Ranking the Biggest Overachievers in the 2013-14 NHL Season So Far

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistMarch 19, 2014

Ranking the Biggest Overachievers in the 2013-14 NHL Season So Far

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    As the NHL regular season enters its final month, we're starting to get a feel for the players who will look back on 2013-14 as a breakthrough year in their career.

    Overachievers can come in many different forms: rookies making splashy debuts; veterans growing into new roles and greater prominence; even stars who manage to exceed sky-high expectations.

    They all share two elements: Putting up their best-ever NHL numbers and providing their teams with good bang for the buck, no matter how high or low their cap hit might be.

    With an emphasis on the game-changers who have driven their teams' fortunes this season, here are the leagues' 10 biggest overachievers for 2013-14.

    All stats from NHL.com, current through Monday Mar. 17. Salary information from capgeek.com.

10. Mark Giordano: Calgary Flames

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    What Was Expected: With a solid career as a journeyman NHL defenseman under his belt, Mark Giordano succeeded Jarome Iginla as captain of the Calgary Flames to start the 2013-14 season. Coach Bob Hartley explained Giordano's selection to Aaron Vickers of NHL.com:

    A captain should be an example of what you want to get accomplished in the organization. Here's a guy that works non-stop. He's always there for the others. He never complains. There's never a bad day for Gio [Giordano]. Whenever you sit with him, he doesn't have the whiny look or anything. It's, 'Let's do it,' and we do it as a pro.

    What's Been Delivered: Despite their poor win/loss record, the Flames have established themselves as a tough team to play against under Giordano's leadership.

    Meanwhile, Giordano has flourished as a top-pairing defenseman. He leads the Calgary blue line in average ice time at 25:20 per game. He's also the Flames' top-scoring defenseman, with 11-28-39 in 50 games played. Despite missing 18 games with a broken ankle earlier in the season, Giordano's on pace to eclipse his previous career bests of 11 goals and 43 points.

    How He's Doing It: Jay Bouwmeester's departure has opened the door for Giordano to move back onto the power play, where he has picked up six goals and 17 points so far this year.

9. Phil Kessel: Toronto Maple Leafs

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    What Was Expected: The Toronto Maple Leafs pinned their long-term hopes on Phil Kessel when they inked him to a rich eight-year, $64 million contract extension right before the beginning of the 2013-14 regular season. After Toronto's strong lockout-year performance, Kessel was expected to continue to lead the way offensively in the last year of a deal that pays him $5.4 million this season.

    What's Been Delivered: Despite the immense pressure of playing in hockey-mad Toronto, Kessel has been consistently dangerous all season long. The Leafs continue to defy the advanced-stat geeks as they plow towards the playoffs with Kessel steering the ship. 

    With 34-39-73 in 69 games, Kessel is tied for second in NHL scoring. He's on pace for the best numbers of his career, with a good shot at his first 40-goal year, and is even generating some Hart Trophy discussion.

    How He's Doing It: With 26 even-strength goals, Kessel's second in the league in that category behind Corey Perry. His explosiveness is a constant threat when he streaks down his wing.

8. Olli Maatta: Pittsburgh Penguins

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    What Was Expected: When the Pittsburgh Penguins chose Olli Maatta 22nd overall in 2012, it was expected he'd have plenty of time to develop into a full-time NHL defenseman.

    What's Been Delivered: Maatta played three AHL playoff games at the conclusion of his WHL season last year, then jumped straight into Pittsburgh's full-time defensive rotation. Maatta has been a key contributor as Pens' regulars like Kris Letang and Paul Martin have been sidelined by injury, with 9-19-28 in 66 games and a respectable plus-eight rating.

    How He's Doing It: With maturity well beyond his 19 years, Maatta plays a steady game that has quickly earned him the trust of coach Dan Bylsma. 

7. David Perron: Edmonton Oilers

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    What Was Expected: The Oilers gave up skilled forward Magnus Paajarvi and a second-round draft pick to acquire David Perron last summer. It was hoped that the 25-year-old could provide some veteran playmaking smarts while keeping up with the Oilers' speedy, aggressive style.

    Perron's contract has a cap hit of about $3.8 million a season through 2016. That puts him in the neighbourhood of Tuomo Ruutu (20 points in 62 games), Troy Brouwer (34 points in 69 games) and Jiri Hudler (44 points in 62 games).

    What's Been Delivered: On an Oilers team loaded with offensive talent, Perron leads the way with 25 goals, a career-high for him. His 48 points in 65 games are just two away from matching his previous best of 50, set back in 2008-09.

    Meanwhile, Paajarvi has been fighting to play a regular role with the Blues. He's 6-6-12 in 44 games this season.

    How He's Doing It: During another tough season in Edmonton, Perron has taken a leadership role with the team. In addition to his offensive production, he has also been Edmonton's best agitator—second on the team behind tough guy Luke Gazdic with 70 penalty minutes.

6. Nathan MacKinnon: Colorado Avalanche

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    USA TODAY Sports

    What Was Expected: As the first-overall pick in the 2013 draft, there's no doubt the Colorado Avalanche have high hopes for Nathan MacKinnon of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Even when 18-year-olds start well in the NHL, they often taper off as the NHL grind takes its toll.

    What's Been Delivered: MacKinnon has defied expectations by continuing to improve as the season has worn on.

    He showed tremendous consistency when he broke Wayne Gretzky's record for longest point streak by an 18-year-old over a 13-game span that stretched across the Olympic break. From Jan. 25 to Mar. 6, MacKinnon went 5-13-18 as the Avalanche climbed the Western Conference standings.

    With 14 games remaining in Colorado's schedule, MacKinnon leads all rookies in scoring with 22-30-52.

    How He's Doing It: With speed and smarts. The versatile MacKinnon has been shuffled from center to wing, depending on the Avs' needs through the season, and he hasn't missed a beat.

5. Torey Krug: Boston Bruins

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    What Was Expected: Just one year out of college hockey, Torey Krug made an instant name for himself when he stepped onto the Boston Bruins' injury-depleted playoff blue line last spring—and scored four goals in five games.

    With just three games of regular-season NHL experience on his resume prior to his playoff splash, it was hard to know whether the undersized Krug could deliver like that on an everyday basis.

    What's Been Delivered: In 67 games so far this season, Krug is Boston's leading defensive scorer with 14-22-36 and has kept up a respectable plus-13 rating.

    Krug's also the top-scoring rookie defenseman in the entire NHL and should earn some votes for the Calder Trophy. 

    How He's Doing It: Those are some big contributions from a 22-year-old in the final year of an entry-level deal with a cap hit of just over $900,000.

    Half of Krug's 36 points have come with the man advantage, where he works as a traditional quarterback and frees up big man Zdeno Chara to move to the front of the net and screen the opposing goaltender.

4. Jaromir Jagr: New Jersey Devils

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    What Was Expected: After failing to score for Boston during the Bruins' 2013 run to the Stanley Cup Final, it was thought that Jaromir Jagr's years of offensive magic may have come to an end. The New Jersey Devils were desperate for offense after Ilya Kovalchuk left the team to return to Russia, so they signed the veteran to a one-year contract worth $4 million, but with only a $2 million cap hit.

    What's Been Delivered: It's not fair to compare Jagr to the superstar years of his youth, but he's not just having a good season for a 42-year-old: He's having a flat-out great year. With 22-36-58, Jagr's nestled in 25th place overall in the NHL scoring race, right between David Krejci (27 years old, $5.25 million cap hit) and Anze Kopitar (26 years old, $6.8 million cap hit). 

    The Devils might still miss the playoffs, but Jagr has been their best player this year and a stone-cold bargain, to boot.

    How He's Doing It: Jagr's thriving on the first-line ice time he's receiving in New Jersey, and clearly still having fun playing the game. Randy Miller of NJ.com reports that he's hoping to return as a Devil again next season.

3. Kyle Okposo: New York Islanders

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    What Was Expected: The New York Islanders are an evolving young team, and Kyle Okposo was seen as a player on the rise, thanks largely to his role riding shotgun beside John Tavares. The 25-year-old has shown signs of inconsistency during past seasons.

    What's Been Delivered: Okposo has been on a torrid scoring pace all year, despite losing regular linemate Tavares to injury at the Olympics and short-term linemate Thomas Vanek at the trade deadline. Okposo has carried on with 10 points in nine games since the Olympic break, giving him a total of 27-42-69 in 68 games and tying him for fourth in NHL scoring.

    Okposo has obliterated his previous season highs of 24 goals and 52 points, with 13 games still to play this season.

    How He's Doing It: Though Tavares is known as a power-play sniper, Okposo has scored 54 of his 69 points at even-strength. Okposo has been riding an emotional high after the birth of his first child back in early January.

2. Ben Bishop: Tampa Bay Lightning

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    What Was Expected: Deemed expendable by the goalie-rich Ottawa Senators at the 2013 trade deadline, Bishop was dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning for rookie forward Cory Conacher and a fourth-round draft pick.

    It was hoped that Bishop could provide some stability at the back end for Tampa Bay, who finished the 2012-13 season 28th in the NHL, with the 26th-worst goals-against in the league.

    What's Been Delivered: Bishop has been the single biggest reason for the Lightning's turnaround this season. Heading into the stretch run, the team sits comfortably in a tie for third place in the Eastern Conference and is now 11th in the league in goals allowed.

    Tampa Bay's defense core is finding its stride, but Bishop gave his team a chance to win every game, even while scoring star Steven Stamkos was sidelined with his broken leg.

    How He's Doing It: Bishop is fifth in the league with a 2.11 goals-against and fourth with his .928 save percentage. The Lightning will enjoy one more year of his services at the bargain rate of $2.3 million before he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

1. Tyler Seguin: Dallas Stars

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    What Was Expected: After signing Tyler Seguin to a six-year, $34.5 million contract extension just before the start of the 2012-13 NHL lockout, the Boston Bruins traded him to Dallas just 10 months later.

    Seguin was used sparingly during the Bruins' run to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final and his extracurricular activities had been called into question. The Dallas Stars acquired the 22-year-old with the hope that a fresh start would re-ignite the talented center.

    What's Been Delivered: More than they could have hoped. Seguin showed instant chemistry with Jamie Benn and has dazzled fans with some of the most explosive performances of the season. In 65 games, Seguin has scored five points on two occasions and four points in three other games.

    Seguin's tied for fourth in NHL scoring with 30-39-69 and has already hit career-highs in goals and points with 15 games remaining in Dallas' season.

    How He's Doing It: Dan Rosen of NHL.com puts it well: Attitude, position and production. Seguin feels like a key part of the Stars' young core and is as tight with Jamie Benn off of the ice as he is during games.

    Laying solid groundwork has paid big dividends in Dallas. A young player who came close to losing his way has become the NHL's top overachiever of 2013-14.