Now that we're at the halfway point of the National Hockey League (NHL) season, we decided it would be a good time to look back on the season thus far.

There has been plenty of surprises as usual, which can often be the most exciting part of hockey. Teams or players that didn't have high expectations but continue to perform at a high level. Or sometimes the opposite!

Here is our list of the five biggest storylines of the NHL season so far.

 

The dominance of Nikita Kucherov

For whatever reason, Nikita Kucherov never really seems to come up in conversations in the hockey world surrounding who the best player in the world is. Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid typically headline the discussion, with Nathan MacKinnon, John Tavares, Alex Ovechkin, or even Kucherov's teammate Steven Stamkos being brought up as well.

It's time for that to change. Kucherov has been on an absolute tear as of late, and now sits atop the league with 72 points in 44 games, which sets him on an absurd 134 point pace. This is following an equally impressive campaign in 2017-18, where Kucherov finished with 100 points in 80 games.‚Äč

Is he the best hockey player in the world? Maybe, maybe not. But it's for sure time for Nikita to enter the conversation.

The Buffalo Sabres have arrived!

After many, many years of mediocrity despite showing promise at times, is it safe to say the Buffalo Sabres have finally arrived?

With a 23-14-6 record after 43 games, the Sabres are off to their best start in many years, led by Jack Eichel, the addition of Jeff Skinner - who by the way has 29 goals - and a strong rookie campaign by Swedish superstar defenceman Rasmus Dahlin.

The Buffalo Sabres are here, and they're here to stay.

Changing of the guard in the Western Conference

Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks. Read those team names five years ago and you'd be reading four of the favourites to come out of the Western Conference and challenge for the Stanley Cup.

But not anymore.

Read those names now and you're reading four of the five teams in the Western Conference's basement. Things have changed.

The San Jose Sharks remain strong, but there has been a changing of the guard. The Calgary Flames, Vegas Golden Knights, Winnipeg Jets, and Nashville Predators have established themselves as the new giants of the conference in the past couple years. And it's going to be an absolute dogfight to win the west.

How good are the Calgary Flames?

Speaking of the Calgary Flames - just how good is this team?

Seemingly out of nowhere, the Flames have separated themselves from the pack and now sit second in the entire NHL in points, behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning. They have played to a 28-13-4 record after 45 games, and show no signs of slowing down.

A scoring committee consisting of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk and Mark Giardano leads the way for the Flames, and they have proven themselves time and time again against tough competition.

They are the real deal.

The emergence of Mikko Rantanen

It wouldn't be an NHL story if we didn't talk about the emergence of Mikko Rantanen.

Many would have thought that Rantanen had peaked after his 2017-18 campaign that saw him tally 84 points in 81 games, but this is far from reality.

Rantanen has taken his game to an all-new level, recording 68 points in his first 44 games, setting him on a 127 point pace. His partnership with Nathan MacKinnon may be the league's finest, proving to be completely unstoppable at times.

We'll continue to keep an eye on these stories as the end of the NHL season grows closer. Think we missed something? Let us know on Twitter