Ryan Johansen, C, Nashville Predators
The Predators -- who have run up an 8-3-0 record in their last 11 games and moved into a tie for third place in the Central Division -- are starting to become the team many thought they'd be at the start of the season. GoaliePekka Rinne is a key part of that; the veteran has been stellar for the last month or so. But also impressive has been the play of Johansen, a franchise center who is approaching his one-year anniversary in Nashville. The 23-year-old had just one goal in his first 18 games, but has scored four, along with three assists, in his last four games. And three of those goals were game-winners.
Leon Draisaitl, C, Edmonton Oilers
Everyone knows that captain and NHL scoring leader Connor McDavid is driving the Oilers bus. He has 15 points in his last seven games, which has kept Edmonton in first place in the Pacific Division. But this team's ability to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006 will depend as much on the its depth and that is starting to shine through, most notably in the form of Draisaitl. The big 21-year-old forward was the third overall draft pick in 2014. He has five goals -- including four on the power play -- and five assists in the last seven games. The Oilers went 4-2-1 during that stretch.
Dougie Hamilton, D, Calgary Flames
We rarely tire of Calgary Flames president Brian Burke when he gets a bee in his bonnet and this week the bees buzzing around Burke and the Flames were trade rumors involving Hamilton, a 23-year-old defenseman who has struggled at times to find his way since coming to Calgary from theBoston Bruinsin a much-heralded 2015 draft-weekend trade. Burke insisted, more or less, that unless some team is coming to the table with 20 first-round picks the Flames are not interested in moving Hamilton. Credit Hamilton, however, with pushing all this to the side as he collected six assists in his last eight games, including a three-assist performance against theDetroit Red Wings The former ninth overall draft pick in 2011 has averaged north of 20 minutes a night of ice time in six of his last seven games as he and the Flames tried to craw back into the playoff discussion in the Pacific Division after a miserable start to the season.
Austin Czarnik, RW, Boston Bruins
I love Czarnik. He's undersized but has significant heart. The undrafted 23-year-old Washington, Michigan, native has forced the Bruins to open up a roster spot for him with his his diligence and skills. But if he's going to stick around long-term, Czarnik will have to find ways to contribute for Boston, which has found scoring a difficult proposition on a nightly basis. (The Bruins are tied for 24th in the league in goals per game and are tied for 21st on the power play.) Czarnik continues to get man-advantage time with the B's but has just one goal in his last 11 games and one assist in his last 10 games for a team that would be a playoff team if the regular season ended today, but is by no means considered a lock to make the postseason.
Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets
The Jets are floundering again, and until they get their goaltending situation sorted out it's hard to imagine Winnipeg as a legitimate playoff contender in spite of its impressive offensive arsenal. It's clear head coach Paul Maurice has little confidence in backup netminderMichael Hutchinson, given that Hutchinson has started just eight games and has just two wins this season. But starter Hellebuyck, 23, has also struggled, losing five of seven and allowing 20 goals in those five losses -- including giving up a six-spot on Thursday night in a 6-3 home loss against the Oilers. Overall, Hellebuyck -- a member of Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey -- has a mediocre 2.76 GAA and a .908 save percentage.
Joonas Donskoi, RW, San Jose Sharks
Last spring, Donskoi, 24, emerged as a key contributor for the Sharks, who advanced to their first Stanley Cup finals. He chipped in six goals and six assists, including an overtime winner during the finals. San Jose is poised for a return to the playoffs -- and perhaps another deep run -- but Donskoi, the 99th overall pick in the 2010 draft, has struggled so far. He has just two goals in 24 games this season and has not scored since Oct. 29. .
Young guns showdown
Rickard Rakell, RW, Anaheim Ducks versus Connor McDavid, C, Oilers
This is a nice, juicy contest between two Pacific Division foes. The Ducks are starting to get their act together -- thanks, in part, to the arrival of young restricted free agentsHampus Lindholm and Rakell, who didn't sign until Oct. 14. Rakell has been aces for Anaheim, scoring nine times in his first 15 games and adding four assists. McDavid, of course, is on a tear and has opened up a six-point lead in the NHL scoring race over theTampa Bay Lightning'sNikita Kucherovthrough Thursday. Can the Ducks slow down the NHL's most dynamic player? Stay tuned.