Ranking the Top 25 NHL Players Ahead of the 2021 Offseason

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2021

Ranking the Top 25 NHL Players Ahead of the 2021 Offseason

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    They are the cream of the National Hockey League crop.

    The premier point-scorers, nifty playmakers, lockdown defenders and save-making goaltenders.

    And precisely the sort of talents needed to revitalize a sagging franchise, make a playoff run or, in the case of the consecutively crowned Tampa Bay Lightning, bring home a Stanley Cup or two.

    In the sweet spot between the post-Final parade and the announcement of the first pick in the draft, the B/R ice hockey team convened yet again to compile an updated list of the best players in the league.

    We put things together by looking at past achievements, future potential and relationship to others at the same positions across the NHL and whittled the collection down to a top 25.

    Nos. 6-25 are gathered together in groups of five, while the final five get individual treatment.

    Read on to get a feel for our opinions and to see where your favorite stars landed, and drop a comment or two to let us know where we got it right and/or where you saw things another way.

Nos. 25-21: Aho, Fox, Tkachuk, Kaprizov, Bergeron

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    25. Sebastian Aho, C, Carolina Hurricanes

    2020-21 Stats: 56 games, 24 goals, 33 assists, 57 points

    Why He's Here: The 23-year-old focal point in Carolina's return to relevance, Aho has more goals (145) and points (320) than any Hurricanes player since debuting with the team in 2016-17. The line he centers with wingers Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov is one of the league's best.


    24. Adam Fox, D, New York Rangers

    2020-21 Stats: 55 games, 5 goals, 42 assists, 47 points

    Why He's Here: Here's a hint: If you're an NHL defenseman and you are listed alongside Bobby Orr in anything, you're pretty good. Just 23, Fox earned the Norris Trophy as the league's top blueliner for 2020-21, joining Orr as the only other player to do it in his second season in the league.


    23. Brady Tkachuk, LW, Ottawa Senators

    2020-21 Stats: 56 games, 17 goals, 19 assists, 36 points

    Why He's Here: Already a three-season NHL veteran at age 21, Tkachuk has lived up to every expectation Ottawa had when it made him the fourth pick in the 2018 draft. The second-generation star was an All-Rookie selection in his first season and played in the All-Star Game in his second.


    22. Kirill Kaprizov, LW, Minnesota Wild

    2020-21 Stats: 55 games, 27 goals, 24 assists, 51 points

    Why He's Here: It took five years for him to get to Minnesota, but Kaprizov has been worth the wait for the Wild. Already a veteran of high-profile play in Europe, the 24-year-old made his NHL debut in 2020-21 and walked away with the Calder Trophy after finishing eighth in the league in goals.


    21. Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins

    2020-21 Stats: 54 games, 23 goals, 25 assists, 48 points

    Why He's Here: Don't believe a guy can still be among the NHL's elite 17 seasons into his career? Bergeron is clear-cut evidence to the contrary. He was second in points on a successful Boston team and scored 20-plus goals for the eighth straight year and 12th time overall.

Nos. 20-16: Barkov, Huberdeau, Marner, Zibanejad, Point

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    20. Aleksander Barkov, C, Florida Panthers

    2020-21 Stats: 50 games, 26 goals, 32 assists, 58 points

    Why He's Here: One of the league's most consistently versatile players, Barkov has collected the Lady Byng and Selke Trophies in an eight-year career. He's scored 20 or more goals in six straight seasons and is in the league's top 20 in total points (405, 16th) since 2015-16.


    19. Jonathan Huberdeau, LW, Florida Panthers

    2020-21 Stats: 55 games, 20 goals, 41 assists, 61 points

    Why He's Here: Like Barkov, Huberdeau has been rock-solid in helping the Panthers climb back to elite status in the NHL. Florida made him the third pick in the 2011 draft, and he's been a regular since 2012-13, leading the franchise in assists (330) and points (498) since his arrival.


    18. Mitchell Marner, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs

    2020-21 Stats: 55 games, 20 goals, 47 assists, 67 points

    Why He's Here: A skilled wing with speed, creativity and some edge, Marner is one of the impressive core players for a Maple Leafs team that has huge expectations in the coming years. He was in the league's top five in both assists and points in 2020-21 and is 12th in the league in points since 2016-17.


    17. Mika Zibanejad, C, New York Rangers

    2020-21 Stats: 56 games, 24 goals, 26 assists, 50 points

    Why He's Here: Some players thrive in New York; others don't. Zibanejad is one of the former. A draft pick of the Senators in 2011, the Swedish center blossomed after a 2016 trade to the Rangers. He's led the team in goals, assists and points since his arrival and was fifth in the NHL in goals (41) in 2019-20.


    16. Brayden Point, C, Tampa Bay Lightning

    2020-21 Stats: 56 games, 23 goals, 25 assists, 48 points

    Why He's Here: Point was a third-round pick in 2014 and is second in goals and points for the star-studded Lightning since debuting in 2016-17. He led the league in playoff goals (14) in 2019-20 and scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal against Dallas in a decisive Game 6 that year.

Nos. 15-11: Rantanen, Makar, Kane, Vasilevskiy, Hedman

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    15. Mikko Rantanen, RW, Colorado Avalanche

    2020-21 Stats: 52 games, 30 goals, 36 assists, 66 points

    Why He's Here: Rantanen is a big, skilled winger who's been a point-per-game player in three of the past four seasons, a stretch that coincides with the Avalanche's rise from last place in 2016-17 to a Presidents' Trophy in 2020-21. He's second on the team in goals, assists and points over that time period.


    14. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche

    2020-21 Stats: 44 games, 8 goals, 36 assists, 44 points

    Why He's Here: The fourth pick in the 2017 draft has wasted no time showing he belongs. Makar debuted with the Avalanche in the 2018-19 playoffs, scored a goal in his first game and returned to win the Calder Trophy in 2019-20. He was the lone defensive regular to average a point per game in 2020-21.


    13. Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago Blackhawks

    2020-21 Stats: 56 games, 15 goals, 51 assists, 66 points

    Why He's Here: A three-time Stanley Cup champion alongside a roomful of other league awards, the 32-year-old Kane shows zero signs of slowing down. He scored his 400th career goal and produced at a point-per-game clip for the eighth time in nine seasons in 2020-21.


    12. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning

    2020-21 Stats: 42 games, 31 wins, 11 losses, 2.21 goals-against average, .925 save percentage

    Why He's Here: The most clutch of this generation's money goalies, all the 26-year-old Russian has done to follow a 2018-19 Vezina Trophy is backstop a pair of Stanley Cup runs and capture a Conn Smythe Trophy following the 2020-21 win. Shutouts in five straight series-deciding games are his signature stat.


    11. Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning

    2020-21 Stats: 54 games, 9 goals, 36 assists, 45 points

    Why He's Here: Speaking of Conn Smythe winners, the 2019-20 recipient returned for another stellar season in 2020-21 and played a key role in the repeat Cup run. A Norris Trophy winner in 2017-18, Hedman was third in voting for the award this season, receiving 22 of 100 first-place votes.

Nos. 10-6: Matthews, Marchand, Pastrnak, Panarin, Ovechkin

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    10. Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs

    2020-21 Stats: 52 games, 41 goals, 25 assists, 66 points

    Why He's Here: The top young sniper in the game, Matthews was the first pick in the 2016 draft and scored 40 goals as a rookie, winning the Calder Trophy. He led the league with 41 goals in 52 games in 2020-21 and has more goals in the past five seasons (199) than anyone not named Ovechkin.


    9. Brad Marchand, LW, Boston Bruins

    2020-21 Stats: 53 games, 29 goals, 40 assists, 69 points

    Why He's Here: Another gem plucked in the third round, Marchand balances a game filled with skill alongside a reputation of being chirpy and irritating. He's scored 20 or more goals in all but one season since 2010-11, placing him fifth in the league in that time period.


    8. David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins

    2020-21 Stats: 48 games, 20 goals, 28 assists, 48 points

    Why He's Here: The right-sided weapon of one of the league's top lines—alongside Bergeron and Marchand—Pastrnak has blended a shooting touch with elite puck skills. Injuries kept him from approaching 30 goals for a fifth straight year, but he was a point-per-game producer for the third time.


    7. Artemi Panarin, LW, New York Rangers

    2020-21 Stats: 42 games, 17 goals, 41 assists, 58 points

    Why He's Here: Though any team could have drafted him, Panarin was passed over in 2010 and instead reached the NHL as a free agent in 2015. He hasn't looked back, winning the Calder Trophy and earning top-five positions in assists (308, fourth) and points (473, fifth) since 2015-16.


    6. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals

    2020-21 Stats: 45 games, 24 goals, 18 assists, 42 points

    Why He's Here: You know you're a star when a season in which you score every two games is considered a skid. Injuries limited Alexander the Great to 45 games, but he led the Capitals in goals and passed two more players—Mike Gartner and Phil Esposito—to climb to sixth in NHL history with 730.

No. 5: Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Age: 28

    Honors: Art Ross Trophy (2018-19), Ted Lindsay Award (2018-19), Hart Memorial Trophy (2018-19), Stanley Cup champion (2019-20, 2020-21)

    Not just the shirtless darling of the Tampa-area media, Nikita Kucherov can flat-out play too.

    A second-round pick in the 2011 draft, he missed the 2020-21 regular season following hip surgery but returned in time to be the most prolific piece in the Lightning's second straight Stanley Cup run. He produced 32 points in 23 games, nine more than any other postseason player.

    Kucherov has averaged 1.31 points per game since 2016-17, more than anyone not named Connor McDavid (1.45).

No. 4: Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Age: 33

    Honors: Art Ross Trophy (2006-07, 2013-14), Rocket Richard Trophy (2009-10, 2016-17), Ted Lindsay Award (2006-07, 2012-13, 2013-14), Hart Memorial Trophy (2006-07, 2013-14), Conn Smythe Trophy (2015-16, 2016-17), Stanley Cup champion (2008-09, 2015-16, 2016-17)

    Waiting for Sid the Kid, now well into his early 30s, to slow down? Don't hold your breath.

    The No. 1 overall pick from way back in 2005 remains a high-end NHL commodity after 16 seasons, as evidenced by a point-per-game clip that saw him produce 62 points in 55 games, placing 10th in the league in that category.

    Crosby has never failed to maintain a point-per-game pace and has racked up more team and individual hardware than anyone in his generation. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, to be sure.

No. 3: Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche

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    Age: 25

    Honors: Calder Trophy (2013-14), Lady Byng Trophy (2019-20)

    Another top overall pick who has panned out big time, both individually and for his team.

    Nathan MacKinnon was 18 when he arrived in the NHL as the Avalanche began retooling their franchise. His rise to an elite level has coincided with the team's collective progress, including four straight point-per-game seasons as Colorado rose from last overall in 2016-17 to the Presidents' Trophy in 2020-21.

    He's scored 354 points since the start of 2017-18 and has been bettered in both goals and assists by only two players during that stretch.

No. 2: Leon Draisaitl, C, Edmonton Oilers

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    Age: 25

    Honors: Art Ross Trophy (2019-20), Ted Lindsay Award (2019-20), Hart Memorial Trophy (2019-20)

    In 2020-21, he was fourth in the league in goals (31), second in both assists (53) and points (84) and produced an even 1.5 points per game—also good for second in the league.

    Yet it was a drop-off for Leon Draisaitl, an emergent German star who led the league in scoring and was voted its Most Valuable Player in 2019-20.

    He's a versatile center who's also played on the wing alongside a celebrated teammate, using superior size (6'2", 208 pounds), speed and vision to score on his own or set up others. He's led the Oilers in goals (11), assists (16) and points (27) in 21 games across their past three postseason appearances.

No. 1: Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers

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    Age: 24

    Honors: Art Ross Trophy (2016-17, 2017-18, 2020-21), Ted Lindsay Award (2016-17, 2017-18, 2020-21), Hart Memorial Trophy (2016-17, 2020-21)

    If you are surprised, you haven't been paying attention.

    The top overall pick in the 2015 draft has been the league's best player from nearly the moment he touched NHL ice, racking up three scoring titles, two MVPs and three nods from the players association as the top player in six seasons—all before his 25th birthday.

    Still, his 2020-21 season was particularly special.

    McDavid produced 105 points across an abbreviated 56-game schedule, which translates to an absurd average of 1.875 points per game that has been bested by just six players in the past 50 years. His world-class speed and sublime stick-handling make him a fixture on weekly highlight reels, and his unanimous MVP nod this time around was the second in league history, joining another ex-Oiler by the name of Wayne Gretzky.

    Get a glimpse now, folks. You'll tell your grandkids you saw him play.


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