We’re halfway through the NHL season and you know what that means, it’s time to look at who has and hasn’t been performing up to expectations.
Tyler Bozak, C, Toronto Maple Leafs Bozak is a perfectly serviceable NHL player, but what he isn’t is a legitimate first line pivot, which is what he has been cast as in Toronto. Bozak, who plays 19 minutes per game for the Leafs in all situations isn’t overly big or physical, isn’t a brilliant possession player and struggles to generate offence. He ranks 10th among Leafs forwards in points-per-minute at evens this year, scoring nearly a full point less in an average hour than No. 2 pivot Nazem Kadri.
Dustin Brown, W, Los Angeles Kings The Kings captain is on pace for 29 points this year on the heels of last year’s 27-point campaign. The offence has disappeared (he’s pretty much on-par with Kyle Clifford in terms of five-on-five scoring and some distance south of Dwight King) and the shot metrics when he’s on the ice don’t look good either. His current $47-million contract runs through 2022.
Steve Ott, W, St. Louis Blues Once a fiercely competitive agitator who could handle tough minutes and chip in offensively, Ott has fallen on hard times. His scoring touch has disappeared, he takes minor penalties at twice the rate he draws them and he’s (a well-deserved) minus-17 over 60-odd games with a very good St. Louis team.
Justin Schultz, D, Edmonton Oilers When the Oilers re-signed Schultz in the summer, GM Craig MacTavish asserted he had Norris Trophy potential. Instead, he’s been a fringe third-pairing option at evens this season and even his much-vaunted offensive game is hardly in evidence these days; despite first-unit minutes, he’s scoring at half the power-play rate of teammate Jeff Petry.
Thomas Vanek, W, Minnesota Wild Vanek has never had a reputation as an especially effective defensive player, but in years past it was easy to paper over that thanks to his exceptional work offensively. This year, even the scoring is gone and the two-way play is as rotten as ever.
Sean Couturier, C, Philadelphia Flyers There isn’t a team in the league that couldn’t use Couturier. He plays brutal defensive minutes, taking on top opposition and a pile of defensive zone starts and yet he also manages to chip in offensively. His point totals are often spoken of as being somewhat disappointing, but given the context it’s frankly remarkable that he scores even as much as he does.
Bryan Little, C, Winnipeg Jets Little has always been a useful player, but over the past few seasons his offensive game has really developed. He averages almost 20 minutes per game in Winnipeg, handling all situations (including extensive ice time on the penalty kill) and he’s long provided outstanding two-way play in the role.
Mike Ribeiro, C, Nashville Predators It was only last summer that Ribeiro had to accept a bargain-bin, one-year contract from Nashville following a clearly acrimonious buyout by the Arizona Coyotes. Now, he’s leading the charge for the Predators, scoring at just under a point-per-game pace and centering a dominant top line for one of the most surprising teams in the NHL.
Antoine Roussel, W, Dallas Stars To the extent that he’s known, the 25-year-old Roussel is mostly known as an agitator, but he’s much more than that. He plays surprisingly tough minutes in Dallas, being regularly matched against top opposition and starting a high percentage of his shifts in the defensive end of the ice. He also kills penalties regularly and has run up some gaudy offensive numbers despite very rarely being used on the power play.
Roberto Luongo, G, Florida Panthers Luongo has long been an underrated goaltender; for better than a decade in the heart of his career he was one of the top puck-stoppers in the game. Even now, in his mid-30s, he’s good enough to have the Panthers knocking on the door for a playoff position. Florida is 15-7-7 when Luongo records the decision, but has won just two of its eight other games.