Brad Marchand flying high thanks to renewed dedication, World Cup play and -- Sidney Crosby?

Brad Marchand does a good job tuning out the noise before games. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

BOSTON -- With the exception of those closest to him, few in the hockey world believed Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand would ever be among the league's elite scorers.

But with him being among the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby and the Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid, most would wonder how Marchand is producing the way he has this season. After Tuesday's games, he was third in the league with 37 goals, as Crosby led the league with 42. Marchand is fifth in points with 81, eight behind McDavid. He has set or is on pace for career highs in goals, assists, points, power-play goals and winning goals.

Outside of Boston, most fans despise the way Marchand plays, considering him a dirty player. The list of his suspensions and fines is long.

But when he put aside that style, the hockey world witnessed his true ability with Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey in September. Playing on a line with Crosby and Bruins teammate Patrice Bergeron, Marchand helped Canada win the championship. And he has carried that momentum into the season.

"I don't think it's come as a surprise, just based on how well he played at the World Cup," said Tampa Bay Lightning captain and Team Canada forward Steven Stamkos. "Confidence is a thing that's tricky in this league, and when you have it and when you play the way he did in the World Cup -- and I know he signed his [contract] extension then, too, and that gives you more confidence -- he hasn't let his foot off the gas. It's been fun to watch."

Marchand signed an eight-year, $49 million extension with the Bruins before the World Cup finals. It's common for players to get too comfortable after signing a big contract, but Marchand instead has become a better player. He's always competing. He wins puck battles and his offensive numbers are not a fluke.

Stamkos first saw Marchand's talent while they were teammates for gold-medal-winning Canada during the World Junior Championships in 2007 and 2008.

"[H]e's found a way to obviously have a great mix of ... where he's still the pest that he wants to be on the ice, but he's also one of the best players in the league," Stamkos said. "If I'm Boston, I want him on the ice as much as possible [and not in the penalty box], and he's realized that. He's just a guy that when you're playing against him, you hate him, and when he's on your team, you love him. That's the type of player he is. You've seen the goal-scoring and the point-producing, and that's a testament to him feeling comfortable and very confident in his abilities."

It's no coincidence Marchand took his game to a new level after working out with Crosby and Bergeron last summer in preparation for the World Cup. But that's not the sole reason.

"I wouldn't put all the credit towards that because [Marchand] deserves a lot of credit on his own," said former Bruins coach and current Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien. "I've always found with Marchy -- and what people would never see -- is every time he would come to a game, he was already dialed in. He's one of those guys that, as much as he likes to clown around and have fun with the guys -- which is great for him and great for his teammates -- when it comes to game time, he shows up to the rink and he gets in his little bubble, he puts his headsets on, he'll do his stretches, he'll do his preparation, but he's in his own kind of zone. He's preparing mentally. He's not screwing around. He's really dialed in, and he's been doing that for quite a long time, and that's always impressed me.

"Working out with Bergy and Crosby put the cherry on top of the cake, but people don't realize because of all the other stuff that's come out from him, how good a pro he is. Not only is he a good pro, but he's become a real good leader. Guys respect him in that room, they really do. He can goof around with his teammates on practice days, or off days, or when it's time to goof around, but they also know when it's game time he doesn't goof around. He's all business."

Marchand and Crosby, both natives of Nova Scotia, often skate together during the offseason. But Marchand is taking credit for his own success.

"I've skated with him more the last few years, but it takes more than skating with a guy a few times to turn your game around," Marchand said. "It's the work and the progression you put in over the last 10 years that really makes the difference."

Marchand also credited his success to his development under Julien.

"We spent a lot of time together and I can say that a big part of it is definitely the way he coached and was willing to work with me over the years," Marchand said. "He was a big driving force in pushing me to be more of a player, to be more on the lines of Bergy than an agitator. That's something he talked to me about several times during every single season. Not every coach would have done that. Not every coach would have worked with me the way he did and put up with everything he had to put up with. A lot of coaches would have been content and left me on the third or fourth line and letting me play that role my whole career. But he thought I could be more and he pushed me to be more, so that means a lot."

It all means Marchand is in the Hart Trophy discussion.

"No one's driving his team harder," said Toronto Maple Leafs and Team Canada coach Mike Babcock. "Marchy's a great guy and he's a real good player, plays hard. He's competitive. He's all-in every day and he does a good job for his team."

Marchand, 28, has been in the NHL for eight seasons, and he's reached new levels with his skill, skating ability, hockey IQ, character and competitiveness. There's also no denying his intensity and reckless abandon.

"He's been a really good player for a long time," said Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson. "He pays a lot of attention to both ends of the ice, but obviously this year he's been really breaking out and getting his offensive ability that he's probably had for a number of years, but hasn't really found a way to translate it into his game every day.

"I met him at the All-Star Game, and he's a very dedicated guy to hockey. He's a really nice guy, and whether he plays harder and harder, or dirty, on the ice, I still think he cares a lot about the game, and cares a lot about his teammates and he cares about winning. He plays a hard game every night, and this year he's found a good balance in being able to play both ends of the ice and still generate a lot more offensively. Good for him."

No other player developed more during Julien's tenure in Boston than Marchand.

"[T]his guy has turned himself into one of the better players in the league," Julien said. "You don't accomplish that just because you have coaches to help you out -- a lot of it has to come from within. And that's where he deserves a lot of credit for how he's handled himself. No doubt he's been good at listening to advice, and he was always a very coachable player and he still is to this day. He listens and he wants to get better. He's not satisfied with where he is."

Senators coach Guy Boucher first saw Marchand play in junior hockey.

"He was a pest then and he's still a pest, but he's a really good player," he said. "When you look at a guy like that, that height [5-foot-9], I always have a lot of respect for those guys. I've coached Marty St. Louis, who was a smaller guy, and Brad. You can't help but respect what those guys have done with their size, and it's inspiring for young kids to be able to dream when they're not big and 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3. He's evolved. He's matured through his career. Right now he's benefiting from all the work and the experience that he's gotten over the years, whether it's here or with Hockey Canada.

"Am I surprised he's doing so well in the NHL? If you would have asked me 10 years ago if he would do this well, maybe. But when you follow his career right now, it's been [a] steady increase, steady improvement, and his steadiness is really shining now."