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Top 5 Surprises of the 2021-22 Season So Far

As we head towards the second half of this current campaign, let's take a look at the players whose strong play has taken us off-guard thus far.

Andrew Mangiapane

A new NHL season brings with it a fresh batch of disappointments and surprises. 

2021-22 has been no different. 

So, as we head towards the second half of this current campaign, let's take a look at the players whose strong play has taken us off-guard thus far. 

5. Vladimir Tarasenko is Still Pretty Darn Good 

Breaking News: Good player who struggled due to serious injuries becomes good again when healthy. 

Shocker!

Look, I know hindsight is 20/20, and we have to judge all front office moves in context. But, c'mon. If you're the Seattle Kraken, how can you not look at what Vladimir Taraskenko is doing this season and kick yourself for not picking him -- FOR FREE, might I add -- in the expansion draft? 

Playing with two working shoulders for the first time in over two years, Tarasenko has slid right back into his old, pre-injury self, cruising into the winter break with 12 goals and 29 points in 31 games while once again looking like one of the league's premier outside scoring threats. That stat line is good enough to give Tarasenko the team-lead in scoring, as well, with the 30-year-old sitting atop the Blues leaderboards in both points and goals mere months after the organization tried to pawn him off to anyone who would take him. 

The funniest part, however, is that for a player whose contract was seen as a boat anchor in trade discussions, Tarasenko is now a sneaky little bargain from a cap perspective. The guy is in the middle of his prime and scoring at a 30-goal pace while flirting with a point-per-game, for good measure. Players like that usually rake in a tad more than the $7.5 million Tarasenko is set to earn both this year, and next, on the open market.

It's amazing what a clean bill of health will do to a guy whose best days were seemingly behind him.

4. Evan Rodrigues is Unstoppable 

When the hockey media machine was coming up with ways in which the Penguins could weather absences from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to start the year, Evan Rodrigues' name came up in those discussions precisely zero times. 

This was a replacement-level player up until a few months ago, a fourth-liner playing for league minimum who was happy to just have a lineup spot each night. 

Not anymore. 

We're only 30 games into the 2021-22 season and Rodrigues has already set a new career-high in goals with 10. He's chipped in 23 points, as well, landing him second in team scoring while allowing the Penguins to stay afloat in a tight Metro Division. 

Normally, this would have all the signs of a one-year wonder carried by inflated shooting luck. But Rodrigues' 10.1 percent shooting percentage is actually lower than the 10.8 he's averaged in parts of three seasons with the Penguins. Other than an extra two minutes in average ice time, there aren't a ton of metrics to suggest that Rodrigues' success is fuelled by deceptive factors. 

He's just good now. And it couldn't have come at a better time. 

3. Sergei Bobrovsky is a Top-tier Goaltender Again 

It's almost like Sergei Bobrovsky just decided to be good again. I've never seen a player go from being one of the best at his position to one of the worst for two straight years, and then, suddenly, right back to one of the best again. It defies expectation. And yet, here we are. 

Once thought of as the Achilles heel to the Panthers' future success, Bobrovsky is now perhaps the x-factor that pushes the team over the edge, as the 33-year-old sits with a .917 save percentage through 19 appearances this season along with 12 wins and 3.1 goals-saved-above-average. 

Bobrovsky has been so good, in fact, that he's made Spencer Knight, perhaps the game's best goaltending prospect, redundant on his own team, therein forcing the Panthers to send their prized puck-stopper down to the AHL in order to find him some games. 

Florida's net is Bobrovsky's. And after losing it in dramatic fashion shortly after arriving in the Sunshine State, the two-time Vezina winner has wrestled it back and doesn't look like he'll let it go. 

2. Contract Year Kadri is a Superstar

We all knew Nazem Kadri was good. But to be nipping at the heels of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaital, and Alex Ovechkin in the NHL's scoring race? Yeah, no one saw that coming. 

Kadri picked the perfect time become one of the game's elite producers, as the 31-year-old prepares to hit free agency at year's end for what may be his last chance to cash in on a big-money contract. 

And with 11 goals and 38 points in just 24 games thus far, someone is going to give it to him. 

Much like Rodrigues, there aren't really any metrics that suggest Kadri's recent ascent to the elite level of NHLers is the product of a burst of unsustainable luck. His shooting percentage is actually LOWER than that of his last 30-goal campaign in 2017-18, with Kadri shooting 14.7 percent and actually putting fewer pucks on net per-60-minutes than last season, while his 99.8 PDO falls below league average. 

Kadri is just really, really good this year. And it's going to make him an absurd amount of money. Good for him!

1. Andrew Mangiapane: Rocket Richard Contender?

Andrew Mangiapane has more even-strength goals this season than Leon Draisaital. His 11 are just one less than Connor McDavid's 12, too, albeit with Mangiapane averaging nearly seven fewer minutes in nightly ice time. 

That is ridiculous. 

Sure, Mangiapane has been a hockey hipster favourite for quite some time. But I don't think even his most ardent supporters foresaw him becoming a legitimate threat for the Rocket Richard Trophy seemingly overnight. And yet, that's exactly what Mangiapane has done, as his 17 goals sit just five back from the league lead over a quarter of the way into the season. 

The caveat, however, is that the 25-year-old has just three assists to go with his ludicrous scoring totals. But, who cares? Goals are where it's at, baby! If filling the net fills the seats, Mangiapane has sold a truckload of tickets this season and doesn't look ready to stop any time soon. 

When it comes to pure goal-scoring, few have done it better this season. And none have been more surprising. 

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