In a season marked by dazzling rookies (the Lightning's Brad Richards and the Senators' Martin Havlat, to name two) and resurgent old-timers (most notably the Penguins' Mario Lemieux and the Stars' Brett Hull), a handful of others, who are neither rookies nor thirty-somethings, have raised their games as well. Here are five players who have taken strides towards stardom, with their stats through Sunday.
Marian Hossa, 22, Senators (18 goals, 29 assists). In third season, he has diversified his dangerous offensive arsenal and developed a tough defensive game.
Alexei Kovalev, 27, Penguins (21 goals, 27 assists). Dazzling puckhandler has emerged as a consistent finisher. With all eyes on Lemieux, Kovalev could be even more productive in the second half.
Patrick Marleau, 21, Sharks (17 goals, 10 assists). Second pick of 1997 draft leads San Jose in goals and has become such an accomplished two-way performer that he has played on penalty-killing unit.
Fredrik Modin, 26, Lightning (21 goals, 14 assists). Speedy former Maple Leaf with a booming shot has become, along with Richards, half of unexpectedly dynamic duo on Tampa Bay's No. 2 line.
Steve Sullivan, 26, Blackhawks (19 goals, 23 assists). Plucked off waivers last season, 5'9", 160-pound speedster has been bright light during Chicago's dreary season.