SOG: 152 | +/-: 7
Erik Karlsson, Senators -- The expectations were low in Ottawa, but Karlsson's play has them in the top eight in the Eastern Conference. He plays a high-risk, high-reward style that's been reaping rewards all season. He has 8 more points than any defenseman and is plus-7 on a team that's a minus-4 in goal differential. His play can take your breath away. He's a patient skater with great hockey sense. His nerves of steel have served him well.
Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks -- On a loaded offensive team, there are guys with more talent -- Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa -- but the most consistent player is Toews. He can play in any situation. You don't have to worry about him bringing his best effort or taking a night off. He's the league leader in faceoffs (61.5). You need a penalty killed? Fine. You need a goal? Fine. You need someone to defend or hit? Fine. He does it every night and the matchup doesn't matter.
Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers -- This one isn't easy to pick. There are a lot of quality candidates -- Tim Thomas, Jonathan Quick, Brian Elliott. This is the best start to Lundqvist's career, but I like his overall game. He's more aggressive. His catching glove is a lot better, he's catching more pucks than ever before. I like the maturity I've seen from him. He's referring to his teammates a lot more in interviews. He's talking about other guys and what they're doing in front of him. It's a sign of maturity. The downside of having to do it on your own is no matter how sick Henrik is, just look at Dominik Hasek, the greatest goalie of all-time, and he couldn't win by himself. When Lundqvist took the podium after the Winter Classic, he talked about the plays his teammates made. This is a whole new level this year.
SOG: 145 | +/-: 6
Steven Stamkos, Lightning -- This season, he's shown it doesn't matter who's on his line. He can score in many different ways. You hear people talk about Steven Stamkos, and people always want to talk about his one-timers. This season, I bet only a handful came off that one-timer. That's a key for me. It doesn't matter if he's playing with Martin St. Louis or Vincent Lecavalier or neither of them. He's become a guy who scores goals from anywhere. He has speed and the motivation to keep himself where he is.
John Tortorella, Rangers -- The Rangers have reflected his personality. The team is playing a more honest game, and it's not about superstars as much anymore. It's not about one guy -- it's about the collective. More importantly it's also about the style of play -- they play harder. Marian Gaborik is playing harder. He's scoring in different ways and not poaching for breakaways. He's driving the net, and it's one of the indicators of a more honest game, a game with more effort. Block a slot of shot. They have an identity. They're a four-line team with a lot of guys playing hard every night. It gives them a chance to win.