Through 24 NHL games heading into the month of December, Columbus Blue Jacket rookie Adam Fantilli was sitting with a point line of 4 goals, 6 assists, and 10 points. After the month was finished off with Saturday night's loss in Buffalo; his totals now read 11 goals, 12 assists, and 23 points.
In 14 December games, Fantilli scored 7 goals (all at even strength) and 13 points - second most amongst rookies in points for the month. In fact, only three players in the entire league - Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon, and Drake Batherson - scored more even strength goals than Adam Fantilli.
What changed? Well, captain and de facto first line center Boone Jenner suffered a broken jaw on December 8th, removing him from the lineup and forcing the club to do what a lot of fans have been begging for since the puck dropped this season: give Fantilli a chance on the top line.
This inevitably led to more meaningful minutes at 5-on-5, most of them spent alongside superstar Johnny Gaudreau, and with reliable two-way checker Justin Danforth on the other side. The line responded quite well, with all three players contributing different attributes to what has become an effective line.
This freed up Gaudreau, who is back to his elite playmaking self. Danforth continues to be a surprise, standing out on the forecheck and eating up tougher assignments defensively. They've been the perfect players to flank the budding young star, who scored goals all month in a variety of different ways.
Now, things have certainly not been perfect for Fantilli or the Jackets in this role. He's had some clear struggles on the defensive side of the puck, especially as the matchups get tougher. Faceoffs also continue to be an issue (he's won just 43%), though having Danforth able to step in and take some of the draws does help mask that weak spot.
Offensively though, Fantilli has been a standout player on a near nightly basis. The only negative I can point to on the offensive side of his game, is that Fantilli could use his linemates a little bit better. Don't get me wrong - it's not that he's not a terrific puck handler and playmaker - it's just that I think he would benefit from giving the puck up, using his speed to get into a scoring area, and then getting it back.
I think all of this will ultimately fix itself with time and maturity. Fantilli is a wildly competitive player, who wants to be the very best at everything. At least on this team, he looks to be well on his way. If the month of December was any indication, we're in for a real treat. Suddenly, he's third on the team in both goals and points; not even halfway into his first NHL season.