NHL Pillars of Strength: 5 Players to Build Around
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
The NHL has its stars, and then there are the superstars.
These are the players that are described as "special," "dynamic," "unbelievable," and so forth. These are the kind of players that, barring severe injuries, are sure bets to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame in due time.
Considering age, past accomplishments, how they perform today, and what is likely to come, these five skaters make the best choices for building your club around.
5. Anze Kopitar
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Anze Kopitar is easily the most underrated player in the NHL.
Because he’s from Slovenia, he does not get the same opportunities to star at the international level of play as other elite players.
Compounding this is that many fans and pundits do not see as many of Kopitar's games that they see of other superstars, because the Los Angeles Kings often play late at night for eastern time zone viewers.
Kopitar is deceivingly quick and an excellent passer. His has a complete game that sees him win important faceoffs for the Kings and compete very well at both ends of the ice.
Just 25 years old, Kopitar would be an excellent center to build a team around.
4. Steven Stamkos
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Steven Stamkos is the deadliest sharpshooter in the NHL.
His quick release combined with his uncanny ability to shoot accurately from almost anywhere in the offensive zone makes him a goaltender’s nightmare. Stamkos is second to none in the attacking areas of the rink.
Where Stamkos cannot match the other centers on this list is in the faceoff circle or the ability to play in the defensive zone. In the past few years, Stamkos’ supporting cast in Tampa Bay has not been as good as Sidney Crosby’s or Jonathan Toews’, which has an additional negative effect on his defensive stats line.
Ultimately, much of this is nitpicking, and Stamkos is a unique talent in this generation that should continue to score at a high rate for the next decade.
General managers would love to have Stamkos as a building block.
3. Sidney Crosby
Claus Andersen/Getty Images
Sidney Crosby has been the most dynamic player of his generation.
He’s been widely touted from childhood and has delivered on that promise in so many ways.
He’s a Stanley Cup winner and is one of the few people who can boast of an Olympic-winning goal. Crosby can take over a game almost at will; with the kind of teammates that Pittsburgh has surrounded him with like Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, James Neal and Chris Kunitz, he does so often.
Crosby excels in all aspects of the game and can play in any situation.
Unfortunately, Crosby has suffered multiple concussions and the worry about his long-term health remains. While many would overlook this, I could not.
Mainly for that reason, I have him near, but not at the top, of this list.
2. Erik Karlsson
Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images
If Norris Trophy-winner Erik Karlsson played in an NHL city that receives greater media attention, he would garner even more accolades than he does currently.
His season-ending Achilles injury was a terrible blow not only to the Ottawa Senators, but also the NHL.
Many media experts talk about Karlsson being one of the few players that they would pay full ticket prices to watch.
The game is much more structured than it was even 20 years ago, and individual efforts that bring fans out of their seats do not seem as common as they once were.
Karlsson has the kind of talent where at least once, and sometimes even more than once in a game, he does something that leaves fans amazed.
There will be questions about his health coming back from this injury, but at 22 years old, Karlsson has likely only scratched the surface of what he is capable of doing.
Given Ottawa’s young and talented roster, there is reason to believe that he could not only win several more Norris trophies as the NHL’s best defenseman, but he may even challenge for the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer.
1. Jonathan Toews
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Not everyone will agree that the Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews is the best choice to build an NHL team around, but it is difficult to find an NHL fan that doesn’t have immense respect for his game.
Quite simply, Toews does it all. He has won a Stanley Cup, has been a leader for Team Canada at the Olympics, and has been a winner at every level at which he has played otherwise.
Toews is always near the top of the league in faceoff percentage, which is so vital to a puck-possession team like the Blackhawks.
Night after night he faces off against the opposing team’s top line and almost always comes out on top.
Toews is a lethal scorer both at even strength and on the power play. He is an excellent penalty killer and matches up physically with every top center in the league.
At just 24 years of age, it is hard to believe that Toews will likely get even better in the next few years.
Toews is the most complete player in the world today and the best choice as the one player to build an NHL team around.