Vincent Muzik/Icon SMI)
Every season sees NHL teams that “break out,” reaching higher levels after putting everything together as expected or not. By the same token, every season also sees players that “break out,” either reaching or surpassing their expected potential. Here are five players from the Northwest Division that are enjoying breakout seasons in 2011-12.
Alexander Edler, D, Vancouver Canucks – Edler has always been an offensively talented defenseman – the fact that he hasn’t tallied fewer than 33 points in his last four seasons is a testament to that. Edler was on pace for a career season last year before a back injury put him on the shelf for almost two-and-a-half months. This season, however, Edler is healthy and is continuing his strong play from the 2010-11 campaign. He’s fourth in scoring among defensemen and has been a key component in Vancouver’s power play – something that the team desperately needed him to be after the departure of Christian Ehrhoff to free agency. He plays over two minutes per game on the penalty kill and over three minutes per game on the power play, as well as being third on the team in the abstract category of hits and first on the team in blocked shots.
Jordan Eberle, RW, Edmonton Oilers – After Eberle’s terrific rookie season, it was clear that big things were on the way for the Oilers’ young star. But the way that Eberle has played this season has been above and beyond any expectations of him. With 16 games left in the Oilers’ season, Eberle is tied for eighth in the NHL in goals and 12th in points and, of players that have played more than 50 games, only Curtis Glencross, Sergei Kostitsyn, Jiri Hulder and Steven Stamkos have a better shooting percentage. He’s tied for 15th in the NHL in power-play goals and his three game-winning goals are third on the Oilers behind Taylor Hall and Ryan Smyth. With 63 points in 62 games, it’s safe to say that Eberle has emerged as the star on a Oilers team packed with young talent.
Ryan O’Reilly, C, Colorado Avalanche – With 51 points already this season, O’Reilly has eclipsed his previous career high by 25 points and is playing on the Avalanche’s best line with Gabriel Landeskog and Steve Downie. O’Reilly’s three game-winning goals is tied for the lead on the Avalanche, two of which have been in overtime. O’Reilly is playing over a minute per game short-handed and over two minutes per game on the power play. He’s leading the Avalanche in takeaways, and his faceoff percentage is second only to Paul Stastny, while he is slightly favored when it comes to taking important face-offs. O’Reilly has not only emerged as a budding superstar offensively for the Avalanche, but he’s also emerging as a player whose name could start being mentioned in the race for the Selke Trophy in the years to come.
Kyle Brodziak, C, Minnesota Wild – Brodziak might not ever be a point-per-game player in his career – he may not ever be a 60-point player, either – but the season that he’s having with Minnesota this season has broken him out of the mold of a fourth-line center. He’s had to play significant minutes, both on the power play and on the penalty kill, with all of the injuries that Minnesota has sustained this season. With 15 games left to play, Brodziak is on pace for nearly 40 points for the first time in his career. Brodziak is third on the Wild in faceoff percentage and is on the ice for just about every important face-off for the Wild. He’s become a leader, both on the ice and off the ice, for the Wild and has been rewarded with a shiny new contract for the next three seasons.
Jannik Hansen, RW, Vancouver Canucks – At the age of 25, Hansen is enjoying the best season of his young career. With 31 points in 67 games, it might not look like much, but he’s already surpassed his career high in both goals and points. On a team like the Canucks that can tend to be very top heavy at times, the addition of some scoring pop from a player that plays less than 15 minutes per game is a welcome one. Hansen doesn’t get much time on the power play, but he is a key penalty killer for the Canucks. If the Canucks are going to make another cup run, Hansen is going to be a key part of that.
Northwest Division Notes
The Calgary Flames have recalled Sven Baertschi from the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. The Flames drafted Baertschi in the 1st round (13th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. … Matt Duchene will miss at least one game for the Colorado Avalanche with a right ankle injury sustained during the third period of Colorado’s 7-1 rout of the Minnesota Wild. … Cal Clutterbuck, who missed Tuesday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche, was sent back to the Wild’s hotel to rest on Wednesday after not feeling well at practice.