Chris Stewart was picked 18th overall by Colorado in the 2006 draft. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
When you sleep, eat and breathe the glorious sport of hockey, there’s not much that sneaks up on you with only a couple weeks left in the regular season. But there’s been a few cases over the last little while that have had me saying, “He has how many goals?!?” or “That guy’s got almost 40 wins?!?”
This season has been fantastic for a plethora of reasons – exciting playoff races, hotly contested award battles, surprising teams – but one of the best has been the players who’ve forced their way to the fore with unexpected elite performances. Here are, according to my eye, the five most pleasantly surprising:
Chris Stewart, RW, Colorado
After a less-than-stellar rookie season split between the American League and the big club in 2008-09, expectations were anything but high for the 22-year-old power forward. A terrible start to this campaign (one goal and six assists in 21 games and a healthy scratch in four contests) further tempered excitement.
But something clicked with the Toronto native in mid-November and he’s been scoring at better than a point-per-game pace ever since. He’s also on the precipice of scoring 30 goals and is second on the Avs in points with 62.
Jonathan Quick, G, Los Angeles
The 24-year-old’s stat-line isn’t gaudy (2.54 GAA, .907 SP), except for the number that matters most: wins. The silver medallist as the third stringer for Team USA at the Games in February is fourth in wins with 39 and has the Kings in prime shape to make their first playoff appearance in seven seasons.
Despite his giving up three goals or more in 10 of his past 12 appearances it’s been a truly impressive showing for a guy who was once buried behind both Jonathan Bernier and Erik Ersberg on the prospect depth chart.
Craig Anderson, G, Colorado
Anderson had always been a serviceable backup with the Panthers and Blackhawks, but if one individual prognosticated the six-year vet would take the Avs’ reins and put up Vezina-worthy figures, I’d love for that individual to pick some lotto numbers for me.
The 28-year-old has struggled of late as Colorado fights for its playoff life, but without the play of Anderson the club would have been down and out long ago. At $1.5 million, he’s the best bang-for-buck UFA from the 2009 crop.
Patric Hornqvist, RW, Nashville
The Sweden native is proof positive that every pick in the draft matters as Hornqvist was the last overall pick in 2005. After spending the following three seasons at home with Djurgarden, he made is North American debut last year, suiting up for 49 games with AHL Milwaukee (17 goals, 35 points) and 28 with the Preds (two goals, seven points).
This season? Well, he’s one of only 19 NHLers to have popped 30 or more goals. Kudos to Nashville’s scouting staff.
Mason Raymond, LW, Vancouver
As fellow THN writer Rory Boylen adeptly pointed out early this season, Raymond burst onto the scene with a solid mix of speed, skill and smarts and helps keep the offensive pressure off the Sedin line.
Like Stewart, the 24-year-old struggled early to the tune of one point in his first nine and three in his first 13 contests, but has been gangbusters since, posting a 24-26-50 line in 78 games. Raymond’s production is really out of the blue considering he hadn’t posted 20 goals since his NHL draft year in the Alberta Junior League in 2004-05.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog appears weekly.
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