NHL Star Power Index: Johnny Gaudreau continues torrid pace, Claude Giroux changes addresses

NHL Star Power Index: Johnny Gaudreau continues torrid pace, Claude Giroux changes addresses

Welcome to the NHL Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players who are controlling substantial buzz around the league. When a player is included on this list it may not be a good thing – it means that they are capturing a large amount of the hockey world’s attention.

These players are in no particular order when it comes to the amount of buzz that they’re creating. We’ll revise the Star Power Index every week throughout the regular season.

If there’s a dark horse for the Hart Memorial Trophy, it’s definitely Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau.

Gaudreau is one of the biggest reasons why the Flames currently sit atop the Pacific Division with just a quarter of the regular season remaining. In 63 games throughout the 2021-22 season, the 28-year old leads the team in points (82) and assists (53).

The Flames star is enjoying a sensational month of March in which he’s tallied nine goals and eight assists in 12 games. Gaudreau has also recorded points in three of his last four games, including a two-point performance against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

The star winger scored the opening goal for the Flames on the power-play in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss when teammate Matthew Tkachuk whipped a pass in Gaudreau’s direction and her was able to corral the puck before sniping it past Sharks goaltender James Reimer.

The former first round pick currently ranks fourth in the league in points behind Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Jonathan Huberdeau. In addition, Gaudreau also has the seventh-most assists in the NHL.

For Gaudreau, he’s having a sensational season at the best possible time – the Flames star is slated to become an unrestricted free agent and he’ll likely have a ton of suitors.

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The Florida Panthers made one of the biggest splashes at the NHL trade deadline earlier this week when the club acquired winger Claude Giroux from the Philadelphia Flyers in a blockbuster move.

Despite being 34 years old, Giroux is still one of the sport’s most-gifted playmakers and will slot in on Florida’s top line alongside Aleksandar Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe. Giroux joins a Panthers team that already leads the league in goals (252) and goals-per-game (4.1) and could be an asset for a power-play unit that ranks 10th with a 23.7 percent success rate.

During the 2021-22 season with the Flyers, Giroux still managed to score 18 goals and record 24 assists on a team that really struggled. Giroux still displayed the spectacular vision that has made him a seven-time All-Star and one of the most dangerous players in the league.

Giroux is the type of addition that could vault the Panthers into the stratosphere and could result in them hoisting the Stanley Cup in June. Obviously, Florida already had a lethal offense that featured talented goal scorers like Jonathan Huberdeau, Barkov, Sam Reinhart, and Anthony Duclair, so they were going to be a force in the Eastern Conference once the postseason rolled around before the trade.

Still, it’s downright impressive that the Panthers were able to add Giroux and only had to giving up top prospect Owen Tippett in order to do so. Now Florida has to be considered one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup after Giroux along with defensemen Ben Chiarot and Robert Hagg.

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The Vezina Trophy race is about as heavily contested as the NHL has seen in quite some time. Four different goaltenders are separated by less than a tenth of a goal when it comes to goals-against-average and among them is New York Rangers netminder Igor Shesterkin.

During the 2019-20 season as a rookie, Shesterkin served as the backup to Rangers legend Henrik Lundqvist and held his own with a 10-2-0 record to go along with a 2.52 goals-against-average. The Rangers goaltender followed it up with a solid season last year that saw him go 16-14-3 in his first campaign as the starter.

Shesterkin has really taken a huge leap this season and established himself as one of the league’s premier goaltenders. In 42 games, Shesterkin has put together a 30-9-3 record and leads the league in save percentage (.936) while having the fourth-best goals-against-average (2.14).

Shesterkin has a few rough starts this month, but he’s surrendered two goals or fewer in two of his last three games. One of Shesterkin’s strongest performances of the 2021-22 season came last Saturday when he turned aside 28 of the 29 shots that he faced in a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Rangers’ success has a lot to do with the play of Shesterkin, who also deserves to be in the MVP conversation. New York averages 3.0 goals-per-game (15th in the NHL), so the offense isn’t a juggernaut. Still, Shesterkin has managed to produce stellar start after stellar start and he’ll be the key to the team’s success when the playoffs begin.

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When the New Jersey Devils won the NHL Draft Lottery back in 2019, they won the right to select star center Jack Hughes, who was viewed as a franchise-altering player at the time. Injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic have slowed down his progress, but Hughes is finally blossoming into the talent that many saw when he went No. 1 overall three years ago.

Hughes began the 2021-22 season with a truly sensational performance in which he scored a game-winning goal against the Chicago Blackhawks. After feeling on top of the world, a harsh reality was delivered to Hughes when he suffered a shoulder injury in the very next game. Hughes ended up missing over a month as he recovered from the injury, but still managed to receive an eight-year, $ 64 million contract extension from the Devils.

When he’s healthy, the Devils recognized how special a player Hughes is and he’s finally getting a chance to showcase that. Hughes has enjoyed the best month of the season as he’s scored five goals and dished out seven assists.

Hughes has recorded a point in four of his last five games, including a two-goal performance against the rival New York Rangers in a 7-4 win on Tuesday. Even at just 20 years old, Hughes is as dangerous as any player in open ice.

With top of that, Hughes possesses one of the most lethal backhanded shots that you’ll see, which he showcased against the Rangers.

Even in just 44 games this season, Hughes already has a set a new career-high in points (50) and there’s still a chunk of the season to go. Hughes is finally getting the opportunity to show just how talented he is and the Devils are reaping the benefits.

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