Rich Kane/Icon SMI)
Every season, a handful of NHL players go through a breakout season, meaning they perform or produce at a level which exceeds anything they have done in their professional career up to that point. It can sometimes come in the form of an offensive explosion, such as with New Jersey forward David Clarkson, who after never scoring more than 17 goals in an NHL season now has 26. Or, it can come in the form of an expanded role, such as with Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who is playing over 25 minutes a night in only his second season of NHL play.
Below are the top three breakout performances in the Atlantic Division.
David Clarkson, RW, New Jersey Devils: Up until this season, Clarkson was known more for his toughness and fighting ability than his goal-scoring prowess. In fact, in his first two seasons in the NHL, he had more fights (41) than he did goals (26). He would occasionally see time on the power play, typically to provide a goalmouth presence, but would otherwise play in the bottom-six as an energy player.
That seems like a long time ago as, now in his fifth NHL season, the 27-year-old Clarkson has become not only an indispensable part of the Devils powerplay and top-nine, but also one of the premiere power forwards in the NHL. He leads all Devils forwards in hits (114), is tied for second on the team with goals (26), and leads the team with six game-winners.
Clarkson is signed through the 2012-13 season on what now seems like a bargain at 2.67 million dollars a season.
Ryan McDonagh, D, New York Rangers: Acquired in the now infamous Scott Gomez trade, Ryan McDonagh has quickly developed into an important player for the New York Rangers.
Now in his second season of NHL play (he appeared in 40 games in 2011-10), McDonagh has managed six goals and 18 assists through 65 games. More impressively, he has averaged 25:07 of ice time per game, placing McDonagh 11th in the NHL in that category.
McDonagh’s progress has been very important to the Rangers as the organization entered the regular season missing defensive stalwart Marc Staal to post-concussion syndrome. The former first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens has been typically deployed on the top defensive unit alongside veteran Dan Girardi.
Only 22-years-old, McDonagh should only get better with time, and could very well develop into one of the best two-way defensemen in the NHL.
P.A. Parenteau, RW, New York Islanders: Considered a career minor-leaguer at age 27, the Islanders made a fairly low-risk signing when they inked Parenteau to a one-year deal in 2010. The winger rewarded the Islanders faith with a 53-point season in 2010-11, earning Parenteau a one-year contract extension.
With 15 goals and 44 assists in 66 games, Parenteau has not only already surpassed his prior season offensive totals, but has also established himself as one of the better all-around wingers in the NHL. He is currently ranked 20th overall in the NHL in points and second on the Islanders.
Parenteau’s contract will be up at the end of the season, and he will likely seek a considerable raise on the $1.25 million he is making this year. There seems to be at least an outside chance he will re-sign with the Islanders.
Atlantic Division Notes
New Jersey Devils – The Devils recalled center Brad Mills from the AHL Tuesday though he did not dress. A physical, energy forward, the 28-year-old Mills has been in the Devils minor-league system since 2007.
New York Islanders – The Islanders will visit the Devils tonight in the second of a three-game set they have played with New Jersey. The series will wrap up Saturday in Long Island. Forward Josh Bailey will look to extend his streak of four goals in four games tonight.
New York Rangers – The Rangers visit the Ottawa Senators tonight in the third of their four game season series. The Rangers so far are 1-1-1 against the Senators, 0-1-1 at home and 1-0 on the road.
Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers will meet the Panthers tonight for their third of four meetings this season. The Flyers won the two previous meetings, the most recent one a 3-2 shootout win on January 24th. Forward Jakub Voracek, who was the recipient of a vicious hit on Tuesday, could suit up for tonight’s game, though he is reported to have a sore neck.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Backup goaltender Brad Thiessen gave starter Marc-Andre Fleury a rare rest last night when he started in net against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Thiessen blocked 22 of 24 shots en route to the Penguins seventh win in a row and the second of Thiessen’s career. The Penguins have the longest active winning streak in the NHL right now.