What a year it was for Mark Stone.
From healthy scratch to arguably the Senators top forward at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, it only got better for the 23-year-old.
After consistently playing under 15 minutes a night under Paul MacLean, in early December, Stone was given a whole new role when Dave Cameron took over as head coach. Stone's minutes had been slowly increasing since the beginning of the season, but as soon as MacLean was fired, he began playing first line minutes instantly.
And it showed.
All the Winnipeg native needed was an opportunity. And once the door was unlocked, it was knocked down and repeatedly smashed with a sledge hammer.
Of the many talents Stone showcased last year, the one most unique was his ability to steal and intercept the puck from the opposing team. With that expertise in his arsenal, he became the first ever rookie to lead the NHL in takeaways. Stone and Ryan O'Reilly tied with 98 at the end of the year.
What he became most well known for was his hockey IQ. It was obvious that Stone possessed one of the best hockey minds in the league. You saw it every single game. Every shift. Every play.
It's one of the numerous reasons why he was also top two in the league for turnover plus-minus with an outstanding rating of plus-55. Stone's two-way game is like none other. He plays the right way with and without the puck.
He's one of the first forwards you'd want on the ice down a goal in the final minute of play, but also up one. Power play, penalty kill, even strength; it's all the same. Stone is a valuable tool in every situation.
His phenomenal season earned him a brand new three-year, $10.5 million contract - the biggest one Ottawa handed out this summer - and a Calder Trophy nomination. And although he didn't bring home any hardware from Las Vegas, he'll be back in no time. Maybe with a Selke.
There's so much to preach about, but we'll touch on one last thing.
The Senators' late season push for the playoffs was lead by Andrew Hammond, no one is going to argue that. But coming in at a close second was Mark Stone.
He carted 35 points in the last 31 games of the season, scored 6 game-winning goals during the 21-3-3 run and had points (15) in each of the Senators' final 10 wins.
Stone came through in the most unbelievably important times. The game-winner against Montreal to start the amazing streak, a shootout-winner in Detroit when Ottawa had lost three straight and two goals in the final game of the regular season in Philadelphia. Oh, and there was also that one game against Pittsburgh. I think he did something rather significant then as well.
In early September of 2016, Silver Seven will announce the No. 1 player on the Top 25 Under 25, and you know who it'll be.
Do you agree with Mark Stone as the No. 1 player on the Top 25 Under 25?