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With January over, the NHL is likely to hand out its player of the month awards. You’d think that the Patrick Marleau-Joe Thornton tandem would go toe-to-toe for the forward honors - and they’re certainly going to be in the running, particularly since the San Jose Sharks won again on Thursday, making them undefeated in seven games - yet another good fantasy contributor has made a huge leap into the mix: Thomas Vanek.
The Austrian sniper already carried a very strong 2013 campaign into Thursday, as he hasn’t failed to score a point all season long, but he really erupted in the last day of January. Vanek notched a hat trick and two assists in 19:21 ice time, adding a +4 rating for good measure. Impressively, this wasn't his only five-point game of the season; he had two goals and three assists against the Philadelphia Flyers to open things up on Jan. 20.
Time for that all-important fantasy question: which signs point to and against him succeeding?
Shots on goal are a great quick reference resource to gauge just how lucky a red-hot player might be. Chances are, that guy is still playing a little or way over his head, but this simple measure is still pretty helpful.
In the case of Vanek, he’s really jam-packed chances in the six games he’s played (it’s astounding to note that he matches Thornton and Marleau in one fewer contest). The winger has 28 shots on goal, putting him just two short from five per game.
Looking at his career history, his eight penalty minutes shouldn’t be all that eyebrow-raising, either. He's been a quietly decent producer in that area periodically in his career, collecting 52 last season, 72 and 64 in other ones and 40 three other times. That's not the kind of PIM production to make him a power forward, but it's a nice perk for a guy who also tends to get well over 200 SOG per typical campaign.
Expecting such prolific SOG is unrealistic, but team needs might actually allow him to jump from his old rate of close to three SOG per game to closer to four for a simple reason: Buffalo really needs his production. Vanek and Jason Pominville (12 points in seven games) are really carrying the offense so far - something that might prompt Vanek to push for goals (and thus rack up SOG).
THE LONG VIEW
Naturally, expecting a 2.5 point-per-game pace to continue isn’t realistic, and it’s not in keeping with his career pace. He’s scored at .835 points per game in his career; if that pattern holds, he’d get 34 more points, finishing with a still-impressive 49 for 2013.
Not shockingly, his shooting percentage is a little high, although not outrageous for a guy who has a goal per game so early. He's connecting on 21.4 percent of his shots, up considerably from his 15.3 career rate and above his career-high of 19.
Those numbers are likely to go down, but he could very well top his best statistical season in 2006-07 (at least pace wise), when he scored 43 goals and 41 assists for 84 points in 82 games. (Incredibly, he had a +47 rating that year.)
A look around the league on a busy Thursday after the jump …