With the entire National Hockey League around the 41-game midway mark, it's safe to say teams and fans alike can begin preparing to buckle up for the usually wild ride that is the second half of the National Hockey League season.
The holidays are usually classified as the "dog days" of the season - December and January drags along for the majority of players, many of whom are running low on gas after being run ragged through the first three months of the season. Up until at least the All-Star game, except the majority of games to be sloppy, a bit slower than usual, and generally uninteresting.
Once the "stretch run" begins, though, everything gets ramped up a notch.
As the playoff race truly begins, teams will catch their second wind, and players will be revitalized by the upped importance of every game, period, and shift (unless you're a cellar-dwellar like Edmonton or Carolina).
Over the next few months of the season, the contenders will be separated from the pretenders, and a lot of questions about certain players from around the league will be answered. Will the surprise producers of the first-half continue their runs, or will they fade as the games get tighter and tougher? Will slumping stars hit the reset button and finish off the year strong, or will they continue to disappoint their team and their fans?
While we often try to predict what entire teams will do during any particular segment of the NHL season, we often ignore the impact one player can have on his team - especially during the most important part of the regular season.
15 Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning
14 Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey Devils
13 Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
12 Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars
11 Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens
10 Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
9 Jonathan Bernier, Toronto Maple Leafs
8 Rick Nash, New York Rangers
7 Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks
6 Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
5 Jaroslav Halak, New York Islanders
4 Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers
3 David Perron, Pittsburgh Penguins
2 John Tavares, New York Islanders
1 Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning were scary enough without their top defenceman manning their blueline - but with Victor Hedman back, they immediately become the Eastern Conference's biggest threat right now and during the playoffs. Hedman was injured early in the season, but it hasn't slowed him down - he has 20 points in 24 games, and you can expect him to keep that pace up considering he's got plenty of offensive firepower to outlet the puck to every night. Hedman is worth keeping an eye on not only because he will help the Lightning push for top spot in the East (and perhaps the Presidents' Trophy), but also because he's still very much in the Norris Trophy discussion.
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