Red-Hot NHL Stars Bound to Come Back Down to Earth

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistNovember 15, 2013

Red-Hot NHL Stars Bound to Come Back Down to Earth

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    Stars like Sidney Crosby, John Tavares and Alex Ovechkin are expected to find their names among the league's scoring leaders every year.

    But the NHL is not static, and new stars assert themselves every year. Players like Alex Steen, Tyler Seguin and Frans Nielsen find themselves ranked with the elite players in the league as it approaches the completion of its first quarter of the season. 

    When players go on early-season hot streaks, it can propel them to another level. However, here's a look at several players who have gotten off to sharp starts that will eventually come back down to earth.

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

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    2013-14 Stats: 19 games; seven goals, 15 assists, plus-nine

    Best asset: Jamie Benn is a hard-driving left wing who plays with the explosive Tyler Seguin and rookie Valeri Nichushkin. Benn's best attribute is his tough, grinding style that allows him to punish opponents and create space for himself. That allows him to have the time and space he needs to take advantage of scoring opportunities.

    Why he comes down to earth: Benn is a hard-working, tough player who represents the Stars well and has earned his captain's C. However, he has never had more than 63 points in a season, and the Stars have no reason to believe he will average better than one point per game this year.

    Benn may have peaked Nov. 14 when he had a goal and five assists in the Stars' 7-3 win over the Calgary Flames. He's not likely to come close to that kind of game again this season.

Alex Steen, St. Louis Blues

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    2013-14 Stats: 17 games; 16 goals, eight assists, plus-13

    Best asset: Alex Steen has been dynamic around the net this year. He has had the golden touch when it comes to scoring, as he has connected on 26.7 percent of his shots on goal. Steen has done it with his explosive slap shot, his quick wrist shot and his ability to make plays in tight quarters that force opposing goaltenders to fish the puck out of their net.

    Why he comes down to earth: Has Steen made a silent deal with the devil? The 29-year-old Steen has been playing in the NHL since 2005-06, and he has had two seasons that he has scored 20 or more goals. He hasn't reached the 20-goal mark since the 2010-11 season.

    Suddenly, Steen is averaging nearly a goal per game from his left wing position on the Blues' top line. Even if his average was cut in half, he would score 41 goals, and that would be 17 more than his previous career best. Steen is certainly feeling it this season, and his teammates are looking to feed him, but it's just hard to picture him scoring more than 35 goals, considering his track record.

Frans Nielsen, New York Islanders

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    2013-14 Stats: 20 games; nine goals, 12 assists, plus-three

    Best asset: Frans Nielsen has given the Islanders more than they could have hoped for as the team's second-line center. Nielsen is an excellent skater and is executing quite well in the offensive zone. He has been known for his ability to deliver precise passes to his teammates, and that ability has allowed him to get the space he needs to fire off his surprising shot.

    Why he comes down to earth: Nielsen has never been a big-time scorer in the NHL, and his career high has been 47 points. Nielsen is playing way over his head, and since he has never scored more than 17 goals in a season, it would be shocking if he netted 20 or more goals this year.

    Eventually, the puck is not going to go in for him, but he's such a strong two-way player that he will make up for it on the defensive end of the ice.

Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    2013-14 Stats: 15 games; 13-2-0, 1.96 goals-against average, .932 save percentage, one shutout

    Best asset: Ben Bishop has long been considered one of the top goaltending prospects in the game. The 27-year-old played with the St. Louis Blues and the Ottawa Senators before he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning last year.

    Bishop is a big man at 6'7" and 215 pounds, and he uses his frame to take away angles from the shooters. The Lightning have gotten off to an excellent start, and Bishop has given them the stability in goal they have been missing since the end of the 2010-11 season.

    Bishop is leading the NHL in wins through Nov. 14.

    Why he comes down to earth: There is little doubt that Bishop has the talent to be one of the best goalies in the NHL. His great height gives him an advantage over most of his competitors. However, Bishop never has had a GAA better than 2.45 in his career, so it will be a challenge to maintain his current level.

Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars

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    2013-14 Stats: 19 games; 12 goals, 10 assists, plus-seven

    Best asset: Tyler Seguin has all the measurables, and that's why he was the No. 2 pick in the 2010 NHL draft by the Boston Bruins. However, the Bruins felt that Seguin may not have been fully committed to the game, and they decided to trade him to the Dallas Stars last summer.

    Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli will never admit that he made a mistake in trading the 21-year-old, but Seguin is tapping into his potential this season for the Stars. He has already lit the lamp a dozen times. He has excellent hands and remarkable speed, and that's why he is on the verge of becoming a superstar this season.

    Why he comes down to earth: Seguin was criticized for some childish behavior during his run with the Bruins. He played well in 2011-12 when he led them in scoring (29 goals and 67 points), but he slumped in last year's lockout-shortened season. He was especially unproductive in the postseason, when he had just one goal. 

    Seguin is not fully mature and is almost certain to go through ups and downs during the season.

David Backes, St. Louis Blues

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    2013-14 Stats: 17 games; seven goals, 12 assists, plus-nine

    Best asset: David Backes is a hard, two-way grinder who leaves everything he has on the ice on an every-night basis. In the past, he has been a great shutdown player, and head coach Ken Hitchcock could put Backes on the ice against his opponent's top scorer and the Blues would usually come out with the advantage. 

    Backes is big and strong at 6'3" and 221 pounds, and he knows how to impose his will on his opponents.

    Why he comes down to earth: Backes has a pair of 31-goal seasons on his resume, so it's not that unusual to see him with a high point total. However, Backes has never scored more than 62 points in a season, so he's not going to finish with better than a point per game this year.

    Backes also knows that playing the physical game is his biggest advantage, and that can take a toll on a player as the season progresses.

Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders

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    2013-14 Stats: 20 games; six goals, 14 assists, plus-six

    Best asset: Kyle Okposo has been a hard worker and an eye-catching player throughout his career with the New York Islanders. Okposo is not huge at 6'0" and 212 pounds, but he plays a big man's game with enthusiasm. He will go into the corners and battle for the puck, and he will win his share of those engagements.

    Additionally, Okposo has a very hard shot, whether he has time to fire away with his slap shot or he is twisting off a wrister.

    Why he comes down to earth: It's not shocking to see Okposo with six goals, since he is playing right wing next to John Tavares. He has scored as many as 24 goals in a season and is slightly above that pace right now.

    However, it is shocking to realize that he has 14 assists with less than 25 percent of the season in the books. Okposo has never been known as a playmaker, and 33 assists is his career high. He's on pace to blow by that figure considerably, and it seems quite likely that some of his passes may not hit the mark as the season progresses.

Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild

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    2013-14 Stats: 15 games; 10-2-2, 1.21 goals-against average, .947 save percentage, two shutouts

    Best asset: It's been a sensational start for Josh Harding, as he leads the NHL with his brilliant GAA and has been one of the key reasons the Minnesota Wild have been so competitive every night.

    While Harding is not huge at 6'1" and 202 pounds, he looks big in the net because he plays a stand-up style. Harding is athletic and moves well, and that allows him to take away much of the shooter's angle.

    The biggest reason for Harding's outstanding start has been his health. He had many issues with MS last year, but the disease is under control this season. 

    Why he comes down to earth: It's easy to see Harding having a very good year the rest of the way, but he's just too hot right now to stay at this level.

    He was the backup to Niklas Backstrom at the start of the season. He has never had a starter's workload. His career high is 34 games in a season, and it would be shocking for his minuscule GAA to remain under 2.00 once he plays 25 games or more.


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