The NHL named it’s Three Stars of the Month for December today, honoring Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask as the First Star, Islanders surprise scorer Josh Bailey as the Second Star, and Tampa Bay dynamo Nikita Kucherov as the Third Star. All three were immensely successful this month and bear watching as the season continues.
The Bruins were on fire in December, posting a 10-2-2 record and are currently on an eight-game streak without a loss. After early season struggles, Rask was a major part of that success, recording an impeccable .955 save percentage and 1.22 goals against average. Rask allowed more than two goals only once in his eleven appearances and posted two shutouts one either end of December. After that performance, Rask has joined some of the league’s best goalies this season with a top-five GAA and top-ten SV%. The 2014 Vezina winner and the holder of the best career save percentage in NHL history (.923), Rask looked more like his elite self this past month than he has in two years.
Meanwhile, there’s no similar history that could have predicted this surge from Bailey. The long-time Islander had a career-high 56 points last season, but is already only six points away from matching it in 2017-18 and on pace for over 100 points. Bailey’s 50 points trails only Kucherov in the NHL and his 38 assists are tops in the league, feeding his talented linemates John Tavares and Anders Lee. In December alone, Bailey led the league with 22 points, including seven multi-point games and an 11-game point streak. Bailey’s breakout has been great for the Isles, but will be even better for the 28-year-old who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Kucherov’s nod is less of a surprise; the Lightning sniper is well-known as one of the league’s best players. Kucherov has an NHL-best 25 goals and 56 points already this season. After posting a career high 85 points in 2016-17, he’ll easily leave that mark in the dust and could flirt with 120 points this year. The early Hart favorite found the score sheet in all but one contest in December as the Bolts went 11-2-0 and continued to dominate the league. The ceiling is the roof for the uber-talented Russian forward and his Tampa Bay teammates this season.
- Another player to keep an eye on in the coming months is Minnesota Wild prospect and recently-named member of the U.S. Olympic team Jordan Greenway. As ESPN’s Emily Kaplan writes today, when Greenway suits up in Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, he will do so as the first ever African-American on the U.S. men’s hockey team. In the 98-year history of the men’s hockey tournament, Greenway is the first to don the red, white, and blue – a major step for the inclusiveness of the game. Of course, Jarome Iginla played for Canada in multiple Olympic Games and P.K. Subban made an appearance as well, but no African-American has had the same opportunity for the U.S.A. The big Boston University forward has represented the U.S. on the international stage before at several junior tournaments, but the Olympics are a whole other level. This could just be the beginning for the talented winger as well. By all accounts, Dustin Byfuglien is the best American-born African American in NHL history, with former grinder Mike Grier likely next in line and a ways behind. By the end of his promising pro career, Greenway could be known as the best American-born African-American in NHL history. He gets his start on the big stage in a matter of weeks.
- One last guy to keep an eye out for is young Calgary Flames keeper Tyler Parsons. The Flames’ recent acquisition of New Jersey Devils defenseman Dalton Prout was not-so-secretly more about ridding themselves of goalie Eddie Lack as it was bringing in an asset. Having solved their logjam in net, Calgary was finally able to promote their 2016 second-round pick from the AHL today, per the ECHL transactions page. The 20-year-old Parsons has been buried since turning pro late last season after leading the United States to a World Junior Championship title. Parsons’ path to the NHL is not without roadblocks remaining though; he still has to prove that he is the heir apparent to veteran Mike Smith by outperforming current big-league backup David Rittich and AHL competition Jon Gillies and Mason McDonald, all of whom are 25 or younger and very well regarded.