Sidney Crosby has made a spectacular return for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The season has taken shape and the league's best players are once again commanding the NHL.
This year, a familiar name has risen back to the top after a two-year absence.
Sidney Crosby saw the last two seasons ruined by concussion-related problems. After returning at the end of the 2011-12 season and competing in the playoffs, Crosby is once again in top form. He has played sensational hockey since the lockout ended and he has the Pittsburgh Penguins in a position to make a run at the Stanley Cup.
Here's our stock report on the top 25 players in the NHL based on how they have performed this season.
Sidney Crosby is the leading scorer in the league with a remarkable 47 points.
Crosby has scored 12 goals and tallied 35 assists and he is rolling right along with the Penguins, who have won seven games in a row as of March 15.
Crosby also has a plus-20 rating. His teammates are feeding off his talent and energy and he is not only the best player in the league, he is also the league's MVP at this point.
When Crosby is at his best—as he is at the midseason mark—the Penguins are quite a formidable team.
Steven Stamkos continues to be an unstoppable force in the NHL.
Stamkos leads the league in goals scored with 20 just past the midway point. Stamkos will probably approach 40 goals by the time the 48-game schedule comes to a conclusion.
The good news is that Stamkos appears to be on a path to join the game's greatest goal scorers. He's got all the weapons and he uses them wisely. His slap shot is powerful, his wrist shot is deadly, he has an array of moves and he excels at deflections and picking up rebounds.
The bad news is that the Lightning failed to make the playoffs last year and they seem likely to be on the outside looking in again this year.
Evgeni Malkin was the league's leading scorer last season as well as its most valuable player. It seemed likely that he might suffer a bit of a downturn as a result of Sidney Crosby's return.
Malkin has not played at the same level he did last year. He has 24 points but only five of those points are the result of goals.
Malkin suffered a concussion in February and an upper-body injury in March. Those injuries have also prevented him from matching last year's production.
When Malkin returns, he should become a dominant player again if he can avoid injuries.
Claude Giroux is one of the most talented players in the world.
Head coach Peter Laviolette called him the best player in the sport when the Flyers engaged the Pittsburgh Penguins in a playoff series last April (source: ESPN.com). The Flyers came out on top in that series and Giroux got the better of Sidney Crosby.
However, one series does not a changing of the guard make. While Crosby has built a sizable lead in the scoring race, Giroux has merely been a productive player for the disappointing Flyers with eight goals, 18 assists and a minus-eight rating.
The Chicago Blackhawks are far from a one-man team.
If they were, they would not have been able to reel off 24 straight games without a regulation defeat.
However, while they have many stars and valuable players, it would be wrong to say that any player on the team is more important than Jonathan Toews.
Toews is a remarkable all-around player. He excels on the defensive end and should be a leading candidate for the Selke Award (best defensive forward). He dominates in the faceoff circle and he is an outstanding offensive player who often comes through with his best plays in clutch situations.
Toews has 11 goals and 12 assists this season and he has a plus-13 rating while winning 59.5 percent of his faceoffs.
Drew Doughty asserted himself as one of the best players on the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings during last year's Stanley Cup run.
The hard-hitting defenseman provided timely offense during the postseason, scoring four goals and 12 assists. He also threw out a number of hard hits and played with a physical style.
So far this season, Doughty has not played at that level. He has failed to score a goal and he has registered 10 assists. He is also minus-four for the season.
Zdeno Chara is having a somewhat uneven year.
There are times when he looks a bit slower on the ice, and perhaps that should not be unexpected. At 6'9" and 265 pounds, Chara does not have the quickness that many smaller opponents have.
However, he uses his size and strength to separate opponents from the puck and he still has a blazing slap shot. He has scored six goals and added six assists to go with his plus-13 rating.
When Chara is on the ice, the Bruins seem capable of shutting down any opponent. When he is not, they are vulnerable.
Anze Kopitar is probably the Kings' most consistent offensive force.
If the Kings are going to make a strong run at defending their Stanley Cup title, you can be sure that the highly skilled Kopitar will be one of their best players.
Kopitar got off to a somewhat slow start since he suffered a knee injury prior to the start of the 2013 season, but he has eight goals and 16 assists and a plus-10 rating. He has also won 54.1 percent of his faceoffs.
Last year, Henrik Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy as the most dominant goalie in the NHL.
The New York Rangers captured the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and Lundqvist's performance was one of the primary reasons head coach John Tortorella's team was able to have so much success.
This year, the Rangers appear to be in a struggle just to make the playoffs. It's not all on Lundqvist, but he has not performed as well this season. Lundqvist has a 2.27 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.
Lundqvist does not have any shutouts this season after recording eight last year.
Pavel Datsyuk may not score like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin (when healthy), but he does not have to take a backseat to any player in the league when it comes to creativity.
Datsyuk can string moves together that few players could even conceive. He is also a stellar faceoff man and one of the best defensive players in the game.
Few players can bring the fans to their feet the way Datsyuk can.
Datsyuk has eight goals and 18 assists for the struggling Red Wings this season. He also has a plus-eight rating.
John Tavares continues to get better each season.
Tavares has become a legitimate NHL superstar, and he continues to improve.
Tavares has a slew of moves that make him one of the league's most dangerous players. He gives the Islanders a chance to score every time he is on the ice. Tavares has scored 17 goals and tallied 13 assists so for this season.
The Islanders were expected to be buried in the Eastern Conference, but Tavares has them contending for a playoff spot.
The Anaheim Ducks were one of the most disappointing teams in the league a year ago, and few gave them little more than an outside chance to make the playoffs this year.
However, head coach Bruce Boudreau's team has played stellar hockey this year and nobody has been better for them than Ryan Getzlaf.
The Ducks recognized how well Getzlaf was playing and how important he is to the team by signing him to an eight-year, $66 million contract (source: CapGeek.com). Getzlaf would have been a free agent at the end of the season.
Getzlaf has scored 10 goals and dished out 21 assists this season and has a plus-13 rating.
Jonathan Quick was at his best when it mattered most last year: during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Quick, the third-string goalie for the United States during the 2010 Winter Olympics, earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player during the postseason.
Quick has not been as good in 2013 as he was last year. Quick has a 2.69 goals-against average and an .891 save percentage. He has not registered a shutout after recording eight donuts a year ago.
Quick is going to have to make a dramatic turnaround if the Kings are going to repeat their Stanley Cup success in 2013.
Patrick Kane has always been a talented hockey player. This year, he has become a serious hockey player.
Kane's career has been notable because of his speed, quickness and penchant for making big plays on the ice.
After an incident last summer, Kane has seemingly matured and has been a force for the Blackhawks on an every-game basis (source: chicagotribune.com).
He has scored 14 goals and put up 17 assists and is averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time per night.
It was an uneven start for Rick Nash with the New York Rangers, but once he started to feel comfortable with his new teammates, he quickly became their best offensive player.
The Rangers acquired Nash to give them the offensive skills needed to take a solid team and make them a threat to win the Stanley Cup.
While the rest of his teammates have struggled, Nash has surged with nine goals and 14 assists. Nash has been at his best in the third period, often using his size, strength and deft touch to score or set up his teammates in the final 20 minutes.
Prior to the 2013 season, Chris Kunitz was a solid and efficient two-way player in the NHL.
However, things have changed this year. Instead of merely being a role player for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Kunitz has blossomed into a star.
Kunitz is second to teammate Sidney Crosby in NHL scoring with 39 points. Kunitz has a rocket-like shot and has scored 18 goals. He is also a league-best plus-23.
Shea Weber has gotten off to a slow start this season for the Nashville Predators.
Weber scored 74 goals over the last four seasons, but he has just four goals in the truncated 2013 season.
Weber may finish second to Zdeno Chara in the hardest shot competition at the All-Star Game, but he may have the most dangerous shot in the game because he can get away his blast quicker than the over-sized Boston defenseman.
If the struggling Predators are going to make a run at the playoffs this season, Weber must pick up his scoring.
Zach Parise was the big prize of free agency.
When he signed with the Minnesota Wild (along with Ryan Suter), it was expected that his team would be a strong playoff contender.
The Wild are in the playoff mix as the season marches into the second half (tied for fifth), but there is much work to be done if Minnesota is going to play in the postseason.
Parise has been solid with 11 goals and 10 assists to go with a plus-three rating, but he would be well-advised to pick it up a notch or two in the stretch run.
What Jonathan Toews is to the Chicago Blackhawks, Patrice Bergeron is to the Boston Bruins.
Give Bergeron a slight edge in the faceoff circle and for overall defensive play, while Toews merits the same edge for his skills as an offensive player.
Both players are supreme winners. Bergeron is leading the Bruins in scoring with 24 points (eight goals and 16 assists). Few players can match him for on-ice intelligence and effort.
Bergeron also has a plus-20 rating this season.
Eric Staal is one of the primary reasons the Carolina Hurricanes have risen to the top of the Southeast Division.
Staal has size, speed, quickness and an accurate shot. When he swoops to the net, it seems he is on the goaltender in an instant. That gives him the ability to force the action by making a quick move and forcing the goalie to react.
Staal has been a game-changing player this season for the Canes with 12 goals and 20 assists. He is fifth in the league in scoring with 32 points and he has a rating of plus-20.
It's almost too easy to bash Joe Thornton because expectations for him have always been so high.
Thornton, of course, was the No. 1 pick for the Boston Bruins in the 1997 draft. While Thornton has had too many postseason disappointments to count—both with the Bruins and the San Jose Sharks—he continues to be one of the most productive playmakers in the game.
Thornton may not have the dynamism of the game's elite players, but he is a superb setup man who can contribute his share of goals. Thornton will also engage in physical play when he has that opportunity.
If the Sharks are going to make the playoffs, look for Thornton (five goals, 21 assists) to lead the way.
Alex Ovechkin's numbers make it seem like he is having a decent season for the Washington Capitals. He has 10 goals and 12 assists in 26 games.
For a player who has a cap hit of $9.538 million this season, that kind of production is not acceptable. Ovechkin should be among the league's leading scorers and should not settle for being slightly above average.
In the video above, NBC Sports Network analyst Mike Milbury calls Ovechkin out for his poor play in a game the Caps lost to the Philadelphia Flyers. Milbury points out Ovechkin's poor pass, his tendency to embellish and his laziness on the ice.
This type of play is not acceptable.
While the Buffalo Sabres have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league, Thomas Vanek has raised his status with his explosive scoring.
Vanek was the leading scorer in the league through much of February before he was finally bypassed by Sidney Crosby.
Vanek has slowed down somewhat in recent weeks, but he still has 14 goals and 16 assists and is plus-four on the season.
Vanek has a hard and accurate shot that makes him dangerous once he gets inside the blue line, and he is also a skilled player at deflecting shots around the net and causing havoc for opposing goalies.
Marian Hossa has been one of the prime reasons the Chicago Blackhawks got off to their sensational start.
Hossa, along with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, excels at key moments. He has scored 11 goals and accrued 10 assists and has already potted four game-winning goals.
Hossa is far from just an offensive force. He is a three-zone star who concentrates as much of his effort on defense as he does when he has a chance to score.
If the Blackhawks can turn their sensational first half of the season into a second Stanley Cup championship in four seasons, Hossa will have played a key role.
Tuukka Rask had been patiently waiting for his chance to become the Boston Bruins' No. 1 goalie.
He was a solid backup to Tim Thomas and had performed spectacularly on occasion. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien had full confidence that Rask would perform at a high level as the starter.
High expectations don't always work out. Pressure often produces disappointing results.
But not for Rask. He is 14-2-3 this season with a sensational 1.91 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and two shutouts.
He has more than lived up to expectations, and if the Bruins win the Stanley Cup, Rask will undoubtedly be a key reason.