Every NHL Team's Best Player During the 2021-2022 SeasonApril 26, 2022
Every NHL Team's Best Player During the 2021-2022 Season
Being the best player on your team means different things for different NHL franchises. In a way, it's reflective of where a team is at in terms of their Stanley Cup window. If your top skater doesn't have outstanding impacts, either offensively or defensively, it likely speaks to a lack of talent throughout the roster.
As such, it was more difficult to select the best player for the Boston Bruins than it was for, say, the Philadelphia Flyers. This exercise also highlighted just how outstanding the rosters are at the very tip-top of the NHL. The gap between the cream and the rest seems to be getting more significant by the year.
All eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference have 100 or more points in the standings this season. That's the first time that has happened in league history, and it probably means that one of the wild-card teams from the Western Conference is going to win the Stanley Cup...because hockey, but that's neither here nor there.
We tried to be as thorough as possible when researching who's been the most outstanding skater on their team this year. Some of the calls were close, while others we anything but. This is a fantastic genesis for conversation though, so feel free to hit up the comments to inject your favorite player's name into the fray.
Anaheim Ducks: Troy Terry
This one is a bit of a toss-up between Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras, but the former is better in all three zones. They are the perfect yin and yang to each other, playing different games while also driving positive results.
Terry is just a fantastic 200-foot player—could he contend for the Selke Trophy in time?—while Zegras is absolutely lethal around the opposition's net. It's tough to pick out who is better based on their varied skill sets, but Terry seems to do just as much in the offensive zone while giving up less in the defensive end.
The former fifth-round pick (2015) has been one of the most unexpected and out-of-nowhere success stories in recent memory. He had all of 15 goals through his first 129 games at the NHL level. Yet in his age-24 season, Terry is evolving into a truly special player; an elite sniper who doesn't have to sell the farm defensively to make it happen.
The NHL is littered with forwards who can find the back of the net but can't seem to backcheck. Terry isn't cut from the same cloth, and Anaheim's future is in fantastic hands between him, Zegras and the frequently overlooked Jamie Drysdale.
Arizona Coyotes: Clayton Keller
It's not as tough to find a bright spot for the Arizona Coyotes as it is elsewhere. The team rosters a handful of skaters who have produced solid results, and that's before we consider all the...we'll call them off-ice distractions for the sake of brevity.
Out on the rink, however, Clayton Keller has been fantastic as a top-line option in the desert. No one's going to get him confused for Patrice Bergeron or Mark Stone, but the 23-year-old has established himself as a quality forward worth building around in Arizona.
And at this stage of whatever Bill Armstrong's plan is, that's about as good as we can do for the team's best player.
He was pushing a point-per-game pace until he broke his leg in an ugly incident a few weeks ago, and he brings noteworthy competitiveness for a Coyotes team that is the underdog on most nights. Here's to hoping that he's able to bounce back stronger following surgery.
Shoutout to Nick Schmaltz for building off his 2019-20 campaign as well. We'd hear arguments for him to be the strongest team for Arizona this year, but it's Keller by a nose.
Boston Bruins: Patrice Bergeron
Picking out the best player on the Boston Bruins is like Scrooge McDuck trying to pick out his favorite coin. This team is loaded with top-end, two-way talent and is going to be a handful come playoff time.
It's tough to pass on Patrice Bergeron as Boston's best player, though, because he is undoubtedly the spirit of this team and is probably the only skater who is going to take home individual hardware in the Selke Trophy. It'll be his record-breaking fifth defensive forward of the year award, and the jokes about renaming it after him will be tired until the NHL actually does.
(Just do it, Gary. Give the people a reason to love you.)
Longtime Bruins scribe Fluto Shinzawa recently broke down Bergeron's excellence for The Athletic, and the whole post is worth your time, even if you aren't a fan of Boston. This particular segment best expresses why, even at 36, the center is the team's best player. Check out these stats from Natural Stat Trick:
"You name the category, Bergeron leads it: attempts allowed per 60 (40.57), Corsi For percentage (65.45), shots against per 60 (23.31), shot share (67.38), scoring chances against per 60 (18.65), high-danger attempts against per 60 (5.97). In most cases, his lead is substantial."
His impact on games is supernatural, and it'll be interesting to see what kind of contract he's in line for as a free agent this summer.
Buffalo Sabres: Alex Tuch
The Buffalo Sabres may actually end up "winning" the Jack Eichel trade. A bit spicy? You bet, but the emergence of Alex Tuch as a top-line forward makes it more likely than it probably should be. Peyton Krebs and that conditional 2022 first-rounder were seen as the principal returns for the former team captain, with Tuch as almost a cap-clearing afterthought.
Perhaps that shouldn't have been the case.
After failing to make an impact with the Minnesota Wild in 2016-17, Tuch was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for a third-round selection in 2018—far from an ideal return for a former 18th overall pick.
In Nevada, he was a solid goal producer on a deep roster chock full of All-Star-caliber talent. Since arriving in Buffalo, though, he's been outstanding in the offensive zone. Through the lens of Dom Luszczyszyn's GSVA model, Tuch has actually been stronger offensively than Eichel. Small sample size alert and all that, but it's still a wild outcome.
Tage Thompson deserves credit for the campaign he's been having as well—he's another skater that came over as part of the return for a star center—but Tuch starting off his time as a Sabre strong is arguably more important.
Calgary Flames: Johnny Gaudreau
No need to try to galaxy-brain this one. Johnny Gaudreau has not only been the best player for the Calgary Flames this season, but he's also been one of the top skaters in the NHL as a whole. It's still likely that Auston Matthews will (deservedly) win the Hart Trophy, but Gaudreau has maintained his place in that conversation all season long.
He has the second-best goals-for percentage in the NHL, according to NaturalStatTrick.com, and his line with Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm has been hanging around as one of the league's best throughout 2021-22. He eclipsed the 100-point barrier for the first time in his career in mid-April and is on pace for an astounding 40 goals and 75 points.
Go out and get that bag, Johnny Hockey.
He's been much less of a defensive liability under head coach Darryl Sutter, which has made his offensive impacts even more outstanding. Calgary is beginning to reach its final form as a legit Stanley Cup contender, and that all starts with Gaudreau.
How he holds up during the rigors of the postseason will be one of the stories to watch in the early going. If he can find ways to be productive once the checking gets tighter and the refs throw away the regular-season rulebook, the Flames will be a real problem in the Western Conference.
Carolina Hurricanes: Frederik Andersen
Frederik Andersen was injured on April 16 when his Carolina Hurricanes took on the Colorado Avalanche. The sight of the netminder being helped off the ice left fans of the team "in full meltdown mode," according to The Athletic's Sara Civian.
He's not carrying Carolina to the tune of a Dominik Hasek campaign, but he's been the backbone of the Hurricanes since signing as a free agent over the summer. Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov are strong up front, but they haven't been driving overly strong results for their respective lines.
Neither of the team's top two lines are inside of the league's top 50 in terms of expected-goals-for percentage. That's not to say that Aho and Svechnikov aren't effective. They just don't drive play like a Nathan MacKinnon or Auston Matthews.
The Hurricanes are a rock-solid four-line team, which makes this less important, but Andersen's play has been spectacular where others simply haven't quite been in 2021-22. His goals saved above expected trails only potential Hart Trophy nominee Igor Shesterkin.
Carolina needs Andersen back and healthy if it wants to do damage come playoff time. We'll see.
Chicago Blackhawks: Alex DeBrincat
Times, they are a-changin' for the Chicago Blackhawks. Bob Dylan is hyper overrated—don't at me—but it's the truth.
Jonathan Toews' future with the team is murky, and the vultures contenders were circling on Patrick Kane as the NHL trade deadline came and went in March. Both skaters will probably have their numbers retired by the organization someday. Both will also see their contracts expire at the end of next season.
A changing of the guard like that is a lot easier when the guy taking the flag is Alex DeBrincat. He's been Chicago's top skater this year, with linemate Kane hanging right there with him. It's not like this has been an out-of-nowhere development, however.
Since scoring 41 goals in his age-21 season as a sophomore, it's been clear that DeBrincat is a high-end finisher.
It's a coinflip between him and Kane, but goals are the hardest thing to do in hockey, and DeBrincat has scored more of them than just about anyone this season, rounding out the NHL's top 10 lamp-lighters all while playing with an inconsistent cast of centers.
DeBrincat also doesn't get caved in defensively, making him a pretty fantastic player to build around as "Captain Serious" and Kane, who doesn't really have any printable nicknames, ride off into the sunset.
Colorado Avalanche: Cale Makar
Go ahead and put on your Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog or Nathan MacKinnon sweater before you yell at us in the comments for picking Cale Makar as the Avalanche's best player. We'll wait.
All three of those forwards are remarkable talents. Two-way standout Valeri Nichushkin (we all saw that career arc coming, right?) would make this list for at least a half-dozen teams, for crying out loud. Colorado is simply that loaded; arguably the most talented roster that has been pieced together during the salary cap era.
Despite that, Makar hasn't just been good for Colorado. He's been revolutionary, changing the way his position is played while doing things that no defender this side of Bobby Orr has ever done. It might come off as heresy, but that's the kind of impact the 23-year-old is having—he's breaking barriers for blueliners.
Orr revolutionized the game via his end-to-end rushes and uncanny ability to skate the puck up the ice. Makar is doing it by taking spins in the offensive zone that are usually reserved for forwards like MacKinnon, Matthews and Connor McDavid.
And he's doing it while providing outstanding defense in all three zones. That's the biggest difference between Makar and the likes of Erik Karlsson or Brent Burns. Those guys made an impact on offense, yes, but could struggle in their own end.
Makar is a sublime talent, and we should all be happy to be along for the ride.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Zach Werenski
The Columbus Blue Jackets are one of the teams that Nichushkin would make this list for if he played for them.
This was always going to be a difficult season of change in Ohio, and the quality of their lineup and play has born that out. There are a few options here, including Boone Jenner, who has thrown all defense to the wind in the name of goals, and Jakub "Most Underrated Beard in Hockey" Voracek.
The nod goes to Zach Werenski, though, who is in his first campaign as the undisputed No. 1 defenseman in Columbus. Could it be going better? Sure, but he's been every bit as good as former defensive partner Seth Jones has been in the Windy City.
That's about all the Blue Jackets could have reasonably asked for ahead of the 2021-22 season, and that's the level of play that they've gotten out of Werenski. He's signed through 2027-28 and figures to eventually have better and more consistent running mates eventually.
For now, though, he's established himself as a cornerstone defender for the Blue Jackets. On a contender, maybe he grades out as a No. 2 or elevates his game while surrounded by more talent. Columbus is hoping it turns out to be the latter as it reloads.
Dallas Stars: Jason Robertson
One-line teams don't typically make the playoffs, but the Dallas Stars are pretty close. The gap between the squad's top unit and the second and third is significant. Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski have the 13th-best expected-goals-for percentage out of the 70 forward lines that have spent more than 200 minutes together this season.
No other group in Dallas is even on the positive side of the ledger, and it's Robertson who drives play for his line. Adam Gretz of NBCSports.com recently wrote about what makes the 20-year-old forward so special, putting it like this:
"...it is not just the production that makes him, forgive the pun, a star for Dallas. He is also an elite possession driver and one of the most skilled, exciting players in the league with an extensive list of creative, highlight-reel goals. He can score from literally anywhere in the offensive zone, including from below the goal line off of goalies."
Not only has Robertson been Dallas' best player this season, but he's also emerged as one of the best wings in all of hockey. He's the biggest reason the Stars have managed to hang around in the playoff picture despite a somewhat lackluster lineup, and that's what superstars do: make everyone around them better and push teams to heights they wouldn't otherwise reach.
Detroit Red Wings: Dylan Larkin
The second half of the season has been an unmitigated disaster for the Detroit Red Wings. In October and November, it looked like this group had finally turned a corner toward at least being competitive. They were never going to make the playoffs, but at least they weren't the easy out they'd been over the last few seasons.
The positivity around the team evaporated as the season rolled on, though, and it's tough to find many bright spots in Hockeytown. Dylan Larkin's play has been one of them, however, as he's cemented himself as a top-line-caliber center in his age-25 season.
He's always had the reputation as a skater who'd be an outstanding second-line pivot but couldn't quite carry enough water to be a good No. 1 on a strong team. While the Red Wings are far from that, Larkin will be ready to center the top line when this squad finally does start to push back toward relevancy.
If not for injuries, he would have set new career highs in just about every statistical category. This is great news for the Red Wings because Larkin has struggled over his last two seasons, scoring just 28 goals in 115 games between 2019 and 2021.
He's found the back of the net 31 times and counting this year, though, and has even started killing penalties for Detroit down the stretch. Larkin has captained this organization through some of its darkest years since the 1960s and deserves credit for setting an example for his teammates out on the ice.
Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid
No need to overthink this one.
On any given night, Connor McDavid is capable of claiming the title of Best Hockey Player Alive. He probably isn't going to win the Hart Trophy because Auston Matthews' special season in Toronto, but the captain of the Edmonton Oilers is in the midst of arguably his best campaign yet.
Which is really saying something, because McDavid has cracked the century mark for points in all of his full seasons. He's on pace for 45 goals and more than 120 points, and he's already set a new career high in the latter category.
His bag of tricks seems more bottomless by the day, and there might not be a more dangerous player in open space than McDavid. Once he gets his wheels going, he's borderline uncontainable, and when he decides to take over a game, the only thing that can slow him down is hooks and holds.
The value he generates is otherworldly, as evidenced by a ridiculous GSVA that is nearly at six. In seasons gone by, McDavid's shoddy defense would hold some of his underlying numbers back, but improved play in the neutral and defensive zones has allowed his offensive impacts to really stick.
This is a special player in the midst of a special season, and he's been Edmonton's best player all year long.
Florida Panthers: Aleksander Barkov
Just two seasons ago, the Florida Panthers couldn't buy national attention. Now they're a flashpoint in the Hart Trophy debate, with Jonathan Huberdeau facing questions about whether or not he's even the best player on his own team, let alone the MVP of the entire NHL.
No need to wonder about which side of this debate we fall on here.
While Huberdeau has been a point-producing machine for the Panthers this season, his defensive struggles prevent his offensive outbursts from making the impact that they could. It's also worth noting that 32 of his 85 assists have been of the secondary variety—the third-highest total in the NHL.
Aleksander Barkov is the driving force behind Florida's vaunted attack, as his two-way excellence allows other skaters to storm up and down the ice with abandon. He's a sensational two-way center and is one of the more difficult skaters to line up against in the league.
Frequently praised for never taking shortcuts and playing the game "the right way," the Panthers will go as far as Barkov can take them come playoff time. Offense is harder to come by in the postseason, but Florida's top center is able to impact the game in an astounding amount of ways. If Bergeron hadn't already run away with the Selke Trophy, Barkov might be in line for the award.
For now, he'll have to settle for being the best skater on the Panthers.
L.A. Kings: Drew Doughty
The Los Angeles Kings have a few options for best player, but Drew Doughty's play on the ice and leadership off it tips the scales in his favor. His play had really fallen off over the last few seasons, which is one of the reasons that his team hadn't made the playoffs since 2018.
When you're making what Doughty is making ($11 million AAV), the expectation is that you'll be one of, if not the best player on the ice on a nightly basis. The veteran defender hadn't been that over his last few campaigns, and entering his age-32 season, one would have been forgiven for wondering if we'd seen the last of the dominant force he was during Los Angles' Stanley Cup days.
When he's been healthy this year, though, Doughty has looked a lot like his old self. Unfortunately for the Kings, the blueliner has missed considerable time due to injuries and is on the shelf for the remainder of 2021-22 following wrist surgery.
That's a big blow to the team's hopes of doing any kind of damage in the postseason. Their defensive core beyond Doughty is generally pretty young and inexperienced, which made him rediscovering his previous form that much more important for Los Angeles.
He'd been fantastic prior to that injury, and here's to hoping that he's able to maintain this level of play once he returns next season.
Minnesota Wild: Kirill Kaprizov
Kirill Kaprizov has changed the Minnesota Wild's DNA since arriving last year. Throughout the organization's existence, they've been a middle-of-the-pack team, frequently making the postseason but never really doing anything after.
Minnesota was never home to any of the game's truly elite skaters, in part due to it always drafting toward the middle of the draft's first round after consistently average campaigns. That all shifted when Kaprizov landed with the Wild.
All he's done is build on a Calder Trophy campaign by becoming the first player in team history to score more than 100 points in a single season. That has propelled the Wild to the best campaign in franchise history as well, with the team recording 50 wins for the first time ever.
After a slow start that saw him fail to score a goal in his first eight games, Kaprizov has been outstanding for the Wild. He has 97 points in his last 70 contests and has been among the league's best producers all year long. He's more than earned the five-year, $45 million contract that he signed over the summer and is actually supplying Minnesota wild surplus value despite carrying a $9 million cap hit.
Montreal Canadiens: Cole Caufield
After making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last year, hopes were high for the Montreal Canadiens this season. They were always going to have a hard time matching that miracle run, but no one anticipated them collapsing inward as they did in 2021-22.
Virtually nothing has gone right for the Habs. Naming a "best player" here is tough because everyone on the roster has been so mediocre, but Cole Caufield has at least found his footing under the guidance of Martin St. Louis.
The uptick in the rookie's play has been well documented to this point, but that's because it's one of the few positive things to have happened for Montreal this season. He's still got work to do when it comes to playing sound defense, but at 21, he's got plenty of time to put those pieces together.
Caufield has been nearly a point-per-game skater since Feb. 9, when the change behind the bench was made. Only Michael Bunting has more points among rookies since then, and no freshman has more goals than his 19 over that same stretch. For context, he's lit the lamp more than Filip Forsberg and Steven Stamkos since St. Louis took over.
He's probably not going to be a finalist for the Calder Trophy, but his play since early 2022 has allowed him to at least enter the chat.
Nashville Predators: Roman Josi
Roman Josi is having a season for the ages.
He's been the best offensive defenseman in the league this year and recently notched his 90th point for the Nashville Predators. Just how remarkable is that? Over at Sportsnet.ca, Shayna Goldman provided this context for his production:
"Dating back to 2007-08, which we can classify as the 'data era,' just two other defenders have exceeded the 80-point mark: Brent Burns in 2018-19 with 83 points and Erik Karlsson in 2015-16 with 82. Had scoring leader Mike Green played a full season in 2008-09, he likely would have as well; his 73 points in 68 games would have paced out to 88 in a complete year."
Note that Goldman was looking for defenders who'd notched 80 points, not 90. To find the last blueliner who produced as Josi has, you've got to go all the way back to 1993-94, when Ray Bourque had 92 points in 72 outings. That's some rarefied air, and Josi has the Predators in a playoff spot despite offseason projections placing them on the outside looking in.
This sets up one of the most fascinating Norris Trophy races of the salary cap era. Makar has been better in all three zones, while Josi's scoring pace has been torrid. It'll be interesting to see who ends up taking the award home this summer.
New Jersey Devils: Jack Hughes
It took a bit longer than anticipated, but Jack Hughes has finally found his way to bona fide stardom at the NHL level. After scoring just 18 times across his first two seasons (117 games total), the former first overall draft pick has tickled the twine 26 times in just 49 contests in 2021-22.
Injuries prevented him from building up a stronger breakout season, but the steps he's taken this season have been quite positive for New Jersey. Now all of a sudden the Devils appear to be on the rise, and Hughes figuring out how to score consistently at the NHL level has been a big reason why.
That's good news for the organization since his eight-year extension doesn't even kick in until next season. Like some of the other young skaters on this list, Hughes isn't particularly outstanding in his own end, but his offensive instincts seem to have finally caught up to the speed of the pro level.
Prior to getting sidelined for the remainder of the season with an MCL sprain, there was actually some concern that the Devils were relying a bit too much on Hughes to take over shifts and games. That wasn't an issue a year ago because the forward simply wasn't playing at that level.
Now he is, and when he's been available, Hughes has been New Jersey's ace.
New York Islanders: Ilya Sorokin
It's kind of wild how underappreciated Ilya Sorokin has been this season. It certainly doesn't help that he's playing for the New York Islanders, who have basically been out of the playoff hunt since November, but fantastic goalies on struggling teams still typically get media attention throughout the year.
That hasn't really been the case for the 26-year-old netminder, who is only receiving Vezina Trophy love from media that focuses solely on Islanders. Yet his counting stats speak for themselves: his .926 save percentage in all situations ranks second, his seven shutouts trail only Jacob Markstrom (9), he has the fifth-best GAA (2.38) and a 12.2 goals saved above expected that has him sitting just outside of the NHL's top 10.
Sorokin has been outstanding by any measure and has become one of New York's most important players in 2021-22. Head coach Barry Trotz spoke to Kevin Kurz of The Athletic about his goaltender earlier this month:
"You can look at numbers and all that, but (goaltending is about) can you make a timely save? Can you make a save when the game is on the line? Can you bail someone out if someone gets a breakaway? You get into the shootout, we haven’t scored a lot of goals. Can we win one with just one? He was able to do that. He was real strong. Sometimes you don’t look at how many goals you give up; it’s how many saves and the quality."
Things haven't gone particularly well for New York this year, but at least they found their franchise cornerstone goalie in Sorokin.
New York Rangers: Igor Shesterkin
Igor Shesterkin has been the best netminder in the NHL this season by most accounts. As good as Andersen has been for Carolina and as much as Markstrom deserves praise for his work in Calgary, the Blueshirts' goalie has just been on a different level.
His 35.3 goals saved above expected dwarfs everyone else on the list, and we haven't seen a number that high since Braden Holtby in 2016-17. The Rangers weren't supposed to be a playoff team yet, according to what most pundits believed entering the season.
Yet Shesterkin has kept them in nearly every game he's appeared in, giving them a chance to win regardless of whether or not the offense is clicking. His 2.03 GAA is tops in the league. So is his .936 save percentage in all situations, and he has more shutouts than all but two other starters.
The Vezina Trophy seems like his to lose at this point, and Shesterkin's brilliance has unexpectedly thrown the Rangers' contention window open earlier than expected. They've come together as a team over the last few months and are going to be a tough out come playoff time, especially if Shesterkin plays to the best of his abilities.
Ottawa Senators: Drake Batherson
The competition to be the best player for the Ottawa Senators is surprisingly stiff. They don't have a single skater who is heads and skates above the rest, creating a bit of a platoon of skaters who provide very similar on-ice values.
A strong case could be made for Thomas Chabot, Josh Norris or Brady Tkachuk, and those arguments would be sound. We're giving the nod to Drake Batherson here though because, through all the ups and downs of his campaign, he's still been excellent for Ottawa when healthy.
He was the Senators' best player through the first three months of the season but then had that momentum sapped when AHL-callup goalie Aaron Dell blindsided him, causing Batherson to crash brutally into the boards. That injury caused him to miss the All-Star game and two months of play.
The forward also missed time due to COVID and is struggling to regain the weight that he lost while dealing with that illness. Despite all that, Batherson is still skating at nearly a point-per-game pace, and he would have shattered his career highs had he appeared in more games.
As it stands, he has scored 15 goals and 42 points in 43 contests. He's badly missed whenever he hits the IR, but when he's been out on the ice, the Fort Wayne, Indiana, native has been Ottawa's best player this season.
Philadelphia Flyers: Cam Atkinson
The Philadelphia Flyers are in a situation similar to Montreal and Arizona here. There's a challenge in identifying who the best player has been because everyone has been either at or below average.
They are where they are in the standings for a reason, after all.
With Claude Giroux now skating with the Panthers, Cam Atkinson gets the vote as Philadelphia's best player. He's been as advertised since being acquired from the Blue Jackets in an offseason swap, despite tailing off down the stretch due to injuries.
Atkinson was a locker room leader in Ohio and has taken on a similar role for a Flyers team that has had results similar to the ones that the forward grew accustomed to in Columbus. He says the right stuff to the media and isn't afraid to stick up for his teammates when the time comes—even if physicality will never be his calling card.
His 23 goals on the year are the most he's had since 2018-19, and Atkinson has also brought his aggressive penalty kill mentality to Philadelphia. He's tied for seventh in the NHL with three short-handed goals, despite the Flyers not being particularly great on the PK.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby
Since the calendar flipped to 2022, Sidney Crosby has been one of the NHL's top producers. It took him some time to settle in following offseason wrist surgery, and he didn't make his first appearance until the end of October.
As the campaign has worn on, though, "Sid the Kid" has looked more and more like his usual self. He's not the most dominant offensive force in the league anymore, but that doesn't mean that he's not a darn good hockey player.
Since the start of 2022, only eight skaters have posted more points than Crosby and only 11 have more goals. There have been some nights that he's put the Penguins on his back, and at the age of 34, he's showing virtually no signs of slowing down any time soon.
As Josh Yohe of The Athletic recently put it: "Under the radar more than he's ever been, Crosby is playing his finest hockey in years." He's not so under the radar that someone else is going to walk away named the best player in Pittsburgh, though.
His emerging chemistry with Rickard Rakell makes the Penguins an even more difficult out once the playoffs roll around, and this isn't a player anyone wants to see when the stakes are high and the games become more important.
San Jose Sharks: Timo Meier
In 2018-19, Timo Meier notched 30 goals and 66 points in 78 games at the age of 22. He appeared to be a star in the making for the San Jose Sharks, giving them another forward capable of dominating games with his combination of size and skill.
The road to stardom hasn't been straight and downhill for Meier since then. He saw his point totals dwindle in two consecutive seasons after his breakout campaign, scoring just 12 goals in 54 games a year ago.
Entering 2021-22, there wasn't a lot to be optimistic about when it came to Meier and his game. Yet at the age of 25, the former ninth overall pick seems to have found his game again. He's seen his ice time jump to more than 19 minutes per night—over three minutes more than he saw a year ago—and he scored more than 30 goals for the first time in his career.
His defense has been solid enough to not take away too much from what he's doing on the scoresheet too, and the Bay Area media recently named him Sharks player of the year. Now he can add best Sharks player as named by B/R to his trophy case as well.
Seattle Kraken: Jordan Eberle
As tempting as it is to give this slot to Matty Beniers, who has been sensational since debuting in mid-April, the rookie forward has only appeared in six games. As such, Jordan Eberle is the best player for the Seattle Kraken who has been there all season.
He was the franchise's first-ever All-Star representative and has done exactly what the Kraken drafted him in the expansion process to do: score 20ish goals while adding a similar number of assists. Seattle is taking the long way around in terms of team building, so every little bit of skill on the roster matters at this stage.
What Eberle is doing off the ice might be more important than what he's doing on it. As an expansion franchise, Seattle had no existing culture to speak of. The veteran brings a steady presence to the locker room—something that became even more important when captain Mark Giordano was traded at the deadline.
Maybe you like Jared McCann more here as the team's best player, but Eberle has been steadily dynamic all year long. The Kraken haven't had a lot of consistency from their roster as they settled in, making the wing's contributions even more important.
St. Louis Blues: Pavel Buchnevich
The St. Louis Blues have a problem that stands in stark contrast to organizations like the Flyers or Kraken: they have too many players providing high-end value, which makes it difficult to pick just one as the true standout skater this season.
They have a whopping eight players with 20 or more goals, eight with 50 or more points and six skaters with a GSVA of two or above. This might be the most balanced team in the Western Conference outside of the Avalanche, and they're going to be very difficult to match lines with come playoff time.
Pavel Buchnevich stands out the most because of both his point production and two-way play. While the likes of David Perron and Vladimir Tarasenko score plenty, their defensive impacts negate some of the good that they do.
That hasn't been the case for Buchnevich, who the Blues swiped from the Rangers via an offseason trade. He's slotted into a top-line role seamlessly alongside Tarasenko and Robert Thomas, and that unit has been among the NHL's best in terms of expected-goals-for percentage.
St. Louis has always been a team that focuses on hanging onto the puck, and Buchnevich has done that quite well this year en route to setting career highs in goals (30), assists (45) and points (75).
Tampa Bay Lightning: Victor Hedman
Another tough team to select the best player for, not surprisingly, is the Tampa Bay Lightning. They might not be quite as stacked as they have been over the last two years, but this is still a well-constructed hockey club. They have impact players at every position, most of whom are making less than they would if they hit the open market as free agents.
Victor Hedman stands out even among this group of elite producers, however. His campaign in Tampa Bay has largely been overshadowed by the likes of Makar and Josi, but his impact on games can't really be overstated.
He plays more than 25 minutes per night, usually against the opposition's top players, and is an anchor each and every night. Hedman might be the owner of the quietest 80-plus-point campaign by a defenseman in league history. Only Josi and Makar have more than he does, and this might be the fourth consecutive season we see him finish third in Norris Trophy voting.
He'd likely prefer to win Stanley Cups over individual trophies, though, and the Lightning have a solid shot of accomplishing that again this season. Even if the Eastern Conference is ridiculously loaded with talented squads.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews
What's left to say about Auston Matthews that hasn't already been said? We'd need to invent a fresh alphabet and come up with words that don't exist yet to describe just how phenomenal he's been in 2021-22. He recently missed three games due to an undisclosed injury, which may have robbed him of a 60-goal campaign, but that doesn't make what he's accomplished any less special.
What makes Matthews such a standout talent is that his goal-scoring doesn't get in the way of playing good defense. Scoring goals is the hardest thing to do in the sport, which is why players like Patrik Laine can make bank even though that's really all they do.
That isn't what Matthews has settled for, however. He's not just passable when it comes to defense. He's elite in all three zones, and his ability to score from anywhere on the ice is highlighted by his nose for the puck. He hounds it wherever it goes and has the strength needed to push just about anyone off course.
Matthews is, in a word, a unicorn. There really isn't anyone who can match his particular skill set. And at the age of 24, he's still got several years worth of prime hockey left in him. What happens in the playoffs is all fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs will remember about this season, but the rest of us will look back and marvel at what the former first overall pick has done.
Vancouver Canucks: Thatcher Demko
The Vancouver Canucks' push for a playoff spot fell just short. Who knows where this squad would be if Bruce Boudreau had been behind the bench for the whole year.
Thatcher Demko was arguably Vancouver's best player last year, and he has a pretty compelling case to be considered again in 2021-22. J.T. Miller is also worthy of consideration, as both have played at star levels this year.
Demko's position is incredibly demanding, though, backstopping a middle-of-the-pack defense that gives up more than 31 shots against on average. He sports a 10.5 goals saved above expected, which places him just outside of the NHL's top 10 in that regard.
He's admittedly a ways behind elite netminders like Andersen and Shesterkin, but Demko is one of the better No. 1s and the Canucks are in good hands for the foreseeable future with the 26-year-old San Diego native locked in.
Vegas Golden Knights: Shea Theodore
It's nothing short of remarkable that the Vegas Golden Knights no longer control their own fate when it comes to making the playoffs. They've squandered the chance to catch a rebuilding Kings team for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and on Sunday they couldn't find a way to hang on to a two-goal lead in what amounted to a must-win game against a Sharks squad that was in the second half of a back-to-back.
It feels strange to give any of their best players credit for anything. Yes, there have been injuries, but it's not as if Vegas is the only organization dealing with those.
Unlike Jack Eichel, who doesn't seem bothered by the fact that the Golden Knights might not make the postseason (you can't miss what you've never had, right?), Shea Theodore has been playing his heart out for Vegas. And for that, he earns the stripe of being their best player this season.
He set new career highs in goals and points and has had a renaissance of sorts in the defensive end after he wasn't particularly good there a year ago. Theodore isn't on the same level of some of the other blueliners on this list, but he's been bringing it every night for a Golden Knights team that can't seem to find that extra gear when it's needed most.
Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin
One of these days, Alex Ovechkin is going to slow down, and the NHL will be a less fun league because of it. He's scored a gazillion times throughout his life, yet he celebrates with enthusiasm and gusto every time he finds the back of the net.
If you don't like joy then you probably aren't an Ovi fan, and that's OK. He's going to take a charge at Wayne Gretzky's all-time goal-scoring record whether you like it or not. The road to the pinnacle of scoring will be a long one, but even if Ovechkin doesn't quite make it, the fact that he notched 50 goals at the age of 36 is remarkable.
His defensive impacts aren't great; they never have been and never will be. Yet his ability to finish is so grand that it doesn't hold him back all that much. Here's to hoping that he's able to bounce back from this nasty-looking fall in time for the postseason.
The Washington Capitals aren't favored to do much in the East, but that was the case when they won the Stanley Cup back in 2018. Their odds get even longer if Ovechkin isn't able to come back at 100 percent.
Winnipeg Jets: Nikolaj Ehlers
The only people who don't seem to know how good Nikolaj Ehlers has been this season is the coaching staff of the Winnipeg Jets. Despite him having outstanding impacts in all three zones, he continues to be rolled out as a depth skater.
He's been better defensively than Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, yet he continues to see less ice time than that trio. Maybe the Jets staff knows something we don't. Or maybe Ehlers is getting pigeonholed into a depth role that no longer suits him.
Ehlers has been solid enough in all three zones that he should be given the opportunity to drive his own line. Granted, he's seen some time on the top unit over the last week or two, but that's too little, too late for a team many had pegged as a playoff-caliber squad.
It's going to be an intriguing offseason for the Jets, who may start to churn their roster. Whatever they end up doing, though, Ehlers is without question as least part of the answer at forward. Two forward lines have more than 200 minutes spent together, and the 26-year-old isn't part of either configuration.
That has to change in 2022-23.
All team- and player-based counting stats appear courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted. MoneyPuck's expected-goals-for percentage stat is referenced regularly, an explanation for which can be found here. MoneyPuck also has a goals-saved-above-expected stat that we leaned on to analyze goalies. Lastly, Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic's GSVA model was also used as a way to determine on-ice impacts beyond point totals.
Salary-cap info via CapFriendly.