With the first quarter of the 2013-14 season complete, NHL.com looks at some of its biggest storylines and award contenders.
Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter lives the quiet life as a part-time farmer in Wisconsin during the offseason. If he continues to play the amount of productive minutes he's playing this season, he may want to let someone else ride his tractor out into the soybean fields next summer so he can sit on the couch and put up his feet.
Suter has been the NHL's busiest and best defenseman through the first quarter of the season. He plays nearly half the game and most of the time it's 30 mistake-free minutes. He had 13 assists entering the Wild's game Tuesday at the Montreal Canadiens, but that number doesn't even come close to describing Suter's effectiveness this season.
Goalie Josh Harding has been the big story in Minnesota and rightfully so, but Harding wouldn't be among the League's best goalies this season and the Wild wouldn't be among the League's best teams if it weren't for Suter, who was the runner-up for the Norris Trophy last season.
He doesn't get tired because he doesn't chase the puck. The Wild are the best in the NHL at limiting opposition shots on goal largely because Suter plays half the game and gives the Wild a chance to play more offense than defense.
The Wild outshot the opponent in 14 of their first 21 games. They've given up 30 shots on goal in a game four times.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Suter's total time on ice of 108:19 in three games (36:06 per game) from Nov. 7-13 is the most ice time any NHL player has played in three straight games since the League started tracking time on ice in 2000-01. He played more than 30 minutes in 10 of his first 21 games this season.
The third period typically is Suter's busiest, but that's not a surprise considering the Wild have been in so many one-goal games and there's nobody that coach Mike Yeo trusts more to play in tight games.
Entering Tuesday, Suter had logged more than 11 minutes of ice time in five of 21 third periods this season as well as at least 10 minutes in five more. He's averaging almost three-and-a-half minutes of ice time in overtime.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes: Ekman-Larsson, 22, quietly has become one of the best defenseman in the NHL and this season he's helped the Coyotes become one of the more dangerous offensive teams as well.
Ekman-Larsson was tied for fourth among all defensemen with 16 points heading into games Tuesday. He has four goals, including three game-winners, 12 assists, a plus-12 rating and he's averaging nearly 26 minutes of ice time per game. He had 24 points in 48 games last season.
However, with defensemen it's never always about the numbers. Ekman-Larsson plays more than four minutes per game on the power play and it's no surprise that Phoenix's power play is the best it has been in years (22.4 percent, fifth in the NHL entering Tuesday). The Coyotes also are a top-five offensive team (3.29 goals per game) entering Tuesday in part because Ekman-Larsson has controlled play from the blue line.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks: Vlasic, like Ekman-Larsson, deserves more attention for what he's been doing in San Jose. Even with Dan Boyle still around, Vlasic arguably has become the Sharks' most versatile defenseman. He can move the puck, jump into the play and create offense all without sacrificing his defensive ability.
Sharks assistant coach Larry Robinson said he thinks Vlasic should get serious consideration to play for the Canadian Olympic team because of the all-round game he has put on display nightly this season. Vlasic has 11 points and a plus-10 rating. He's playing more than 20 minutes a game and the Sharks typically are creating offensive chances when he's in the game.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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