The first three months of the season are in the books, and after a stretch of studs, duds and surprises, here are our players to watch in the second half:
1. Michael Hutchinson, Winnipeg Jets: I know, I know, the Jets are the least sexy team in the entire league, but they have to be pretty pleased with sitting in the thick of things in the Central Division at the halfway mark. A big part of that? Goaltending. And no, I could not have predicted I'd be typing that at season's start. The emergence of goaltender Michael Hutchinson has provided a huge boost to the Jets, the 24-year-old netminder bolstering a position that has been a sore spot for the team in recent seasons. The former Boston Bruins prospect is poised to usurp the starting position from Ondrej Pavelec after a strong first-half performance that has him leading the league in both goals-against average (1.88) and save percentage (.936). Whether or not he can sustain such a high level of play as the playoff race heats up likely will be a major factor in whether the Jets can remain in the top eight out West.
2. Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins: An underwhelming first half for one of the league's preeminent power forwards has drawn criticism from Bruins head coach Claude Julien and sparked trade rumors for Milan Lucic. He's currently making $6 million a year on a deal that runs through 2016, though his production is not even close to commensurate with his earnings. Lucic, whose commanding, hulking presence was once considered the gold standard among players looking to exhibit both brawn and bullishness, has just six goals and 18 points in 39 games this season. Considering the Bruins' tight salary-cap situation and playoff teams' perennial need to get tougher heading into the playoffs, is it so hard to imagine he'll get moved? Doing so might mess with the dynamic inside the Bruins' dressing room, but this already appears to be a different -- and disappointing -- team compared to that from previous seasons.
3. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings: Drew Doughty's prowess is well documented. The young defenseman snagged two Olympic gold medals and two Stanley Cup championships before the age of 24, but how will he hold up health-wise? This seems to be an important question to ask halfway through this season, with the 25-year-old blueliner averaging almost 30 minutes a game while anchoring a depleted Kings defense that could be without suspended player Slava Voynov for the rest of the season. Doughty's minutes are up significantly from previous seasons and that should be a cause for concern for the Kings. Though he previously hovered around the 25-minute mark throughout the regular season, he is averaging 29:11 through 40 games. Could that take a toll come playoff time?
4. Andre Burakovsky, Washington Capitals: The burgeoning Capitals prospect has shown both flair and fizzle in the first few months of his NHL career as he has toggled between the press box and the Capitals' top line in recent weeks. But his recent performance playing wing alongside star forwards Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom might give coach Barry Trotz something to think about. On Sunday, Burakovsky notched the game winner in a 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers, adding flourish to his plum assignment -- a long-awaited promotion that Trotz had promised once the pandemonium surrounding the Winter Classic subsided. I'm not suggesting that Burakovsky makes a push for the Calder Trophy -- I still like rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad to take home the hardware -- but that's not to say the 19-year-old can't play an integral role in a resurgence should the Capitals continue to climb the Eastern Conference standings.
5. Martin Brodeur, St. Louis Blues: The crease is getting awfully crowded in St. Louis, which is why it is only fair to speculate whose jersey Martin Brodeur will wear over the next few months. Brodeur got his opportunity to test the waters as a free agent, signing with the Blues last month when No. 1 Brian Elliott went down with a knee injury. But with Elliott healthy and Jake Allen believed to be the future in the goaltending department, it appears that Brodeur is the odd man out. The 42-year-old goalie, who played more than two decades for the New Jersey Devils before cutting ties with the team this summer, can afford to be selective about whether he'd accept a trade to another team or whether he'd rather hang up his skates. And though logic might dictate the latter, it's hard to imagine Brodeur saying no if another playoff team with an injury came calling.
6. Matt Beleskey, Anaheim Ducks: Playing alongside Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf sure has its benefits. Just ask Matt Beleskey, who has become one of the Ducks' key contributors throughout what has been a remarkable run in the first half. The 26-year-old Beleskey, who has never scored more than 11 goals in a single NHL season, leads a loaded Ducks squad this season with 17 through 41 games. That puts the Windsor, Ontario, native among the likes of Evgeni Malkin and John Tavares in the goal-scoring race. And this breakout season could not come at a better time for the pending unrestricted free agent. In fact, the Ducks have already begun talks with Beleskey's camp in hopes of signing him to a contract extension, according to the Orange County Register. Beleskey can count on a significant raise from the $1.4 million he is currently making. Will he come to an agreement that keeps him in a Ducks jersey long-term? Or will he cash in on what could be a huge payday as a free agent this summer?
7. Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey Devils" Jaromir Jagr is no spring chicken, but even at age 42, he remains one of the most thrilling, creative players to watch in the twilight of his career. Just this past weekend, Jagr scored three goals against his former Philadelphia Flyers team to become the oldest player ever in the NHL to record a hat trick. Leading the Devils in scoring and showing no signs of slowing down, Jagr is primed to break even more records as he continues an illustrious career. With 714 career goals, Jagr is only three goals shy of Phil Esposito for fifth on the NHL's all-time scoring list. There's little doubt he'll be able to pass that mark, but the real question is whether he'll do it in a Devils sweater. The skilled veteran has told reporters recently that he'd be open to a trade if that was something Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello wanted to explore, and with New Jersey floundering at the bottom of the league standings and no hopes of salvaging its season, Jagr could be dealt sooner than later.