NHL Superstar Grades, Early-Season Edition

Franklin SteeleAnalyst IIFebruary 11, 2013

NHL Superstar Grades, Early-Season Edition

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    We are getting to the point in the NHL season where we have more than a hot streak or cold streak to take into consideration when looking at some of the best players in the game. Slow starts are fading, quick starts are waning and we are starting to see just who is really bringin' it in 2013.

    If I left off someone that you root for or think should be here, let me know why down in the comments. There are a lot of outstanding hockey players out there, and I can't possibly cover them all here, and I also have been able to watch some guys more than others.

    Watching a guy in person will speak to me more than stats. However, I did look through the top-300 point-getters in the NHL while compiling this list. No goaltenders this time around either. We're taking an in-depth look at forwards and D here.

David Clarkson

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    David Clarkson must have found the last remaining stockpile of SURGE soda somewhere, because this man has been playing like he's loving life since the start of the 2013 NHL season.

    Clarkson is doing his best to make New Jersey Devils fans say "Zach who?" as he is currently tied for second in the league with nine goals. Not too shabby for a guy who only last season began to establish himself as a goal scorer to be reckoned with.

    This guy is for real.

    Early-Season Grade: A+

Corey Perry

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    If anyone out there knows Corey Perry personally, perhaps you'd like to do the man a favor and let him know that he is currently stinking it up in a contract year.

    I didn't expect the Anaheim Duck to come out on fire, but I expected more than six points as well. There's been an odd role-reversal for the Ducks, who have seen their second line do a lot of the heavy lifting while Perry and Ryan Getzlaf continue to struggle.

    Early-Season Grade: D

Henrik Zetterberg

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    I tried to figure out how to say captain in Swedish so I could refer to Henrik Zetterberg as only that in this slide. Sadly, all I could find was a list of military rankings, and I didn't want to seem rude using the wrong translation or disrespecting a ranking officer who happens to be reading, so...captain it is.

    For now.

    Z has been the best all-around hockey player I've watched so far this season, and it's clear he's taking his role with the C very seriously. His point total doesn't do his impact on the Detroit Red Wings justice.

    Early-Season Grade: C (is for Captain, A is for his play)

Shea Weber

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    Shea Weber didn't strike me as the kind of player who would end up gripping his stick after inking a ridiculously lucrative, front-loaded, long-term NHL deal.

    So far this season, however, the pressure appears to be getting to the captain of the Nashville Predators. The entire team has struggled a bit (though appear to be turning things around), and Weber hasn't been an exception.

    Adjusting to the absence of Ryan Suter is one thing. One assist and no even-strength points just isn't good enough. It's barely good enough if you're a no-name player clinging to a roster spot, but it's downright unacceptable for a player of Weber's caliber.

    I'm sure it's just a rough patch, but for now...

    Early-Season Grade: F

Evgeni Malkin

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    Evgeni Malkin has become the John Stockton to Jame Neal's Karl Malone. Minus the horrendous time spent as a professional wrestler, that is.

    The former 50-goal scorer has been using his speed and size to create space for his linemate, and Neal has reaped the benefits. This is a classic example of a great player making the guys around him even better, and we're seeing a new Malkin this year.

    Early-Season Grade: A- (Only because I'd like to see a few more goals. His shooting percentage is a bit low for my liking.)

Tyler Seguin

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    Perhaps my own personal expectations for Tyler Seguin were unfair coming into this season. Fresh off of a 67-point season, I thought we could be in for something special from this young player.

    We still could be, but there hasn't been a whole lot of fireworks and hoopla for Seguin so far. The Boston Bruins are playing good hockey regardless or else his six points might be getting a bit more attention.

    He's too good a player to only end up with 10 or 11 goals this season, and I think he can pull out of this mild slump. Right now he's been remarkably average, however.

    Early-Season Grade: C

Thomas Vanek

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    Thomas Vanek has the reputation as a streaky player. If he continues to "streak" like he is right now, he could end up Windexing his way all the way to a Rocket Richard Trophy. He's been outstanding on a struggling Buffalo Sabres team that is still jelling.

    His goals have mostly all been in some spectacular fashion, and there hasn't been a better human highlight reel in the NHL so far this season.

    Early-Season Grade: A+

Claude Giroux

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    Claude Giroux and the Philadelphia Flyers have had difficulties finding a rhythm so far in 2013. As a team, they are in the bottom third of goals scored per game and have the 17th-best power play, hovering just over 17 percent.

    At this point, the Flyers are looking to Giroux to carry the offensive load, and he appears to be struggling without the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell.

    There's only so much a guy can do, and I'll take that into account here, but Giroux has to do better than three goals and four assists.

    Early-Season Grade: C

Patrick Kane

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    I've said it once, and I'll say it again: Fans who knocked Patrick Kane for being a party boy should have been careful what they asked for. This is what he looks like when he is focused, and it's pretty scary.

    Every time I watch the Chicago Blackhawks, this is the guy that I can't stop watching.

    His ability to take a shift over with his skating and stick handling is remarkable. If this team continues to dominate, and Kaner continues to score, we could be looking at one of the more unlikely Hart Trophy winners in recent memory.

    Early-Season Grade: A+

Alex Ovechkin

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    Alexander Ovechkin isn't this bad, and neither are his Washington Capitals.

    The Caps came into the season believing that they were Stanley Cup contenders, but right now the only thing they are in contention for is a lottery pick. Fair or not, when you make the kind of money AO does, there are expectations.

    He isn't meeting them right now, and he's playing like a man with the weight of the world on his back. This is what happens when a skilled hockey player stops having fun and becomes bogged down by the missteps of the franchise he plays for.

    Early-Season Grade: D- (A mercy pass since this all isn't his fault, and he's getting it in the shins enough right now.)

Patrick Marleau

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    Welcome back to Earth, Mr. Patrick Marleau.

    After opening the season with the San Jose Sharks with 14 points in his first six games (including four straight two-goal games for the first time since the Mayans ruled the hockey world), Marleau has gone pointless in five.

    Still, he's been one of the more effective players in the NHL in this early season, and I don't want to discount him entirely because of his recent cold streak.

    Early-Season Grade: B+

David Backes

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    If David Backes didn't hit the star players on every other team in the NHL every chance he got, I probably wouldn't realize that he's out on the ice for every shift, and I probably wouldn't be alone.

    I know that his hitting and toughness are two of the intangibles that Backes brings to the St. Louis Blues, and are facets of his game that make him a valuable captain. He's just got to find the net more.

    Two goals while playing with the kind of talent that he is just isn't good enough.

    Early-Season Grade: C (If he wasn't as physical, he'd be lower.)

Steven Stamkos

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    Is there a more entertaining player to watch in the NHL than Steven Stamkos?

    I mean, put the guy in a white sweater and a mask, mix him up with all the other superstars (who are also wearing masks) so that you don't know who they are, make them play each other, and I guarantee you Stammer would stick out more than just about anyone else.

    Does anyone else think that they witnessed the birth of the next NHL All-Star Game reboot?

    Early-Season Grade: A

Drew Doughty

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    I'm not sure what's weighing more on the mind of Drew Doughty: how he is going to spend his next paycheck, or how cool it was to win a Stanley Cup last season. One way or the other, he just isn't getting his job done.

    The LA Kings are paying Doughty to be among the NHL's best offensive defenders. Thus far, he hasn't been good at either of those things.

    Early-Season Grade: F

Sidney Crosby

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    The NHL's most beloved player has been doing it all this season for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Like teammate Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby has been seemingly everywhere at once, opening up space for other people to finish off what he starts.

    A line of five goals and 12 assists with over half of his faceoffs won is not too shabby. Don't think winning faceoffs is important? Go ask the Edmonton Oilers how hard it is to generate offense when you never have the puck off the draw.

    Early-Season Grade: B+ (only so no one accuses me of East Coast bias)

    Franklin Steele is an NHL analyst for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter if you're awesome.