At the NHL level, it's nearly impossible to rely on one player to score goals. If you want to win games, you need to have set-up men that can continuously make smart plays that lead to more goals.
A good set-up man has a few characteristics. Obviously, he has to be a great skater and have good puck control skills.
However, he should also have a great hockey awareness to see which options are open and figure out the best play. When he has a good awareness of what's going on, it will be easier for him to create scoring opportunities
With that said, here are my top five set-up men in the NHL. There were a few tough choices, and if you have anything to say, feel free to leave a comment. I'm interested to hear what your thoughts are, and who you think should be on the list.
There are many players that I could have considered for No. 5. This was really hard for me because there weren't any players that stuck out. Everybody had their own strengths and weaknesses. But, I finally made the decision, and went with Ryan Getzlaf.
I ended up going with Getzlaf because of his career stats and his potential. In five seasons with the Ducks, Getzlaf has tallied 230 assists.
However, his previous seasons have been pretty decent. In 2007-08 he tallied 58 assists, and in 2008-09, he tallied 66. This season, he currently has 48 assists and is on pace to break 50 once again.
Getzlaf is still young and has a lot of time to improve. As his hockey awareness improves, and he gains even more experience, he should become a better set up man in the future.
Drafted fourth overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Nicklas Backstrom has had high expectations placed upon him.
In three seasons with the Capitals, Backstrom has already tallied 176 assists, which averages to over 50 a season. This season, he's fourth in the NHL in assists (56) with 13 games left to play.
Backstrom has played very consistently since he joined the team. He's already a huge part of Washington's success and will be an even bigger part in the future.
As he continues to gain more experience, his numbers will get even better. He already sees the ice very well, and that too should improve as he gets older.
There's no doubt that Sidney Crosby is going to be an NHL legend (if he isn't already). At 22 years old, he already has a Stanley Cup, a gold medal, and a franchise that's basically built around him.
With Crosby's successful career, he has had some successful stats. He has 307 career assists and 177 career goals. He's also leading the NHL in the scoring department this season with 45 goals.
I know it may be hard to understand why I have Crosby at No. 3, just stay with me for a second.
The number of assists Crosby has tallied is way down. This year, he's only tallied 42 assists, compared to 70 last year. However, he's also scored a lot more goals (45 compared to 33). This swap leads me to believe that he is being set up more than he is setting up.
With that said, the number of assists he's managed to tally in his short career makes him necessary for any list like mine. When his career is finished, he could easily be looked at as one of the best set-up men of all time.
Henrik Sedin is another great player that has set up a lot for his team. This year, he leads the entire NHL with 65 assists and also leads his team with 93 points.
Sedin's numbers have benefited greatly from his linemates. Many analysts call his current line the best in the NHL, with him, Daniel Sedin, and Alexandre Burrows. The chemistry on this line is simply amazing.
Although Henrik's numbers are very impressive this season, in fact, he's having a career season. Sedin is guaranteed to finish the season with the best numbers of his career. His 28 goals are already the most he's ever scored in a season, and his 65 assists are on pace to break a personal record he set a few years ago (71).
However, Sedin is being put in second place because he has never had the 90+ assists that our No. 1 candidate has had in a single season. Although he's been consistent, he hasn't been as good as our No. 1 candidate.
To me, Joe Thornton is the best set-up man in the NHL. He hasn't scored the most goals, but he has had a ton of assists. Thornton is currently second in the NHL in assists with 62, behind Henrik Sedin.
Thornton has earned first place because he has consistently delivered every season he's been in the NHL. He is averaging over 50 assists per season, and has not tallied fewer than 60 assists since the 2003-04 season with the Boston Bruins.
Not only that, but Thornton has tallied 90+ assists in a single season twice in his career. The first was in 2005-06, and he then did it again the year after.
In his career, Thornton has tallied a total of 639 assists (60th all time). The impressive part about that is that he's only 30 years old, and has plenty of time to create more. He has a good chance of being ranked in the top 10 all time for career assists.
This season, Big Joe continues to dazzle. He's still a big reason for San Jose's success. He currently leads the team with 80 points, most of that coming from his 62 assists.