Here’s how I came up with my top 10 current NHL players: You have 1 year to win the Cup- Who are you taking? So this isn’t so much a list on what the players have done in the past (although I did use their recent past as a predictor of what can be expected of them), nor is it about how good they’ll be years from now. It’s all about the here and now. This list was damn near impossible to make. The amount of unbelievable players I had to leave off is crazy, but I’ve done my best to justify my picks. I did not exclude myself from taking goalies, I just don’t see a dominant goalie right now that deserves a spot in this top 10 (if I had to pick a goalie, it would be John Gibson). Let me know what you think:
- Connor McDavid
This was my easiest pick- It’s completely unfair to be the triple speed threat that he is- his skating is the obvious speed, but also his stick handling speed, and third, how quickly he processes the game. He’s challenging for his 3rd straight Art Ross, something that’s only been done by 5 players in NHL history (Bonus points if you can name the 5 guys). Let’s not forget who he plays for- He has to carry this Oilers team. A couple years ago they thought they could offset the loss of Taylor Hall by signing Milan Lucic and drafting Jesse Puljujarvi. Those 2 guys have scored a combined 5 goals this year. McDavid has been involved in 53.9% of his team’s goals. To put that in perspective, last year’s MVP, Hall (who was praised for carrying the Devils), was involved in 37.5% of New Jersey’s goals. This year’s leading scorer, Nikita Kucherov, has been involved in 39.2% of Tampa’s goals. Do yourself a favour and stay up to watch McDavid play, he is spectacular.
2. Sidney Crosby
Crosby is still able to produce as well as most of the top tiered player during the regular season (he’s scoring 1.3 points per game this year], and then during the playoffs, we’ve seen how amazing he can be. If I were trying to teach young players the proper way to play the game, I would have them watch playoff Crosby. It’s almost robotic- Hard on and hard off, nothing stupid, nothing too risky, communicate, forecheck, backcheck, don’t get sucked into other team’s silliness, and then of course, make a ridiculous pass or score a slick goal like we’ve seen him do countless times.
3. Nikita Kucherov
Tampa is loaded with great players, yet Kucherov is able to stand above the rest. He was the league’s 5th leading scorer two years ago, 3rd last year, and now sits 1st this season. He’s equally dangerous as a goal scorer as he is a playmaker, he’s always stayed healthy, and he’s been a strong playoff performer in the recent past. People want to find a challenger for McDavid as the league’s best player going forward, why not Kucherov? He’s scored the 2nd most points in the league since the start of the 2016/17 season, with a 25 point gap on the guy in 3rd (Crosby).
4. Nathan MacKinnon
A few seasons ago I couldn’t understand why MacKinnon wasn’t producing more. He had all the tools. Last season, everything clicked and it’s carried on to this year as well. A number of factors were at play- He found great chemistry with Rantanen, his Colorado team improved around him, he evidently worked hard to become a better shooter/scorer, he took on more of a leadership role after Duchene left, and I’m sure training with Crosby in the offseason didn’t hurt. All of this has led to MacKinnon becoming a nightmare to play against. In my viewings this season, the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen line is the best in all of hockey.
5. Alex Ovechkin
Younger me hated Ovechkin because I was a “Team Crosby” guy. Then I came to realize I was missing out on greatness. He might be the greatest goal scorer the league has ever seen. He is well on his way to yet another Rocket. Health is never an issue, and he now knows what it takes to win it all. He might not produce points at the same rate as some of the previously mentioned players, but none of those guys score goals like him. It’s amazing to watch as teams know he’s the guy they have to stop, and yet over and over again fail to do stop him.
6. Evgeni Malkin
Malkin currently sits 30th in league scoring so perhaps ranking him so high will raise some questions. Allow me to justify the ranking. First of all, he’s just a year removed from finishing 4th in league scoring. He’s also shown himself to be the type of player capable of a hot streak that’ll vault him from 30th to 15th in league scoring in a week. Most importantly, if I’m making a team for 1 year in an attempt to win a cup, give me the 6’3”, 200lb center with the ability to beat you as both a goal scorer and playmaker while using his size to make him impossible to knock off the puck, while playing with a bit of a mean streak to boot, and a great playoff resume. I have one knock against him, though, keeping him out of my top 5- He’s injury prone. Crosby has overcome that weakness in more recent years while Malkin continues to miss time or play hurt and not like himself at times.
7. Erik Karlsson
Karlsson is the only defenseman that made the list. I think he’s the biggest game-breaker at the position. To best show his worth, look at Ottawa’s playoff stats with and without him on the ice a couple years ago when he carried them to within a goal of the Stanley Cup Finals: Karlsson on the ice- 32 GF, 16 GA. Karlsson off the ice- 15 GF, 34 GA. Now a Shark, Karlsson started the year slowly, adjusting to a new team in a new conference, and not having much luck with an unsustainably low shooting percentage. If you haven’t been paying attention, he’s back to his normal self, scoring 31 points in his last 24 games. I think most people have come to realize the rover label at times attached to him is ridiculous. He’s not perfect defensively but he’s fully capable of using his quick hands and great hockey sense to help get his team out of trouble in his own zone. For me, it’s his ability to move the puck up the ice with his skating ability or his great vision that really illustrate his greatness.
8. Mark Scheifele
Remember when Winnipeg took Scheifele 7th overall in 2011 and people thought it was a reach? That seems like a lifetime ago. He’s a player with no real weaknesses to his game, with a big strength being his passion- he seems to be as big a fan of the game as any of us. He’s clearly held in high value in Winnipeg, where despite being loaded with good forwards, he’s asked to play almost 23 minutes per game [3rd most among all NHL forwards]. He finished 7th in league scoring in 2016/17, then showed himself to be a playoff beast last season with 14 goals in 17 games, and this season he currently sits at 50 points in 41 games, playing big minutes in all situations on arguably the best team in the West.
9. Auston Matthews
My only concern with Matthews is his health. Since the start of last season, he’s scored 54 goals and 102 points in 90 games. That’s high-end production from a two-way center with arguably the best release in hockey with slick hands who’s tough to knock off the puck. Like I said, though, his health is why he’s not even higher- he’s missed 34 games over the last two seasons. If he stays healthy there’s no reason why he can’t contend for Rocket Richard trophies, and maybe even Art Ross and Hart trophies for years to come.
10. Mikko Rantanen
A year ago Rantanen broke out, scoring 84 points, tying him for 16th in league scoring. Most of the attention was given to MacKinnon, though, as if Rantanen was just lucky to play on his line. What needed to be realized, though, is that both players are unreal and help make each other better. MacKinnon’s production has gone way up since playing with Rantanen these last couple of seasons. Now that Rantanen currently sits 2nd in league scoring, I think people understand how great his is. He’s a smooth skating, 6’4”, 200 lb winger who has fantastic vision and slick hands. Why do I have MacKinnon ranked higher? I value the player who is asked to play up the middle, and play a minute more every game for the Avs.