When I set out to make this list of the top 50 best players in the NHL today I thought I’d given myself plenty of wiggle room. I figured once I’d gotten beyond 35 or so the challenge would be finding enough good players to complete the list. Instead I found myself at about 60 before the choices started to run dry, and I found myself instead with the task of paring down the list.
As you will notice the list is heavily weighted towards forwards. They are the ones who score the bulk of the points and thus tend to have a bigger statistical impact on the game. At least half of the starting goalies in the league could have merited consideration, so I kept those selections to the absolute cream of the crop. With all that in mind here are my picks for the top 50 best hockey players in the NHL today:
50 – Vincent Lecavalier
Just a couple of short years ago it would have been inconceivable to see Vinny “barely squeeze” his way onto a list of the best 50 players in the league. However, the competition has gotten pretty stiff and after years that saw him register 67 and 70 points respectively it is hard to justify ranking him any higher. Still, he has world class talent and playing alongside stars like Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos Lecavalier is more than capable of having a bounce-back year.
49 – Henrik Lundqvist
Though some would have this Swedish netminder ranked a lot higher on the list I just don’t put him in the same class as tenders like Ryan Miller, Martin Brodeur or Roberto Luongo. Sure, he’s put up impressive stats over the last few years, but so has Tomas Vokoun (Spoiler: he’s not on this list). Perhaps he suffers from playing on a mediocre team in the New York Rangers, but with a notable lack of playoff success, 49 is as high as I can rank “King Henrik”.
48 – Daniel Alfredsson
Much like Vincent Lecavalier, Daniel Alfredsson is another superstar on the downslope of a marvelous career. Alfredsson, the captain of the Ottawa Senators is still a bona fide offensive threat, and when paired with longtime linemate Jason Spezza forms one of the deadliest duos in the league. Even though he turns 38 this year he is still a point a game player, and will be one of the few bright spots on a Sens team that looks like they need a major rebuild.
47 – Jeff Carter
Though this speedy Philadelphia Flyers winger took a step back statistically last season (33 goals and 61 points compared to 46 and 84 the year before) there is little reason to doubt that he will return to form this season, and could possibly challenge the 50 goal plateau. The Flyers are blessed with a bevy of talented forwards, and surrounded by that talent, employing his great speed and immense size Carter should be a nightmare for opposing defenders this season.
46 – Dan Boyle
Though at 34 years of age Boyle might be getting long in the tooth as offensive defensemen go, the veteran San Jose Sharks blueliner should still find himself in the top 5 or so on the list of highest scoring defensemen this season. The Sharks have no shortage of offensive talent up front in the form of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Joe Pavelski and Boyle’s puck-moving ability should see him rack up the assists again this year.
45 – Marian Hossa
Though his days of threatening the 100 point plateau are probably behind him, Hossa continues to be one of the deadliest threats off the wing in the NHL today. With size, speed, tree trunk legs and a great set of hands Hossa is the complete package. Another year as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks should help him find some chemistry with his linemates – something that was sorely lacking during his brief stints with the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins.
44 – Tyler Myers
Can this towering blueliner enjoy another season like the one that saw him take home the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year? There is no reason to believe otherwise. At 6’ 8” and 222 pounds Myers is one of the most intimidating presences patrolling the blueline today. Though he is not known for punishing physical play, Myers size, strength and incredibly long reach make him extremely effective against opposing forwards. He is no slouch on the offensive side of the puck either as his 48 points last year clearly showed. With incredible poise it is hard to believe this guy is only 20 years old and likely to get a lot better down the road.
43 – Miikka Kiprusoff
Yes, this Calgary Flames goalie is but a pale shadow of the one that led his team to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004 and won the Vezina Trophy in 2006. However, in my opinion, Miikka Kiprusoff is still one of the best “big game” goalies in the league, and is certainly a guy that opposing shooters dread facing. Unflappable under pressure Kiprusoff posted a very good .920 save percentage and 2.31 GAA last year. Look for him to have similar numbers this year. He will need to if the Flames are going to compete for a playoff spot in the tight Western Conference.
42 – Paul Stastny
Though he might not be quite the same caliber as his dad (former Quebec Nordiques superstar Peter Stastny), Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche is a superstar in his own right. His emergence as a star has helped the Avs remain competitive despite the departure of former stars Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. He has been bitten by the injury bug during his relatively brief career, but if he can stay healthy this guy certainly has a shot of cracking the top 10 in scoring this season.
41 – Mikko Koivu
Though big brother Saku Koivu of the Anaheim Ducks is probably more famous, Mikko Koivu has quietly and consistently improved over the past few years. Last year he had a career season with the Minnesota Wild, scoring 22 goals and registering 71 points. In addition to his offense, Koivu is also very responsible on the defensive side of the puck and takes most of his team’s key draws. He was recently named captain of the team and at just 27 years of age should continue to improve over the next few seasons.
40 – Andrei Markov
Few players in the NHL are as valuable to their team as Markov is to the Montreal Canadiens. Though he isn’t a flashy player Markov just seems to always make the right decision with the puck. He is offensively gifted (he potted 64 points in 78 games in 2008-09) and plays an almost flawless positional game on the defensive end. These traits have drawn comparisons to Nicklas Lidstrom, and while he might be a level below the Wings’ captain just to be mentioned in the same breath is a telling indicator just how good this Russian blueliner really is.
39 – Ryan Kesler
What a difference a year makes. Prior to the 2009-10 season the appearance of Ryan Kesler on a list of the top 50 best players in the NHL would have raised some eyebrows to say the least. However, after a 2009-10 season that saw him record 75 points, get nominated for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward and star for the silver medalist U.S. men’s hockey team at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Kesler has seen his stock shoot much higher in the eyes of hockey pundits everywhere. Having just turned 26 Kesler’s best years may still be ahead of him. Look for him to match if not exceed his numbers from last year.
38 – Patrick Marleau
Though Jumbo Joe Thornton is the biggest name in San Jose at the moment, Patrick Marleau isn’t about to completely concede the spotlight. Marleau enjoyed the best year of his career last season, putting up 44 goals and 83 points. His remarkable season landed him a much-coveted spot on Team Canada’s Olympic hockey roster in 2010. With his great skating ability and his uncanny hockey sense look for Marleau to continue to be an offensive force playing with, or behind, Joe Thornton this season.
37 – Brad Richards
One of the most criminally underrated players in the league in my opinion (though his contract says otherwise), Brad Richards continues to be overlooked in the conversation of the league’s best players. Despite the fact that I am observing this point I am probably currently guilty of the same crime. Richards’ 91 points with the Dallas Stars last season ranked him 6th in the league in scoring, yet here I only have him ranked 37th on my list. Sure, points are but one area of consideration, however Richards is also good defensively, has a Stanley Cup ring to his name, and plays in most of his team’s key situations. No doubt he’ll have another great season and continued to be ignored by the hockey media.
36 – Alexander Semin
Based on pure talent alone this guy would probably be ranked a lot higher. As a member of the Washington Capitals he plays in the enormous shadow of Alexander Ovechkin. Ovie is famous for his blistering shot, however many people feel that Semin is actually the better shooter. His release is unreal, and many goalies have seen his wicked wrist shot bulge the twine in the top corner before they’ve even had a chance to flinch. As talented as Semin is his heart doesn’t always seem to be in the game. He was all but invisible last year in his team’s first round elimination at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. If he can ramp up his intensity to match his skill he will challenge teammates Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom for the title of best player on the team.
35 – Dany Heatley
One of the most consistently deadly snipers in the game over the past decade Dany Heatley is as pure a goal scorer as you’ll ever see. Much like Mike Bossy and Brett Hull did in their day Heatley has a knack for finding “dead areas” in the offensive zone where he has time and space to unleash his wicked one-timer. He is a two time 50 goal scorer and playing with Joe Thornton – arguably the best passer in the game today – Heatley has a chance of again reaching that mark this season.
34 – Anze Kopitar
With 34 goals and 81 points last season with the Los Angeles Kings, Slovenian superstar Anze Kopitar is just beginning to show the world how good he can be. Despite the fact that he’s just turned 23 years of age Kopitar already has nearly 300 career points. On a young, talented L.A. Kings team that is improving along with him Kopitar should top both his goals and points totals from last season. Look for him to crack the top 10, and perhaps even challenge for the Art Ross this season.
33 – Ryan Getzlaf
One of the best power forwards in the league, Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks is an absolute beast in the offensive zone. Despite his hulking size (6’ 4”, 221 lbs) Getzlaf has hands almost as deft as Pavel Datsyuk. He’s averaged well over a point a game over the past three seasons despite an even higher penalty minute average over that span. If he can stay healthy this season look for Getzlaf to possibly reach the 100 point plateau for the first time in his career.
32 – Phil Kessel
Sure, his best offensive output to date has been a 36 goal season (2008-09 with the Boston Bruins). However, his combination of incredible acceleration, quick hands, deadly release, and pinpoint accuracy means it is only a matter of time before he cracks the 50 goal mark. My bet is that it will happen sooner rather than later. Yes, he plays with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and much of their forward core looks like it belongs on an AHL roster, but Kessel is one of those rare players, like Pavel Bure, who doesn’t need much help from his linemates in order to score. Look for Kessel to have a big year with the Leafs. If he doesn’t Brian Burke is really going to start regretting that trade. Of course, that might be the case anyways if Tyler Seguin lights it up for the Bruins.
31 – Eric Staal
Though he hasn’t reached the 100 point plateau since his sophomore season back in 2005-06 Eric Staal remains one of the most dominant offensive players in the league. His sheer size, speed and his determination to get to the net with the puck make him a handful for even the largest defenders. He is not scared to throw his weight around when need be either. Look for Staal to have his best year since 05-06. He’s going to have to. He doesn’t have a lot of offensive help in Carolina right now.
30 – Martin Brodeur
At 38 years old Martin Brodeur’s best years as a goalie may already be behind him. However, this four time Vezina Trophy winner is as competitive as any player in the league and if anyone can defy Father Time it is him. Though he might not be the league’s best goalie anymore look for Brodeur to again lead the New Jersey Devils to another high finish in the Eastern Conference, and if new teammates Ilya Kovalchuk, Jason Arnott and Anton Volchenkov can give Brodeur some help, the aging netminder could have a shot at his 4th career Stanley Cup come next spring.
29 – Shea Weber
What does a guy have to do to win a Norris Trophy anyways? Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators has consistently been one of the best defenseman in the NHL ever since his first full season in 2006-07. However, he has had the misfortune of playing at the same time as Nicklas Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara and Duncan Keith all in the prime of their careers. Now with Drew Doughty swiftly establishing himself as a Norris contender Weber might continue to get overlooked. Despite his lack of hardware there is no disputing this guy is one of the best blueliners in the game today. With a slapshot that can put a hole in the net, and a habit of throwing crushing bodychecks he’s no picnic to play against either.
28 – Rick Nash
Though his stats might not be as impressive as some of the forwards on this list anyone who has watched Rick Nash for a significant amount of time knows how dominant and how skilled this hulking winger is. Playing with the Columbus Blue Jackets Nash has had to carry the offensive load almost single-handedly, and despite being the key focus of opposing teams’ best checkers has consistently put up good numbers. He is arguably the most dangerous player in the league on a breakaway, and has scored highlight reel goals with players draped all over him on more than one occasion.
27 – Corey Perry
If you took a poll among NHL players asking them who they thought was the most irritating player in the league this pesky Anaheim Ducks star wouldn’t be far behind Sean Avery in votes. However, those his abrasiveness is a big part of his game even his harshest critics cannot deny his talent. Perry was a superstar with the London Knights and that skill set hasn’t deserted him at the NHL level. He has eclipsed the 70 point plateau in each of the past two seasons while spending more than 100 minutes in the penalty box in each campaign as well. He is a thorn in the side of every team who plays against him, but all 29 of those teams would have them on their side in a heartbeat.
26 – Nicklas Lidstrom
At 40 years of age Nicklas Lidstrom is definitely in the twilight of his remarkable career. However, though he is getting long in the tooth the captain of the Detroit Red Wings can still count himself among the game’s elite players. His entire NHL career Lidstrom has been a machine, earning 6 Norris Trophies as the NHL’s best defenseman as well as a Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. He has 4 Stanley Cup rings and has reached the 70 point plateau on 5 separate occasions. Though he might not approach those lofty heights this year he is still a threat on the back end, particularly on Detroit’s lethal power play, and the intelligent positional game he plays in his own end makes him one of the best in the game in one on one situations.
25 – Martin St. Louis
Though I’m sure that time will eventually slow down this diminutive superstar it sure as hell hasn’t happened yet. At 35 years of age he continues to be a dominant force in the NHL, creating numerous chances for himself and his teammates with his quickness, his vision and his crafty stickhandling ability. Spending time with sniper Steven Stamkos last season St. Louis racked up 94 points, and if the duo are paired together again this year there is a good chance he could once again challenge the 100 point mark.
24 – Ilya Kovalchuk
Though his incredible offensive statistics would make you think he deserves to be much higher on this list (50+ goals twice and 40+ five times in his career) I’m still not sold on Kovalchuk as a complete hockey player. Despite his skill he was only able to lead the Atlanta Thrashers to the playoffs on one occasion. (They were swept by the New York Rangers). When the New Jersey Devils acquired him prior to the trade deadline last year they hoped he would be the piece of the puzzle that would help them hoist their first Stanley Cup since 2003. (They lost in 5 games in the first round to the Philadelphia Flyers). Now, having just signed a 15 year contract with the Devils that has caused the franchise all sorts of salary cap grief Kovie will have to prove that he is one of the game’s elite players. If he can’t deliver and instead becomes a cancer in the dressing room Kovalchuk’s signing could go down as the hugest mistake of Lou Lamoriello’s brilliant management career.
23 – Mike Richards
He’s known as Mr. Everything for the Philadelphia Flyers and with good reason. Though he is a point a game player Richards is arguably an even better defensive player than he is an offensive one. He is one of the best penalty killers in the league and is always a threat to score when short-handed. He takes key draws, is a punishing hitter and isn’t hesitant to drop the mitts when the situation demands it. Little wonder this scrappy centerman is often compared to legendary Flyer Bobby Clarke.
22 – Jarome Iginla
After a career year in 2007-08 that saw the Calgary Flames captain score 50 goals and pot 98 points Jarome Iginla’s numbers have been on a downhill slide. Yes, this 33 year old former Art Ross and Rocket Richard Trophy winner is certainly slowing down, but he is far from done yet. Iggy remains the greatest leader in the game today, and his penchant for lighting a fire under his team with a timely goal, a big hit, or a fight have made him immensely popular with fans. He has one of the best wrist shots in the game, and that, combined with his determination to go to tough areas to score goals, makes him still one of the deadliest snipers in the game today.
21 – Chris Pronger
Though Chris Pronger has put up impressive offensive stats during his career, it is primarily his defensive game that lands him a spot on this list of the best hockey players in the NHL today. Pronger’s enormous 6’ 6” frame (and accompanying reach), his smart positional play and sure hands make him difficult enough for opposing forwards to deal with. Add to that his mile-wide mean streak and you’ve got the recipe for a dominant NHL defenseman. A former Norris Trophy and Hart Trophy winner Chris Pronger’s best days are surely behind him, but like many on the list Pronger continues to defy Father Time, and you can bet the Philadelphia Flyers will again rely heavily on him this season.
20 – Roberto Luongo
Though his playoff meltdowns against the Chicago Blackhawks in each of the past two seasons have some questioning Roberto Luongo’s ability to deliver when it matters in my opinion this guy is still one of the most dominant backstops in the game. With his size and his incredible athleticism Luongo is one of the best at getting in shooters’ heads and convincing them he is unbeatable. On many nights when the rest of his Vancouver Canucks teammates are taking the game off it is Luongo that is responsible for the two points they walk away with. There isn’t a prouder, more determined athlete in the NHL today, and you can bet after a forgettable playoff run last year Luongo will itching to silence his critics for good. A Stanley Cup parade on the streets of Vancouver would certainly accomplish that.
19 – Marian Gaborik
Based on pure skill alone Marian Gaborik would be a lot higher on this list. However, durability has to factor into the equation somewhere, and let’s be honest, this speedy Slovakian challenges Vancouver’s Sami Salo for the title of most fragile player in the NHL. When he is healthy Gaborik’s incredible speed, his swift stickhandling ability and his ridiculous release make him an offensive force to be feared. Last year with the Rangers he appeared in 76 games, and in those games he was the Rangers’ offense, netting 42 goals and 86 points, leading the team by a wide margin in those categories. If he can actually manage to play a full 82 this year look for Gabby to challenge both the 50 goal and 100 point marks.
18 – Henrik Zetterberg
Much like Mike Richards, Henrik Zetterberg’s value to his team cannot be measured solely by the offensive numbers he puts up. Not that his offensive stats are bad – far from it. He’s put up 92, 73 and 70 points in his last 3 campaigns. However, those point totals are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this talented Swedish star’s value. Zetterberg is also one of the best defensive forwards in the league, routinely challenging teammate Pavel Datsyuk for the Frank J. Selke Trophy. He plays in all key situations for his team and if you see him make a mistake on the ice you’ve witnessed a rare occurrence indeed. His 2008 Conn Smythe Trophy was no fluke. He really was the most valuable player for the Wings during that playoff drive, no mean feat on a team loaded with experienced superstars. Not too shabby for a guy who went 210th overall in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.
17 – Joe Thornton
Though he certainly has his fair share of critics for his inability to lead the San Jose Sharks to playoff success it is impossible to deny the “jumbo” talent of this likeable Canadian star. Perhaps the best passer in the game since Wayne Gretzky, Thornton makes every one of his teammates a threat with his incredible vision and his ability to thread the puck through three or four sticks and stick it right on the tape of one of his wingers. He is one of the most adept players in the league at shielding the puck, using his strength, size and long reach to dominate down low. Though his Art Ross and Hart Trophy victories are a half decade behind him now you can bet he will still be in the mix in the scoring race this year.
16 – Patrick Kane
Though this guy might not be too popular with the taxi drivers’ union these days he certainly has no shortage of admirers among Chicago Blackhawks fans. It was this slick American-born star who delivered the Stanley Cup winning goal in overtime of game 6 last spring against the Philadelphia Flyers, ending a championship drought of nearly 50 years and earning him a spot in Chicago Blackhawks lore at the tender age of just 21. Kane is small for a winger, standing just 5’ 10” tall and weighing under 180 lbs, yet his relatively diminutive stature doesn’t seem to hinder him at all. He possesses great speed, tremendously slick hands, and a laser beam of a wrist shot. He had a career year last season with 30 goals and 88 points. Look for him to push the 100 point mark and possibly challenge for the Art Ross Trophy this year.
15 – Zdeno Chara
I don’t know what the Ottawa Senators were thinking when they elected to let this Slovakian monster walk away in favor of keeping Wade Redden. Yes, hindsight is 20/20 but Ottawa management should have realized just what a valuable asset they had in this hulking defender. At 6’ 9” and 260 lbs Chara is the largest player in the league and he uses that size to tremendous advantage. Even the biggest forwards in the league look like teenagers playing against him, and his size, strength and ridiculously long reach make him almost impossible to beat one on one. He is just as effective on the offensive side of the puck. He has the hardest slapshot in the league (well over 100 MPH) and he even serves time at the front of the net on the powerplay, causing havoc for opposing defenders who have to try and move him, and for opposing goalies, who have the unenviable task of trying to see the puck through his tremendous bulk. If all those attributes weren’t enough Chara is also one of the fittest players in the league, and some nights it seems like he never leaves the ice. He won the 2009 Norris Trophy, and despite increasingly tough competition from the likes of Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty and Shea Weber should definitely be a strong candidate as the league’s best defenseman again this season.
14 – Mike Green
Though this Washington Capitals blueliner is often criticized for his play in his own zone those who see the glass as half full realize they have the pleasure of watching perhaps the most offensively talented defenseman since Brian Leetch hung up the skates. In the mold of Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey and the aforementioned Leetch, Mike Green is a throwback to the days of firewagon hockey when d-men were encouraged to jump into the rush. In this day and age where hockey is so structured and defensive systems are executed so flawlessly that fourth player jumping into the play unexpectedly is often the only way to generate scoring chances. No one in the league today is better at that than Mike Green. In 2008-09 Green became the first defenseman since Kevin Hatcher to hit the 30 goal mark, and in each of the past two seasons he’s bettered the 70 point mark. He is a huge reason the Capitals have enjoyed so much regular season success over the past few years, and the threat he represents from the back end opens up time and space for teammates like Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin. At just 25 years of age he is still improving. If he can shore up his defensive game a little to go with his impressive offensive stats he should be a serious threat to win the Norris Trophy this year.
13 – Zach Parise
Some might be surprised to see this American-born New Jersey Devils star so high on the list of the best players in the NHL today. No, he doesn’t make the highlight reel on a nightly basis like Crosby, Ovechkin and Kovalchuk do but this silent superstar has proven over the past two seasons that he merits a spot among the game’s elite. With 94 and 82 points respectively over the past two seasons he has been the Devils go-to guy on the offensive side of the puck. The arrival of Ilya Kovalchuk should free up more ice for Parise and if he can take advantage of it he should be able to reach the 100 point mark for the first time in his career.
12 – Nicklas Backstrom
Speaking of silent superstars there is arguably no one in the NHL today who matches that description better than Nicklas Backstrom. Some would argue that this talented Swede’s impressive stats are grossly inflated because he plays on the same line as Alexander Ovechkin. Well, I’m sure it doesn’t hurt, but I would argue that Ovechkin’s stats would also be far less impressive if he didn’t have Backstrom feeding him the puck all the time. The two form the deadliest duo in the NHL today and with Backstrom not yet 23 years old and already with a 100+ point season under his belt it is scary to imagine just how badly they are going to tear up the league over the next five years or so.
11 – Drew Doughty
It just seems wrong that a defenseman only 20 years old can be this good. Defense is a position where experience counts more than natural talent. Most d-men don’t hit the prime of their careers until they are close to 30. If that is the case with this young man then he is going to be scary good. He has a poise with the puck and a penchant for making the best decision that belies his tender years. Last year he beat out a bevy of star blueliners to earn a coveted spot on Team Canada’s Olympic men’s hockey roster, and wound up playing a vital role in their gold medal effort. Last year he was among the league leaders in defensemen in points, notching 59. There is no reason to believe that he won’t improve upon that total this year, and you can bet he’ll be in the mix when it comes to Norris Trophy voting this spring.
10 – Pavel Datsyuk
Whatever the Detroit Red Wings’ scouting staff are being paid it isn’t enough. The year before they took Henrik Zetterberg 210th overall the Wings snagged this Russian star 171st overall. Those two players have gone on to form the cornerstone of the Wing’s offense over the past several years. As great as Zetterberg has become Datsyuk is even better. He is arguably the best stickhandler in the league, and goaltenders’ knees start knocking when he skates out to center for the shootout. Amazingly, as offensively gifted as he is that isn’t the strongest part of his game. He leads the league in takeaways on a regular basis and is one of the game’s best penalty killers. His incredible defensive play hasn’t gone ignored. Datsyuk is the three-time defending Frank J. Selke Trophy winner as the league’s best defensive forward. He is so smart that he almost doesn’t require coaching, and is a huge reason why the Wings have been the closest thing to a dynasty the NHL has seen over the last decade.
9 – Steven Stamkos
When the Tampa Bay Lightning selected this former Sarnia Sting star with the first overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft I’m sure they had high hopes he would blossom into a superstar. I don’t think in their wildest dreams they anticipated it would happen this quickly. After a decent rookie campaign that saw him net 23 goals and 46 points Stamkos absolutely exploded in his sophomore year. A master of finding dead spots in coverage and possessed of an absolutely wicked one-timer, Steve Stamkos is very reminiscent of a player by the name of Brett Hull, who feasted on opposing goalies, particularly during his time with the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars. Stamkos has more weapons in his arsenal than just his incredible shot though. He’s always hungry for goals and will crash the net to get them. He has the hands and the speed to beat guys one on one as well. All this talent helped him pot 51 goals and a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy last season. In my opinion this guy has several more of those in his future and is my pick to lead the league in goals this season.
8 – Daniel Sedin
If anyone can challenge Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin for the title of deadliest NHL duo it is this man and his twin brother Henrik. For years they’ve made a living cycling the puck in the offensive zone, seeming to read each other’s minds as they make one no-look tape-to-tape pass after another. However, earlier in their careers they could never seem to turn all that puck possession into goals. That has changed in recent years, and last year the twins enjoyed a career year. Unfortunately for Daniel he spent nearly a quarter of the season shelved with an injury. Despite playing in only 63 games he potted 85 points and had he played a full season he very likely would have challenged brother Henrik in the Art Ross Trophy race. If he can play a full 82 games this year Daniel will certainly be in the mix for the NHL scoring lead this year.
7 – Jonathan Toews
As great as Mike Richards and Pavel Datsyuk are in my opinion the best two-way forward in the NHL today is Jonathan Toews. Toews’ offensive stats might pale in comparison to some others on this list, but when the game is on the line no one delivers more consistently than Toews. His reputation as a clutch player was first established when he scored three straight shootout goals against the Americans to secure Canada a berth in the gold medal game of the 2007 World Junior Championships. He cemented it by leading Team Canada to a gold medal in 2010, and then captaining the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup, earning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, that same year. His consistency, his determination, and his ability to deliver under pressure make him one of the greatest leaders in the game today, despite his relative youth, and you can bet Toews will continue to be a force in the NHL for many years to come.
6 – Duncan Keith
As key as Toews is to his team’s success I would argue that it is blueliner Duncan Keith that is the Blackhawks’ most valuable asset. Keith plays huge minutes for the Hawks, patrolling the blueline in all key situations, including powerplay, penalty killing, and in the final minutes of games, regardless of whether his team is ahead or behind. He was second in scoring among d-men last season with 69 points, and his potent offensive ability, combined with his talent as a shutdown man earned him the 2010 Norris Trophy. At just 27 years of age it is likely that Keith is actually still improving. Even Drew Doughty will have trouble wresting the title of the NHL’s best defenseman from this superstar blueliner’s hands.
5 – Evgeni Malkin
Though last year was certainly an off year for the hulking Russian centerman there can be little argument that Evgeni Malkin deserves a spot in the top 5 best players in the NHL today. Remember, Malkin is just a year removed from winning both the Art Ross and the Conn Smythe trophies, and part of his struggles last year were due to injuries that caused him to miss 15 games. Look for Malkin to have a bounceback year and again challenge for the scoring lead.
4 – Ryan Miller
The best goalie in the NHL today, without question, Ryan Miller has surpassed both Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo to earn the title of stingiest netminder in the game. Miller was absolutely superlative for the Buffalo Sabres last year, reminding many of the heyday of Dominik Hasek. Miller’s spectacular play was the sole reason the Buffalo Sabres not only reached the post-season, but finished first in their division, securing third place in the Eastern Conference. His heroics earned him the Vezina Trophy and many around the hockey world were surprised when he wasn’t named a Hart Trophy finalist. At just 30 years of age Miller is in the prime of his career. Don’t be surprised if he improves upon last season and nabs his second straight Vezina.
3 – Henrik Sedin
It seems wrong to have the Sedin twins 5 spots apart on the list of the best hockey players. Their career stats have been eerily similar over the years, and they almost seem to share a brain when they are tap-dancing on opposing d-men. However, I can’t ignore Henrik Sedin’s incredible season last year, where he managed to fend off Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin to capture not only the Art Ross Trophy but the Hart Trophy as well. Even more impressive is that he accomplished this feat with his brother out with injury for nearly a quarter of the season. If the pair can stay healthy for the full 82 games then Henrik certainly has a shot at another scoring title, and his main competition might end up being his own brother.
2 – Alexander Ovechkin
Only a whisker’s breadth separated my number two and number one selections. Alexander Ovechkin has been a one man wrecking crew ever since he entered the league in 2005. He is the most feared shooter in the game, and goaltenders shake in their pads when they see this burly Russian winger bearing down on them. Goalies aren’t the only ones with cause for nervousness when the Great 8 is on the ice. He is also one of the most punishing hitters in the game, and he is without fear when in pursuit of the puck, crushing his opponents and taking the frozen biscuit as his prize. His combination of speed, size and skill make him the complete offensive package, and as the newest captain of the Washington Capitals he has shown himself to be an inspirational leader as well. Look for Ovechkin to again be a heavy favorite to capture the Hart, Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies this season.
1 – Sidney Crosby
If Ovechkin is the favorite to capture the bulk of the NHL’s most coveted individual hardware you might wonder why I’ve put #87 at the top of the list of the NHL’s best players. There isn’t much to choose between these two great stars. However, Ovechkin’s stats are surely bolstered because he gets to play with talented Swedish center Nicklas Backstrom on a nightly basis. Crosby, on the other hand, rarely has the luxury of playing with another superstar. On most nights guys like Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, or Mike Comrie can be found on his wings - not exactly household names. Yes, on occasion he will get a shift with Evgeni Malkin, but as they are both centers that is a rare experiment. Despite playing with guys who should be pulling duty on the third line Crosby has continually put up big numbers. He had another great season last year, scoring a career high 51 goals (1 more than Ovechkin), earning a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy with Steven Stamkos, and 109 points to finish second in league scoring behind Henrik Sedin. I wouldn’t bank on Crosby nabbing the Richard Trophy again this season, but he will certainly be in the hunt for both the Art Ross and the Hart, and no doubt will show up on the highlight reel on a regular basis.