x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

New faces have impressed in NHL

The likes of Toronto's Phil Kessel and Buffalo's Thomas Vanek have stepped up to the plate in the NHL in the absence of some of the league's biggest names.

As the regular season hits the quarter mark this week, a few early season surprises are starting to look like the real deal.

No one expected Phil Kessel, the Toronto Maple Leafs winger, to be leading the league in points. But the Leafs sniper is more than capable of continuing his goal-scoring form and a Rocket Richard Trophy for the most points for the season is within his grasp. Kessel has always been streaky and maybe this is just an extended hot stretch, but he is in his sixth NHL season and maturing as a player.

He should be able to be more consistent, especially since he has more support of his dangerous linemates Joffrey Lupul and - when healthy - Tim Connolly, the centre.

Kessel is not the only player who is threatening to turn a hot start into a season-long breakout.

Buffalo's Thomas Vanek, Philadelphia's Claude Giroux, Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar and the Sabres' Jason Pominville are right behind Kessel in the scoring race. And while they are all good young players of some repute, no one expected them to reside in the NHL's top 10 in point production.

The most impressive play might be that of Giroux, a two-way talent who is capable of scoring 40 goals while killing penalties and going up against opponents' top lines.

The challenge for these players is to do it for six months, plus the play-offs. In the meantime, it is refreshing to see new faces pick up the slack while Sidney Crosby is sidelined and Alex Ovechkin tries to rediscover his superstar gear.