Every NHL Team's Best Player so Far During the 2021 Season

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2021

Every NHL Team's Best Player so Far During the 2021 Season

0 of 4

    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Welcome to the homestretch.

    OK, a spate of coronavirus-prompted rescheduled games have stretched the NHL's remaining schedule to 25 days, but it feels like we're reaching a frenzied final push for playoff berths and beyond.

    And with a series of important games comes increased pressure on the best players.

    Seizing upon that crunch-time narrative, the B/R hockey writing gang got together to discuss the best players in the league and further broke it down to the best player on each of the 31 teams in 2020-21.

    We'll go by division for continuity's sake, listing the division slides in alphabetical order and their respective teams in the same manner.

    Some are offensive stars. Some are defensive stalwarts. Some are impenetrable goaltenders.

    Take a look at what we came up with for your favorite team and drop a word or two in the comments.   

Central Division

1 of 4

    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Carolina Hurricanes: Vincent Trocheck, C (17 G, 21 A in 37 games)

    A third-round draft steal back in 2011, the Pittsburgh-born Trocheck arrived in Carolina in a five-player deal at the 2020 trade deadline and has starred in his first full season with the Hurricanes. He's scoring at a point-per-game clip, has seven power-play goals and has won more than 50 percent of his faceoffs.


    Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane, RW (15 G, 43 A in 47 games)

    If you've been waiting around for Patrick Kane to take his three Stanley Cup rings and other hardware into the sunset, you may have to put it off a while longer. Now 32, the 5'10" winger has scored 21 goals or better in each of his previous 13 NHL seasons and entered Friday's games third in the league in scoring this season.


    Columbus Blue Jackets: Seth Jones, D (5 G, 19 A in 49 games)

    A lanky, powerful defenseman at 6'4" and 213 pounds, Jones is a three-time participant in the NHL All-Star Game and started with the Nashville Predators before a trade to the Blue Jackets in the 2015-16 season. He had 30 points in 56 games last season and is nearing that mark after 49 games in 2020-21.


    Dallas Stars: Joe Pavelski, C (20 G, 23 A in 46 games)

    Pavelski shows no signs of slowing down at age 36. He had 13 goals in 67 games while leading the Stars to the Stanley Cup Final last fall and is standing out in the follow-up season with 43 points in 46 games. He's winning 52 percent of his faceoffs, and his shooting percentage (18) is the third-highest of his career.


    Detroit Red Wings: Dylan Larkin, C (9 G, 14 A in 44 games)

    It's a brutally bad season for the Red Wings (17-25-7), but they are getting continued payoff from 2014 first-round pick Larkin, who scored 107 goals in his first five seasons. His numbers aren't as mind-boggling this time around, but he's still just 24 and will be a vital cog as general manager Steve Yzerman turns over the roster. 


    Florida Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau, LW (16 G, 34 A in 48 games)

    Some want the center. Some want the winger. Either way, it's a good problem to have for the Panthers, who've gotten 50 points in 48 games from Huberdeau. And the 27-year-old will likely get to 20 or more goals for the fifth time in his career. Last season, he was a first-time All-Star and became the franchise's all-time leading scorer.


    Nashville Predators: Juuse Saros, G (16-9-1, 2.32 GAA, .925 Save Pct.)

    The 26-year-old 2013 fourth-round pick is playing the best hockey of his career for the Predators, with both a goals-against average and a save percentage better than his career numbers. Seven straight decisions from Feb. 27 to March 27 saw Saros allow one goal or less.


    Tampa Bay Lightning: Victor Hedman, D (8 G, 34 A in 47 games)

    The Stanley Cup champs are not without stars, which makes them a particularly tough choice for this list. But while many of their high-profile scorers have missed time with injuries, defenseman Hedman has been a steady presence on the blue line with legit offensive chops, tied for tops in points among defensemen.

East Division

2 of 4

    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Boston Bruins: Brad Marchand, LW (25 G, 32 A in 44 games)

    Already one of the league's most fiery players, Marchand is producing at the rate that's made him better than a point-per-game player in each of the past four seasons. He had 100 points in 79 games in 2018-19 and then had 87 more in the abbreviated 2019-20 season. He'll be a Hart Trophy candidate this season too. 


    Buffalo Sabres: Sam Reinhart, RW (20 G, 13 A in 46 games)

    This wasn't the way it was supposed to work out for the Sabres. Though Reinhart has the chops of a first-round pick from 2014, he was supposed to play a support role alongside Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall this season. Instead, Hall is gone, Eichel is hurt and Reinhart is providing positives at the end of a trying year.


    New Jersey Devils: Pavel Zacha, C (10 G, 15 A in 40 games)

    The native of the Czech Republic was drafted sixth overall in 2015, and the Devils have gradually added a bevy of young talent around him, but Zacha is having the best of it in a trying campaign for the team. He has three power-play goals and two game-winners and is within range of equaling a career-best 13 goals.


    New York Islanders: Semyon Varlamov, G (17-9-4, 2.12 GAA, .926 Save Pct.)

    All of a sudden, the Islanders have the sort of goaltending tandem they boasted when Billy Smith and Chico Resch were winning the team Stanley Cups. The 32-year-old Varlamov won 19 games and was a playoff stud in his first year with New York, and he's continued it this year alongside emerging rookie Ilya Sorokin.


    New York Rangers: Artemi Panarin, LW (17 G, 38 A in 37 games)

    The Russian winger has been in and out of headlines for off-ice reasons this season, but the production hasn't slowed a bit from his 95-point effort across just 69 games in 2019-20. His 17.2 shooting percentage is the best of his career, and he's three goals from reaching 20 for the sixth straight season.


    Philadelphia Flyers: James van Riemsdyk, LW (16 G, 21 A in 47 games)

    It's been 14 years since the Flyers plucked JVR second behind Patrick Kane at the 2007 draft. He's been in Philly, Toronto and back but always remained consistent, including this season, when a good finish could get him to 20 goals for the seventh time. His eight power-play goals are tied for eighth in the league. 


    Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby, C (19 G, 35 A in 46 games)

    At some point, the Penguins and their fortunes will not be built around Crosby, who's been a face of the league since being picked first overall in 2005. But it's not time yet. He's averaging better than a point per game for the 14th consecutive season and is a plus-10 this year after logging a minus-eight in 2019-20.


    Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin, LW (24 G, 18 A in 43 games)

    When you're chasing guys named Gretzky and their all-time goal records, you're still pretty relevant. Indeed, Ovechkin remains a prolific sniper and is fifth in the league in goals despite missing some time because of COVID-19 protocols. Like Crosby, he won't be the man forever. But he's not through yet.

North Division

3 of 4

    Peter Power/Associated Press

    Calgary Flames: Elias Lindholm, C (14 G, 26 A in 46 games)

    The lanky Swede took five seasons to make the jump from the teens to the twenties in goals, and he's shown no signs of returning. Lindholm wasn't necessarily expected to be the linchpin on a tail-spinning Flames team this season, but he's taken that role with all-around efficiency in several different areas.


    Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid, C (25 G, 52 A in 45 games)

    No, it's not a misprint. Though the No. 1 overall pick from 2015 has been special from the moment he pulled on an Oilers sweater, he's found a way to ratchet things up to preposterous levels this season. His point total is 19 ahead of the next-closest non-teammate, and he's somehow still just 24.


    Montreal Canadiens: Jeff Petry, D (11 G, 21 A in 45 games)

    OK, Oilers fans, time to look away. Petry is a puck-moving defenseman who can play heavy minutes, exactly what Edmonton has coveted for years and just what the Canadiens wanted when they acquired him from the Oilers in March 2015. His four power-play goals are tied for third among defensemen.


    Ottawa Senators: Brady Tkachuk, LW (15 G, 15 A in 47 games)

    The Senators are slowly loading the roster with young talent, and Tkachuk is developing into a leader at 21. He was selected fourth overall in 2018 and scored 22 goals as a rookie. As Ottawa makes its climb out of the lower echelon, he'll be a vital piece.


    Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews, C (34 G, 24 A in 43 games)

    It's hard to argue the street cred of a guy who's played parts of five seasons in the NHL, including only 43 games in 2020-21, and never scored fewer than 34 goals. He had a career-high 47 in just 70 games last season, and his total this season is eight ahead of the nearest pursuer. Can he end the Leafs' Cup drought?


    Vancouver Canucks: Elias Pettersson, C (10 G, 11 A in 26 games)

    While nearly every other selection on the list has been based at least in part on 2020-21 production, Vancouver's Pettersson is a little different. He's been sidelined since early March with a wrist injury, but his production before he was hurt and his stats through two seasons make it undeniable he's the best.


    Winnipeg Jets: Mark Scheifele, C (18 G, 36 A in 46 games)

    The Winnipeg center is one of those players known to more serious fans, but it's not like he doesn't warrant mainstream love beyond Manitoba. His assist and point totals put him eighth and ninth in the league, respectively, and his 17.8 shooting percentage is near his own career-best numbers.

West Division

4 of 4

    Stacy Bengs/Associated Press

    Anaheim Ducks: John Gibson, G (8-16-6, 2.98 GAA, .903 Save Pct.)

    It's been sort of rough for the Ducks this season, but Gibson has been a standout throughout. His three shutouts are tied for fifth in the league, though he's faced an average of 29.6 shots per game—among the highest totals too. He has made two All-Star Game appearances and shared a Jennings Trophy in 2015-16.


    Arizona Coyotes: Clayton Keller, RW (13 G, 19 A in 47 games)

    Keller, who finished third in voting for the 2017-18 Calder Trophy, has carved out the beginning of a solid NHL career in Arizona. And he figures to be a long-term member of the Coyotes after signing an eight-year contract extension that kicked in this season. Both his shooting percentage and faceoff percentage are at career-high levels this year.


    Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon, C (17 G, 39 A in 40 games)

    The 2013 half of the "who's better?" debate alongside 2015 No. 1 pick McDavid. MacKinnon grew into an all-league phenomenon with a breakout 39-goal season in 2017-18, beating his previous high by 15. He's fifth in assists and seventh in points this season, leading one of the league's best teams.


    Los Angeles Kings: Anze Kopitar, C (10 G, 34 A in 43 games)

    The first Slovenian-born player to reach the NHL, it seems the 33-year-old two-time Stanley Cup Champion isn't ready to relinquish his high-profile status in Los Angeles just yet. If he finishes off this season on a point-per-game pace, it will be the second season in the past four he's done so. His 56.94 faceoff clip is a career best.


    Minnesota Wild: Kirill Kaprizov, LW (19 G, 19 A in 45 games)

    The Wild took a chance by making the prolific Russian winger a fifth-round pick in 2015, and there were times it seemed he would never find his way to Minnesota, but it will be a long time before he leaves. Kaprizov established a franchise record for points by a rookie and leads NHL rookies in goals and points.


    San Jose Sharks: Evander Kane, LW (17 G, 19 A in 46 games)

    Now 29 and in his 12th NHL season, Kane has remained consistent and productive in every stop. He's three goals away from reaching at least 20 for the sixth consecutive season. His 14 power-play goals last season were fourth in the NHL.


    St. Louis Blues: Ryan O'Reilly, C (17 G, 22 A in 44 games)

    It's another stellar season for O'Reilly, who was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner when the Blues were champs in 2019. He's only second to David Perron in points on the team this season, but his 17.2 shooting percentage leads St. Louis regulars, and he averages more ice time than any other Blues forward.


    Vegas Golden Knights: Marc-Andre Fleury, G (21-10-0, 2.08 GAA, .926 Save Pct.)

    It's been nothing if not unexpected for Fleury, who, at 36, has worked his way back to elite status after it appeared he might be dealt in the offseason. His five shutouts are tied for the league lead, and his goals-against average is fifth among goalies with at least 15 games. He's won 20 or more games in 13 NHL seasons.