Emerging players in the NHL

By Josh Martin, Sports Editor

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he 2011–2012 NHL regular season is about to come to an end and with the playoffs a couple weeks away it’s time to take a look at some emerging players who blossomed into bona fide NHL players this year.

Young 21-year-old defenseman Erik Karlsson has been a major part of the Ottawa Senators’ success this year, racking up 76 points—19 goals and 57 assists— in 76 games on the blue line. Yes, you did not read that wrong. 76 points in 76 games for a defenseman. Unreal, I know. The next top defenseman in the scoring department this season is Brian Campbell with 51 points. That’s a 25-point difference. The last time any recent NHL defenseman put up similar numbers was the all-time great, Nicklas Lidstrom, who scored 80 points six years ago and powerhouse Mike Green when he put up back-to-back seasons several years ago with 73 and 76 points, respectively. Impressive, yes, however neither of them were as young as 21.

The young gun has been lights out for the Senators on the blue line and with the regular season coming to a close, Karlsson has a strong chance of finishing among the top 10 in NHL scoring. Something that hasn’t been done since the lock-out shortened season of 1994–95 when Detroit’s Paul Coffey tied for sixth in scoring that year with 58 points in 44 games. As of last Friday, Karlsson sits at eighth spot, right below snipers Ilya Kovalchuk and Phil Kessel and one spot up on Henrik Sedin.

Will he finish in the top 10 in scoring? It’s very possible.

With the absence of captain Sidney Crosby for the better part of the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins needed some players to step up and fill the void that was left by the face of the NHL. One of the Penguins that absolutely exploded with success was left winger, James Neal.

Neal, coming off a 45-point year and whose career-high before this season was 55 points in 78 games, has surprised everyone this season, scoring 79 points—38 goals and 41 assists—in 78 games thus far. He ranks fifth in NHL scoring and has proven that he is capable of being a dangerous threat on a number one line. In February the Penguins signed the young 24-year-old to a six-year contract extension worth $30 million. The deal begins with the 2012–13 season and runs through the 2017–18 campaign, and has an average annual value of $5 million.

It will be interesting, with the return of Crosby, if Neal will be able to rack up the same numbers come next season.

It’s hard to get through an issue without mentioning this guy’s name, but he has played like a man-possessed. The Vancouver Canucks backup goaltender Cory Schneider (I don’t even know if you can call him a backup, more like goalie 1B) is coming off yet another win last Friday against the Dallas Stars and has arguably been the Canucks MVP this year.

The unsung hero has won five of his last six starts and has posted a 19–7–1 record this season with an impeccable .937 Save Percentage—second among goaltenders in the league—an incredible 1.97 Goals Against Average—fifth in the NHL—and three shutouts. Need I say anymore?

He has been the hidden backbone to the Canucks success this year, which will make it that much harder when he signs on to another team this off-season.

So long Schneids’—it was nice while it lasted.

*All statistics are current as of Friday, March 30.