James Neal and the 10 Most Surprising NHL Players in 2011-12

Stefan KubusAnalyst IOctober 27, 2011

James Neal and the 10 Most Surprising NHL Players in 2011-12

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    It was evident from his time in Dallas that James Neal had a real knack for scoring goals. Neal is one player who appears poised to erase his slow start with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.

    Some players have jumped ahead to a red-hot October start, while others haven't quite gotten there yet.

    Will these players continue those trends? Will others rise to the occasion and take off in November?

    Let's take a look at 10 NHL players who will surprise this year, for better or for worse.

Phil Kessel

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    Through eight games thus far, Phil Kessel is leading the league with nine goals and 15 points.

    It's not a surprise he has that sort of talent, but this dominant start is since we're not used to seeing it.

    Is this the year Kessel consistently produces all season to make the top-10 in scoring?

James Neal

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    Based on last year's time in Pittsburgh, it's fair to say that most people thought James Neal wouldn't start to shine until Sidney Crosby returned.

    However, the 24-year-old Neal has gone on a scoring tear, with eight goals in 11 games so far, playing mostly with veterans Steve Sullivan and Richard Park.

    As much as I'm looking forward to Crosby setting him up later this year, that might be one line not to break up so long as it's hot.

Jonathan Quick

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    There's no doubt that Jonathan Quick is a bonafide No. 1 NHL goaltender. 

    But did anybody expect him to register three consecutive shutouts this month?

    Probably not.

    With backup Jonathan Bernier potentially on the move (as is the rumor every year it seems), Quick appears poised to let the world know one thing: "Don't worry, guys, I've got this."

Craig Anderson

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    Let's be honest. Craig Anderson has a subpar team playing in front of him.

    Although he's managed to improve his record from 1-2-0 to 4-2-0, he hasn't improved his save percentage all that much.

    Anderson, who was a huge reason the Avalanche made the playoffs in 2009-10 with is fabulous play, is holding a .883 save percentage and 3.74 goals-against average. Get ready, especially fantasy owners. It could be a long year for him in Ottawa. 

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

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    Although there hasn't been a clear-cut decision made on whether or not he'll be returned to juniors yet, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has made a powerful case to stick around.

    Most recently playing on a very exciting line with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins is showing he belongs in this league. No, he's showing that he can be a force in this league already.

    Leading the 4-2-2 Oilers with five goals and eight points, it would be a very hard decision to send him down.

Mika Zibanejad

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    Many thought Mika Zibanejad was going to be able to step right into the Ottawa Senators' lineup and have an impact.

    With a team that's been struggling so bad in recent year, why not give him the shot?

    However, after just a lone assist and a minus-three rating in nine games, it seems that won't be the case. With the Senators struggling currently, it's probably better for Zibanejad to continue honing his game in Sweden. 

Jason Arnott

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    Since being traded to the Washington Capitals from the New Jersey Devils late last season, Jason Arnott has been a man on a mission.

    Tallying seven points in the last 11 games with the Caps, Arnott now has eight points in his first nine games with the St. Louis Blues.

    At age 37, I don't think many expected this type of product out of Arnott. Perhaps a change of scenery may prove he still has some fuel left in the tank.

Brayden Schenn

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    After initially being sent down to the Adirondack Phantoms of the AHL, the Philadelphia Flyers are giving prospect Brayden Schenn another shot. In the four games he played in the AHL, Schenn tallied eight points in four games, including a hat-trick in one of those contests.

    It seems that Schenn is just too good for the AHL.

    However, he has yet to find his niche in the big leagues. I know it's still early, but when you're producing so easily in the AHL, it's hard not to wonder how long it will be until he strikes for the Flyers. Through four games since being recalled, Schenn has amounted a minus-five rating with no points.

    If this top young prospect can't find the scoresheet soon, he'll more likely than not find himself back in Adirondack.

Jacob Markstrom

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    With the Florida Panthers' rebuild underway, it seems they have their goaltender for the future.

    Young Jacob Markstrom has only played three games thus far, but he's been excellent, posting a 2-1 record with a .967 save percentage and 1.29 goals-against average. 

    At only 21, the towering 6'6" goaltender is making his case to start over veteran Jose Theodore.

Evander Kane

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    Evander Kane has seen his point total increase from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign last season. Look for that trend to continue this year. 

    Although he's off to a chilly October start, the 20-year-old Kane will be looking to make the next leap in his career with this fresh start in Winnipeg.

    If he stays healthy all season, He could easily set career highs in both goals and points.