15 NHL Stars Who Are on the Upswing
The NHL season is now two weekends old, and we've already seen some impressive performances. There are some goalies that are off to red-hot starts and others that aren't looking as good as they did last year. Some defensemen have stepped up their game this year, while others haven't come out of the gates as well. And the forward play early this year has been outstanding all over the league.
Here are 15 studs that have come out of the gates on fire. What makes this list even more exciting for hockey fans everywhere is the range of ages represented. The ages of these stars run from 18 to 35, and all of them are having great starts to their respective seasons.
15. Robyn Regehr, Buffalo Sabres
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Of the two big defensemen added in Buffalo this summer, expectations—both financially and emotionallywere that Christian Ehrhoff would get off to a strong start this year. But it's been Regehr that's been dominant for the Sabres.
In four games, Regehr has 12 hits, 10 blocked shots and is skating over 20 minutes per game. He hasn't put up a point yet, but his play away from the puck has been exceptional.
14. Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets
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Nash had to be thrilled this summer when the Jackets front office made a couple bold moves, including the addition of Jeff Carter. While they still haven't seen James Wisniewski during the regular season, Nash has started the year on a point-per-game pace (five points/games) and should be able to continue putting up big numbers now that he (finally) has a wingman in Columbus.
13. Johan Franzen, Detroit Red Wings
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In four games, Franzen has four points, and both of his goals have been game-winners. He's also plus-four on the young campaign and has been a leading force in the Red Wings running out to the early lead in the Central Division.
12. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers
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How about this kid? He's played three games in the NHL and already has a hat trick on his resume. He also has two power play goals on the young season and has looked very comfortable with the "big kids" in the Edmonton roster.
11. Jack Johnson, Los Angeles Kings
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Now that Drew Doughty is going to miss over a week, the Kings will need more from Johnson. But, if early returns mean anything, he should be up to the challenge. Consider the first four games of the season for the Kings: Johnson has four points and two goals, both of which were overtime game-winners.
10. Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks
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The enigmatic end of his 2010-11 season made for some nervous thoughts this summer, but Hiller appears to be back in the saddle for the Ducks. He's started 2011-12 with an outstanding stretch of hockey, running his record to 3-1-0 on Sunday night. Hiller also has put up a goals against average of 1.71, and he now has a .931 save percentage.
9. Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes
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One of the league's elder statesman, Doan is off to a blistering start by any standards. He's put up seven points, including three goals, in only four games. With the ownership situation still unsettled and the future of the Coyotes in Glendale in question, Doan will try to lead the team back into the postseason.
8. Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins
After five games, Tyler Seguin leads the defending champion Boston Bruins with five points.
A month ago, there were probably five or six names that most fans would have guessed would fill that sentence before Seguin, but he's been the answer for the B's as they've missed key guys early in the season. When David Krejci went down, Seguin stepped on to the top line and has been a productive player who's skating with as much speed as confidence.
7. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
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Letang has put his name on the short list for the Norris Trophy this year already with a red-hot start. His six points are tied for the most among all NHL defensemen, and he's also skating nearly 27 minutes per game.
6. Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars
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There hasn't been a better netminder to start the young season than Lehtonen in Dallas. His 4-0-0 record could be considered a "team effort" until you consider he's facing 33 shots per game. Lehtonen boasts a .955 save percentage and a ridiculous 1.48 goals against average for the Stars.
5. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
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Losing him late in the regular season last year handicapped the Kings' playoff chances, but Kopitar is back on a better LA roster this year and is producing at a fantastic pace. So far, he's put up seven points in only four games. He's clearly the biggest beneficiary of the impact Mike Richards has as the Kings' second line center.
4. James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins
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While it's so easy to defer to Crosby or Malkin when you're on the Pens roster, Neal hasn't played much with either since he was acquired last year. Frankly, after a 55-point season in 2009-10, he was disappointing for the Pens after he was picked up, posting only six points (one goal) in 20 games.
This year, he's been awesome so far. With Crosby still working his way back and now Malkin missing some more time, Neal has picked up the slack and posted six points in six games.
3. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
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Kane is doing what he always has for the Blackhawks: averaging a point per game and scoring pretty goals when they're needed. But, he's added something to his game this year that wasn't expected when the 2010-11 season ended.
The Blackhawks moved Kane to their second line center position, and he's been outstanding all year. Not only is he contributing like always (six points in four games), but he's surprised even his biggest fans by winning 56.5 percent of his faceoffs.
2. John Tavares, New York Islanders
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While the talk of Tavares winning a Rocket Richard might be a bit premature, there is no denying what he's doing right now for the Islanders. He has five goals, one of which was a game-winner, in only four games and is tied for the league lead with eight points.
With the distraction that has been Rick DiPietro, Islanders fans should be thrilled that all indications are that the organization got it right with this top pick.
1. Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
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Is anyone off to a better start than Kessel? He's put the puck on net 11 times this year, and five of them have slipped past his opponent. He's tied for the league lead with eight points in only three games, has two game-winning goals and is plus-seven on the young season.
To say the hopes of Toronto rest on one person is naive, but after the Leafs handed Boston a king's ransom to get Kessel, he's the one everyone looks to for the big-time production. So far this year, he's been up to the challenge.