Who are the top-50 players in the NHL?
Well...that definitely depends on who you ask. In an argument that has as many answers as who the best player in the NHL (alright....there's only two, maybe three answers to that question but still) it's always interesting to see where fans agree and disagree.
Who's overrated? Who's under-rated? Who's never been rated before but should be rated? Is there any other coherent sentence that we can insert the word 'rated' into and still have it make sense?
But coherent or not, we're taking a break from my season previews, and taking a look at the top-50 players in the NHL.
It could be worse...you could be Jason Muzzatti
50. Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils—Parise is kind of pigeon-holed in New Jersey. Although it gives him an opportunity to show case a good two-way game, one has to believe that Parise's 65 points and 30 goals would be even better if he weren't in such a stiffling system. We'll see if he can overcome those troubles this season.
49. Peter Mueller, Phoenix Coyotes—It seems strange to have Mueller at 49 instead of Elias, but he is. Mueller is an exciting young player, and his rookie season was a solid one with 22 goals and 54 points. He's a solid building block for Phoenix going forward, and there's no telling how high he could climb on this list one day.
48. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks—Keith is a very exciting young defenseman, who is going to have an outstanding career. He was a first-time All Star last season, and if his offense picks up, there's no telling how high Keith's star could climb.
47. Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers—Gagner was a big surprise for the Edmonton Oilers last season, and a dynamo in the shootout. He's got a talent package that'll help him rise in the NHL for years to come, and could bridge the 20 goal mark this season.
46. Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres—That big contract he received during last year's restricted free agency season doesn't help, but even in an off-year, Vanek is a 36 goal-scorer. The more he teams with Derek Roy in the future, the better the Sabres, and Vanek are going to get.
45. J.P. Dumont, Nashville Predators—Since his move from Buffalo to Nashville, Dumont has fallen away from the pubic eye a bit, but he's also increased his production. Because he isn't overshadowed by the the Drury's, Vanek's or Briere's, Dumont's broached the 30 goal plateau this past season, and will be an integral part of any success the Predators have.
44. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Minnesota Wild—He's 24, and he was able to net 60 points in a defense-first Minnesota system. If Marian Gaborik decides to stick around, then these two could be a dynamic combination. Great vision, great passer.
43. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks—There's probably a great deal of argument to having Kane higher on this list. The reigning Calder trophy winner had a great season, topping 70 points. His defensive play is still coming along, but Kane will help lead the 'Hawks to a Stanley Cup one day.
42. Ryan Suter, Nashville Predators—Another underrated player from Nashville who'll one day ascend to superstar status. The more he uses that point shot, the more he'll score (duh), and once his game in his own end rounds out, he'l be one tough defenseman.
41. Jeff Carter, Philadelphia Flyers—Carter is an exceptional goal scorer, who could pot 35 this season. He's spent his time in Philly's system, so with that added comfort, he could also break 70 points this year for the first time in his NHL career.
40. Paul Statsny, Colordao Avalanche—A 70-point producer from last season, he's learned from some of the best in Colorado, including Joe Sakic and even Peter Forsberg for a bit. As he matures with the rest of the Colorado core, Statsny's playmaking ability will get even better, and Colorado could once again climb to the top of the standings in a few years under his leadership.
Some work to achieve greatness...
39. Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames—It seems a little strange to have a goalie who was a win away from a third-straight 40 win season this low, but his goals-against average and save percentage have gone up and down respectively over the past few seasons, so Kipper may be starting to show his age.
38. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks—This kid could be top fifteen by next season, but this will be his big year in determining that. Sergei Samsonov taught us not to count our chickens before they hatch, but Toews displays great leadership, hands, and smarts at such a young age, that he was a no-brainer as the 'Hawks captain.
*Disclaimer: I only used Sergei Samsonov as a reference to how things can go down hill; in no way am I comparing the two. He's just a prime example of what CAN happen ok?
37a. Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
37b. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks— They go together everywhere else, so why not here too? Together, the Sedin's provide the Canucks with a great goal-scoring and playmaking combination. That, and they gave Anson Carter the ride of his life a few seasons ago. Imagine if they had a real linemate (will Steve Bernier please stand up?).
35. Derek Roy, Buffalo Sabres—This guy was probably the quietest 30-goal, 80-point man in the NHL last season. While everyone talks about Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy will be right there along with him when the Sabres return to prominence in the Eastern Conference.
34. Alex Kovalev, Montreal Canadiens—At his age, it was surprising to see Kovalev bounce back after a very disappointing 2006/07 (47 points). With a huge season in 2007/08 though (84 points), Kovalev endeared himself a little longer to Canadiens' faithful, although his production may fall somewhere in the 70-80 point neighbourhood this season. At least the Rangers got Jozef Balej in return.
33. Marty Turco, Dallas Stars—A solid starting goalie for the Stars, working on five straight 30 win seasons. Turco is very athletic, and has proven that he has the ability to win when it counts. Although he's getting older, Turco is still eyeing that elusive Cup ring, and has the drive to carry the Stars.
32. Martin St Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning—His production dropped a lot last season (Almost 20 points) but he can still be that startling little winger when he lines up on the side. With the added depth on Tampa's forwards, his production may go up a bit from last year, but St. Louis can still open up some space with his quick feet.
31. Mike Richards, Philadelphia Flyers—Has great vision, and can use his hockey smarts and skating ability to get himself to the open ice. He's one of the most dynamic two-way players entering the NHL, and his leadership is a highly coveted commodity in Philly.
30. Brad Richards, Dallas Stars—Richards had a bit of an off year last season, but with a talented group of Dallas forwards around him, he'll make them better, and his numbers will reflect that. Although Richards shot a little less in Dallas last season (2 goals in 11 games), Richards has some great playmaking ability that will flourish over the course of a full season.
Here's where it gets jumbled...
29. Marc Savard, Boston Bruins—After a bit of an off-year, Savard looks primed to return to his 90-point presence for the Boston Bruins. Once thought that he couldn't perform without a winger the caliber of Ilya Kovalchuk, Savard has shown off his deft passing ability, along with a little bit of goal scoring ability.
28. Jay Bouwmeester, Florida Panthers—Is the real deal on the back end for the Florida Panthers. Bouwmeester is starting to come into his own as a goal-scoring threat on the back end, and will work with Bryan McCabe to make the Florida powerplay a real monster.
27. Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators—Alfie has started to watch his body catch up with him over the past few seasons. He'll be 36 this season, and even with injuries mounting, he'll still be able to put up a solid season atop the heap in Ottawa. He'll also have the drive to get Ottawa back to the playoffs, and really make some noise this season.
26. Mike Green, Washington Capitals—Coming off of a huge year (18 goals, 56 points) for the Capitals, Green is poised to become the leader of the Caps defense. He's an exciting player to watch, and will only get better as time goes on.
25. Dany Heatley, Ottawa Senators—Because of a shoulder injury, Heatley's offense suffered a little, netting only 41 goals and just over 80 points, but when he's healthy, Heatley can offer Ottawa a dynamic 100-point winger that can do it all.
24. Daniel Briere, Philadelphia Flyers—Although he was a big letdown during the regular season following a 90-point campaign with the Sabres the previous year, Briere turned it on when it mattered in the playoffs. He really dropped off in his assist totals last year, but as he gains confidence and becomes comfortable in Philadelphia, his chemistry with his teammates will improve, and so will those assist totals.
23. Marian Gaborik, Minnesota Wild—It'll really be interesting to see what Gaborik does this season. Does he flourish in a contract year, or does he suffer because of the on-going drama between himself and the Minnesota Wild. One thing is for sure though, Gaborik, like Parise and Bouchard, is a prime offensive talent, trapped in the system of the offensively-stunted step-sisters within the NHL, whether it's assisted his two-way game or not.
22. Brian Campbell, Chicago Blackhawks—Campbell is an excellent puck-moving defenseman, but he still has some work to do in the defensive zone. If everything had worked out, and Campbell had stayed in San Jose (and Ron Wilson wasn't fired) you'd probably see Campbell develop into a more well-rounded talent. Be that as it may, Campbell will still give Chicago everything they paid him for this season.
21. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins—Isn't the flashiest offensive defenseman, but still can get his huge frame behind a huge shot. Chara has the ability to dominate almost anyone in the NHL (See: Bryan McCabe, rag doll for more proof). Chara is a beast. 'Nuff said.
20. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings—In the first few drafts of this list, I had Kopitar ranked in the top 18 each time, while some may not even believe he's top 20, let alone to 35. Kopitar has the tools though, and he's going to produce like a fiend in L.A. this season. Watch out for him.
Sure these guys aren't Mario Lemieux...but who is?
19. Dion Phaneuf, Calgary Flames—Um....so he hits. So he has a big shot. So he's already been a Norris Trophy candidate and if it wasn't for Nick Lidstrom he may have won one already. So he's only 23.
18. Brendan Morrow, Dallas Stars—Morrow really had a coming out party last year. His first 30-goal season, a solid 70-point campaign, and a riveting playoff run. Now I'm not biased like Ken Armer is, but I think Morrow is one of the premier leaders in the game. He's in for a big year.
17. Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta Thrashers—Here's something scary: Ilya held out in 2005, missed the first four games of the season, and still scored 98 points in the NHL (and 13 in the Russian League). Here's something else scary: He consistently scores between 40-50 goals, and would surpass a 100 point season fairly quickly if he was surrounded with some of the NHL's top talent.
16.5 Marian Hossa, Detroit Red Wings—Alright, I admit, there's 51 players on the list. To be honest though, I had a lot of trouble placing Hossa as he's kind of a question mark. He's still a great regular season producer (excellent even), but he's going to have to prove that his playoff production last season wasn't just a direct result of playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
16. Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators—Of the three Sens in the top thirty, I'd take Spezza over Heatley and Alfie—and that's saying something. Spezza has the offensive tools to do almost anything he wants in this league, and word out of Ottawa is that he's even more committed to defense this year than ever. I wouldn't be surprised if this is the season Spezza bursts through the 100-point dam.
15. Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets—Like a few other players on this list, Nash has been stuck in a dire situation in Columbus. However, with an improved supporting cast, Nash could bust through with another 40 goal season this year, and may be even better in the assist category, with a higher quality of player to dish to.
14. Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes—If it wasn't for Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, Eric might be joined by brother Jordan, but here's the lone rep for the Staal family. He's another one of those guys you can't say enough about: He's just plain dominant in the goal-scoring and playmaking departments. There's a reason he's worth that 7-year extension.
13. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers—Lundqvist is a stellar NHL talent. He's coming off of back-to-back 37 win seasons, and posted a 10-shutout season last year. Once Martin Brodeur retires, Lundqvist could finally earn his first Vezina trophy.
12. Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames—Much like Morrow, Iginla is one of the few guys in the NHL I'd let lead my team. He leads by example, he's hard-working every shift, and if he's having trouble scoring, he makes up for it by doing so many other things well. Oh, that and he's also coming off two consecutive 90-point seasons.
11. Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lighting—After a tough start to his career, Vinny has come on strong in recent years. There's no doubting that this 40 goal scoring (or 50 in 2006/07), 90-100 point totaling Quebec native is precisely what makes the Lightning tick.
It's about time we got to the top ten...
10. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils—Being a backup goalie in New Jersey is probably the easiest job in the NHL. You play five, six games tops, and back up one of the all-time greats.
Although Brodeur is a beast during the regular season, his age (36) may play a factor now in the fact he runs out of gas a little bit during playoff time. Either way, he's got three-straight 40-win seasons, and is the reigning Vezina winner of two seasons. Methinks he's good.
9. Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks—It's always hard to rank the top netminders in the game. Once Martin Brodeur retires, Nabokov will be at the forefront of the battle for the seat of "premier netminder" in the NHL. Last season was his largest margin of work (77 games) in the NHL by far (He played 67 games in 2001), but if he can stay as dominant as he was, Nabokov will one day get the Sharks over the hump.
8. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
7. Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings—These two are just more examples of the proficiency of the Detroit Red Wings in the late rounds of the draft.
It really says a lot about your team when you can have two 30-goal (Big Z had 40), 90-point players, and they're both receiving consideration for the Selke trophy.
It says even more when one of them wins it.
It says even MORE when you win the Stanley cup, and that success leads to the acquisition of Marian Hossa.
I hate the Red Wings.
6. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks—Roberto Luongo is a special goalie.
Granted Brodeur, Lundqvist and Nabokov are great, but Luongo was able to remain competitive in the race for "premier goalie in the league" on a mediocre Florida Panthers team.
He's also carried the Vancouver Canucks with a 47-win season, and suffered through a disappointing 35-win season last year.
A disappointing 35-win season. What a strange sentence.
5. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins—I tried to keep him out of the top five, I really did.
Granted, putting him at number seven in a few drafts isn't exactly "slighting" him. Or maybe it is.
Either way, Malkin is...well...Evgeni Malkin. He burst out this past season with Sidney Crosby's injury, and demolished a lot of the competition.
If Crosby goes down again this season, then none of the experts will be wondering if Pittsburgh can keep going. They know who'll pick up the slack.
4. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks—The Boston Bruins look smarter and smarter for trading Joe Thornton don't they? I mean yes they signed Marc Savard, but who'd need two playmaking centers, especially one that's as big as a baby hippo.
Alright, Thornton isn't the size of a hippo, but much like one, Thornton has begun to wallow in San Jose—that is to say he's settled into a comfortable environment where he can transform is wingers into threats with his crisp, sparkling passes.
That, and he could post a 100-point season without scoring a single goal (Two 90 assist seasons in the past three years). Doesn't that scare anyone else?
3. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings—If Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque didn't exist, then I'd believe that we're witnessing the only reincarnation of a holy deity (I don't want to descriminate here) to ever play defense in the National Hockey League.
Screw Scott Niedermayer, Nick Lidstrom should retire—it's not fair to the rest of the NHL.
I could never know the name of any three other defenseman, and I'd still feel like the most priveleged fan in the NHL to have been able to see two of the three play.
Once time machines are invented, I'm going back to watch Bobby Orr play. That, and maybe convince Pat Quinn not to clean his clock.
Sidenote: I just thought of this, and I'm curious to hear everyone's response: Who's your All-Time defense from your hockey watching career. Of all time I'd have the aforementioned Orr, Lidstrom, and Bourque, but of people I've been alive to see play?
Lidstrom, Bourque, Niedermayer, Scott Stevens, Phil Housely, and Paul Coffey, with Al MacInnis as a sub. What worries me, is that I didn't even give that any thought. Between 1988 and today has there been any better defensemen than those six? Better yet, who would want to play against that lineup?
My head hurts...I need to sit down.
Let's play a game of would you rather...
This one is straight personal preference to whomever is choosing. You knew it would come down to these two, and you know that whomever is chose as number one, the other side is going to argue why "their boy" is the real number one.
So here we go...
2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins—I won't like. Despite my not-liking Sidney Crosby, I had him ranked number one on other drafts of this list.
The fact is, Crosby doesn't just make his line inevitably better...he makes his entire team better. His playmaking ability forces teams to double-shift some of their best players in an effort to shut down Sidney Crosby. He's unstoppable: His passing, his accurate shot, and his hilariously ludicrous vision.
In history, I've only ever witness two teams that could shut Crosby down entirely. The 2005 Memorial Cup London Knights, and the 2007/08 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings—and those teams were ridiculously talented in their own respects.
This debate is going to go on for years though, and it may come down to a year-to-year thing, based on whomever does better the year before.
To be honest, I don't really care. I may not like Crosby, but I feel privileged to be able to see him, and the number one contender on this list in the NHL at the same time.
So without further ado...
1. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals—One of the reasons I had Crosby number one for a few times, was because I didn't want to be accused of my "not liking Crosby" bias.
As I talked to a few other fans though, I found that most of them, given the option, would take Ovechkin over Crosby.
While Crosby can lead with offensive flair, Ovechkin has done it all for longer. While Crosby will slide on one knee, punching his fist after a goal, we're more attracted to Ovie tossing himself through the glass after scoring. While most of us enjoy Crosby dangling on the end boards, we like Ovechkin crunching the opposition all the more.
There's just something about Alexander Ovechkin that attracts people to him, and it's probably the same reason for Crosby and his supporters.
Neither player is really comparable, as they're both different. That's why number one's on these lists will differ.
But again, who really cares who gets the number one spot on so-and-so's list—just feel lucky that we're gifted with two dynamic talents that only come along once in a lifetime, and 48 other players who would have the league in pretty good shape if those two weren't there.
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile, while you can catch more of his previous work in his archives.