#NHLTopPlayers: Nos. 10-1

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[#NHLTopPlayers Right Now: 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | Top Centers | Top Wings | Top D-men | Top Goalies]

 

10. Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs

Matthews set NHL career highs in goals (47), points (80) and power-play points (25) in 70 games last season, increasing his goal and point totals for the second straight season. The center has scored at least 34 goals in each of his first four NHL seasons, and his 158 goals since 2016-17 are second in the NHL behind Alex Ovechkin‘s 181. Matthews led the Maple Leafs with six points (two goals, four assists) in five games against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

“He’s a beast and he’s only going to get better,” NHL Network analyst Ken Daneyko said. “It’s going to be interesting to see. He might be at the top of that list one day. … He is fantastic.”

Video: Top 50 Players Right Now: Auston Matthews

 

9. Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning

Hedman scored 55 points (11 goals, 44 assists) in 66 games last season, third among NHL defensemen behind John Carlson of the Washington Capitals (75 points) and Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators (65 points). He was voted winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs after he scored 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) and was plus-13 in 25 games to help the Lightning win the Cup. He finished third in voting for the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL, the fourth straight season he was a finalist for the award (he won in 2017-18). Hedman has scored 244 points (56 goals, 188 assists) in 292 games since 2016-17, third among NHL defensemen behind Carlson (250) and Brent Burns of San Jose Sharks (271). His plus-86 rating in that span was second at the position behind Zdeno Chara, who was plus-88 for the Boston Bruins.

“If we’re only going to have one defenseman in the top 10, it’s Victor Hedman,” Daneyko said. “… With the skating stride, the mobility, the positioning, he’s the best in the National Hockey League. … I don’t think there is a comparison, he is the best defenseman in the National Hockey League.”

Video: Top 50 Players Right Now: Victor Hedman

 

8. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals

Ovechkin scored his 700th NHL goal Feb. 22 and is eighth in NHL history (706), two behind Mike Gartner for seventh. His 48 goals last season were tied with David Pastrnak for the NHL lead, and he won the Rocket Richard Trophy for a record ninth time. Ovechkin has scored at least 48 goals in six of the past seven seasons and won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2018 after helping the Capitals win the Stanley Cup for the first time. His 1,278 points are second among active NHL players behind Joe Thornton‘s 1,509.

“Year after year, he doesn’t disappoint,” Daneyko said. “He continues to get older, but he continues to do what he does best, put the puck in the net. Ovechkin’s been as good a goal-scorer as the game has ever seen, all time.”

Video: Top 50 Players Right Now: Alex Ovechkin

 

7. Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov won the Hart Trophy voted as NHL MVP in 2018-19, when he scored 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists), the most in one NHL season since Mario Lemieux scored 161 points and Jaromir Jagr scored 149 for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1995-96. In 68 games last season, Kucherov scored 85 points (33 goals, 52 assists) and was plus-26 before leading the NHL with 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) in 25 postseason games to help the Lightning win the Cup. He is second in the NHL with 398 points (153 goals, 245 assists) in 304 games during the past four seasons, behind Connor McDavid‘s 421. Kucherov is expected to be out for the entire regular season following hip surgery Dec. 29, but Tampa Bay is hopeful he will return for the playoffs.

“He’s got a little edge to his game, but I love watching him because he’s smart,” NHL Network analyst E.J. Hradek said. “He’s always kind of ahead of the game, he’s got great skills and he’s always thinking. … Just a terrific player … Nikita Kucherov is a fun player to watch.”

Video: Top 50 Players Right Now: Nikita Kucherov

 

6. David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins

Pastrnak won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the first time last season when he shared the award with Ovechkin as the NHL goals leaders, and his 95 points (48 goals, 47 assists) in 70 games were tied for third in the NHL with Artemi Panarin. Pastrnak’s 20 power-play goals led the NHL, his 10 game-winning goals were tied with Leon Draisaitl for the lead, and his 38 power-play points were third. Pastrnak has increased his goals and points totals in each of the past three seasons, and he has scored at least 34 goals and 70 points in each of the past four. His 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists) in 46 Stanley Cup Playoff games the past three seasons are fourth in the NHL.

“He’s just getting better and better,” Hradek said. “… Great personality, but high-skill guy, can put the puck in the net, no question about that. Blessed to be playing alongside two great players, a great fit with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. …He’s been a terrific player for the Bruins, and for me right now, I’d say he might be a little high at six on this list. But I think he’s clearly moving in that direction with his career, maybe next year he could end up being higher.”

Video: Top 50 Players Right Now: David Pastrnak

 

5. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins

Crosby scored 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 41 games last season, missing 28 because of a core muscle injury that required surgery. He scored 100 points (35 goals, 65 assists) in 2018-19, his sixth straight with at least 84 points. Crosby has scored 598 points (224 goals, 374 assists) in 514 games since the start of the 2013-14 season, tied for the NHL lead with Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2016 and 2017, when he helped the Penguins win the Cup in back-to-back seasons. His 107 points (38 goals, 69 assists) in 106 playoff games since 2011-12 leads the NHL.

“One of the greats of all time,” Daneyko said. “… Just watching on a nightly basis and over the years, that wide base that he keeps the puck just enough away from his defenders. It makes him so tough to cover, all the twists, the turns, all the skill, and everything he has accomplished in his illustrious career. That’s something that really stands out to me. You know how these guys are so good at shooting the puck. Nobody does it better than Sidney Crosby.”

Video: Top 50 Players Right Now: Sidney Crosby

 

4. Artemi Panarin, LW, New York Rangers

In his first season with the Rangers, Panarin tied for third in the NHL with 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists). He led the NHL with 71 even-strength points and was first among forwards with a plus-36 rating. Panarin scored at least one point in 54 of 69 games and helped New York earn a berth in the Cup Qualifiers. He was a finalist for the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player in the NHL as voted by members of the NHL Players’ Association. He has scored 415 points (148 goals, 267 assists) in 391 games in five NHL seasons and never has scored fewer than 27 goals or 74 points in a season.

“Artemi Panarin is someone that’s overcome a lot of different things in his career,” Hradek said. “… Comes to the New York Rangers and there’s a lot of pressure that comes with signing the big contract to come to the big city and being a star player. What does he do? Has a career season, 95 points, 63 assists, he’s a plus-36 player. … When he was on the ice, the Rangers were statistically a much better team.”

 

3. Leon Draisaitl, C, Edmonton Oilers

Draisaitl won the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award last season when he led the NHL with 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists), an average of 1.55 points per game and 44 power-play points. He was second with 66 even-strength points and 16 power-play goals, and was first among NHL forwards in average ice time per game (22:37). Draisaitl leads the NHL with 215 points (93 goals, 122 assists) in 153 games the past two seasons, two more than McDavid and Kucherov.

“Anytime he wasn’t with McDavid or McDavid was out, you saw Leon Draisaitl take his game to another level to be an elite player in this game,” Daneyko said. “… A few years ago, we were talking about, ‘Can he drive his own line and mature as a player?’ Well forget it. He’s a dominant player that can take over a game and did many nights for the Edmonton Oilers.”

 

2. Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche

MacKinnon was a Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award finalist last season after he was fifth in the NHL with 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) in 69 games and third with 62 even-strength points. He had 29 multipoint games, scored at least one point in 53 of 69 games, and was plus-13. He ranks third in the NHL the past three seasons with 289 points (115 goals, 174 assists), behind McDavid (321) and Kucherov (313). He was leading the NHL in playoff scoring with 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 15 games when the Avalanche were eliminated by the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Second Round.

“We can use any superlative you want,” Daneyko said. “One word that stands out is power. Powerful and the quickness … he separates himself from his opponent as good as any player in the National Hockey League. …You’ve got to love everything about Nathan MacKinnon. …Fun player to watch. He is worth the price of admission every night.”

 

1. Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers

McDavid finished second in the NHL with 97 points (34 goals, 63 assists) last season. A two-time Ted Lindsay Award winner (2017, 2018), he was on pace for his fourth straight 100-point season before last season was paused March 12. Despite missing 37 games with an injury as a rookie in 2015-16, McDavid leads the NHL in points in his five seasons with 469 (162 goals, 307 assists) in 351 games, four more than Kane in 46 fewer games.

“Speed, hands and mind, all in unison collectively, he’s the best we’ve ever seen,” Daneyko said. “… We’ve never seen a guy with quite the tools that Connor McDavid has. Fastest guy I’ve ever seen. But to be able to do it with his hands and his mind makes him almost impossible to stop for a defenseman when he gets a full head of steam. … As far as skillset and the things we’ve seen from him so far early in his career, we’ve seen nothing like it ever.”

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