As we head past the mid way part of the NHL season, we can assume that the surprise/breakout players that have arisen this year aren’t just a couple flukes, these players have grown and sustained their success through the season.
Up first is one of my favorite players to watch; Nazem Kadri.
Nazem Kadri, C, Toronto Maple Leafs.
Any hockey player in Toronto has an immense amount of pressure, whether you’re a nightly scratch or a a perennial all star. Take Saturday’s shoot out loss for example, Mikhail Grabovski doesn’t shoot, and the media goes crazy. So you can imagine what the pressure would be like for a high 1st round pick like Nazem Kadri (7th Overall, 2009 Entry Draft). Since that day in 2009, Kadri has been dubbed a ‘saviour’ of sorts, with his on ice vision and sublime skill. Up until this year, fans have been criticizing and calling for him to be traded, but I think that has changed this year. People forget he is only 22 years old, he’s born in 1990 for god sakes! Have Leaf fans never heard of patience?! As an avid Leaf fan, I watch every game, and there has been no better player for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season. Averaging a measly 15:32min/game Kadri has put up 27Pts in 29GP this season, tied for the team lead. The only player younger than Kadri that has more points in the entire league, is Colorado’s Matt Duchene, who play’s almost a full 6:00min more per game!! It doesn’t stop there for Kadri, not only is he putting up points, but he has matured as a player; he’s not turning the puck over as much and also is among the Top 10 in +/- among Centerman in the NHL with a +13. Let’s take a trip back in time…Jason Spezza, a cocky, uber-talented centerman, drafted 2nd Overall in 2001. Breaks into the league, has moderate success, disapointing in the eyes of many. 2004-2005 Season arrives in the form of a lock out, Spezza hones his talents in the AHL for a year and when the NHL returns the sext season, he puts a career best 91PTS in 68GP. Sound familiar? Leaf fans sure hope so. Lets hope Kadri can avoid the injury bug a bit more..
Jakub Voracek, RW, Philadelphia Flyers
I have been a Voracek fan ever since Columbus drafted him, I don’t what it is about Columbus, people just play better when they’re not there (See Jeff Carter and Jack Johnson). Voracek is an imposing 6ft 2 and 215lbs and has hands of gold. It looked as though he may have plateaued as a ’50pt Guy’, not that there is anything wrong with that, but people saw alot more than that in him and he seems to be showing it this year. He’s almost topped his career high in goals, he has 13 in 31GP this year, his career high is 18 in 78GP. That is a clear indication that he has taken his game to the next level, he currently is leading a talented (but under-achieving) Flyers squad wit 31Pts in 30GP, which is good enough for T-8th in the league. He also has proven effective on the Powerplay by leading the league with 8PPG. Maybe if Voracek wasn’t playing with Claude Giroux, this would be a different story, but the two have found some great chemistry and Voracek is really start to come into his own, the scary part is he is only 23.
Jonas Brodin, D, Minnesota Wild
Although I did promise a good friend of mine that I would include Jonas Brodin in one of my sections, they’re hasn’t been a more impressive teenager in the NHL this season. At just 19 years of age Jonas Brodin is already gaining praise from some of the greatest minds in Hockey. Scotty Bowman has been quoted as saying that Brodin (along with Oliver Ekman Larrson) will be 2 of the top half dozen (Top 6) Defenceman in the league within the next couple years. That is some high praise. Brodin has played an average of 22:24min/game, this time is also spent against the other teams top line. He is a phenomenal skater and makes smart decisions. It also helps that he’s playing with one of the leagues top defencemen in Ryan Suter, but Brodin has been able to hold his own. I guess he may not be considered a breakout out player because he is a rookie, but he has been a very pleasant surprise to those who follow the Wild. Hence, the breakout player nod. He won’t get looked at for the Calder, which is really a shame, because they base it so much on players statistics, but from a hockey standpoint, Brodin has been second to none in terms of maturity and hockey sense. I also believe that he could become more of a Offensive guy as he grows older, similar to Ekman Larsson, who didn’t put up big numbers as a rookie. Overall, He really does have a bright future ahead of him.