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Malkin, Neal, Karlsson Among Most Surprising NHL Performers This Season
Malkin is a talent with nearly limitless ability. He's got a wicked shot, outstanding moves and rare skating talent. However, his production this season is somewhat surprising considering his scoring was limited the last two years largely due to injuries. Heading into the Penguins' March 27 game against the New York Islanders, Malkin led the NHL in scoring with 46 goals and 51 assists. His 97 points give him a 10-point edge over Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who is second in scoring with 87 points.
More than the numbers, Malkin has played with energy and explosive speed most nights, particularly when he gets the puck in the offensive zone. He often has an unstoppable quality when he has the puck on his stick.
Neal was a 20-plus goal scorer in his three previous seasons in the league. He was traded to the Penguins from the Dallas Stars prior to the 2011 trade deadline and he has become a much more dynamic player in his first full season in Pittsburgh. Neal is the league's fifth-leading scorer with 35 goals and 41 assists. He is most effective when he gets the puck in the area below the faceoff circles where he can use his size and strength—6-2 and 208 pounds—to effectively maintain his position and fight off opposing defensemen.
Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators has become the highest scoring defenseman in the NHL this season, notching 19 goals and 54 assists with six games remaining in his team's regular season. The 21-year-old Swede excels at knowing where to position himself so he can receive the puck and fire off a quick shot or pass with power and accuracy. Karlsson had shown signs of his talent in 2010-11 with 45 points, but he has exceeded expectations and helped lift the Senators into contention for the Northeast Division title.
After a promising start to the season, much has gone wrong for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they are no longer in a serious playoff position. While the Leafs have disappointed their fans, high-scoring and speedy winger Phil Kessel has emerged as one of the top scorers in the league. He has scored 36 goals and 41 assists in 76 games, giving him an average of 1.01 points per game, the best mark of his career.
The Edmonton Oilers are also on the outside looking in when it comes to playoff positioning, but the team's crew of young stars like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins give the Oilers' fans reason to be optimistic about the future. Eberle is on the cusp of stardom with his 32-goal, 41-assist performance this season. His ability to accelerate into open spaces and then finish a play makes him a dangerous scorer.
Steve Silverman is a longtime writer who has covered college and professional sports in print and on the air for more than 30 years.
NHL.com—NHL scoring stats
Hockey Reference.com—Evgeni Malkin
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