The NHL's 10 Most Important Players To Their Franchise

PuckpassionCorrespondent ISeptember 9, 2009

10. Rick Nash (Columbus Blue Jackets)

Rick began his NHL career with Columbus in 2002 and was nominated for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year. In his second NHL season, Nash scored a career-high 41 goals to tie with Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk for the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's goal-scoring champion. Nash is also a four-time NHL All-Star and has been awarded the NHL foundation player award in 2009 for his work in the community.

Few would disagree that Rick is one of the 10 best players in the world. He has already established himself as a prototypical power forward. He reads the ice well at both ends, and doesn’t hesitate to make the sacrifices it takes to play winning hockey. He has velvety hands, a long reach, and a swift and accurate shot—all of which come in handy when he plants himself in front of the net.


Why he’s so important:

He is the face of the Columbus Blue Jackets, as well as the Blue Jackets first drafted star. He is Columbus’ only legitimate goal scorer and game changer. He is signed through the 2017-2018 season with an annual income of 7.8 million which will take effect in 2010-2011. This is by far the longest and highest paying contract on the Blue Jackets' roster, making Rick their most valuable player when it comes to play on the ice as well as when it comes to Columbus' book keeping.


9. John Tavares (New York Islanders)

Considered by many to be the most talented player in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, John Tavares has been touted as a future superstar now since his early teen years.

Tavares began his major junior career during the 2005-06 season with the Oshawa Generals.  Over the next several years Tavares would take the OHL and the hockey world by storm.  Showing he could play in the OHL immediately, even at his young age, Tavares scored 10 goals in his first nine games.  He finished his rookie season with 45 goals and 77 points in 65 games.  He was named to the OHL All-Rookie Team, was named the OHL’s Rookie of the Year as well as the CHL Rookie of the Year.

As a 16 year-old the following season, Tavares broke Wayne Gretzky’s goal scoring record when he tallied 72 goals. He finished his OHL career with 215 goals, 433 points in 247 games.

His playing style has been compared to Mike Bossy, Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky—some pretty good company.  He doesn't have blinding speed, but he compensates for that with great hands, tremendous vision and a desire to always improve.  While he won’t skate through too many people at 6' and 195 ibs, he is not afraid to fight through the checking.


Why he’s so important:

Tavares is projected to be a superstar, and the Islanders are in need of one more than any other franchise in the NHL. He will help bring in more fans for a team usually in the bottom three of NHL attendance figures every year. He helps the franchise gain back respect and attention they have lost over the years. He will instantly make the Islanders better.


8. Jarome Iginla (Calgary Flames)

Iginla was selected 11th overall by the Dallas Stars in the 1995 NHL entry draft, but was later traded to Calgary and has played his entire professional career with the Flames. He led the NHL in goals and points in 2001-02, and won the Lester B. Pearson award as its most valuable player as voted by the players. In 2003-04, Iginla led the league in goals for the second time and captained the Flames to the Stanley Cup Finals, leading the league in playoff scoring. Iginla scored 50 goals in a season for a second time in 2007-08. Known for his polite and generous nature, Iginla participates in numerous community events, and donates $2,000 to charity for each goal he scores.

Jarome is a five-time NHL All-Star, he is the Flames’ all-time leader in goals, points, and games played. Named the Flames captain at the start of the 2003-04 season, Iginla has been called the first black captain in NHL history.


Why he’s so important:

Jarome is the engine and key to the Calgary Flame success, and it has been that way for years now. He is a iron man who rarely misses games. He scores about 15-20 percent of the Flames goals each season. He is one of the best leaders in the NHL, and without him, the Flames may have fallen apart and hit rock bottom several years ago like many had predicted. The team has remained strong under Iginla's leadership after their Stanley Cup run in 2004.


7. Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers)

Joining the Rangers as a starter in the 2005-06 season, Lundqvist became the first Rangers rookie to post 20 wins in a season since Mike Richter recorded 21 in 1990-91. Finishing the season with 30 wins, Lundqvist broke the Rangers rookie goal tending record of 29 wins, previously held by Jim Henry (1941-42) and Johnny Bower (1953-54). Lundqvist was among the league leaders in several categories: fifth in goals against average (2.24), fourth in save percentage (.922), 11th in wins (30), and tied for 16th in shutouts with two.

Henrik had been nominated for the Vezina Trophy in his first three seasons in the NHL with the Rangers, finishing third all three times. His dominating play during his rookie season resulted in the New York media and Rangers fans giving him the nickname “King Henrik”.


Why he’s so important:

For the most part, Henrik is the reason the Rangers make the playoffs year in and year out. He plays at least 70 games a season, and keeps the Rangers in games they have no business being in. He is arguably the most reliable and consistent goaltender in the NHL, and considered by some to be the best overall. I’m positive the Rangers would be average at best if they did not have King Henrik in net.

6. Roberto Luongo (Vancouver Canucks)

Luongo was drafted in the first round, fourth overall in the 1997 NHL-Entry draft by the New York Islanders. Before being traded to the Canucks, Luongo spent most of his career in Florida after being traded from the Islanders.

In 2002-03 with the Panthers, Luongo faced over 2,000 shots while maintaining a .918 save percentage. The following year in 2003-04 he placed second in voting for the Vezina Trophy after facing the most shots in a single season by an NHL goaltender (2,475). Despite seeing unprecedented amounts of rubber, Luongo posted a 2.43 GAA and a .931 save percentage, which was first among goalies with 50-plus starts (Luongo had 72). Not surprisingly, Luongo also set an NHL record for most saves in a single season with 2,303 while picking up seven shutouts—good enough for fifth in the league. Ultimately, Luongo lost out to Martin Brodeur for the league’s top goalie.

Due to his solid play with the Vancouver Canucks in the 2006-07 regular season, Luongo made the NHL All-Star team and was voted by the fans to be the Western Conference’s starter in net. Luongo was named best goaltender of the All-Star Skills Competition in Dallas. It was his second All-Star appearance, and first as a starter. He led the Canucks to their first playoff appearance since the 2003-04 campaign, and the first postseason of his own career.

In 2008, Roberto Luongo was named the Vancouver Canucks Captain. He would become the first goalie as Captain since Bill Durnan in 1947-48.

Why he’s so important:

Similar in a way to Henrik Lundqvist, a lot of the Canucks success rides on the back of Luongo because he is so dominant in net. He has much more responsibility than your average goaltender now that he is captain of the team. A few days ago, the Canucks committed a 12-year contract to Roberto that will keep him in Vancouver until he is 42 years old. Roberto Luongo is the Canucks. Bottom line.

5. Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings)

Nicklas Lidström is considered the top NHL defenceman of his era, having won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman three consecutive seasons (first since Bobby Orr) from 2001-02 to 2002-03 and again from 2005-06 to 2007-08. He has been nominated for the award a total of nine times in the past ten seasons, the first three times finishing as the runner-up, and has won it in six of the last seven (2004-05 had no winner due to the NHL lockout).

Never a big and bruising defender, many experts say that the secret behind Lidström’s consistent game is his ability to read the game; this, combined with his excellent skating ability, allows him to be at the correct spot of the ice at the correct time.

In his seventeen NHL seasons all with the Detroit Red wings, Lidström has won four Stanley Cups, various NHL trophies and has been voted into ten NHL All-Star games. To date, he is the only European-born and trained NHL captain to win the Stanley Cup.

Why he’s so important:

He is the backbone to the Detroit Red Wings success over the last 15+ years which includes four Stanley Cups. He is still considered one of the best, if not the best defenseman in the NHL today. He broke the European Stanley Cup winning Captain curse after the Yzerman era, which goes to show how good and important he really is and was to this Detroit franchise. It’s only because of his older age and projected years remaining that does not earn him a higher spot. Nick is in my opinion the difference between Detroit winning another Cup or just being a playoff team.

4. Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Chosen second overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Penguins, Malkin’s career in the NHL was delayed because of an international transfer dispute until 2006-07, in which he captured the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s best rookie. In his second season, he helped carry Pittsburgh to the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals and was a runner-up for the Hart Memorial Trophy. The following season, Malkin totaled 113 points and won the Art Ross Trophy, awarded annually to the top-scorer in the NHL. He then led all players in playoff scoring, en route to a Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup championship.

To begin his NHL career, Malkin set a modern-day record as the first player to score at least one goal in each of his first six games. No player had achieved this feat since the league’s inaugural season in 1917-18 , when Joe Malone scored at least one goal in 14 consecutive games to start his NHL career.

Why he’s so important:

When Sidney Crosby went down with a bad knee injury halfway through the year two seasons ago, Malkin carried the Penguins team to the playoffs which at the time looked like an impossible feat, and this showed everyone Malkin is just as important to the Penguins success on the ice as Crosby is, maybe even more depending on who you ask. He is a playoff performer and he proved that by winning the Conn Smythe Trophy last season. He scores the most timely goals for his team. He is an automatic 100 point player.

3. Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils)

In the 1993-94 season , Brodeur gained recognition when he won the Calder Trophy, an annual award for the best rookie in the NHL, after leading the Devils to the second best record in the league and the Eastern Conference Finals in the playoffs.

Brodeur won at least 35 games in every season between 1996-97 and 2007-08 with the New Jersey Devils, and is the only goalie in NHL history with seven 40-win seasons. He is a four-time Vezina Trophy winner, a four-time Jennings Trophy winner, a ten-time NHL All-Star, a Calder Memorial winner, and one of only two NHL goaltenders to have scored goals in both the regular season and the playoffs.

In Brodeur’s 15-year tenure, he has led the New Jersey Devils to three Stanley Cup championships and has taken them to the playoffs all but once. Brodeur is the NHL’s all-time leader in regular season wins by a goaltender, and ranks second in all-time regular season shutouts. He also holds numerous other league and franchise records.

Why he’s so important:

Brodeur is basically the Devils history. Without him, the Devils would most likely still be known today as an average team like they were before Brodeur arrived, and that’s if the New Jersey franchise would have lasted this long. Still to this day he keeps the Devils team competitive and an annual playoff team when they probably have no business being there. He gets better with age, so as long as he wants to go for, expect the Devils to be competitive.

2. Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Crosby made his NHL debut with the Penguins on October 5, 2005 against the New Jersey Devils, and registered an assist on the team’s first goal of the season, scored by Mark Recchi in a 5–1 loss. He scored his first NHL goal in the Penguins’ home opener on October 8 against the Boston Bruins.

In Crosb’y first season, he finished sixth in scoring with 102 points (39 goals, 63 assists). By his second season, he led the NHL with 120 points (36 goals, 84 assists) to capture the Art Ross Trophy, becoming the youngest player and the only teenager to win a scoring title in any major North American sports league. That same season, Crosby won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the most valuable player as determined by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and the Lester B. Pearson Award as the most valuable player as determined by the NHL players association. He is the seventh player in NHL history to haved earned all three awards. After losing to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, Crosby won his first Stanley Cup in 2009, becoming the youngest captain in NHL history to win the championship.

Why he’s so important:

He is a generational talent that not only possesses world class skill, but he also makes average players good, and an average looking team great. Because of his star power, he is one of the reasons the Penguins are getting a new arena built which looked bleak just a few years back. He is a fan favorite who has resurrected hockey back into Pittsburgh to a point where they sellout every night. He is a class act off the ice who personally connects with fans.

1. Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)

Alexander Ovechkin had been projected as the first overall pick for nearly two years before he was drafted, and had earned comparisons to Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy.

Ovechkin was the first overall selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Washington Capitals. Due to the 2004-05 NHL lockout, he began play in the 2005-06 NHL season, in which he won the Calder Memorial Trophy for Rookie of the Year. During the 2007-08 season, he led the NHL with 65 goals and 112 points to capture the Rocket Richard and Art Ross trophies. That season he also won the Lester B. Pearson Award as the top player voted by the NHL players association and the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s MVP. In 2009, he again won the Hart, Pearson, and Richard awards. He is the only player to win all four awards since the Rocket Richard Trophy’s inception in 1999.

Why he’s so important:

He is a pure game changer that can carry his team on his back.  He has one of the best personalities for a player in the NHL making him not only a fan favorite, but a player favorite. He has turned Washington into a hockey town with near sellouts upwards of 19,000 fans decked out in red every night, when just a few years ago the team had trouble attracting 11,000 fans. He is signed with the Capitals for the next 12 years making him in my opinion the most valubale player to his team when you add in his talent and star power as well.



Stats courtesy of Wikipedia.

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