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Original Issue

The NHL

Ready to Assist
The Thrashers' unstoppable two-way threat, Marian Hossa, lifts the fortunes of teammates as well as those in need

MARIAN HOSSA learned one of the most important hockey lessons when he was 13. Incensed at his son's puck-hogging during a club game in Trencin, Slovakia, Marian's father, Frantisek, came down from the stands and yelled at him to play responsibly and use his teammates.

Marian got the message. Fourteen years later he's an elusive skater with a powerful shot from the right wing and one of the most aggressive backcheckers in the league. At week's end he led the NHL in goals (22) and was ranked second in points (42), carrying the Thrashers (18-8-5) to the top of the Southeast Division. "He has the speed of [Joe] Sakic and the battle of [Peter] Forsberg," says Atlanta coach Bob Hartley, who coached those star forwards in Colorado. "[You can't] find anybody who plays better at both ends of the rink."

Drafted 12th overall by the Senators in 1997, Hossa quickly developed into a 30-goal scorer. In August 2005 he signed a three-year, $18 million contract to stay in Ottawa, but hours later the cap-strapped Senators traded him and defenseman Greg de Vries to the Thrashers for forward Dany Heatley. "It was for business, but I didn't know this would happen when I signed the contract," says Hossa. "I was making [a commitment] to them, so I was surprised."

Moving from hockey-crazed Ottawa to Atlanta, where interest in the game is tepid at best, has been an adjustment for Hossa, but he's true to fans in both cities. When he returned to the Corel Centre for the first time after the trade, Hossa bought 100 tickets to the game for the Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa. And he partnered with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to form Hossa's Heroes, a group that devotes time and resources to terminally ill children in greater Atlanta. "It's important for us to reach out," says Hossa. "People around you matter."

That includes teammates, many of whom have become better players since Hossa arrived. All-Star left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, for instance, scored 52 goals last season but had a--6 rating; this season "Kovy has become a more responsible defensive player by watching Hossa," says Thrashers general manager Don Waddell. "He sees the reward he can get by doing the little things."

The little things could add up to Atlanta's first playoff appearance in its seven-year history.

SHARKS DRAFT PICKS

Young Talent On the Rise

Credit G.M. Doug Wilson and director of scouting Tim Burke for San Jose's hot start (21-9-0). Five players they selected in the last four drafts are contributing this year. From the 2003 class: speedy, skilled right wing Milan Michalek (sixth-overall pick, 25 points through Sunday), rugged forward Steve Bernier (16th, 22 points), mobile puckhandling defenseman Matt Carle (47th, 16 points) and center Joe Pavelski (205th), who scored four goals in his first five NHL games, beginning on Nov. 22. Perhaps the Sharks' best pick of the recent drafts, however, is 19-year-old Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who was taken 35th in 2005. Vlasic, a smart two-way defenseman who makes great reads, had one goal, eight assists and a +5 rating. His nickname? Pickles, of course.

Read more from Brian Cazeneuve at SI.com/hockey.

Pierre McGuire's In the Crease

The Flyers don't know what's wrong with winger Kyle Calder (right), who did not score in his first 26 games for Philadelphia after netting a career-high 26 goals last season for Chicago. He could wind up on the trading block.... Devils assistant coach Jacques Laperriere has taught his blueliners to keep their sticks down—which helps them avoid bad penalties—by taping three pucks to their stick blades during drills. At week's end New Jersey was averaging 10.9 penalty minutes per game, down from 11.6 at the end of last season.... Penguins coach Michel Therrien made an odd choice when he slotted Sidney Crosby to be his third skater in a Dec. 7 shootout against the Rangers. After stopping Pittsburgh's first two shooters, New York could have won the game before Crosby got a chance. Ultimately he did get his turn—and failed to score—but Therrien's strategy remains a head-scratcher.