Bruins’ Brad Marchand has morphed into big-time star, Tampa a team on the rise

Takeaways: A weekly spin around the NHL

Perhaps we should have seen this coming with Brad Marchand.

The 28-year-old was among the brightest of stars at the World Cup of Hockey last fall, scoring five times in six games, including the tournament-clincher for Team Canada in the final against Europe.

Only Sidney Crosby finished with more points.

Afterward head coach Mike Babcock said Marchand was still a “pest” at heart, but added: “He keeps playing good, and if they keep the Olympics alive (in 2018), he’ll have a chance there.”

Marchand hasn’t just kept “playing good” but taken his game to a whole different level for the Boston Bruins, morphing into one of the league’s biggest stars (and an increasing lock for the 2018 Olympic team should NHL players attend).

Marchand enters Monday’s action tied for fourth in the Art Ross trophy race, behind only Connor McDavid, Patrick Kane and Crosby. He’s already blown past career-highs in assists and points and has an outside shot of eclipsing last year’s career-best 37 goals.

The Halifax product, who scored in four straight games last week, is on pace for 85 points — which would be a 24-point improvement over last season.

Marchand and linemate Patrice Bergeron rank 1-2 among NHL forwards in puck possession this season, the only two hovering above 60 per cent. Underlying numbers point to the scrappy 181-pound puck hound as the primary driver of that action.

Finally garnering first-unit power play opportunities this season, Marchand has already doubled his previous career-high for power-play points and remains one of the league’s most effective penalty killers. His three shorthanded goals and five shorthanded points are tied for second overall heading into a Monday divisional clash with Ottawa.

He won’t win it, but Marchand has earned at least consideration for the Hart trophy, an improbable reality for a player picked 71st overall at the 2006 draft.

MONTREAL’S NEW TOP PAIR

Shortly after replacing Michel Therrien as head coach last month, Claude Julien broke up the Habs top pair of Shea Weber and Alexei Emelin and quickly installed 38-year-old Andrei Markov with Weber. Montreal, perhaps not surprisingly, has gotten a bump offensively with Markov in the role and while also dropping off a touch defensively.

Here’s a look at how Weber has fared, in terms of five-on-five puck possession, with each of his three defensive partners this season:

Weber/Emelin (851 minutes): 50.8 per cent

Weber/Nathan Beaulieu (166 minutes): 48.1 per cent

Weber/Markov (103 minutes): 52.5 per cent

RETURN FROM INJURY

The Florida Panthers were playing a pre-season game in West Point, N.Y. when the skate of then-Devils centre Sergey Kalinin came down just above the left ankle of Jonathan Huberdeau. The resulting Achilles tendon injury forced the now-23-year-old to miss the first 51 games this season, but he returned at the beginning of February and hasn’t missed a beat with five goals and 12 points in 13 games.

FUELLING TAMPA’S RISE

Tampa sold their No. 1 goaltender (Ben Bishop), a pair of forwards (Valtteri Filppula and Brian Boyle) and a briefly-acquired defenceman (Mark Streit) at the trade deadline for future cap space and expansion draft freedom. They might be able to have their cake and eat it too, surging their way back into playoff contention in recent weeks.

The Lightning have ripped off an 8-2-2 run, fuelled by terrific goaltending from Bishop and now Andrei Vasilevskiy, superb special teams and an incredible surge from Nikita Kucherov as well as Victor Hedman. Kucherov, in particular, has scored nine goals and 18 points during the hot streak.

The 23-year-old is on the verge of setting new career-highs for goals, assists, points and power-play points.

YOUNG STARS AND FACEOFFS

From Connor McDavid to Auston Matthews to Mark Scheifele, young centres typically struggle in the faceoff circle. One notable exception: Calgary Flames pivot Sean Monahan. The 22-year-old has won 52.9 per cent of his draws this season, a bump from the 51 per cent success rate of last season and 49.3 per cent of his rookie year.

A look at how a few other notable young stars have fared:

McDavid: 43.6 per cent

Matthews: 46.4 per cent

Scheifele: 43.9 per cent

Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press

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