Power Ranking the Most Exciting Players Halfway Through the 2013 NHL Season

Michael PrunkaCorrespondent IMarch 9, 2013

Power Ranking the Most Exciting Players Halfway Through the 2013 NHL Season

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    The lockout-shortened season has allowed talented players like David Clarkson and Eric Staal to step into the spotlight, in addition to the regular crop of superstars such as Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos.

    Of course, the goal scorers and playmakers will always capture the attention of fans. There’s something about the puck bulging twine that never gets old.

    Others are appreciative of those goaltenders who consistently make huge saves. When a goalie halts a sure scoring play, it’s something that provokes a reaction from everyone watching.

    Still others come out of their seat for the occasional hockey fight.

    With all those criteria in mind, let’s take a look at and rank the 10 most exciting NHL players halfway through this season.

Brandon Prust

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    Brandon Prust is an enforcer.

    In the 24 games he’s played this season, Prust has been in seven fights. The 6’2”, 195-pound winger has consistently made his best effort to rally the troops and stick up for his teammates.

    He’s also chipped in with three goals and another three assists in those games. Considering that, prior to arriving in Montreal, Prust had scored just 24 goals in 279 games, three goals in 24 games is good offensive production.

    Fighting and scoring is exciting, right?

David Clarkson

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    David Clarkson isn’t known for being a huge fighter. He doesn’t come close to leading the NHL in fighting majors like Prust does.

    He does drop his gloves every so often, though. The 28-year-old forward will duke it out with members of the opposition—especially when the Devils are struggling.

    Clarkson also excites by scoring. He’s netted 10 goals this season and had two multi-goal games.

    However, he hasn’t scored a goal since midway through February and his last point was an assist in a losing effort against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 24.

    Clarkson excited early on through his fights and goals, but the latter have tapered off. If he can get back on track, he’ll climb back up the rankings.

Alexander Ovechkin

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    Alexander Ovechkin’s scoring has dropped off considerably over the past three seasons. Even so, he’s still one of hockey’s most exciting players.

    First, let’s take a look at the nonscoring facets of Ovechkin’s game.

    The Capitals captain can change the pace of a game simply by delivering a big hit. At 6’3” and 220 pounds, Ovechkin can shift momentum by leveling a star player from the opposition.

    Then you look at his ability to find twine. While he doesn’t score at the same pace that he used to, it still makes the Verizon Center fans erupt when he lights the lamp.

    This season, Ovechkin scored his first hat trick in over two years. That itself is an NHL-wide highlight.

    With Adam Oates at the helm, hopefully it’s only a matter of time before Ovechkin reclaims his spot as one of the most thrilling players.

Eric Staal

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    The Carolina Hurricanes have been one of the more surprising teams this season. At the halfway point, the ‘Canes have a two-game grasp on first place in the Southeast Division.

    Eric Staal has been at the helm of his team’s success. With 12 goals and 28 points this season, Staal is thrilling every time he steps foot on the ice.

    Maybe it’s playing alongside his brother Jordan, but something seems to have pushed Eric to new heights. If he can maintain this pace, he’ll be a vital part of Carolina keeping a strong hold over its division.

Thomas Vanek

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    Thomas Vanek started the season strong, but his production has waned. With Jason Pominville by his side, Vanek had been in the race for top scorer in the league.

    Unfortunately, his scoring started dipping in early February and, sans a few two-point games, Vanek hasn’t done much to grab headlines since then. In fact, he’s been held pointless in six of his last 10 outings.

    Not surprisingly, Vanek’s disappointing production coincides with the Sabres’ lackluster performance.

    There was a stretch where Vanek was one of the most exciting players to watch. It’s only a matter of time before his his playmaking and goal-scoring talents show themselves again.

Corey Crawford

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    Behind the Chicago Blackhawks’ historic streak are a pair of outstanding goaltenders. Along with Ray Emery, Corey Crawford has been one of the biggest reasons for his club’s success.

    While the Blackhawks’ dominance through the first half of the season is a result of a team effort, there have been many occasions where it was Crawford’s presence in the net that kept the team afloat.

    For example, Crawford stopped 29 of 30 shots against the Detroit Red Wings last weekend—many of which looked to be sure goals from the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. He has proven more than capable of making crucial saves that can not only keep the 'Hawks in the game, but help shift momentum.

    While the 'Hawks’ point streak may be over, they couldn’t have gotten a point in every game for half the season without Crawford.

James Neal

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    James Neal has been grabbing headlines ever since he found success alongside Evgeni Malkin last season.

    On a team chock full of superstars like Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the fact that Neal stands out as one of the team’s most exciting players speaks for itself.

    In addition to his partnership with Malkin, Neal has really found a niche on the power play. The young power forward and his eight power-play goals this season are a big reason why the Penguins have the fourth-best PP squad in the NHL.

    Every time the Penguins' power-play unit takes the ice, Neal is the guy to look for. When it comes to special teams, few are as exciting as he is.

Patrick Kane

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    If Corey Crawford is the leading defensive reason for the 'Hawks’ success, Patrick Kane is one of the leading offensive reasons.

    Not only does Kane score, but he scores when his team needs him most. When the 'Hawks were down in the final minutes of their nationally televised game in Detroit, Kane netted a power-play goal to send the game into overtime and keep the streak alive.

    Kane has always been a reliable scorer. Along with captain Jonathan Toews, he’s a player who can be relied on for relatively consistent production.

    This season has seen Kane return to the form that earned him a reputation as one of hockey’s most skilled and explosive scorers. Even though the 'Hawks’ streak has ended, don’t expect Kane to be any less exciting.

Steven Stamkos

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    Steven Stamkos has been one of the NHL’s most exciting players since arriving on the scene a few years ago. This season is no different.

    Early in the season, Stamkos put together a five-game goal streak and managed another six-game streak in February. Just halfway through the season, he’s also had three two-goal games.

    The Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t been doing so well as of late—they’ve lost six of their last seven games. Even so, Stamkos continues to do what he can to keep his team going.

    He had a part in all three of their goals in their 5-3 loss to the Penguins on Feb. 24 and had the club’s lone goal in the Lightning's 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets this week.

    The consistency Stamkos displays makes it clear the reigning Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy recipient will continue to excite.

Sidney Crosby

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    It’s no surprise that Sidney Crosby ranks in as the most exciting player at the halfway point of the season.

    Crosby’s pure talent is electric. He makes everyone around him better. His chemistry with Chris Kunitz, for example, is unbelievable. The two have combined for 25 goals in 24 games this season.

    But his skill transcends simply scoring goals. His creativity in playmaking is second to none. In a recent game in Montreal, Crosby set up Kunitz for a goal that made its way past Carey Price by banking off his goalie pads.

    Finally, Crosby brings an intangible to the table that makes the Penguins, as a whole, more exciting. They fared well in his absence, but they play their best hockey with their loyal captain on the ice.

    That’s what sets Crosby apart from scoring superstars like Stamkos. Of course it’s fun to watch him light the lamp, but simply seeing him take the ice is exciting.

     

    Michael Prunka is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist. Stay up to date with him by liking his Facebook page and following him on Twitter.