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Northwest Division Report Card

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

RECORD: 12-7-6
RANK: 3TH in Western Conference

MVP: Henrik Sedin (25 GP, 6 G, 18 A, 24 P)
SURPRISE: Chris Higgins (25 GP, 7 G, 4 A, 11 P)

Perhaps a surprise at sixth in the Western Conference, the Vancouver Canucks actually sit even with the Minnesota Wild atop the Northwest Division lead – a spot most projected them to sit at the end of the regular season.

A lost tiebreaker aside, the Canucks have had a tumultuous start to the shortened season. Injuries to the club have piled up as key figures Ryan Kesler, David Booth and Kevin Bieksa have ravaged the team’s core.

Still, the Canucks have found a way to win. The goaltending duo of Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider has held up well despite the notion that both couldn’t co-exist in the same crease. Posting nearly identical statistics through the first half the season, it’s hard to go wrong with either.

Already receiving strong goaltending, a healthy squad is the only thing keeping the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winner from taking their game to another level.

RECORD: 13-10-2
RANK: 8TH in Western Conference

MVP: Zach Parise (25 GP, 11 G, 8 A, 19 P)
SURPRISE: Jason Zucker (11 GP, 4 G, 1 A, 5 P)

Another team on the outside looking in come playoff time last year, the Minnesota Wild have started to see the benefit of adding two key free agents last July.

The additions of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have helped elevate the Wild to the top of the Northwest Division at the halfway mark of the season. It hasn’t just been the two $98 million men that have been getting it done, either.

The franchise’s captain since 2009, Mikko Koivu has provided more than just leadership this season topping the club in points with 20. Outside of Koivu, Parise and Calgary product Dany Heatley, the team will be in dire need of more offensive punch in order to put a stranger hold on the division lead. Through 24 games, the Wild have found the back of the net just 58 times – third worst in the West.

Fortunately for the club, reliable goaltending from Niklas Backstrom has propelled Minnesota to the third-best goals against in the conference. With stingy defense and great goaltending, the club should be able to overcome offensive deficiencies and hold down a playoff position moving forward.

RECORD: 10-11-5

MVP: Sam Gagner (26 GP, 10 G, 15 A, 25 P)
SURPRISE: Justin Schultz (26 GP, 5 G, 10 A, 15 P)

Thought to be the season to step up in the Western Conference after draft first overall for three consecutive seasons, the Edmonton Oilers find themselves in a familiar position midway through the 2013 NHL season.

A sophomore slump hit projected top center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins while Jordan Eberle hasn’t been able to produce at the same clip he did a season ago. Rookie Nail Yakupov hasn’t been able to step in and produce at a similar clip that previous first overall picks have, either.

Still, there’s plenty to be optimistic about for a team whose core is built around players under the age of 23. Free free agent signing Justin Schultz has proven to be worth the investment, while Sam Gagner is enjoying strong productivity and could set a new career-best in goals despite the schedule.

The potential outweighs the present, which has been the case for the Oilers for quite some time, but a string of successes and a launch into the playoff picture could make the wait all the more enjoyable.

RECORD: 10-11-4

MVP: Matt Duchene (24 GP, 11 G, 15 A, 26 P)
SURPRISE: John Mitchell (24 GP, 8 G, 5 A, 13 P)

Sitting at the .500 mark through 50 per cent of their schedule, the Colorado Avlanache have put themselves in a position to stay within striking distance of their 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff aspirations.

The (re-)emergence of Matt Duchene has gone a long way to pacing the Avalanche offensively, as has summer signing PA Parenteau, who has continued where he left off on Long Island. An injury to Gabriel Landeskog earlier in the season and the return of Ryan O’Reilly after a lengthy holdout should only help serve Colorado offensively.

Players returning to the blueline will also aid the Avalanche, including Erik Johnson, who frequently plays over 20 minutes a night on Colorado’s blueline. His presence, coupled with Ryan Wilson’s return will certainly help goaltender Semyon Varlamov.

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