Puck Daddy’s top 10 players of 2012

Hey, remember NHL hockey?

It's this thing that was played up until June 2012 or so, and then it disappeared, like Amelia Earhart or the Roanoke Colony, and no one can explain it. (Sure, we all know where it went, but come on, no explanation can justify its absence.)

But I digress. There was a time, back when the NHL was still doing hockey games, that what some of the players were accomplishing on the ice was all we could talk about. The L.A. Kings' incredible turnaround. Mike Smith's incredible turnaround. Gabriel Landeskog's rookie season, which led him from Calder to captaincy. Evgeni Malkin's year of domination.

Nothing made us miss hockey more than compiling this list and reminiscing on what went on the last time the NHL was in session. Here are Puck Daddy's top 10 players of 2012.

10. Gabriel Landeskog

The back half of Landeskog's rookie season was something to behold, as the Swedish first-year pro notched 14 goals and 32 points total in 2012, good enough to edge out one-time lock Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to win the Calder Trophy. He fell just short of leading the Colorado Avalanche to a playoff berth, but Avalanche management saw enough in Landeskog to believe he'd be capable of it in the future nonetheless. On September 4th, Landeskog was named the youngest captain in NHL history.

9. Ilya Kovalchuk

No doubt Kovalchuk moves up a couple notches in the minds of Devils fans simply by virtue of not being Zach Parise, but that wasn't all he did in 2012. The Devils' left winger was their leading scorer in the playoffs, guiding them on a surprise run to the Stanley Cup Final that fell just two games short of being a Stanley Cup lift. In the process, Kovalchuk managed to do what few thought possible in 2011: made that contract look tolerable. That alone is worth inclusion on this list.

8. Mike Smith

At one point, Mike Smith was 10-0-0 in the month of February. He closed out the month an astounding 10-0-1. In April, he set the NHL record for most saves in a regulation shutout win, making a whopping 54 stops in a 3-0 victory over Columbus. Smith's play down the stretch was nothing short of a revelation, as the Coyotes netminder kept Phoenix in the playoff race, then helped them vault all the way up to the third seed with their first division title in franchise history. But it didn't stop there. Smith led the Coyotes through two rounds of postseason action, first dispatching the Chicago Blackhawks in 6, then the Nashville Predators in 5 before running into the red-hot L.A. Kings.

7. Dustin Brown

On February 24, 2012, Darren Dreger suggested via Twitter that Dustin Brown might be available at the trade deadline. Instead, the Kings kept him, and Brown instantly metamorphosed into a guy everyone was glad they kept. The L.A. captain captained the Hell out of the Kings, helping them into the postseason, then helping them carve through it in remarkable fashion. Brown wound up tied with Anze Kopitar for the postseason scoring lead, and on June 11, he was the first King to hoist the Stanley Cup.

6. Erik Karlsson

During a very impressive three-week span, Erik Karlsson re-signed with the Ottawa Senators on a seven-year, $45.5 million deal, married his longtime sweetheart, and narrowly edged out Shea Weber at the NHL awards to capture his first Norris trophy in 2012. Not too shabby. Karlsson's selection was controversial for some, but it's tough to argue with a 78-point season, especially when the next-closest blueliner is 25 points back. As Zdeno Chara said, “You have three cars in front of you: you have the BMW, you have the Mercedes and you have the Porsche. A hundred people are going to like the Mercedes, a hundred people are going to like the BMW and the rest are going to like the Porsche. In 2012, Karlsson established himself as the league's premier Porsche.

5. Claude Giroux

We already knew Giroux was a star heading into 2012, but the Flyers' centre went beyond star this year. He established himself as a premier player, finishing third in NHL regular-season scoring, having Peter Laviolette tell the world that he was their best, then going toe-to-toe with Sidney Crosby and coming out on top in the postseason. Plus, Giroux was named to the cover of NHL 13! That alone is worth a spot on this list!

4. Henrik Lundqvist

After being nominated and shut out thrice, the swoon-inducing Lundqvist finally captured his first Vezina trophy in 2012. The trophy was handed out for his play during the regular season, when he racked up 39 wins and 8 shutouts with a GAA of 1.97 and a SV% of .930. But Lundqvist's excellence didn't end when the season did. He led the Rangers on a lengthy postseason run that ended two games short of a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.

3. Evgeni Malkin

According to Evgeni Malkin, June 21, 2012 was the best day of his life. That's the day he walked away with his first-ever Hart Trophy, as well as the Ted Lindsay Award and collected the Art Ross he won for leading the league in scoring with 109 points. An incredible day in an incredible year for Geno.

2. Steven Stamkos

On April 7, 2012, the last day of the season, Steven Stamkos scored the 179th goal of his NHL career, which is just 325 games old. What's more, it was his 60th of the season, a feat that hadn't been accomplished since Alex Ovechkin did it in 2007-08. Only one other player reached 50 in 2011-12. Even more amazing: 48 of Stamkos's goals were scored at even-strength, the highest total since a much more offensively punchy 1992-93 season. 14 players scored 50 goals that season. Again, just two reached that number in 2012. What Stamkos did in 2012 was amazing.

1. Jonathan Quick

But in the end, 2012 was the year of the Quickening. After spending much of 2011 keeping his team in games, the L.A. Kings' skaters finally began playing to the level of the man between the pipes in 2012, and the results speak for themselves: one of the most incredible Stanley Cup playoff runs in hockey history. But it was still Quick that led the way, capturing the Conn Smythe trophy in victory. Little wonder the Kings decided they'd like him around for more than a decade after that. Less than a month after hoisting the Conn Smythe and the Cup, Quick re-upped with L.A. for 10 years at $58 million. And then, to cap off his incredible rotation around the sun, he was named Puck Daddy's best player of 2012, an honour that obviously trumps all else that happened to him this year.