Ranking the Top Stars in the 2015 NHL Playoffs

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistApril 13, 2015

Ranking the Top Stars in the 2015 NHL Playoffs

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    Hockey is, first and foremost, a team game. The playoffs tend to reinforce this reality, especially in the grueling series that go seven games and in the individual contests that stretch out over multiple overtimes. Every player matters, every line or pairing can make the crucial contribution or critical mistake, and when all is said and done, every player who gets his name emblazoned on the Stanley Cup deserves to be there. 

    But one exceptionally skilled individual can have a disproportionate impact. We imagine a skilled goal scorer, a physical, shutdown defenseman and of course, a goaltender, who can take over not just games but entire series. 

    Who are the top stars of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs? Read on for my list of 20 based on production in the regular season, career accolades, overall skill and star power. Your rankings are certain to vary, so tell me whom I missed and make sure you also mention which player you would take off the list to make room for your candidate. 

20. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

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    John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 numbers: 77 games, 37 goals, 73 points

    Career hardware collection: Empty (so far)

    In brief: Some would quibble with the selection of Tarasenko, given that 2014-15 was a breakout year and that arguably the St. Louis Blues have several players better than the 23 year old. However, this is a list built on star power, and while the Blues have better players, they don't have anyone else nearly as exciting. Tarasenko scored 37 goals this year playing hockey in Ken Hitchcock's strangling defensive system, and frankly, he's a ridiculous talent. Only two players in the NHL (Rick Nash and Steven Stamkos) scored more goals at even strength than Tarasenko did this year. 

19. Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings

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    2014-15 numbers: 77 games played, 17 goals, 66 points

    Career hardware collection: Conn Smythe Trophy (1), NHL Second All-Star Team (1), NHL All-Rookie Team (1), Stanley Cup ring (1)

    In brief: Detroit's captain is a crafty two-way winger who combines high-end playmaking ability with a commitment to defensive responsibility that seemingly never wanes. As he's aged, the 34-year-old has had to rely less on blazing speed and more on making intelligent decisions. Fortunately, that's always been a strength in his game.   

18. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

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    2014-15 numbers: 77 games played, two goals, 38 points

    Career hardware collection: NHL First All-Star Team (1)

    In brief: A fixture in Norris Trophy voting (he's received votes for five consecutive years), Suter is widely recognized as a brilliant two-way defenseman, though a lack of high-end offensive numbers has limited the level of recognition he gets. He routinely plays every other shift for the Wild, averaging more than 29 minutes per game as Minnesota's No. 1 option. 

17. Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks

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    2014-15 numbers: 67 games played, 33 goals, 55 points 

    Career hardware collection: Hart Trophy (1), Maurice Richard Trophy (1), NHL First All-Star Team (2), Stanley Cup ring (1)

    In brief: Depending on perspective, Perry is either a grinding physical player or a nasty piece of work whose actions frequently cross the line of what is acceptable. Either way, there's no arguing his effectiveness. Perry combines solid two-way play with a goal scorer's touch, which, in addition to his physical play, makes him one of the league's better players.

16. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings

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    2014-15 numbers: 63 games played, 26 goals, 65 points

    Career hardware collection: Frank J. Selke Trophy (3), Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (4), NHL Second All-Star Team (1), Stanley Cup ring (2)

    In brief: Arguably the definitive complete player of his generation, Datsyuk remains a marvel even as he closes in on his 37th birthday. He is as nimble and elusive with the puck as any player in the league, and it isn't just when he's in possession that the puck sticks to him. He's probably the best player in hockey at sidling in close to an opponent and suddenly coming away with the puck. 

15. Rick Nash, New York Rangers

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    2014-15 numbers: 79 games played, 42 goals, 69 points

    Career hardware collection: Maurice Richard Trophy (1), NHL All-Rookie Team (1)

    In brief: After a disappointing personal performance in the Rangers' deep playoff run last spring, Nash has done much to improve his image with a spectacular goal-scoring run this season. Nash was especially good early and ended up leading the NHL in even-strength goals (32) and coming in second in short-handed markers (4). If he can keep up this sort of performance in the postseason, it will go a long way to putting the Rangers over the top. 

14. John Tavares, New York Islanders

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    Tom Mihalek/Associated Press

    2014-15 numbers: 82 games played, 38 goals, 86 points

    Career hardware collection: NHL All-Rookie Team (1)

    In brief: The No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft enjoyed something of a breakthrough campaign in 2014-15. While he's long been recognized as an exceptional player, Tavares hit career highs in goals and points in a year when the overall scoring trend was down sharply. At just 24 years old, expect him to be a fixture in awards races for the next decade. 

13. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

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    2014-15 numbers: 77 games, 25 goals, 70 points 

    Career hardware collection: NHL Second All-Star Team (1), Stanley Cup ring (1)

    In brief: The physically dominant Getzlaf is one of the NHL's best centres, and that's reflected to a certain degree in the fact that he's received Hart Trophy votes in four of the last six seasons. Though he has never won the award, Getzlaf was the runner-up last season.

12. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

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    2014-15 numbers: 78 games played, 15 goals, 45 points

    Career hardware collection: NHL First All-Star Team (2), NHL Second All-Star Team (1)

    In brief: If there are two things fans like to see from their defensemen, they are booming slap shots and big hits. Weber provides both in spades. His point shot may be the most feared in all of hockey, and few defenders take on the task of physically impeding, removing and discomforting their opponents with such obvious relish. And unlike teammate Roman Josi (who was excellent this season but does not appear on this list), he's been one of the NHL's most respected blueliners for years now. 

11. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens

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    2014-15 numbers: 82 games played, 15 goals, 60 points

    Career hardware collection: Norris Trophy (1), NHL First All-Star Team (1), NHL All-Rookie Team (1)

    In brief: A brilliant offensive defenseman who hits like a truck, Subban combines scoring ability with physical play in a way few rearguards can match. He's steadily improved his two-way game during his time in the majors and has long been an analytics darling because of the way the ice tends to tilt when he's on it. 

10. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

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    2014-15 numbers: 80 games played, 10 goals, 45 points

    Career hardware collection: Norris Trophy (2), NHL First All-Star Team (2), Stanley Cup ring (2)

    In brief: The somewhat undersized Keith (6'1", 192 lbs) has carved out a career as an elite defenseman through mobility, intelligence and a fierce competitive streak. He's been the foundation of the Chicago Blackhawks blue line over a period that has seen the team win two Stanley Cups and has been rewarded for his offensive prowess by twice being named the league's best defenseman. 

9. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

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    2014-15 numbers: 66 games, 44-16-6 record, 0.933 save percentage, nine shutouts

    Career hardware collection: NHL All-Rookie Team (1)

    In brief: This year's likeliest winner of both the Vezina and the Hart trophies, Price has vaulted to the top of the list of NHL goalies. The 27-year-old is either the league's best goalie or very close to it, and he plays in one of the biggest media markets in the league, ensuring that his superlative ability doesn't go underappreciated. The career hardware collection is a little light, but that is about to change. 

8. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

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    2014-15 numbers: 82 games played, 21 goals, 66 points

    Career hardware collection: Norris Trophy (1), NHL First All-Star Team (1)

    In brief: Karlsson is the best offensive defenseman in hockey today. The 24 year old is lethal at both even strength and the man advantage and combines high-end shooting and passing ability with blazing speed and a flair for the dramatic. Despite a slow start to 2014-15, he's also a better two-way defenseman than he gets credit for, routinely logging 27-plus minutes per game for Ottawa and dramatically improving the Senators when he steps onto the ice. 

7. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

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    2014-15 numbers: 61 games played, 27 goals, 64 points

    Career hardware collection: Conn Smythe Trophy (1), Calder Memorial Trophy (1), NHL First All-Star Team (1), NHL All-Rookie Team (1), Stanley Cup ring (2)

    In brief: Kane is the kind of player who would have a much different reputation if he played for a team that wasn't so good at winning hockey games. A somewhat one-dimensional player (though he has improved his two-way game), Kane's great claim to fame is that he is an offensive dynamo, one of the most skilled and creative offensive weapons in the league. The firepower he provides has been invaluable to Chicago's success in recent years. 

6. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    2014-15 numbers: 69 games played, 28 goals, 70 points

    Career hardware collection: Hart Memorial Trophy (1), Ted Lindsay Award (1), Art Ross Trophy (2), Conn Smythe Trophy (1), Calder Memorial Trophy (1), NHL First All-Star Team (3), NHL All-Rookie Team (1), Stanley Cup ring (1)

    In brief: Despite relatively good health, Malkin posted mediocre scoring totals as his ice time was reduced along with that of teammate Sidney Crosby. Though he's often seen as playing second fiddle to the NHL's best player, Malkin is an extraordinary talent in his own right, a massive pivot with mobility and equal skill as a shooter and passer. 

5. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 numbers: 81 games played, 28 goals, 66 points

    Career hardware collection: Conn Smythe Trophy (1), Frank J. Selke Trophy (1), NHL Second All-Star Team (1), NHL All-Rookie Team (1), Stanley Cup ring (2)

    In brief: Captain Serious is an ideal first-line NHL centre. He plays an intelligent two-way game, combining a significant offensive presence and one of the most respected defensive skill sets in the NHL into one player. He's been arguably the most important piece of what is arguably the best team in the league over the last half-decade. 

4. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 numbers: 46 games played, 30-13-3 record, 0.922 save percentage, five shutouts

    Career hardware collection: Vezina Trophy (1), NHL First All-Star Team (1), NHL Second All-Star Team (1), NHL All-Rookie Team (1)

    In brief: The 33-year-old Lundqvist has been rock-solid in the New York net since he first stepped into it as a rookie a decade ago. He's a little lighter than one might expect in terms of career accolades, in large part because he's avoided the peaks and valleys that so many of his compatriots have gone through. That year-in, year-out consistency makes him a reliable starter, but also prevents him from hitting the high years that lead to awards as frequently as he otherwise might have. 

3. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    2014-15 numbers: 82 games played, 43 goals, 72 points

    Career hardware collection: Maurice Richard Trophy (2), NHL Second All-Star Team (2) 

    In brief: With the NHL's best combination of shot volume and uncanny accuracy, in some ways it's hard to believe that Stamkos is only 25 years old. He's the captain and offensive leader of a young Tampa Bay Lightning team that looks poised to be an Eastern Conference power for at least the next five years. 

2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 numbers: 81 games played, 53 goals, 81 points

    Career hardware collection: Hart Memorial Trophy (3), Ted Lindsay Award (3), Art Ross Trophy (1), Maurice Richard Trophy (5), Calder Memorial Trophy (1), NHL First All-Star Team (6), NHL Second All-Star Team (3), NHL All-Rookie Team (1)

    In brief: Ovechkin is a goal-scoring machine. His 53 goals in 2014-15 were 10 more than his nearest rival as he ran away with this season's goal-scoring crown. He's been a good fit under defense-minded head coach Barry Trotz, even scoring a career-high 25 goals on a Washington power play that has always been excellent. His two-way play is occasionally criticized, but as far as pure goal scorers go, he's already among the best in the history of the game. 

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    2014-15 numbers: 77 games played, 28 goals, 84 points

    Career hardware collection: Hart Memorial Trophy (2), Ted Lindsay Award (3), Art Ross Trophy (2), Maurice Richard Trophy (1), NHL First All-Star Team (3), NHL Second All-Star Team (1), NHL All-Rookie Team (1), Stanley Cup ring (1)

    In brief: Crosby remains the NHL's best player, despite a season which saw his scoring numbers decline and the Pittsburgh Penguins just barely squeak into the postseason. A big part of the issue was a reduced role under a new coach. Crosby's personal ice time fell by two minutes per game from his Hart Trophy-winning performance in 2013-14. Still, even in a down year he finished just three points back of the NHL scoring lead and almost certainly would have won the Art Ross for a third time if he hadn't missed five games with injuries. Crosby is such a good player that if he doesn't run away with the scoring lead people like me critique his "poor" season; that standard of excellence is why he slots into the top spot on this list. 

    Statistics courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com and NHL.com

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