80 and a .936 save percentage.

    Add a high-powered power play and a top line that is scoring at a high rate, and you have the reason the Sharks are near the top of the Western Conference standings.

20. Andrei Markov

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    The Montreal Canadiens finished dead last in the Eastern Conference last season. Part of the reason was their power play finished 28th in the league.

    Andrei Markov has been injured most of the past two seasons. This year, the dynamic Russian has been a difference maker on the Montreal power play.

    Markov has eight points in eight games and all of them have come when the Habs had the man advantage.

    The difference has been noticeable. So far, this season, the Montreal power play is in the top third of the league.

    Can Markov stay healthy? That remains to be seen. But if he can and continues to play at this high level, the outlook in Montreal will be brighter than it was a season ago.

19. Tuukka Rask

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    When Tim Thomas announced he was taking this year off, all eyes in Boston turned to 25-year-old Tuukka Rask.

    The Bruins were expected to contend for another Stanley Cup, but that would be difficult without solid goaltending. Was Rask ready to show he was capable of assuming the mantle of being the number one man between the pipes?

    The early returns are promising. Rask is 5-1-1 in his first seven games with a solid 2.10 GAA and a .910 save percentage.

    Most importantly, Rask has come up big by making saves when his team needed him most.

    If Rask keeps up this pace, the Bruins should be dangerous once the playoffs get underway this spring.

18. Cory Conacher

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    Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cory Conacher has been the feel good story of the early season.

    The 23-year-old native of Burlington, Ont. was never drafted. Instead he went on to star at Canisius College and then became a 39-goal scorer in the AHL.

    At 5'8" and 180 pounds, Conacher doesn't have prototypical size. But in in his first eight NHL games, he has five goals and 12 points. Four of his points have come on the power play, and he already has a pair of game-winning goals.

    Lightning Coach Guy Boucher has been impressed with his rookie and has put him on the top line. "What was exposed was his talent, his speed and quickness to react," Boucher said. "I like his grit. I like his relentlessness. He deserves it."

17. Tobias Enstrom

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    Winnipeg defenseman Tobias Enstrom had a disappointing year last season and saw his point total drop by 18 over the previous season. Injuries limited the Swede to just 62 games.

    This season, Enstrom is healthy and playing a strong offensive game. He has two goals and 11 points in his first eight games, and six of his nine helpers have come when the Jets were on the power play.

    Winnipeg is relying on Enstrom to return to his 2010-11 form when he had 51 points. His play will be a key cog in the Jets' rebuilding program.

16. Vladimir Tarasenko

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    Vladimir Tarasenko is only 21, but the Blues' speedy Russian rookie is already making opposing players take notice.

    Tarasenko has five goals and 10 points in his first eight NHL games, and one of his goals was a game-winner.

    The NHL named Tarasenko the top rookie for January for his efforts.

    The Blues had the league's third-best record last season but were just 21st in goals scored. A strong season by Tarasenko could boost the St. Louis offense and help the Blues make a deeper playoff run this spring.

15. Corey Crawford

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    The Blackhawks were disappointed with the play of goalie Corey Crawford last season.

    His GAA rose nearly half a goal per game to 2.72, while his save percentage barely topped .900. The result was an early playoff exit for a team that believes it can contend for another Stanley Cup title.

    In the early part of this season, Crawford has found his 2010-11 form. He is off to great start, as are the Blackhawks, who are among the top clubs in the standings thus far.

    Crawford himself is 5-0-2 with a .934 save percentage and a GAA of just 1.66.

    If he continues to play this well, the Hawks should be strong contenders in the Western Conference this season.

14. Craig Anderson

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    Craig Anderson's stellar play was a big reason that the Ottawa Senators qualified for the playoffs last season, surprising many of the so-called experts.

    The buzz around Ottawa before the season started was that Anderson was in danger of losing his job if he got off to a slow start.

    Anderson need not worry—he's off to a blazing start this season for the Sens. The Park Ridge, Illinois native is 5-2-1 with an exceptional 1.12 GAA and a .964 save percentage.

    Right now, he's on top of his game. Ottawa will need him to stay there now that top-line center Jason Spezza is out with an injury.

13. Henrik Zetterberg

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    With the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, there was more pressure on veteran Wings like Henrik Zetterberg to provide both offensive production and leadership this season.

    The 32-year-old Swede took over as captain after Lidstrom walked away from the game and so far he has met expectations for a Detroit club in transition.

    Wings' GM Ken Holland was quick to praise his new captain: "Henrik Zetterberg leads by example," Holland said. "He understands the responsibility of being the captain of the Detroit Red Wings."

    In his first eight games, Zetterberg has five goals, 12 points and a plus-four rating. Four of his points have come on the power play, and one of his goals was a game-winner.

12. John Tavares

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    John Tavares just keeps getting better.

    When the Islanders chose the Mississauga, Ont. native first overall in the 2009 NHL Draft, critics questioned his strength and skating ability.

    In each subsequent year, Tavares has shown his dedication to the game and has improved those very areas that were believed to be his shortcomings.

    By last season, Tavares was scoring goals he could have never managed as a rookie. He has continued to show improvement this season.

    In the Islanders first eight games, Tavares has four goals and 11 points. Five of his points have come on the power play.

    The 22-year-old is also taking on leadership responsibilities on a club that is off to a surprisingly good start in 2013.

11. Carey Price

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    Carey Price has been Montreal's best player the past several seasons, and the Habs are relying on the 25-year-old B.C. native to help them return to playoff contention.

    Thus far, Price hasn't let his club down. In seven early season appearances, Price is 6-1-0 with a 1.70 GAA and a .938 save percentage.

    The Habs are right on the heels of the Bruins in the Northeast Division thus far and need Price to continue carrying the team, if they hope to qualify for the playoffs in this lockout-shortened season.

10. Joe Pavelski

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    The play of Joe Pavelski has been a big key to San Jose's fast start this season.

    "The Big Pavelski" has four goals and 12 points in nine games this season, with seven of his points coming on the power play. One of Pavelski's goals was a game winner.

    The Plover, Wisc. native scored at least one point in each of San Jose's first seven games.

    If the Sharks are going to continue their early season success, they will need continued production from Pavelski.

9. Evgeni Malkin

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    Evgeni Malkin won the Hart Trophy (league MVP) and the Art Ross Trophy (leading point getter) last year and has continued to be productive in 2013.

    The Russian superstar has two goals and 12 points in nine games so far for the Penguins. One of his goals was a game winner.

    Malkin continues to demonstrate his elite hockey skills. At 26, he should just be entering the prime of his career.

8. Jason Pominville

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    The Buffalo Sabres have struggled early this season, but the play of Jason Pominville has not been part of the problem.

    The veteran forward has five goals and 13 points in eight games and is a plus-two on a team that has already allowed six more goals than it has scored.

    Pominville has accumulated points in bunches. He has a pair of three-point games and points in six of the Sabres' eight games this season.

    The line of Pominville, Cody Hodgson and Thomas Vanek has been one of the most productive in the league thus far.

7. Patrick Kane

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    In the past, Patrick Kane's lack of maturity off the ice was compromising his production on the ice. After a strong rookie season, the Buffalo native saw his point totals decline each successive year.

    But this season, Kane has answered his critics with a productive start and a more mature attitude.

    In nine games, Kane has four goals and 13 points. Better yet, he has been remarkably consistent, picking up at least a point in eight of nine games.

    If Kane continues to be productive during games and not destructive between them, the Blackhawks could be in for a long playoff run this spring.

6. Sidney Crosby

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    Even though he only played 63 regular season games total over the last two seasons, Sidney Crosby was still remarkably productive when healthy.

    Crosby averaged more than 1.6 points per game over the last two regular seasons in between injuries.

    This season, Crosby is healthy again and continues to pile up points. In nine early season games, "Sid the Kid" has four goals and 13 points for an average of 1.44 points per game.

    Many experts still consider Crosby the best player in the game today.  A strong season would help prove them right.

5. Patrick Marleau

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    Patrick Marleau was criticized for the way he finished last season, and his goal total dropped from 37 in 2010-11 to 30 in 2011-12.

    This year however, Marleau is off to a red-hot start. In the first nine games of the season, the Aneroid, Sask. native has nine goals and 14 points. Marleau already has three game-winning goals, nearly half his total in 82 games a season ago.

    Five of Marleau's goals have come on the San Jose power play, which is fifth in the league with a 26 percent conversion rate.

    Many experts were starting to say San Jose was past its prime, but the way Patrick Marleau and company are starting the season, many of them have been forced to revise their opinions.

4. Martin St. Louis

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    Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis is one of the best passers in the NHL today and even at 37, shows few signs of slowing down.

    Playing on a line with sniper Steven Stamkos doesn't hurt, but St. Louis has three goals and 14 points in eight games. He is also a plus-three, and half of his points have come when his team has the man-advantage.

    The Lightning's offense has 39 goals in eight games, nine more then the next highest team. The strong play of Martin St. Louis is a big reason for the Bolts' early season success.

3. Joe Thornton

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    Big Joe Thornton remains a great playmaker at the age of 33 and is off to a very strong start for the Sharks this season.

    The London, Ont., native has three goals and 14 points in nine games for San Jose. He also remains the center of the club's top line and on the top power play unit.

    Thornton's fast start has helped the Sharks win their first seven games and take the early lead in the Pacific Division.

2. Steven Stamkos

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    Steven Stamkos led the NHL in goals last season with 60, 10 more than the nearest competitor.

    This season, he's off to an even stronger start with seven goals and 16 points in just eight games. Half of Stamkos' points have come on the power play.

    Lightning Coach Guy Boucher is impressed by Stamkos and thinks his high scoring forward has become even better this season. "He's a horse now," Boucher said. "He's not this wiry kid anymore. He's bigger, stronger, faster. … He's a beast."

    If he keeps scoring at this level, another Rocket Richard Trophy is a distinct possibility.

1. Thomas Vanek

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    Buffalo's Thomas Vanek is off to a great start this season, scoring eight goals and 19 points in the first eight games of this season.

    Vanek has six power play points and one shorthanded goal.

    Apparently, playing back home in Austria during the lockout revived Vanek's love of the game.

    Sabres GM Darcy Regier loves the chemistry between Vanek and his linemates, Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville. "He and Jason have always had good chemistry," Regier says. "Now the chemistry is building among the three of them. If you have two guys with chemistry, it's great. If you have three, it's very unusual."

    Vanek had 61 points in 78 games last year. He hasn't topped the point per game mark since 2006-07 but he'd love to top that mark again this year.