From the time he was drafted by Ottawa in 1997, Marian Hossa was projected as the kind of player who might one day rank among the top scorers in the National Hockey League.
Now, in his fifth full NHL season, it seems that time may have arrived.
Hossa, Ottawa's flashy young winger, is in the midst of a pair of impressive streaks, one personal and one he shares with his teammates. The Senators are hot, undefeated in 10 games after a 10-2-2-0 record in November. They are fourth in the Eastern Conference.
And Hossa is the league's hottest player, with points in a team-record 13 consecutive games and counting.
"I try not to look at the point streak," Hossa said. "I feel comfortable, definitely I do. Every game we win and when you play more in key situations, it gives you confidence."
After averaging 30 goals over the past three seasons, Hossa, 23, shares the league lead with 15 goals after 22 games this season. He also has 13 assists, and appears to be approaching the superstar level by displaying an ability to turn a game around with his own sheer will and determination.
"I think you'll see, as this season wears on, that will become more and more apparent," Ottawa assistant coach Perry Pearn said. "He is thinking every time that he gets the puck that he can score. No question, he's becoming that kind of player."
At his current pace, Hossa will far surpass the 45 goals he scored during his only season of North American junior hockey, when he helped the Portland Winter Hawks win the 1998 Memorial Cup. But he scoffs at comparisons between the goal scorer he was then and is now.
"When I was playing with Portland, I was just an offensive guy," he said. "I didn't play much defence because I came from Slovakia, where it was offence, offence. Here, I've switched to two-way play so I'm not just trying to score goals."
Pearn said that Hossa possesses a rare combination of speed and strength, which makes him as quick as smaller forwards but much more difficult to move off the puck. He's often able to win a battle for the puck in the corner, then make his way to the front of the net for a shot before anyone can stop him.
"When you look at him with his shirt off, his upper body strength is apparent," said Pearn, who has watched Hossa grow from a 189-pound rookie to the muscular 208-pound player he is today. "You hear people talking about core strength? Well, he's strong from top to bottom. And when he's battling for the puck, he has the ability to get a hold of it and stay on his skates. The core strength gives him an advantage from a balance standpoint."
Perhaps most impressive this season is the way Hossa has repeatedly risen to the occasion in tight games.
"I love those situations," Hossa said. "When the game is tied and my shift is coming. That's what I love to do."
Yesterday, teammates were reflecting on Saturday night's 4-2 win over the New York Islanders in which Hossa tied the game with a power-play goal late in the second period, then scored the go-ahead goal early in the third.
"When we've had to come from behind and battle, he's shown the way," said Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, on whom Hossa has modeled his competitiveness. "He's trying hard every shift but sometimes you can see he's got an extra gear for the third period. He's a game-breaking player, a guy you might not notice for 10 or 15 minutes and then he pops up with two goals in five or six minutes. He's got that capability to strike like lightning."
The Senators, who will play at Chicago tomorrow and at St. Louis on Thursday, sent rookie Jason Spezza back to Binghamton of the American Hockey League yesterday. Spezza had four goals and six assists in 17 games but had a plus/minus rating of minus-seven.