Before the Arizona Coyotes embarked on their 2015-16 campaign, the question of who would lead the team in points was up in the air.
Some thought Oliver Ekman-Larsson would build off of his 23 goal season last year. Others thought Mikkel Boedker would flourish in a full season free from injury. Still others believed talented phenoms like Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, or even Dylan Strome might lead the way.
19 games into the season, and Arizona's points leader is none of those players. Instead, it's Martin Hanzal, who has 18 points in 17 games played. That ties him for 13th in the NHL in points alongside stars like Joe Pavelski, Daniel Sedin, and Patrice Bergeron.
If you ask him what's making him successful this year, Hanzal is going to tell you it's the play of his teammates, as he told NHL Live earlier this month:
And to some degree, he's correct. Hanzal has spent more time at 5v5 with Anthony Duclair and Tobias Rieder than any other forwards. Duclair and Rieder have combined for six goals while on the ice with Hanzal at 5v5 this year. In 37 games last season, his two most common linemates - Martin Erat and Sam Gagner - combined for seven goals when they were on the ice together.
Put simply, Hanzal's current linemates are scoring at almost twice the pace his linemates did last year. That translates into more assists, and more points as a whole.
But this season is validation for what statistics have said about Martin Hanzal for a long-time now; he is a criminally underrated center who stacks up extremely well compared to his peers league-wide:
For the Coyotes, Hanzal has posted a positive 5v5 score-adjusted Corsi percentage every season since 2008-09. If you want a primer on why score-adjusted metrics are worth looking into, this Broad Street Hockey piece from 2012 is a good explanation, but the gist of it is that teams that have large leads tend to "turtle" and allow more shot attempts, which can artificially inflate possession numbers like Corsi and Fenwick.
This year, Hanzal's score-adjusted Corsi at 5v5 is 51.4%, which is also 4.5% better than the rest of the Coyotes team as a whole. So when Hanzal is on the ice in situations where the game is on the line, Hanzal is pulling his weight and then some.
The knock on Martin Hanzal has always been his durability. And indeed, he is the first one to say he needs to play more often, as he told Craig Morgan before this season started:
"It's frustrating for me, too that I haven't played all 82 games," he said. "It's part of my job to take punishment. I'm a physical player and I'm trying to do my job as well as I can. Tip is counting on me every night. I want to make sure I'm not going to disappoint him."
Dave Tippett and the Coyotes do count on Martin Hanzal a lot. Up until now, he hasn't received the recognition he deserves for the work he's done. It is an unfair reality that it has taken the stupendous play of the Coyotes' young rookies to bring national attention to the job Hanzal has done in Arizona.
But now that the spotlight is here, Hanzal is making the most of his time in it. And as he continues to rack up assists and points as the year goes on, don't be surprised if the Coyotes rack up points in the standings right along with him.