- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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With the San Jose Sharks being the last NHL team to play its 21st game of the season, every club has now reached or passed the first-quarter pole of the season. Here are our awards front-runners at this point:
1. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: Challenging for the NHL scoring lead, the dynamic center isn't just about offense. His 200-foot game has come a long way, and coach Peter Laviolette trusts him in all situations. Giroux averages 2:44 minutes of short-handed ice time per game, which shows his all-around play.
2. Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs: Kessel has held on to the NHL scoring lead for most of the season, scoring clutch goals for the surprising Leafs, and has improved in all aspects of his game. He averages only 10 seconds of short-handed ice time per game, though, which is why we gave the slight edge to Giroux at this point.
3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: Why do we have a feeling he will be ranked higher than third at midseason? The Olympic gold medalist is again doing it all for the Hawks, sitting atop the NHL faceoff chart to show just one of his many strengths.
5. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins: With the Penguins missing Sidney Crosby for the opening 20 games as well as other key members at different times, the blueliner was a rock at both ends of the ice to help Pittsburgh stay near the top of the standings.
Honorable mentions: Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks; Shea Weber, Nashville Predators; Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres; Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars; Zdeno Chara and Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins; Nikolai Khabibulin, Edmonton Oilers.
1. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edmonton Oilers: Who saw this coming in September? Yeah, didn't think so. The veteran goalie has re-energized his career with a sensational opening quarter, putting up a 1.88 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in 16 games to help the underdog Oilers.
2. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins: The reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner still has it, baby. As of Wednesday morning, he was 11-4-0 with a 1.86 GAA and .937 save percentage. In other words, ho-hum.
3. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings: Tied for the NHL lead at 13 wins as of Wednesday morning, Howard has been a rock (1.87 GAA and .930 save percentage) as the Red Wings have found their way in the opening quarter.
4. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins: Also with 13 wins to tie for the NHL lead, Fleury had to be sensational at times as the Pens tried to survive without Crosby to start the season.
5. Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars: Also with 13 wins, Lehtonen was a monster in the opening quarter before he got injured and a big reason the Stars got off to a surprising start.
Honorable mentions: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings; Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues; Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes; Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens; Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators; Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers.
1. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins: As we touched on earlier, where would the Pens be without their all-world blueliner, who posted 19 points (3 goals, 16 assists) in his first 22 games? Can he hold off Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara and others this season to win his first Norris?
2. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators: Tied for the NHL lead with a plus-13 rating as of Wednesday morning, Weber is a beast in all facets of the game. The Predators' captain is playing a ton of minutes again this season (sixth overall with 26:02 in ice time).
3. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins: He's tied with Weber at plus-13, and just like his younger Predators counterpart, the captain of the defending Stanley Cup champions continues to do it all for the B's.
4. Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks: Edler is among the defensemen scoring leaders with 17 points (3-14) in 24 games, but he does so much more than that for the Canucks. He is key on special teams and leads the team in overall ice time.
Honorable mentions: Ryan Suter, Nashville Predators; Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers; Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators; Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings; Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes; Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia Flyers; Sheldon Souray, Dallas Stars.
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers: The first overall pick from this past June's draft has not disappointed whatsoever, leading all rookies in points through the quarter pole and making you wonder just how the Oilers were actually debating whether to keep him this season.
2. Adam Larsson, New Jersey Devils: The fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft led all rookies in ice time through the quarter pole, averaging more than 22 minutes per game. He's really coming on as of late, potting a point in five straight games heading into Wednesday night.
3. Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils: Well, you know with a birthplace like Brantford, Ontario, this kid has to be special, right? (That is also Wayne Gretzky's hometown, for those who have lived under a rock all their lives.) With New Jersey's injuries at center in the opening quarter, Henrique has stepped in and done a terrific job with 14 points (5-9) in his first 19 games.
4. Craig Smith, Nashville Predators: He's had his hot and cold spells, but a solid rookie campaign so far from the 2009 fourth overall pick of the Predators. Another example of shrewd drafting by an organization that has relied on it to survive.
Jack Adams Award
1. Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh Penguins: Challenge for first place in the NHL with the game's best player out of the lineup for the opening 20 games? That's some serious coaching.
2. Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes: The Desert Dogs lose key players every offseason yet come back and challenge for a playoff spot under one of the game's best coaches. Simply amazing.
3. Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues: Hey, he's 8-1-2 since taking over the Blues. If he gets St. Louis into the playoffs, he'll be getting Jack Adams votes for sure.
4. Kevin Dineen, Florida Panthers: Can you say surprise team? Talk to the Panthers' players, and they'll point to their coach as the reason they came together so quickly despite all the offseason changes.
5. Mike Yeo, Minnesota Wild: The former Penguins assistant has the Wild playing a responsible, structured game. (Minnesota is fourth in the NHL in goals against per game as of Wednesday morning.) Plus, he's from northern Ontario (North Bay), so you know he's smart.
Honorable mentions: John Tortorella, New York Rangers; Ron Wilson, Toronto Maple Leafs; Tom Renney, Edmonton Oilers; Claude Julien, Boston Bruins; Glen Gulutzan, Dallas Stars.
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: One of the smartest two-way players in the league and a player who deserves to get his name on this trophy at least once in his career. He's among the faceoff leaders again this season.
2. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings: Again leads the league in takeaways as of Wednesday morning. When he's on the ice, the other team doesn't have the puck.
3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: The NHL's faceoff leader is also among the league leaders in takeaways and plays key minutes against opponents' top lines. Is there a player with a better 200-foot game in the NHL?
4. Maxime Talbot, Philadelphia Flyers: Leads the NHL in short-handed ice time per game, which is not surprising for one of the league's premier penalty killers.
5. Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins: Sparks one of the NHL's top penalty-killing units and is an absolute luxury to have as a No. 3 center now that Crosby is back.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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