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NHL Star Power Index: Elias Pettersson pacing league-leading Canucks, Sam Reinhart thriving in contract year

Welcome to the NHL Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players who are controlling substantial buzz around the league. When a player is included on this list it may not be a good thing — it means that they are capturing a large amount of the hockey world’s attention.

These players are in no particular order when it comes to the amount of buzz that they’re creating. We’ll revisit the Star Power Index every week throughout the regular season.

The Vancouver Canucks have taken the NHL by storm this season, and Elias Pettersson continues to spearhead that effort.

Fresh off of being named to the 2024 NHL All-Star Game, Pettersson has been thriving of late. The Canucks star has registered three goals and two assists in his last three games, while also scoring a goal in five of his last six contests.

His most impressive performance came in a 4-3 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 11, when he racked up two goals and two assists. Pettersson also scored the game-winning goal in overtime, marking the fourth consecutive overtime contest in which he netted the game-winning tally.

It marked Pettersson’s 10th career four-point performance, just one shy of the franchise record (11) set by Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden. Pettersson is currently tied with the likes of Alexander Mogilny, Henrik Sedin and Petri Skriko with 10 four-point games.

Pettersson really had a flair for the dramatic when he recorded his game-winning goal against the Penguins.

With just under two minutes remaining in the overtime period, the Canucks thwarted a potential Penguins scoring chance, and defenseman Filip Hronek delivered a tremendous outlet pass to Pettersson. Pettersson then got behind the defense and used his speed to squeak the puck past Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry for the game-winning goal despite Sidney Crosby attempting to chase him down.

While his overtime game-winner was very impressive, Pettersson’s opening period was just as sensational. Pettersson registered a goal and two assists in the first 20 minutes and helped the Canucks race out to a 3-1 lead. 

Just 5:44 into the contest, Pettersson showcased his tremendous playmaking ability when he set up a Brock Boeser goal. Pettersson brought the puck into the offensive zone and performed a spectacular move to get away from Penguins forward Noel Acciari. Pettersson then found a cutting Boeser in front and Pettersson put the puck right on Boeser’s stick for an easy tap-in goal.

Pettersson certainly is deserving of his fourth All-Star Game appearance given the high level at which he’s playing. If Pettersson continues to play as an elite center, it’s hard not to think the Canucks could make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Sam Reinhart has certainly picked the best time to have a career season.

The Florida Panthers star is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, but he is definitely raising his price tag with the sensational start he’s gotten off to. Reinhart currently has 33 goals and 23 assists, and he’s currently riding a eight-game point streak.

Reinhart is on pace for 105 points (61 goals, 44 assists) in 2023-24, which would by far be the highest point total of his professional career. The Panthers star’s previous career high point came during the 2021-22 campaign, when he recorded 82 points (33 goals, 49 assists) in his first season in South Florida.

Reinhart has been on fire over the last the month. The Panthers center has a seven-game goal streak, inclduing a hat trick performance against the Colorado Avalanche on Jan. 6.

The Panthers star recently recorded a goal in a 5-4 overtime loss at the hands of Anaheim Ducks on Monday. 

Florida forced a turnover in its own zone at the 17:35 mark of the opening period, and it was off to the races. Florida defenseman Niko Mikkola carried the puck all the way into the offensive zone and benefitted from Reinhart joining the rush. Mikkola patiently waited for his opportunity and slid the puck over to a wide-open Reinhart for a backhanded tap-in goal in front.

What made the tally even more impressive was the fact that the Panthers were shorthanded at the time.

Reinhart has been a constant source of offensive production throughout the 2023-24 season. In fact, the 28-year-old currently leads the team in points (55) and goals (32), while ranking third in assists (23) behind only Aleksander Barkov (35) and Matthew Tkacuk (30). 

The Panthers have suffered a few consecutive losses, but were on a nine-game winning streak prior to that. Considering how lethal Reinhart has been this season, Florida should get back into the win column soon, and it should be one of the top playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.

When it comes to the elite defensemen across the NHL in 2023-24, a great deal of the conversation has centered around Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes and Colorado Avalanche blue-liner Cale Makar. However, Evan Bouchard certainly has forced his way into that conversation this season.

Bouchard ranks fourth among NHL defensemen in points (42) as he’s registered 11 goals and 31 assists in 40 games this season. The Oilers defenseman has really helped stabilize the team’s top two defensive pairings, and he has been among the most productive offensive-minded defensemen in the entire NHL.

What Bouchard has done up to this point is quite sensational considering he is already just two points from matching his career-best point total, which he set when he recorded 43 points (12 goals, 31 assists) during the 2021-22 season. Bouchard is currently on pace to tally 86 points (22 goals, 64 assists) when the dust settles on the 2023-24 campaign.

Bouchard racked up two goals and an assist over his last two games to help extend the Oilers’ winning streak to a mind-boggling 11 consecutive games. 

In Tuesday’s 4-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Bouchard recorded a goal and an assist. The veteran blue-liner helped get the Oilers on the board in that contest.

At the 15:41 mark of the second period, the Oilers found themselves trailing the Maple Leafs 2-0 after Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly scored a pair of goals. Fellow defenseman Mattias Ekholm gave the puck off to Bouchard, and Bouchard displayed some tremendous ice vision. Bouchard surveyed the defense and slid the puck to Leon Draisaitl, who squeaked the puck past Maple Leafs goaltender Martin Jones from an odd angle.

Bouchard really has a knack for setting up his teammates. In fact, the Oilers defenseman is second on the team in assists behind only Connor McDavid (42).

If he can continue to be productive on both ends of the ice, it’s quite possible Bouchard could play himself into the Norris Trophy conversation this season.

It’s been an up-and-down start to Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen’s career, but the Buffalo Sabres netminder has really been thriving of late.

Luukkonen has recorded a respectable 2.77 goals-against-average during the 2023-24 season, but he really has turned it on lately. The Sabres goaltender has a 3-1-0 record to go along with a 1.26 goals-against-average and a .958 save percentage in four start during the month of January.

The 24-year-old has yielded one goal or less in three of those four starts. Ironically enough, Luukkonen’s only defeat came Saturday, when the Sabres dropped a 1-0 decision to the Vancouver Canucks in which he allowed just one goal.

In his most recent start, Luukkonen tallied a 28-save shutout in a 3-0 win against the San Jose Sharks. Luukkonen has also allowed three or fewer goals in each of his last five outings after a rough stretch in December in which he allowed five goals on three different occasions. 

Luukkonen has been in an evenly-split timeshare with Devon Levi throughout the 2023-24 campaign. While Levi showed some promise late last season, he hasn’t been able to take the reigns as he’s recorded a 3.32 goals-against-average in 19 starts. 

Considering how well he’s been playing, Luukkonen has seized control of the crease and has been the superior option so far. If this level of play continues, perhaps the Sabres will have even more confidence in Luukkonen being their goaltender of the future.

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