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Eye On Hockey top players for January

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer

More NHL: Scores | Standings | Odds | Fight-O-Meter | League Leaders | Rumors

We're now into the February portion of the NHL schedule, so let's take a look back at some of the best players from the month of January -- however brief it may have been.

It's actually pretty easy to pick out the three best players of the month.

No. 3: Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators

The Ottawa Senators opened up the season with wins in five of their first seven games (and only one loss in regulation), and goaltender Craig Anderson has been sensational between the pipes. In his six starts, he has posted a league-best .967 save percentage.

He's allowed more than one goal just once (he gave up two in a 3-2 win against the Washington Capitals) and had a shutout. He hasn't really gone up against any of the NHL's offensive superpowers yet (with the exception of one game, a shootout loss to Pittsburgh), but he's been great for the Senators.

Throughout his career with Florida, Colorado and Ottawa, he's been a steady league average goaltender (and given the current state of goaltending in the NHL, that's not always a bad thing) and is a fine bargain in net for the Senators, counting $3 million against the cap through the end of the 2014-15 season.

No. 2: Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks

So it only took a historically-fast start for people to actually give San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau some respect and attention for being the great player he is.

He has a league-leading nine goals (to go with five assists) for the unbeaten Sharks through their first seven games, and he is part of what's been the best line in the NHL along with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. They're steamrolling over teams right now.

The only problem for Marleau is that once he hits the inevitable slump (and it will happen, because nobody scores at this pace for an extended period of time) he will probably once again be dogged by criticisms of being "unclutch" or "streaky" or whatever else it is that's consistently held against him.

Even when he hasn't been scoring for the Sharks, he's been a consistent threat, especially on Thursday night in their 3-2 shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers.

No. 1: Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres

As I mentioned Thursday night, Thomas Vanek's start has been overlooked due to the run Marleau is on. That doesn't mean Vanek has been any less impressive. When you consider he's not playing with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski it might even be better.

He also hasn't been as reliant on the power play as Marleau has, with nine of his points coming at even-strength. (Only five of Marleau's 14 points have come at even-strength).

Vanek has a point in every game he's played in this season and already has two five-point games in the first two weeks. The only NHL player to have more than one all of last season was Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin. (He had four of them.)

He's leading the NHL in points with 15, and he's done it in just six games.

Top rookie: Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

My preseason Calder pick and he hasn't done anything to change my mind. (Yes, I'm aware that's only been two weeks).

The Blues are sheltering him a bit by starting him in the offensive zone nearly 80 percent of the time (via behindthenet.ca), but he's also going up against some tough competition and is scoring at an incredible pace (even if it's an unsustainable one) while his line of Andy MacDonald and Alex Steen dominates the puck.

Top defenseman: Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues

Sticking with the Blues, it's hard not to be impressed with the play of their top defenseman, Alex Pietrangelo.

Only three defensemen in the NHL have faced tougher competition than Pietrangelo this season at even-strength, and he has still managed to put up five of his eight points during five-on-five play. He plays in all situations for the Blues and is logging over 25 minutes of ice-time per night.

No other defenseman on the Blues is playing more than 21.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @Agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook. Also, subscribe to our YouTube Channel.

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