It was the best of Martin Hanzal. Five goals and 11 points in 12 games to begin the 2013-14 season, the best start of his career.
It was the worst of Martin Hanzal. Seven minor penalties, most occurring in the offensive zone, and an illegal hit to the head of Edmonton Oilers defenseman Jeff Petry earning a two-game suspension.
The 6' 6" center is equal parts impressive and frustrating this season. He's scored at least one point in all but three games and is winning 51.9 percent of his face-offs. Hanzal is on pace to set career-highs in goals, assists, points, hits and shots on goal. He is also on pace to set a career-high in penalty minutes.
Hanzal's penchant for unnecessary offensive zone penalties draws the ire of Phoenix Coyotes fans, especially when their team is on the power play. These penalties do not prevent goals or scoring chances, but are often taken in an effort to keep the puck in the zone.
For a player unable to stay on the ice with injury problems in recent years (48 games missed since 2010-11 season), missing time due to a suspension is equally as harmful to his team.
In the NHL's explanation video, Brian Leetch (former player and current member of NHL's player safety department) indicated Hanzal left his feet and made significant contact to the head of Petry. An illegal charge escalated into suspension because of the head contact and Hanzal's prior suspension history (one-game suspension in 2012 for boarding).
Hanzal's skills are undeniable. He is a big, strong presence in front of the net who plays hard minutes against the toughest competition on the Coyotes, while starting in the defensive zone more than the offensive zone. He flashes offensive potential at even-strength and in front of the net on the power play.
"He plays in all situations, he plays a big, hard game," Coach Dave Tippett said. "He's gone to the net [to screen the goaltender] on the power play as well as I've ever seen him do."
It has taken some time for the Czech-native to live up to the expectations of a mid-first round draft pick. Known for his two-way game, Hanzal's defensive game improved faster than his offensive potential.
After winning only a combined 47 percent of his face-offs in his rookie and sophomore seasons, Hanzal has won better than 50 percent since.
Offensively, Hanzal has remained mostly stagnant. After scoring 35 points his rookie year, the 26-year-old is yet to eclipse that point total. Injury and inconsistency prevented Hanzal from reaching his full potential, potential that is evident more than ever with his hot start this season.
With 15 percent of the season in the books, Hanzal is nearly half-way to his goal and point totals from last season when he played 39 games. If he continues winning face-offs at his current rate, it will be good for the second best percentage in his career.
Unfortunately, there is always the other side of the coin. He is on pace for a career-high 130 penalty minutes and will be sitting out two games, suspended for the second time in his career.
Phoenix is off to its best start in years (7-3-2) in no small part due to Hanzal's play. But with his injury history and multiple suspensions on his record, Hanzal is always one hit away from sitting out.