The Best NHL Players for the 2015-16 Season from A to Z

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2015

The Best NHL Players for the 2015-16 Season from A to Z

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Most assessments of the NHL's best players heading into a new season focus on position. Rarely does a list examine the best players in alphabetical order based on the first letter of their last name. Until now.

    Several players on this list, such as Montreal's Carey Price (pictured above), were easy choices. Other selections, however, will likely be debated by hockey fans in the comments section.

    The following slideshow lists the best NHL players for 2015-16 from A to Z, explaining why they made the cut and highlighting their notable achievements. Honorable mentions are also included. The letters U and X were excluded because of a lack of notable talent.

Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Why he's here: When healthy and on his game, few goalies are as solid between the pipes as Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators. His calmness under fire and ability to make clutch saves earned the 34-year-old a three-year contract extension with the Senators last summer. 

    Notable NHL achievements: Anderson has three seasons with 25-plus wins, including 38 victories in 2009-10 as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. With 182 career regular-season victories, he should reach the 200-win mark in 2015-16. He's currently second among Senators goalies in franchise victories.

    Honorable mentions: Justin Abdelkader, Detroit Red Wings; Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues; Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks; Artem Anisimov, Chicago Blackhawks and Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets.

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Since his NHL debut in 2009-10, Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn has steadily improved as a scoring star. Despite being hampered last season by a hip injury that required offseason surgery, the Stars captain won the the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer. 

    Notable NHL achievements: Benn became the first player in Stars franchise history to win the Art Ross Trophy. He was named to the First All-Star team in 2014 and the Second All-Star team in 2015. Benn was the Stars' leading scorer in 2013 and 2015. 

    Honorable mention: Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals; Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins; Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning; Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets and Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Why he's here: After 10 seasons, Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby is still the face of the NHL. In 2014-15, he was the the Penguins' leading scorer for the third straight season (and the seventh time in his career) while finishing third in league scoring. Now 28, Crosby remains one of the league's most dangerous offensive players. 

    Notable NHL achievements: Crosby captained the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009. He won the Hart Trophy as league MVP and the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer in 2007 and 2014. He's also a three-time winner of the Ted Lindsay Award. In 2010, he shared the Richard Trophy with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos. Crosby was also named to the First All-Star team in 2007, 2013 and 2014. 

    Honorable mentions: John Carlson, Washington Capitals; Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings; Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins; Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks and Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks.

Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings is one of the league's top defensemen. He was a Norris Trophy finalist last season. He also exceeded the 40-point mark for the third time in his career. Doughty plays a strong game at both ends of the ice and should be a Norris contender in 2015-16.

    Notable NHL achievements: Doughty helped the Kings win Stanley Cup titles in 2012 and 2014. He's a two-time Norris Trophy finalist and was named to the Second All-Star team in 2010 and 2015. Doughty was also named to the All-Rookie team in 2009.

    Honorable mentions: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings; Shane Doan, Arizona Coyotes; Brandon Dubinsky, Columbus Blue Jackets; Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild and Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Oliver Ekman-Larsson is the brightest star on the rebuilding Arizona Coyotes. With his superb puck-moving skills, he's the type of top-two defenseman every team covets. Only 24 years old, Ekman-Larsson has yet to reach his playing prime.

    Notable NHL achievements: He exceeded 40 points in 2013-14 and 2014-15. His 23 goals last season led all NHL defensemen. It was also the first time in his NHL career he reached the 20-goal mark.

    Honorable mentions: Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers; Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks; Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers; Loui Eriksson, Boston Bruins and Tyler Ennis, Buffalo Sabres.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is a model of regular-season consistency for the Pittsburgh Penguins. In recent years, he's significantly improved his playoff numbers. Fleury enters 2015-16 firmly entrenched among the NHL's best goalies.

    Notable NHL achievements: Fleury has seven seasons with 30-plus wins on his resume, including two with 40 or more victories. His 10 shutouts last season led the league. He backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2009.

    Honorable mentions: Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes; Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning; Mike Fisher, Nashville Predators; Nick Foligno, Columbus Blue Jackets and Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators.

Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf is one of the NHL's elite centers. The 6'4”, 218-pounder is a terrific mix of size, all-around skill and leadership. The 30-year-old Ducks captain is among the league's most respected players.

    Notable NHL achievements: Getzlaf helped the Ducks win the Stanley Cup in 2007. In 2014, he was named to the Second All-Star team. He's led the Ducks in scoring five times, including each of the last three seasons. Getzlaf has also reached or exceeded 57 points eight times.

    Honorable mentions: Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings; Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames; Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames, Dan Girardi, New York Rangers and Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers.

Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Why he's here: In 2014-15, Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby established himself among the league's top goaltenders. He led the league in games played (73) and ranked among the leaders in several goaltending categories. For his efforts, the Capitals rewarded the 25-year-old with a five-year, $30.5 million contract.

    Notable NHL achievements: In addition to leading the league in games played last season, Holtby set single-season career highs for wins (41), goals-against average (2.22) and shutouts (9). He sports impressive career playoff numbers for GAA (1.92) and save percentage (.936).

    Honorable mentions: Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers; Dougie Hamilton, Calgary Flames; Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning; Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks and Jiri Hudler, Calgary Flames.

Jarome Iginla, Colorado Avalanche

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Colorado Avalanche right wing Jarome Iginla is the best active player whose last name begins with "I." Even if he faced more competition in this category, the 38-year-old would likely remain the standout. Last season, he recorded a 20-goal, 50-point campaign for the 16th time in his career. 

    Notable NHL achievements: Iginla won the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer in 2002 and is a two-time winner (2002 and 2004) of the Richard Trophy as the top goal scorer. He also won the Pearson Award (now known as the Ted Lindsay Award) in 2002. Iginla was also named to the First All-Star team in 2002, 2008 and 2009. 

    Honorable mention: None. In this category, Iginla remains in a class by himself.

Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Columbus Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen is quickly establishing himself among the NHL's top centers. His stats have steadily increased over the last two seasons. In addition to possessing good size (6'3”, 223 pounds) and obvious offensive talent, he also plays a solid defensive game. Only 23 years old, Johansen is on the verge of becoming a superstar.

    Notable NHL achievements: Johansen was named the MVP of the 2015 All-Star Game. He led the Blue Jackets in scoring in 2013-14 and finished second in 2014-15. He was among last season's top-10 offensive centers.

    Honorable mentions: Jaromir Jagr, Florida Panthers; Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche; Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning; Seth Jones, Nashville Predators and Roman Josi, Nashville Predators.

Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith is among the NHL's elite players entering 2015-16. The 32-year-old is one of the game's best-conditioned athletes, logging big minutes in high-pressure games. Keith is the undisputed linchpin of the Blackhawks blue line.

    Notable NHL achievements: Keith won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2015 playoff MVP. He's also a two-time winner (2010, 2014) of the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman. He's helped the Blackhawks win three Stanley Cup championships (2010, 2013, 2015) and was named to the First All-Star team in 2010 and 2014. 

    Honorable mentions: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators; Ryan Kesler, Anaheim Ducks; Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins and Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings.

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Despite being sidelined by a neck injury for almost two months, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist still had a solid performance last season. He finished among the top-10 goalies in goals-against average (2.25), shutouts (five) and save percentage (.922). Expect a healthy King Henrik to remain among the NHL's elite goalies in 2015-16. 

    Notable NHL achievements: Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy in 2012 as the league's top goaltender. He was named to the First All-Star team in 2012 and the Second All-Star team in 2013. He's the only goaltender in NHL history to win 30 games in nine of his first 10 seasons. Lundqvist also holds the Rangers record for career wins (339), shutouts (55) and save percentage (921).

    Honorable mentions: Andrew Ladd, Winnipeg Jets; Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche; Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins; Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks and Milan Lucic, Los Angeles Kings.

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Why they're here: Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is one of the NHL's most talented players. Despite being hampered by injury last season, Malkin still tallied 70 points. When healthy, the 29-year-old consistently ranks among the league's top-10 scorers. Along with Sidney Crosby, Malkin is a key part of the Penguins' offensive attack. 

    Notable NHL achievements: Malkin is a two-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy (2009, 2012) as the NHL's leading scorer. He's also won the Calder Trophy (2007), as well as the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award (2012). Malkin was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP as he led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009.

    Honorable mentions: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche; Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens; Steve Mason, Philadelphia Flyers; Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers and Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames.

Rick Nash, New York Rangers

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Entering his 13th NHL season, New York Rangers left wing Rick Nash remains among the league's most consistent regular-season scorers. At 31, the 6'4”, 220-pounder is showing little sign of wearing down. He tallied a career-high 42 goals last season.

    Notable NHL achievements: Nash won the Richard Trophy in 2004 as the league's leading goal scorer. He's exceeded the 20-goal mark 11 times and the 50-point mark nine times.

    Honorable mentions: James Neal, Nashville Predators; Brock Nelson, New York Islanders; Matt Niskanen, Washington Capitals; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers and Gustav Nyquist, Detroit Red Wings.

Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Washington Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin is the top left wing in the NHL today. The 29-year-old is an elite scorer, reaching the 50-goal plateau last season for the sixth time in his career. Ovechkin was also the only player to tally 50 goals in 2014-15. 

    Notable NHL achievements: Ovechkin won the Richard Trophy last season as the NHL's top goal scorer, marking the fifth time he's achieved that honor. He's also a three-time winner of the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award. He was awarded the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2006 and the Art Ross Trophy in 2008 as the league's leading scorer. 

    Honorable mentions: Ryan O'Reilly, Buffalo Sabres; Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders; Johnny Oduya, Dallas Stars and T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals.

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was the league's best netminder in 2014-15. The 27-year-old led all goalies in wins (44), goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.933). His nine shutouts tied him with Washington's Braden Holtby for second in that category. 

    Notable NHL achievements: Price's performance last season earned him the Vezina Trophy, the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award. He also shared the Williams M. Jennings Trophy with Chicago's Corey Crawford. Price set a Canadiens record for most victories by a goaltender in one season and was named to the 2015 NHL First All-Star team.

    Honorable mentions: Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens; Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild; Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks, Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks and Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues.

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Why they're here: Even if there were more notable active NHL players whose last names began with a "Q," Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick would still likely top this category. The 29-year-old's performance last season (36 victories, 2.24 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and six shutouts) was among the few brights spots in a forgettable season for the Kings. 

    Notable NHL achievements: Quick backstopped the Kings to two Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2012 as playoff MVP and the William M. Jennings Trophy in 2014. Quick is also the franchise leader in games played by a goaltender (407), wins (212) and shutouts (37).

    Honorable mentions: None. As with Colorado's Jarome Iginla, Quick is in a class by himself in this category.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne had a strong bounce-back performance last season after complications from hip surgery sidelined him for most of 2013-14. The 32-year-old finished second in wins (41), third in goals-against average (2.18) and seventh in save percentage (.923). His strong play carried the Predators into the 2015 postseason.

    Notable NHL achievements: Rinne is a three-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy (2011, 2012, 2015) as the league's top goaltender. He was named to the Second All-Star team in 2011.

    Honorable mentions: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins; Brad Richards, Detroit Red Wings; Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs and Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators.

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Why they're here: Few forwards in the NHL can match the offensive skills of Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. His 43 goals last season ranked second only to Washington's Alexander Ovechkin among the league's top goal scorers. Stamkos is the Lightning's franchise player and one of the best pure snipers in the game.

    Notable NHL achievements: Stamkos is a two-time winner (2010 and 2012) of the Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading goal scorer. He's reached or exceeded 43 goals four times in seven seasons and was named to the NHL's Second All-Star team in 2011 and 2012. 

    Honorable mentions: Corey Schneider, New Jersey Devils; Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks; Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars and P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens.

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Why he's here: No other active NHL captain has as much respect and success as the Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews. Captain Serious played a crucial role in the Blackhawks' rise as perennial Stanley Cup contenders. The 27-year-old Toews is also one of the league's top two-way players.

    Notable NHL achievements: Toews captained the Blackhawks to three Cup championships in 2010, 2013 and 2015. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2010 as playoff MVP, the Selke Trophy in 2013 as the best defensive forward and the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2015. He's reached or exceeded 54 points in seven of the last eight seasons.

    Honorable mentions: Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues; John Tavares, New York Islanders; Tomas Tatar, Detroit Red Wings; Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks and Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings.

Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Bill Boyce/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Philadelphia Flyers winger Jakub Voracek blossomed into a scoring star in 2014-15. He reached career highs in assists and points last season, becoming one of the NHL's top offensive forwards. The Flyers rewarded the 25-year-old Voracek with an eight-year, $66 million contract extension.

    Notable NHL achievements: In 2014-15, Voracek finished second among NHL scorers in assists (59) and fourth in points (81). He was also the Flyers' leading scorer. For his efforts, Voracek was named to the NHL's 2015 First All-Star team.

    Honorable mentions: James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs; Thomas Vanek, Minnesota Wild; Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche; Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks.

Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber ranks among the league's very best defensemen. With his size (6'4”, 233 pounds), cannonading shot, all-around skills and leadership, Weber is the anchor of the Predators blue line.

    Notable NHL achievements: Weber is a three-time finalist (2011, 2012 and 2014) for the Norris Trophy. And has twice been named to the First All-Star Team (2011, 2012) and to the Second Team in 2014 and 2015. In 10 NHL seasons, Weber's reached or exceeded 40 points seven times.

    Honorable mentions. Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes; Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets, Dennis Wideman, Calgary Flames and Justin Williams, Washington Capitals.

Keith Yandle, New York Rangers

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Why he's here: New York Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle is among the NHL's best puck-moving blueliners. The 28-year-old rearguard is a superb skater with terrific offensive skills. Yandle's 46 assists led all defensemen last season.

    Notable NHL achievements: Yandle has exceeded the 40-point mark five times in his career, including three seasons with 50-plus points. He's also exceeded 40 assists three times.

    Honorable mentions: Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers.

Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Why he's here: Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg remains among the best and most respected two-way forwards in the game. The versatile 34-year-old can play center or wing and is a proven playoff performer. Zetterberg remains among the Wings' top stars.

    Notable NHL achievements: Zetterberg won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2008, leading the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup title. He was also a finalist for that year's Selke Trophy and was named to the Second All-Star team. In his 12-year NHL career, Zetterberg has never had a season with less than 43 points.

    Honorable mentions. Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers and Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild.

    Player stats and information via NHL.com and Hockey Reference.

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