Six players on pace for career seasons

By: Tim Kolupanowich

@TimKolupan_

You wouldn’t expect anyone to have a career year in a shortened season, but it’s happened before and a few are doing so this season.

In 1995, Winnipeg Jets center Alex Zhamnov had one of his best seasons. He put up a career high of 30 goals in the 48-game season and his 65 points placed him third in the scoring race, just five behind Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros. He recorded only seven fewer points than the 72 he posted his rookie season two years earlier and his 65 points were a total he would reach just one more time in his career. Here are some players this season who are on pace to post career numbers despite the season being cut almost in half.

Nazem Kadri would be an easy addition to this list, but this being his first full season, it’s easy for him to set career marks. Rather these are players who have played several full seasons and are still posting the best numbers of their respective careers in a season that is 41% shorter than usual.

Mikkel Boedker – Phoenix Coyotes

Boedker has had trouble sticking with Phoenix after putting up 11-17-28 as a 19-year-old in 2008-09, but is leading them in scoring this season and is on pace to post four more points than he did that season in 31 fewer games. This may be his best season in four years, but keep in mind he’s still only 22 years old and played well in the playoffs last year. This is right around the time the majority of players are able to finally break out.

(Michael Miller/Wikimedia Commons)

Chris Kunitz is the only player in the top 10 in goals, assists, points and plus-minus. (Michael Miller/Wikimedia Commons)

Chris Kunitz – Pittsburgh Penguins

Kunitz is benefitting more than anyone else from a healthy Sidney Crosby who is leading the league with 35 assists and 47 points and has the highest points-per-game average (1.679) since 2000-01 when Mario Lemieux (1.767) made a remarkable return to the NHL. Kunitz is currently on pace for 31-36-67 in 48 games which would end up as his first 30-goal season and would best his career numbers from last season when he posted 26-35-61. Kunitz has always been a great complementary player to bigger stars, but this year he’s been the star. He is first in the NHL with a plus-23, second in goals and points and fourth in assists. His previous high in the scoring race was 52nd last year.

Kris Letang – Pittsburgh Penguins

Another Penguin benefitting from Crosby, Letang has looked like a player ready to explode in points for several seasons and this would have been that year. In 25 games, he missed three with a lower body injury in early February, he has nearly an assist per game, posting a total of 3-24-27 which is a pace for 5-43-48, two points fewer than 2010-11, but the 43 assists would be one more than that same year. Playing the Paul Coffey to Crosby’s Mario Lemieux, the NHL’s leading scorers among forwards and defensemen have helped Pittsburgh score 3.61 goals per game, nearly half-a-goal per game more than Tampa in second.

P.K. Subban – Montreal Canadiens

Subban missed the first six games of the season while negotiating a new contract and the two-year, $5.75 million contract is looking like a steal for Montreal now. Of 21 games played, Subban has recorded a point in 14 of them, 7-13-20 in total. Over 42 games he would post 14-24-38, besting his 2010-11 numbers by two assists. Subban is only seven points behind Letang for the lead among blueliners in four fewer games played.

Jiri Tlusty – Carolina Hurricanes

Tlusty was drafted 13th overall in 2006 by the Toronto Maple Leafs, but never panned out and was traded to Carolina in December 2009 for minor-leaguer Philippe Paradis. He put together his best season last year, totaling 17-19-36 in 79 games, as has really come into his own this year playing on the top line with Eric Staal and Alex Semin. In 26 games so far, Tlusty is leading the Southeast Division leaders with 13 goals and on pace for 24-17-41.

Jakub Voracek – Philadelphia Flyers

Just about the only player on the Flyers living up to expectations this season is Voracek, whose 13-18-31 leads Philadelphia in all three categories. His previous best season was in 2009-10 with Columbus when he posted 16-34-50, but is on set to hit 20 goals for the first time in his career and finish with 52 points. He netted his first career hat trick on February 20 in Pittsburgh and has had nine multiple-point games, three of the high of 12 he set last year in 78 games.

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