Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals.
Compiling a list of the best stick-handlers currently in the National Hockey League is like shooting fish in a barrel.
You’re bound to get a lot of hits, maybe some misses, but, no matter what, a lot of people are going to be mad at you, starting with the fish and ending with the fine people at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals…or are fish not considered animals anymore? I can’t keep track of the whole vegetarian rules thing.
In any case, for your viewing pleasure, here are the top 13 flashiest stick-handlers (and the video to prove it):
I’ll be the first to admit that perhaps this ranking does not do Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals justice. Arguably one of the best stick-handlers currently in the NHL, he rarely displays that one aspect of his diverse skill set. Still, there’s no denying his talent. Hence the No. 13 ranking.
In his better days, teammate Alex Ovechkin might have made this list, but while Ovy is the more complete player, his production has degraded, and Backstrom has got him beat here. He’s also got a few goaltenders beat along the way.
Perhaps a surprise entry, Rick Nash is an undeniably overrated player. His production up to this point in his career does not justify his salary, nor all the accolades that seem to be thrown his way.
However, he’s admittedly an underrated stick-handler who deserves more respect in that department, but not much more. He’s still a two-dimensional player in a 3D world, like B.J. Blazkowicz in Wolfenstein 3D, right down to his uncanny need to shoot first and ask questions later (and pass never).
St. Louis Blues forward David Perron is by no means a star. At this stage of his career, he’s still flying below the radar somewhat, but once he’s got a burst of speed, boy is flying an accurate word. Give him the puck, and he’ll do something even more incredible.
I mean, he won’t turn it into a flock of doves or anything, but he will put it in the back of the net in equally photogenic fashion. Now, for his next trick: staying healthy long enough for everyone to appreciate his skill.
Yes, I went the whole “put the Sedins in the same entry” route even though they’re two different people. I did this for three reasons:
1) I honestly can’t tell them apart
2) I can’t tell who the better stick-handler is
3) I’d rather be accused of being lazy than be subjected to the wrath of an overly passionate hockey fan whose favorite player was left off this list for no other reason than there weren’t enough spots left because the Sedins took up two of them
Of course, it’s abundantly clear that the two Sedins together would place first on this list as they’ve got enough talent to start a campfire just by touching one stick to another. Unfortunately for Vancouver Canuck fans, that’s not how this list works.
New Jersey Devil Ilya Kovalchuk has scored 298 goals since the last lockout. That’s second to only one man, Alexander Ovechkin (339). It stands to reason that in order to score that many you need to know your way around a stick pretty well. Of course, Dany Heatley places third, so maybe it’s not the best measuring stick (pun and Heatley insult very much intended).
In any case, Kovalchuk has many weapons at his disposal, including a deadly shot. Combining the two, it’s a scene almost straight out of a Power Rangers show when all the robots join together to form one unstoppable force, you know, minus the robots…and overacting through exaggerated gestures by the dudes in the suits.
Once upon a time, there was a Montreal Canadien by the name of Mike Ribeiro.
Bob Gainey, the general manager of the Canadiens, did not care much for Ribeiro or his alleged divisive behavior within the team’s locker room, with him and best friends Jose Theodore and Pierre Dagenais forming an exclusive clique of well-coifed Francophones that threatened his long-since-receded hairline, English as a first language and happiness in general.
So, Gainey sought out the help of an evil wizard to make them pay. Realizing there was no such thing as wizards, he then did the next-best thing: He disbanded the Three Amigos (yes, they were actually called the Three Amigos) himself.
He banished Dagenais to the minors never to return and dealt Theodore to the Colorado Avalanche for a magical slice of Swiss cheese that was somehow made up of more holes than cheese. To complete his plan, he then traded Ribeiro for an all-too-lifelike, talking statue of an NHL defenseman.
His plan now complete, his thirst for revenge now quenched, Gainey realized far too late that slices of cheese could not stop pucks, statues could not score (or move), and the stench of Dagenais would never completely dissipate in the Bell Centre.
He also watched in horror as Ribeiro went on to score over 400 points over the next few seasons as a Dallas Star, including quite a few pretty goals. Where oh where did he go wrong? More importantly, how, oh how would he make this right?
…Skip a few acts where everything works out for the best…
And they all lived happily ever after. The end.
I’ve long held this theory that Jason Spezza should be nicknamed the Spez Dispenser. For starters, he looks far too much like Beaker from The Muppets for anyone to deny the resemblance. He also passes the puck much more than he should.
Really, if he only opted to shoot more, fans would be treated to spectacular displays of his undeniable stick-handling ability on a more regular basis. And everyone wins in that scenario, except, of course, the other team.
Jonathan Toews could have easily made this list as well, but it’s Patrick Kane who truly possesses more pure offensive ability than a drunk Jack Black providing the Friday night entertainment at a convent filled to the brim with flabbergasted nuns. Captain Serious would likely fit right in, in sharp contrast.
Sidney Crosby is arguably the best player on the planet. So, it stands to reason his stick-handling should be right up there with the very best. In fact, the most controversial part about this entry is that it’s not higher up.
Truth be told, Crosby’s skill set as a whole is beyond reproach, but there are others who are more worthy of the top spot than he is.
Many might argue that Evgeni Malkin doesn’t belong higher up than Crosby, but the gap between the two in terms of sheer ability has closed in recent years. You could make a decent case that the former is the better overall player.
At the very least, Malkin’s got better stick-handling skills. That and, I’m sure, the better Frankenstein’s Monster impression.
It’s actually just pure coincidence that TSN’s Rod Smith mentions the need for a TSN Top 10 of Claude Giroux moments due to previous editions highlighting the careers of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby (see previous two entries).
It’s no coincidence, however, that Giroux appears where he does on this list. In just a few short years, Giroux has gone from a prospect that took a little longer than one might expect to make it to the NHL to a superstar capable of making everyone else on the ice look like they don’t belong.
Jaromir Jagr may not have the speed or reflexes he did 20 years ago, but he’s an all-time great, especially when it came to deking out opponents. Him not making this list would have been a travesty, and him placing any lower would have been an injustice and a knock on all he’s accomplished up to this point in his career.
This highlight pack showcases his goals from this past year with the Philadelphia Flyers, proving in at least a few places that he’s still got a lot of what he once had, which is saying quite a bit.
They call them “Datsyukian” dekes for a reason, and it’s not because it sounds cool. Well, I mean it does, but this modern-day marvel of mastery with the puck has brought stick-handling to another level. It takes something special to pull off No. 1 on the accompanying video, but something very different and otherworldly to do it in a game.
Maybe there’s something to that. Looking at his alien-shaped head and everything, it all begins to add up. Have we already made first contact without knowing it? You be the judge.