In any given NHL season, certain star players shine while others fade into obscurity. Many NHL players undergo a constant cycle of ups-and-downs in their storied careers, mostly because of the competitiveness and intensity that exists within the league. As players battle through adversity, they are bound to hit a wall called 'inconsistency.'
Of course, the most elite NHL players often remain successful during their careers, while fringe NHL players experience stretches of misfortune and struggle. Also, the emergence of rookie NHL players plays an additional factor as to who's successful and who's not. Some rookies may experience immediate prosperity in the NHL, while others may find it particularly difficult transitioning to the NHL. As a result, in each NHL season, there are bound to be certain players who perform to the highest degree of excellence, while others fail to impress and dwindle in the limelight.
In today's article, we will take a comprehensive look at 8 NHL players who have exceeded expectations thus far, and 7 NHL players who have excruciatingly underperformed.
15 EXCEEDED: Mikko Rantanen
The former 10th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft for the Colorado Avalanche has improved drastically from his rookie year last season and has already eclipsed his point total in 35 fewer games. The streaky 6'4" right winger has helped the Avalanche climb the standings to playoff contention after finishing dead last last season with a measly 48 points. Rantanen plays alongside former top-10 draft picks Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, who have helped him transition smoothly into the NHL. In his sophomore season, he has noticeably created chemistry with Colorado's plentiful young stars and used his pristine play-making abilities to generate scoring chances.
As the youthful Colorado team heads into the second half of the season, watch to see if the 21-year-old Finnish forward can maintain his near point-per-game rate and help the Avalanche reach the playoffs after a few utterly disappointing seasons.
14 UNDERPERFORMED: Nick Foligno
The captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets has been struggling this season to say the least. Three seasons removed from a 73-point campaign, the 30-year-old left winger has only posted a measly 23 points in 55 NHL games. Although his intangibles of leadership are immeasurable, Foligno must be held accountable and lead on the ice as well. The muscular 6-foot forward is known to be aggressive around the net, so Foligno must be opportunistic and create as many chances as he can until he can get into a scoring groove.
After a dominant regular season showing last year, the Blue Jackets currently sit in third in the competitive Metropolitan Division. If Foligno wants to lead his team to the playoffs once again, he must step up his game and use his leadership role to his advantage in order to gain prolonged success.
13 EXCEEDED: Anders Lee
This season, the New York Islanders have come out flying and so has Anders Lee. The 27-year-old left winger has been an effective contributor to the Islanders' early success, potting 29 goals and netting 45 points. It is evident that Lee is continuing his explosive offensive success from last season, when he garnered a personal-best 34 goals and 52 points. So far, Lee has been a superb line-mate for superstar center John Tavares and right winger Joshua Bailey. It's safe to say that they have been one of the best top lines, if not the best, in the NHL thus far and are the force that drives the Islanders' offense. His valuable combination of speed and skill has helped transform him into a young impressive top-line winger.
As long as the Lee-Tavares-Bailey line continues to dominate the opposition, look for Anders Lee to set new personal bests in goals and points this season, and continue to develop into a prolific scoring winger.
12 UNDERPERFORMED: Alex Galchenyuk
After a few auspicious years, it seems like the speedy 23-year-old left winger has come to a dead end in his development and is struggling to reach his full offensive potential. The former 3rd overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft for the Montreal Canadiens has posted three 40-plus point seasons thus far, but has struggled with inconsistency and the defensive aspect of the game. Canadiens coach Claude Julien has constantly shifted Galchenyuk up and down the lineup, who is having difficulties finding his scoring touch that gifted him 30 goals just two seasons ago.
With the Canadiens out of the playoffs and trending downward, it's hard to imagine that Alex Galchenyuk stays in Montreal due to his inability to lead their offensive charge and maximize his offensive potential.
11 EXCEEDED: Jonathan Marchessault
After being acquired from the Florida Panthers via the NHL expansion draft, the 27-year-old centerman has been imperative to the Vegas Golden Knights' early regular season dominance as they are currently atop the Western Conference. Marchessault has garnered 20 goals and 54 points in 52 games this season thus far, and is on pace to shatter his personal best of 51 points established last year. The 5'9" Quebec native has surprisingly led the Golden Knights' offense throughout the first half of the season with his slick hands and impressive goal-scoring instincts.
Marchessault recently signed a six-year contract extension worth $30 million with Vegas. If the Golden Knights star can maintain his over a point-per-game rate and continue driving Vegas' explosive burst of offense, then expect the Golden Knights to be the team to beat in the Western Conference.
10 UNDERPERFORMED: Max Pacioretty
The captain of the Montreal Canadiens has been the subject of fervent trade rumors ever since P.K. Subban was shipped out of Montreal. Although he has posted four consecutive 30-goal, 60-plus point seasons, Pacioretty has not been able to lead the Canadiens to playoff glory. This season, he is on pace for only 49 points, and with the Canadiens out of a playoff spot, it doesn't look like the trade rumors are going to dissipate anytime soon. There are also other rumors circulating stating that Pacioretty is having difficulties maintaining control and respect in the Canadiens' locker room.
If the Canadiens continue their downward spiral in the standings, watch to see if Pacioretty's ice time decreases or he gets traded at the trade deadline for future pieces this season.
9 EXCEEDED: Brayden Schenn
After arriving to St. Louis from Philadelphia in a lopsided trade this past off-season, the 26-year-old Blues star forward is looking as rejuvenated as ever with his new team. The former 5th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft has been one of the best acquisitions in 2017 and is shaping into an elite top-6 centerman on a highly talented Blues team. The 6'1" Canadian forward has accumulated 38 points in 40 games thus far and is thriving off his impeccable chemistry with his offensive-minded linemates Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. He has found a comfortable home in St. Louis and is on pace to demolish his personal best of 59 points, which was set two seasons ago.
With the St. Louis Blues trending upward towards the top of the Western Conference as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, it seems like Brayden Schenn's personal success has driven the Blues to further dominance and a renewed hope for playoff glory.
8 UNDERPERFORMED: Matt Duchene
After months and months of fervent trade rumors, this season finally saw Matt Duchene, former 3rd-overall pick in 2009, get shipped out of the rebuilding Avalanche team in what seems like an eternity of waiting. The newly acquired Senators forward, though content with his destination, has seemingly struggled to find his scoring touch with his new team; he has only posted a measly 10 points with the Senators in almost double the amount of games. Although he has recently picked up his groove, it seems like Duchene is taking longer than expected to get acclimated to his new city, where expectations are rising after their drastic descent in the standings.
If the 26-year-old Senators star forward wants to make the playoffs with his new team, he must step up his game immediately and help boost the Senators' offense, because as of today, the Avalanche are closer to a playoff spot than the Senators.
7 EXCEEDED: Brock Boeser
This season has seen its fair share of talented, vigorous prospects, and no one has surprised the hockey world much like Brock Boeser has. The Vancouver Canucks rookie dynamo has already scored 26 goals and 48 points through 52 games this season, and has had multiple hot scoring streaks to cap off a successful first half of the season. The former 23rd overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft has used his phenomenal release and hockey IQ to fuel his rookie season success. The 20-year-old Minnesota native currently leads the struggling Canucks in goals and points, and will surely become the next face of the franchise in the post-Sedin era in Vancouver.
If rookie sensation Brock Boeser continues to showcase his offensive prowess throughout the remainder of the regular season, he will undoubtedly be the clear favorite to win the Calder Trophy, and might even challenge for the Rocket Richard Trophy.
6 UNDERPERFORMED: Brent Burns
Although Burns has since picked up the pace, he struggled in the first half of the season to produce points and dominate in both the offensive zone and his own zone. The big and burly 6'5" defenceman has been a staple on the San Jose Sharks' blue-line for years and has been their biggest contributor from their back-end. The heavily-bearded defenseman won the Norris Trophy in 2017 for his potent offensive prowess and overall dominance on both ends of the ice. However, as his age catches up to him, the 32-year-old Burns has to be extra careful about his play-making strategies and his positioning.
After scoring at only half-a-point per game in the first half of the season, Burns has recovered and is on pace for an impressive 70 points. However, for Sharks fans, his early season struggles may be indicative of his inevitable and imminent offensive degradation.
5 EXCEEDED: Joshua Bailey
The former 9th-overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft for the New York Islanders has finally had his breakout season this year and is shining brightly after hiding in the shadows of his superstar teammate John Tavares. This season, the 28-year-old right-winger has exploded offensively by producing an outstanding 60 points in 53 games. At the mid-season point, Bailey has already shattered his personal-best in points and is destined to hit the 90-point plateau for the first time in his career. Playing alongside Johnny T obviously helps a lot, but the 28-year-old has proven himself to be a speedy, dominant first-line winger who can create deadly scoring chances.
With the New York Islanders currently only 1 point out of the playoffs, look for Bailey and Tavares to explode for offense and dominate the score sheet. Bailey's early season success has certainly helped the Islanders legitimately fight for the playoffs once again.
4 UNDERPERFORMED: Jonathan Toews
The highly accomplished franchise centerman for the Chicago Blackhawks is widely known for his leadership intangibles and clutch plays; however, he has recently been under fire for his lack of offensive production. The Blackhawks have now lost 5 straight games, and their illustrious captain has no answers. He is earning a massive $10.5 million annually and has only managed to garner 35 points in 55 games so far this season. He is on pace for a career-low in points, and it doesn't help that the Blackhawks are trending downward in the standings - currently out of a playoff spot.
If captain Jonathan Toews does not increase his point totals and lead the Blackhawks to playoff contention in the remaining half of the season, Chicago could possibly undergo a big shake-up in the coming off-season.
3 EXCEEDED: Nathan MacKinnon
After a couple mediocre seasons in Colorado, it looks like the former 1st-overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft has finally had his long-awaited breakout season and helped lead the Avalanche to playoff contention this year. The dynamic 22-year-old centerman has found his immaculate scoring touch this season to explode for 61 points in 49 games, and is certainly aiming to surpass the 90-point plateau. The Halifax native has been leading the exuberant offensive charge in Colorado and is showing no signs of slowing down. The offensively talented centerman has undoubtedly been their MVP thus far and is in contention for the prestigious Hart Trophy.
With a plenitude of young stars in Colorado, their future is bright and auspicious, and it gives Nathan MacKinnon a renewed hope that if he continues his offensive dominance, then the Stanley Cup playoffs are certainly within reach.
2 UNDERPERFORMED: Erik Karlsson
Although only two seasons removed from a stellar 82-point season, elite NHL defenceman Erik Karlsson is currently experiencing a slump that has prevented the Ottawa Senators from climbing the standings into a playoff spot. They currently sit 3rd-to-last in the league standings, and it certainly isn't helping that their captain is having difficulties finding the back of the net. He has accumulated 36 points in 49 games thus far, and although those are pretty good stats for a defenceman, that is nowhere near the high standards that he achieved two seasons ago. The 27-year-old elite defenceman is known for his offensive capabilities and impeccable skating, but lately he has been struggling to contribute to Ottawa's stagnant offense.
If Senators captain Erik Karlsson doesn't lead his team out of the bottom of the standings, his market value will decrease and his chances at Stanley Cup glory could diminish quickly.
1 EXCEEDED: Nikita Kucherov
At the beginning of the season, although due for another breakout season, nobody could have possibly expected that Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov would be having the season he is right now. The 5'11" forward currently leads all NHL players with 69 points in 55 games and is most importantly beating teammate Steven Stamkos at his own game with 29 goals. With the chemistry the two superstars have, it's no surprise that they are both constantly depositing the puck in the net after a dazzling set-up play. They are both well over a point-per-game rate and are only going to get better as they enter their prime. The 24-year-old right-winger is currently on pace to shatter the 100-point plateau and is a favorite to win the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP.
As long as offensively gifted forward Nikita Kucherov continues scoring at a superlative rate, the Tampa Bay Lightning are in a fantastic and favorable position to reach the Stanley Cup Finals and taste Stanley Cup glory for the first time since they won it back in 2004.