Each Friday throughout the season Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four. This special holiday edition looks back on the highlights of this season so far.
With the NHL on Christmas break, I thought it would be a good time to talk about some of the season's most exciting players, teams and topics. The fans have had many reasons to cheer, so let's get right into it.
Here are the 10 best presents hockey has delivered to fans this season:
1. Dallas Stars -- The Stars have been one of the best and most fun teams in the League to watch this season.
It all starts with the two-headed attack of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who are tied for second in the League with 46 points each and have led one of the highest-scoring offenses in the League. Add to that second-year defenseman John Klingberg, who has had a breakout season (five goals, 32 points) and is second among defensemen in scoring. There are a lot of guys with high hockey IQs on this team.
Dallas added Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya this offseason, and each has helped the Stars tremendously; Dallas has the most wins (26) and points (54) in the League at the Christmas break. Then there's the goalies; having two No. 1s -- Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi -- gives the Stars a chance to win every night.
2. Boston Bruins -- I have to admit, I didn't think they'd be this good. They're one point behind the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Atlantic Division with three games in hand. I thought it would take some time for them to get used to the new style of play with different pieces and injuries on the back end, including to Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.
Jonas Gustavsson has come in and played great in goal, which could mean the Bruins don't rely on Tuukka Rask to play 70 games. Rask didn't start the season well but the past few weeks has hit his stride.
You look at their road record (11-2-2), their ability to produce points on the road has been incredible. For them to not be as gritty and as physical and want to be more offensive, I thought that would cost them the ability to defend somewhat, but for the most part, that hasn't been the case.
3. Rookie class -- We all knew about the hype surrounding No. 1 pick Connor McDavid and No. 2 pick Jack Eichel, but the talent runs much deeper beyond them. Colton Parayko, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Dylan Larkin and Artemi Panarin have been a few of the standouts.
There have been so many rookies who have stepped in and had an impact right away; some have even been the best player on their team. That development gap that we used to see, we don't see anymore. The League is younger than it's ever been and guys are more prepared. The gap between the NHL and a lot of the other leagues has shrunk, but there's something to be said about these players coming in right away and being successful.
4. 3-on-3 overtime -- This could be the greatest gift of all. You get to see more players making more plays and show off their skills. There's more room for guys like Jonathan Toews, Artemi Panarin and Anze Kopitar. I just think it's been electric to watch.
It puts a lot of onus on the goalies. I'll always represent my goalie brethren, but that aside, it's been incredible. Tons of fun to watch. And more games have been ending in the overtime, which is the main reason it was implemented in the first place.
5. Kings are great again -- The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup twice in three seasons before not qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, and they're playing like they have something to prove. The Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have been the standard in the League over the past several years, and Los Angeles has quietly put together a fine season, sitting in first place in the Pacific Division.
Everyone has been healthy, starting with goalie Jonathan Quick. You look at that 45-save shutout he had in Montreal on Dec. 17 and it showed how dominant he has been and how great they have played. They're healthy and rested, which has been huge.
I talked to assistant general manager Rob Blake and he said a lot of the players are taking on bigger leadership roles with the departure of Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll, which has been huge for them.
6. Patrick Kane's streak -- The scoring streak by Kane has probably been the most talked about thing this NHL season. The Blackhawks forward went 26 straight games with a point and became the first U.S. born player to score 20-plus goals in each of his first nine seasons. A historic level of performance which is beyond incredible.
Every night, people were tuning in to see if the streak would continue, and on several occasions it came down to the last minutes, and even seconds.
7. The Sedin twins -- It's amazing to me that after all these years, Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin are still producing, and at a high level. This is their 16th season in the League, and they're the top two scorers on the Vancouver Canucks.
At 35, they haven't slowed down, but have been just as dominant as always. I spoke to coach Willie Desjardins about it and he talked about how it all comes back to their work ethic and how badly they want to win, especially after losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Bruins in 2011. There has been no drop-off in their play in a League which is even faster right now. They are smart and slow the game down and know each other so well that it makes it hard for other teams to defend.
8. Islanders in Brooklyn -- I think it's gone somewhat unnoticed how well the New York Islanders have played and transitioned to Brooklyn. They had a dominating performance against the Anaheim Ducks earlier this week and recently had a 10-game point streak.
Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss have been a great combination in goal, and the Islanders have been winning even with John Tavares not scoring as much or playing as well as he can, which is a great sign for them. At the break, they're one point behind the New York Rangers for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
9. Shayne Gostisbehere -- The rookie defenseman has single handedly transformed the Philadelphia Flyers. In 18 games, he has six goals and 14 points. Half of his goals have been game-winners, and he is tied for the League lead in overtime goals (three) with Toews and Johnny Gaudreau, pretty good company. I think the Flyers' ability to close out games recently has been impressive, and he's helped with that. The Flyers have a point in 14 of the 18 games Gostisbehere has played (10-4-4). He's been a spark for sure.
10. Justin Faulk's power-play prowess -- The Carolina Hurricanes defenseman has been a power-play machine. Faulk has 12 goals this season, and each has come on the power play, which has been impressive. He's a one man power play right now. Not only does he lead defensemen in power-play goals, he leads the League in that category.
Faulk's NHL career high is 15 goals, set last season, which he should shatter. In his first four seasons in the League, he combined for 15 power-play goals.
Jaromir Jagr -- Last, but certainly not least, is Jaromir Jagr. The soon-to-be 44-year-old Florida Panthers forward continues to break records and climb the NHL scoring ladder, having recently passed Marcel Dionne for fourth all-time in goals. I still have that 1990 Hockey News draft guide in my room at my parents' house. It's still there. It's crazy what he has been able to do for so long.
Jagr has 25 points in 32 games this season. He even lost four teeth after taking a high-stick to the mouth in a 2-1 shootout win against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, but he came back and assisted on a goal. He's a big reason the Panthers are 19-12-4 and one point -- yes, one point -- behind the Canadiens for first place in the Atlantic Division.