The NHL's Top 10 Most Prolific Passers
Some players just have it. The right combination of skill, hands, and talent that make them the most lethal passers in the NHL.
It's the players who show that calm confidence with the puck as they envision the play on the ice before it happens. Their ability to read and react at just the right time means they are extremely dangerous on the ice.
An incredible pass can happen at any time and the players who show the uncanny skill can take you from "there's no way he can make that play" to "I can't believe that just happened" in mere seconds.
They know where you'll be on the ice before you do.
They see the pass, then make the pass. Always in that order.
Its players like these who make you think twice about your career choice. A player of this passing-caliber can prove that there is one thing better than being respected.
These are the guys that the opposition has relentless focus on throughout a game, and when they have possession of the puck, all eyes are on them. Six guys on the ice, 16 guys on the bench, the coach, the GM, the fans, heck even the beer guy takes a breath and gazes at the potential work of art in progress.
They command attention, and just when they have every single eyeball cautiously focused on them, that's when they go to work. One flick of the wrist, one perfect saucer up the ice, or one pass across the crease that happens so fast it feels like slow motion.
And then its all over.
This skill is not taught. There are no "learn how to pass like a pro" courses that make you as good as these guys. It is a God-given talent, a mixture of hand-eye coordination and flair for the dramatic that makes juggling chainsaws look like a joke compared to their wizardry with a puck.
They are the players who make everyone around them better—scratch that—they force everyone to be better around them. There is no choice. You're either ready for the pass at any time, or you're made to look like a fool when the puck ricochets off your stick into the corner, as you stand in front of the wide open net wondering how on earth that puck got to you.
It's these guys that make the highlight reel goals happen. It's these guys that make you question whether their really is such thing as a sixth-sense.
It's these guys that are the purest passers in the NHL.
And like legendary Sports Illustrated writer, Peter King, once said, "I don't expect you to agree, I expect you to argue."
Argue away, people.
Here are the top 10 most prolific passers currently in the game.
No. 10: Tomas Kaberle—Toronto Maple Leafs
We'll start this list off with a bang, and somewhat of a shock to some of you, no doubt.
Tomas Kaberle has been criticized for many things throughout his 11-year career, all with the Leafs. He doesn't shoot enough, he's not even close to being physical enough, and he never has stepped up to become the true leader that the Leafs lost once Mats Sundin left town.
But if there is one thing you can never criticize about Kaberle's game:; it's his ability to pass.
He might be the best in the NHL in his own end when he has the puck. You can't touch this guy.
He makes coming out of his zone look easy most of the time, but it's what he does from there that has him on this list as the tenth best passer in the league.
He has an insanely accurate up-ice pass, and is no stranger to springing his forwards on a clean break with a perfect tape-to-tape pass from 70 feet away. He does it almost every game, and rarely does he miss.
Not only can he thread the needle with a crisp saucer blue line to blue line, but he has got to be in the conversation of having the best slap-pass in the game from him own end.
When he winds up in full slap shot mode at his own hash-marks, fans watching wonder what on God's green earth he's trying to do, until that puck rockets down the ice and lands right on the stick of his target.
It’s truly a treat to watch.
But it doesn't stop there with this guy—oh no—he's also a wizard on the power play. Just ask former Leaf, Brian McCabe how much money of his ridiculous contract is thanks to Kaberle's passes on a pillow he got for years.
It’s harder than it looks to set up a one-timer, and Kaberle has a knack for putting the puck right where it has to be, ever so softly. He delivers it with care and adds a chocolate on top as a bonus.
You may not think this guy has what it takes to be on this list, but next time you watch a Leafs game keep an eye on No. 15 when he's humming around the ice. You'll see him come out of his zone and launch the perfect pass up the ice.
And once the camera man catches up, just in time to see the break-away goal celebration, you'll know what I'm talking about.
No. 9: Jason Spezza—Ottawa Senators
He's not having the best campaign this season, and has just gone out with an MCL injury for six to eight weeks, but in a year where Jason Spezza has gone from pass first, shoot later to pass first, shoot never, he still belongs on this list.
What makes him such a gifted passer is his stick handling ability—one of the best in the NHL—and that ability to control the puck anywhere on the ice gives him the opportunity to make a pass at any moment.
Where he's most dangerous might be coming in over the opposition's blue line. With his hands and vision of everything around him, he is able to make precision passes anywhere in the zone. Even the best are left scratching their heads.
He is also prone to making crisp passes right through defenders around the net. He certainly misses having Dany Heatley in town, but, make no mistake, when Spezza is on the ice, everyone on his team has their head up waiting for the puck—at all times.
And he does all this while still using a wooden stick. This may explain why he never shoots the puck, but when his teammates celebrate goals and he's continually credited with the assists, they'll learn to live with it.
And Spezza will continue to be one of the best passers in the NHL.
No. 8: Nicklas Lidstrom—Detroit Red Wings
The old wily captain of the Detroit Red Wings has some serious talent, especially when it comes to dishing the sweet passes—something he has been doing for a long time.
The guy has 779 assists has made a career out of setting up the likes of Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov and Henrik Zetterberg.
He, too, has the talent level needed to send a pristine pass up the ice and send in one of his guys alone. Even though we could sit here all day and talk about all the great parts of Lidstrom's game, but his passing deserves special attention.
Not much else to be said about the veteran blue liner—he is simply one of the greatest of all time at his position, and will be remembered and mimicked for years beyond his time in this league.
But for now he continues to play the game right, and stick to what he is best at—which, in all honesty, is practically everything.
No. 7: Ryan Getzlaf—Anaheim Ducks
It is sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly what Ryan Getzlaf is best at.
When he's at the top of his game, he is a lethal shooter and can put up points with the best of them, but recently he has shown a streak of inconsistency that is no doubt leaving people with questions about the type of player he is.
Nonetheless, his passing ability is what we are here to talk about, and he sure can pass with the best of them—obviously, since he's in the top 10.
After putting up a career-high 66 assists last season, it was clear to everyone that the 24-year-old was a great passer, but what he does on the ice can't be put into statistics. He simply has insane vision when skating with the puck. His head is always up and eyes are always looking for the open man around the net.
His teammates must enjoy this about him, because rarely does he miss an opportunity to get someone the puck when they're open. Even if just the smallest crack of space is there, Getzlaf will find it.
He's on pace this season to crush his career-high in assists. In 32 games, he already has 30 assists; He could potentially hit the 80 mark, which would be a huge accomplishment for anyone.
But whether his stats are impressive at the end of the year or not—hard to believe they wouldn't be—Getzlaf has proven in the few years that he has played that, one day, he could be fighting for the title of the best passer in the NHL.
No. 6: Henrik Sedin—Vancouver Canucks
Okay, so Henrik Sedin has a slight advantage over everyone else when it comes to making incredible passes, since he plays on a line with his identical twin brother. And when you watch the two play together, you sometimes wonder if they communicate with some sort of telekinetic mind business.
They just always know where the other is—Henrik especially.
And as he has matured as an NHL player, so, too, has his ability to deliver magnificent passes in true European skilled fashion.
Always hovering around the top of the NHL point leaders, Sedin has taken his game to the next level this season, sitting second in the league in points and 28 assists.
Reading a player's passing ability by his number of assists is difficult to do. These days, the NHL gives them away like they're going out of style, but Henrik is not one who gets many phantom assists.
When he is involved in a goal, it is usually the play he makes that directly results in the puck sitting in the back of the net.
It's his knack for squeezing a puck into an area that it has no business going—and yet it just gets there somehow. His brotherly senses were once just a "Henrik and Daniel thing," but now-a-days, he knows where everyone on the ice is, and his teammates are very thankful.
The hockey world was given a heavy dose of Alex Burrows last year, especially in the playoffs, when he played on a line with the Sedin twins and benefited on many occasions from gift-wrapped passes that had him putting up points like never before.
Henrik simply always knew where he was, and it worked out beautifully.
Because of his twin powers, and his spidey senses constantly tingling, Henrik Sedin has quietly solidified himself as one of the best passers in the NHL.
And something tells me that he and his brother don't plan on slowing down any time soon.
No. 5: Pavel Datsyuk—Detroit Red Wings
Another member of the Detroit Red Wings, Pavel Datsyuk takes passing to a whole different level when he has the puck. He doesn't just dish it off to teammates—he does it in style.
He is the kind of player that likes to dipsy-doodle in through the other teams defense and get everybody on the ice concentrating on him. Just as it seems like he's cornered himself and there's nowhere to go, he'll make a audacious drop pass and leave one of his guys wide open.
And it's a thing of beauty when it happens.
Datsyuk does have the luxury of playing on a line with some of the best in the league, but what he is able to do when passing the puck makes everyone around him better.
His quickness, whether going north-south or side-to-side is something to watch and he rarely finds himself in a situation that he cannot get himself out of or can't pass his way to safety.
Not many the NHL can do it like Datsyuk, and when he's at the top of his game, things usually go very well in Detroit.
No. 4: Marc Savard—Boston Bruins
He's the most talked about "never talked about" player in the NHL, but Marc Savard has always been one to let his play do the talking on the ice. Currently in his fourth season in Boston, Savard has piled up 200 assists in the previous three which is not a small feat.
He put his name on the map in 2002-2003 when he was sent from the Flames to the Thrashers and began an assault on the league that few expected.
He became the resident setup man for snipers Ilya Kovulchuck and Dany Heatley, and without Savard's assistance, those two may not be the players they are today.
Since heading to the Bruins, he was most known for being the assist to Phil Kessel's goal, but now with Kessel gone, and his production still there, we can all see that it doesn't matter who he plays with, Savard is a lethal passer.
With his small frame, the 32-year-old may not be the most noticeable guy on the ice, but when he sends a rocket of a pass across the ice that sets up a goal that fans talk about for weeks, it is clear to see that his passing ability makes him a big-time player.
One who makes any team he plays with a better one. Boston will be glad they recently signed him to a long-term extension, since Savard is one who is regularly extending cross-ice passes that turn into goals.
No. 3: Nicklas Backstrom—Washington Capitals
Playing with Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin doesn't hurt, but you can bet that neither of those guys would have quite the same success if they didn't have Nicklas Backstrom to thank for continually finding them in the open.
Backstrom has proven himself quickly in his short career as one of the best in the league with the puck in his grasp. He always has his head up and is looking for the open or even a semi-open man before firing a laser-like pass in their direction.
What's so great about him is that if no one is open, he'll use his incredible speed to his advantage to move to a different spot on the ice, gaining a better position, before proceeding to embarrass the opposition.
You know that when Ovechkin thanks his lucky stars for having a linemate like Backstrom, that the kid has some serious passing prowess.
He's not one to hog the spotlight off the ice, nor do you see his face in the media much when the game isn't on, but if there's one player who fans and players alike always keep an eye on during a game, it's Backstrom—especially when he has the puck.
Not that he ever has it for that long. Don't blink.
No. 2: Joe Thornton—San Jose Sharks
A guy this big is not supposed to have hands this good, but Joe Thornton does.
He has got the skill of a surgeon. Yet, if your surgeon walked in looked as hulking as Thornton, you might consider rescheduling. Or just living with whatever ailed you.
For the past four seasons excluding this one, Thornton has tallied an incredible 292 assists, including a 92 assist season in 2006-2007. Add on his 37 assists from this season and he's well over 300 assists in less than five years.
He simply makes everyone around him better, and has done so since his days in Boston. He is almost guaranteed to have at least one point in every game, and this season is no different.
What's so surprising is that he is 6'4" and 240 pounds, but can handle the puck like he's half that size. When he is around the net, he is one of the most dangerous players in the NHL; He's able to find the open man no matter how the play is shaping up.
He could take on your grandmother in a speed-knitting competition and put up a solid fight. He molds clay into the profiles of his teammates heads in his spare time. He once single-handedly put a massage parlour out of business when he showed their customers his skills.
Okay, maybe not. But the guy has great hands.
His clean, hard passes are placed in the right spot every time and he has a knack for surprising even his own players with a sudden deft touch pass that seemed impossible mere seconds ago.
It is for these reasons that Thornton finds himself as the second most prolific passer in the NHL.
No. 1. Sidney Crosby—Pittsburgh Penguins
Could it really be anybody else?
Sidney Crosby is without a doubt the most prolific passer in the NHL.
He has vision that rivals the greatest of all time; he is able to send a crisp, clean pass to anyone on the ice in the most difficult of situations; and his flair for the dramatic when setting up a teammate is second to none.
He is simply the best at what he does.
Coming into the league, he was known as a top-notch playmaker, but one who was just as able to score a goal as get an assist. He has lived up to that billing, but Crosby has become the most dangerous in the league when he has the puck in his hands.
You really have no idea what he's going to do with it. He could embarrass you with a cornucopia of moves, but he's more than likely to sift a pass through your legs, over a stick, and onto the awaiting tape of a teammate before you can say "Rimouski."
You may recall an early game in the 2006-2007 season when Crosby and the Penguins were playing in Philadelphia against the hated Flyers. Crosby broke in over the line on a two-on-two with teammate Dominick Moore. As they neared the net, it looked as if both Crosby and Moore were completely covered, and Sid's only opportunity would have to be a weak shot through the defender and hope it hit the net.
Well, that's what everyone else though anyways.
By the time the play was over and the puck was in the net, sports networks were already scrambling to have that play on their nightly highlights over and over again.
Just as Crosby hit the bottom of the circle, mere inches from the defender, he stopped on a dime while doing a spin-o-rama. As his back was to Moore and just as his eyes caught the selection of cotton candy in the crowd, he fired a no-look pass past the first defender and through the legs of the second, forward Randy Robataille, right onto Moore's stick.
Moore was so surprised it took himself a second to recover and gain control before back-handing it over the sprawling pad of Antero Nittymaki. Robataille, who was playing back for an out-of-position defender, Darian Hatcher, actually looked around in disbelief after the twine had been bulged.
He first looked at Moore, than gave a glance back to Crosby, as he must have been wondering how many times that play was going to get replayed in the next, oh, 10-12 years.
It was just one of many insane passes Sid the Kid has made in his career in the NHL, but as he continues to rip it up in the points department this season, we can no doubt expect more from the wonder kid in the near future.
Without a doubt, Crosby is the best passer in the NHL. Just when you try and say otherwise, he will once again make your jaw drop, and leave you praying to the hockey gods for forgiveness for ever doubting him.
Never doubt the kid with the golden stick.