We’re nearly into December, so who would you consider some of your biggest surprises of the NHL season among the point leaders?
Dave in Vancouver, B.C.
"Chris, I was just wondering who you'd consider your biggest surprises so far in terms of the scoring leaders? I'd like to hear you "ramble" a bit on that subject, if you don't mind. Thanks and I enjoy your Sunday offerings and your work on Sportsnet. The live nightly recaps are invaluable."
Chris: Thanks Dave, I appreciate it.
Biggest surprises. Hmm. If you'd have told me in September that Joffrey Lupul or Kris Versteeg would be averaging a point-per-game as we head into December, I'd have suggested you up your meds. We knew going into the season that Lupul would have a pretty good chance alongside Phil Kessel, but to see those two work so well together with a variety of centres and still produce night after night has been a treat. Kessel's dominance has driven the line, but Lupul's efforts this season – now that he's finally healthy – cannot be undersold. He's truly been an extremely effective guy out there and I couldn't be happier for him.
Aside from the health issues, I was never really happy with how he was often used in Philly and, to a lesser extent given his low GP total, Anaheim. Part of that was his own fault with a lack of consistency, but part was one of those "chicken and egg" things where he can't produce if he's not in a good spot, but he can't get into a good spot unless he produces.
I still think Versteeg is better-suited for an L2/L3 role, but he's been perfectly complementary in his first line spot with the Panthers. To be fair to him, he also seems to be both healthy and really comfortable where he is right now. He’s taking full advantage of his chance and good for him. So many of their guys are firing on all cylinders.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was my Calder prediction when we did award picks at the start of the year here, I think, but he's far surpassed any of my expectations as a fantasy writer or Oilers fan. What he's doing as an 18-year – especially with his slight build – is ridiculous. And wonderful. Jordan Eberle's breakout campaign, along with Ryan Smyth's resurgence, has been one of many treats too.
I'm not surprised, but I'm really happy for Jamie Benn to have continued his second half surge from last year. For James Neal to have erased last year's post-trade disaster and to have been downright nasty out there against the opposition this season. For Nicklas Backstrom to get back to where he should be, despite Alex Ovechkin's struggles. For Marian Hossa to have taken his game