The Jackets are fighting for a playoff spot – and just may be getting hot at the right time. Who's driving that? And who's hot league-wide right now? Let's take a look.
Artemi Panarin - Blue Jackets Winger
It’s still unbelievable that the Jackets got this guy for Brandon Saad.
That’s not a knock on Saad – a quality winger in his own right – but Artemi Panarin has been the Jackets’ best forward by a wide margin this season, and he’s playing his best hockey all season over the last few games. He ripped home a power play goal on Monday, courtesy of an equally ridiculous Seth Jones spinning backhand assist.
He also added an assist in that game, and has an active five-game point streak. His 52 points are 20 more than any other forward on the club this season (Oliver Bjorkstrand has 32), and if he can keep up his recent point-per-game pace – a tall task, sure – he’ll hit 70 points for the third consecutive year.
Eric Staal, Minnesota Center
What a turnaround Eric Staal has had over the last two seasons.
A consistent 70+ point guy for years, many onlookers may have thought Staal’s days as a top six center were done two years ago, when he registered just 39 points between the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers.
Well, the 33-year-old center is now looking like one of the league’s best bargains for the Minnesota Wild – and he had a big week. Over the last four games, Staal has a 7-4-11 line, with a four-point game and a five-point game in that span.
Staal signed a modest 3-year deal at $3.5 million per year, and all he’s done since then is produce. Last year, he put up an impressive 28 goals and 65 points, and he’s damn near beaten that with 19 games to go.
Currently sitting on 33 goals and 31 assists, Staal has more points (64) than games played (63) so far this year. If he can finish above a point per game, it will be the second time he’s done that over a full season (he also did it in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. The other time, he put up 100 points as a 21-year-old, leading the Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup.