The NHL is such a fascinating thing to observe, every year new stories emerge, new people, different teams to claim the spotlight. Here are the most fascinating players of the year so far.

4: Evgeni Malkin.

For years I’ve been of the opinion that Malkin was every bit as talented at Crosby. In the past though the focus of the media (particularly that in the great white north) has been focused on Sidney Crosby With him out of the spotlight, Malkin has taken the stage all by himself. Despite the uncertainty of a knee issue early in the season he’s shot and passed his way to the top of the scoring race, and in the books of the small minded who believe points are the only important contribution, the top of the Hart Trophy race as well.

3: Jonathan Quick

In the top five in  starts, third in save percentage and playing behind the 30th ranked offense Quick has been the most clutch goaltender in the NHL. Unlike any of the goalies with better save percentage or more wins, Quick has been unequivocally the best and most impacting player on his team. The team in front of him has scored 2.09 goals per game. Jonathan Quick has allowed 1.92 goals per game.

2: Ray Whitney

Most thirty nine year old hockey players don’t spend most of the season leading not merely their team, but a five team division in points. Ray Whitney is not most thirty-nine year old athletes. Listed at five foot ten and one hundred and eighty pounds he’s certainly not doing it with a punishing physicality. On an team ranked 18th in offense he’s hardly coasting along on the success of those around him either. Unlike some of guys further up the points chart he’s not playing a huge number of minutes, his 18:34 of ice time a night wouldn’t even be top four forward time on some teams. Impact doesn’t always take time or size, just skill and will.

1: Ilya Kovalchuk

Three years ago with a career languishing in Atlanta while the owners squabbled and sued and ignored their investment, Ilya Kovalchuk was a offensive juggernaut. With almost no help to speak of he finished among the elite scorers year after year. ┬áToday he is arguably the best player in the league. Not only is he in the upper echelon of scoring, he’s playing huge minutes and doing so in all roles. To put it in perspective, Kovalchuk has more short handed points than all of the players ahead of him in total scoring combined. Hands down Kovalchuk has been the most important skater to his team this season. The fact that he’s been able to transform from a one dimensional scorer like Stamkos or Kessel mid career into a Toews type three zone wizard is phenomenal.

About Puck Sage is a hockey site focusing on the NHL, the playing style of teams and players with analysis and the occasional predictions. If it doesn't involve what happens on ice, I won't be writing about it. About Me: Writer! Here. write hockey. I can be found on Twitter @PuckSage on Google+ and my Facebook Page is handily listed on the main page here. Radio Personality: Guest Hockey expert on WATD 95.9FM Hockey lover, cognac drinker, lover of good steak, good music, and things that make me laugh. I hate cats, cat people, sloppy hockey and vegans.

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