Ranking the Top 5 NHL Players at Every Position

Tom Urtz Jr.@@TomUrtzJrContributor IAugust 1, 2013

Ranking the Top 5 NHL Players at Every Position

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    The NHL is full of numerous stars of different talents, but who are the best players at each position? There are arguably numerous stars at each position, and some positions are more stacked than others.

    When you look at the various players and what they bring to the table, there are bound to be a few players who become a victim of numbers. 

    To isolate the best players at each position is no easy task, and there is bound to be resistance to some of the picks. There are a few elite players who may not make this list, but here is one man's opinion of the top five players at every position.

Honorable Mention Center: Claude Giroux

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    Claude Giroux is an elite playmaking center, but it was hard to put him in the top five because of the tremendous depth at center. Giroux has had two solid seasons in a row, and he will look to build upon his success. 

    The Philadelphia Flyers will look to get back into the playoffs in 2013-14, and Giroux is the man who can lead them to the Promised Land. 

No. 5 Center: Steven Stamkos

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    Steven Stamkos is an elite offensive talent. He is one of the league's top goal scorers, and he has been a dynamite player since making his NHL debut.

    In his career to date, the 23-year-old center has amassed 208 goals and 178 assists for 386 points in 373 games. On average, Stamkos is scoring 45 goals a year, and he could become one of the all-time leaders before he hits age 30.

    Stamkos is the league's top goal scoring center, but defense is a big part of being a center. While Stamkos can hold his own on the ice, others have a better all-around game than he does. 

No. 4 Center: Pavel Datsyuk

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    The Magic Man is a great offensive and defensive player. Datsyuk has true skill and has been a valuable asset to the Detroit Red Wings.

    During his career to date, he has averaged 0.98 points per game and has been a solid three-zone player.

    He is one of the few players in the NHL that has equal strengths offensively and defensively, and he has been the subject of many highlight clips.

    Datsyuk certainly has left a lasting impact on the NHL, and he makes hockey a more enjoyable sport to watch.

No. 3 Center: Evgeni Malkin

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    Evgeni Malkin is a powerhouse center that just is a menace on the ice. Malkin showed that he can be an elite all-world player in 2012, when he captured the Art Ross, Hart and Ted Lindsay Trophies for his efforts.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins' second-line pivot stepped to the forefront many times during Sidney Crosby's absence, and he has done a good job filling his skates.

    The Penguins are stacked in the top six with centers, and Malkin is undisputedly the best second-line center in the NHL.

No. 2 Center: Jonathan Toews

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    Jonathan Toews is a skilled two-way center, and an amazing leader. Nicknamed "Captain Serious," Toews has led the Chicago Blackhawks to two Stanley Cups during his tenure. He is one of the league's more underrated centers because there is a belief that he isn't a dominant offensive player.

    While it is true that Toews is known primarily for his amazing defensive instincts, he is in fact a skilled offensive player. Throughout his time in the NHL, Toews has gotten better offensively, and his 105 points in his last 106 games is proof of that.

    To improve offensively while not sacrificing an ability to play solid defense is truly an admirable accomplishment. Toews certainly is one of the best pivots in the NHL, and he is one of the NHL's most complete players.

No. 1 Center: Sidney Crosby

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    Sidney Crosby is the NHL's best player and center. "Sid the Kid" has achieved great things in such a short time, and if he can remain healthy he will retire as one of the league's greatest players of all time.

    Crosby currently has a points-per-game average of 1.41, and that number is mightily impressive.

    The Penguins' top center's two-way play, offensive acumen and intelligence separate him from his peers, and he is just an amazing overall player. Detractors may not like his antics at times, but you have to respect his talent and overall body of work.

Honorable Mention Right Wing: Corey Perry

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    Corey Perry has had a good career to date. It includes 465 points in 574 games, a Stanley Cup, a Hart Trophy and three All-Star Game selections.

    Perry is an old-school scoring winger who also likes to play a physical game.

    Perry is 6'3" and 203 pounds, but he never shies away from a fight or physical contact. Over the last five years, 2012-13 omitted, Perry has racked up over 100 penalty minutes. 

    Overall, Perry is a rugged winger who can score, and there was a reason why the Anaheim Ducks signed him to an eight-year extension.

No. 5 Right Wing: Marian Hossa

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    Marian Hossa is a crafty veteran and effective scorer. Hossa has played for numerous teams throughout his NHL career, but he has had a ton of success with the Chicago Blackhawks.

    He has been a consistent two-way player and an integral part of two Stanley Cup teams. Even though he is 34, Hossa is still a great skater and a lethal sniper. If lucks stays on his side, Hossa could have Martin St. Louis-like longevity.

    Hossa should be a Hall of Famer one day, but right now he is a pretty good right winger.

No. 4 Right Wing: Phil Kessel

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    Phil Kessel has quietly turned into an NHL star. For the past two years, the Toronto Maple Leafs were jeered with "Thank You, Kessel" chants because they traded two draft picks to acquire Kessel. This postseason, Kessel shut his detractors up, and in the end the Maple Leafs got the last laugh.

    While Tyler Seguin was busy with getting traded to Dallas, Maple Leafs fans reveled in the fact that Kessel was the only player not named Steven Stamkos to finish amongst the NHL's top scorers two years in a row.

    Kessel is still in his prime, and he could be a really good player for years to come.

No. 3 Right Wing: Patrick Kane

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    Patrick Kane was finally back at right wing for a full season, a position he never should have left. The Chicago Blackhawks experimented with Kane at center at times in 2011-12 and 2012-13, but the move didn't pan out.

    This season, Kane had an amazing year in which he finished fifth in scoring with 55 points, and he had an ever better postseason run.

    Kane was an integral part of the Blackhawks' postseason run and won a Conn Smythe Trophy to go along with his Stanley Cup. Going forward, Kane should continue to produce at an elite level because he is finally in a position where he can succeed.

No. 2 Right Wing: Martin St. Louis

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    Martin St. Louis must know the location of the fountain of youth, because he hasn't aged at all.

    The cagey vet led the league in scoring during the 2012-13 season and continued to prove doubters wrong. No one ever thought that this undrafted winger would amount to anything because of his size.

    Critics then thought that he would slow down as he got older, but St. Louis has proved that size and age simply don't matter as much as people think.

No. 1 Right Wing: Alex Ovechkin

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    Alex Ovechkin had a good 2012-13 season. He won the Hart Trophy, Rocket Richard and finished third in league scoring. It was an improvement from two down seasons and was impressive that he accomplished it after switching positions. 

    Ovechkin is a great player who has accomplished great things, and it will be interesting to see how he plays in 2013-14 now that he will be reunited with Nicklas Backstrom.

Honorable Mention Left Wing: Matt Moulson

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    Matt Moulson is an underrated left wing who has improved his all-around game since joining the New York Islanders.

    The past three years have been great for Moulson, as he has scored at least 30 goals in each season. (During the lockout shortened season Moulson scored 15 goals, but was on pace for 30.)

    The Islanders' top left winger was slowly becoming a top scorer in the now defunct Atlantic Division, and his chemistry with John Tavares is one of the best in the league.

No. 5 Left Wing: Rick Nash

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    Rick Nash is a 6'4" power winger with a ton of talent and skill. His career numbers are not the greatest, but his first year with the Rangers saw him increase his production.

    Steve Zipay of Newsday spoke with ex-Columbus Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean last year, and the current Sportsnet analyst spoke on the subject of Nash being overrated.

    Where do you find a 6-4, 235-pound guy with hands, who can skate, is entering his prime, with limited miles on him -- although every night he was the No. 1 focus, tightly checked, man-on-man, because teams knew if you shut down Rick Nash, you beat Columbus? Now people are telling me he's overrated. Are you serious?

    Nash had 42 points in 44 games, and it is fair to say that he benefited from having other talented players him on the ice.

    The Rangers' top winger will look to increase his production next season, and he shouldn't have an issue accomplishing that as long as Derek Stepan is his pivot.

No. 4 Left Wing: James Neal

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    James Neal is a skilled scorer who has blossomed for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Neal was acquired from the Dallas Stars in a blockbuster trade, and since then he has been one of the NHL's top goal scorers.

    Playing alongside Evgeni Malkin might have helped his growth, but nonetheless Neal is a great sniper and scorer whose career is on the rise. He is signed for the foreseeable future to play for the Penguins and could easily win a Rocket Richard Trophy if he stays on Malkin's wing.

No. 3 Zach Parise

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    Zach Parise is a hardworking two-way winger who is known for his leadership. Parise was one of the New Jersey Devils' best players, and he signed with the Minnesota Wild as a free agent last summer.

    In his first season with the Wild, Parise led the team in scoring, and he was a key reason why they made the playoffs. Things are looking bright for the Wild, and Parise is a huge reason why.

No. 2 Left Wing: Henrik Zetterberg

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    Henrik Zetterberg is an elite two-way winger with a killer work ethic. He represents the Detroit Red Wings as team captain, and he learned from two of the best in Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom.

    Although he is primarily known for his defensive abilities and positional play, Zetterberg is a skilled scorer and playmaker.

    Over the past few years, Zetterberg has been amongst the league leaders in scoring left wingers, and his consistency is one of his best traits.

No. 1 Left Wing: Daniel Sedin

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    Daniel Sedin is an elite goal-scoring winger for the Vancouver Canucks. Career accolades to date include an Art Ross and Ted Lindsay Trophy, two All-Star selections and an Olympic medal with Sweden.

    Over the past few seasons, he is also one of the only wingers that has reached the 100-point plateau. This is a feat that not many accomplish, and it is one of the reasons why Sedin is No. 1. Sedin is also a strong defensive player, and his all-around game makes him a valuable commodity. 

Honorable Mention: Kris Letang

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    Kris Letang is one of the NHL's top offensive defenders. He is a skilled skater, puck mover and power-play contributor. Letang gets a ton of flack for his defensive lapses at times, but his role is to be a run-and-gun defender.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins signed Rob Scuderi to be a stay-at-home defender, and pairing him with Letang will be a great move. Letang will still get to create offense, and Scuderi can hold the fort and make up for some of Letang's shortcomings.

No. 5 Defenseman: Alex Pietrangelo

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    Alex Pietrangelo is one of the NHL's best young threats on the blue line. He is a capable two-way threat, and he has increased his production and overall value since entering the league.

    He is currently without a contract, and the St. Louis Blues may have to pay an arm and a leg to retain their future franchise blueliner.

    Pietrangelo has significant value because he is a skilled puck-mover, but he is also a capable shutdown defender. 

No. 4 Defenseman Ryan Suter

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    For many years, fans and critics lauded Shea Weber for his play on the Nashville Predators blue line. It was easy; Weber had size and a booming shot to his name. So when Ryan Suter left, it was assumed that Suter would be lost without his partner, but the opposite occurred in 2012-13.

    With the Minnesota Wild, Suter soared to new heights, and Weber struggled with Roman Josi as his defensive partner in Nashville. Weber is still a good blueliner in his own right, but this season made it clear that Suter was the one carrying the defense pairing.

No. 3 Defenseman P.K. Subban

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    P.K. Subban had an amazing 2012-13 season, and he was awarded the Norris Trophy as the league's top defender. The Montreal Canadiens will have to re-sign him after the upcoming season, and they probably regret not signing him to a long-term extension.

    Subban is a skilled two-way defender, and he is a physical body checker. There isn't a player in the NHL that loves using a hip check more than Subban, and he has upended a ton of incoming players with his trademark move.

    The sky is the limit for Subban's contract, because he has age, potential and production in his favor.

No. 2 Defenseman: Zdeno Chara

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    Zdeno Chara is a behemoth defender for the Boston Bruins who is the league's most intimidating player. He can score goals with a slap shot that has been clocked at well over 100 mph, and he can lay out opponents with hellacious body checks and is a solid shutdown defender.

    Chara's size and reach helps him block shooting lanes, and it also help him when he drops down to block a shot. The Bruins' blue line would be drastically different without Chara, and he has earned a reputation as one of the NHL's top defenders.

No. 1 Defenseman: Erik Karlsson

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    Erik Karlsson is a dynamic defenseman known for his offense, but he has grown as a defender over the past few years. Karlsson was thought of as a fourth forward because of his offensive-minded nature, but he has improved his positional play and his plus-minus total.

    Although plus-minus is often thought of as a meaningless stat, it is a stat that is applicable in Karlsson's case. He went from a minus-30 in 2010-11 to a plus-16 in 2011-12. That is a dramatic point differential of 46 over the course of a season.

    Although Karlsson gets flack for his offensive nature, he has become a better defender over the past few seasons.

Honorable Mention Goaltender: Roberto Luongo

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    It may not be a sexy pick, but given the circumstances, Roberto Luongo has performed admirably as of late. Luongo was in a toxic situation with the Vancouver Canucks, and he made the most of it.

    In the last few seasons as a starter, Luongo won posted a 40-win and 38-win season. When he was made a 1A starter in front of Cory Schneider, Luongo won 31 of his 55 starts.

    Going forward, Luongo will be the starter, and he should improve with John Tortorella behind the bench. Tortorella deploys his defensemen in a manner that benefits a goaltender, and Henrik Lundqvist was a huge beneficiary of that in New York.

    Luongo will look to prove his doubters wrong this season, and don't be surprised when the Canucks are playing successful hockey late in the season.

No. 5 Goaltender: Tuukka Rask

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    Tuukka Rask went all in at the beginning of the 2012-13 season, and it paid off in a huge way. With no term left on his contract, Rask decided that he would take a one-year deal at the start of the season instead of a long-term extension.

    Once the season was over, he would negotiate with the Bruins in the hopes that he could increase his value during the shortened season.

    Rask had an amazing regular season for the Bruins, and he backstopped them to the Stanley Cup Final.

    The former backup had proved himself in the past with stints as the temporary starter, but this year was the icing on the cake for the young Finnish netminder.

No. 4 Goaltender: Pekka Rinne

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    A tough 2012-13 campaign cost Pekka Rinne a top-three spot, but he is still a workhorse netminder. Rinne is the backbone of the Nashville Predators, and maybe his new contract extension was a weight on his mind this past season.

    It also didn't help that the Predators lost their best defenseman, and they struggled to score goals. 

    Rinne has had great years in which he has won 40 or more games, but this year was uncharacteristic of him. Nonetheless, Rinne is one of the NHL's top netminders when you look at his overall body of work.

No. 3 Goaltender: Antti Niemi

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    Antti Niemi has had a solid career to date, and it includes stints with two teams. Niemi famously helped the Chicago Blackhawks capture their first Stanley Cup since 1961 in 2010.

    He also was the backbone of the San Jose Sharks this past season and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.

    Niemi usually doesn't get the recognition he deserves because he plays in the Western Conference, but dollar for dollar he is one of the NHL's best bargain goaltenders. 

No. 2 Goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist

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    Henrik Lundqvist has been one of the NHL's top netminders year in and year out, but he hasn't had as much playoff success as No. 1 netminder Jonathan Quick.

    While Lundqvist does have the most wins since the lockout and a great goals-against average, he lacks some significant hardware.

    Lundqvist is a great goaltender who is one of the most valuable players in the league, but some silver is the difference between No. 2 and No. 1. He may benefit from having more offensive support in 2013-14, but as it stands now, King Henrik is the league's second-best goaltender.

No. 1 Goaltender: Jonathan Quick

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    Jonathan Quick had a great 2011-12 season. He won a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts. His 2012-13 regular season was average as he recovered from back surgery, but he was dynamite in the playoffs. 

    The Kings didn't win the Stanley Cup, but Quick was in the zone throughout the postseason. If the Kings got some breaks along the way, they could have had a chance to repeat, but it wasn't meant to be.

    Quick's consistency year to year hasn't been as good as Henrik Lundqvist, but his playoff success puts him a rung above the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner.


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