Plenty to come from Philadelphia's Giroux

Sam McCaig makes a list of NHL's top players in 2011 based on positions on the ice rink.

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The midway point of the NHL regular season is here, and it is time for our best-so-far awards. Rather than the traditional trophies, we will highlight the premier player at each position: forward, defence and goaltender.

At forward, Philadelphia centre Claude Giroux has been the NHL's biggest break-out star despite missing four games with a concussion. With 45 points in 32 games, Giroux's output of 1.41 points per game was second only to Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin (1.43), and no one else was close.

Giroux had already established himself as one of the most dangerous two-way players in the league, and his sudden ascension in the scoring race - and the fact he turns just 24 on January 12 - indicates he will be among the league's elite for years to come.

On defence, there are the usual suspects of Zdeno Chara, Nicklas Lidstrom, Duncan Keith and Shea Weber. But our pick is another young gun, the Ottawa Senators' talented 21-year-old Erik Karlsson.

He leads all blue-liners with 30 assists and 35 points in 35 games, and appears destined to be a starter in the All-Star Game in Ottawa after the hometown fans stuffed the ballot box.

In goal, how do you look beyond Boston Bruins greybeard Tim Thomas? He has picked up where he left off last season - when he won the Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup - and has back-stopped the Bruins with a 16-5-0 record, a 1.84 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage.