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8 Debate: Chara tops Weber among best defensemen

Friday, 03.22.2013 / 10:30 AM
Corey Masisak  - NHL.com Staff Writer

Last week, our panel voted on the top eight left wings and a big theme was a divide in opinions on a few key players. This week, the focus shifts to the other side of the ice.

The first thing that stands out about right wing is that it looks a little deeper than the left side. The bottom four on this list includes a pair of Hart Trophy winners and two players who have led the League in goals or points.

There is at least one first-ballot Hockey Hall of Fame player on the list, another veteran who is likely to make it, and at least two or three others who have career arcs commensurate with future HHOF potential.

Just like last week, there wasn't a consensus No. 1, so the player who ended up in our voters' top three or four most consistently is atop our list.

Here is a note about position eligibility: Each wing was assigned an official place on the left or right side based primarily on where they've played in the past season or two. This was an imperfect process, so Ilya Kovalchuk, who spent much of the past two seasons at right wing but is now back on the left side, ended up on this list and not the one last week.

Here are the voting results. Note: A player received eight points for a first-place vote, seven for a second and so forth to one point for an eighth-place ranking (number of first-place votes in parenthesis).

1. Patrick Kane (3 first-place votes) -- 62 points

One of three on this list to earn the distinction of being a No. 1 pick, Kane joined forces with Jonathan Toews on the Chicago Blackhawks and helped revive the franchise. They are the reason "The Madhouse on Madison" is filled and rocking every night.

Kane has had four really good seasons (20-plus goals, 65-plus points) and one great one (30 goals, 88 points), and 2012-13 is certainly trending toward great. He's won the Calder Trophy, the Stanley Cup and a silver medal at the Winter Olympics.

He isn't a consensus No. 1 like Sidney Crosby, but eight of our 10 voters placed him either first or third.

"Kane was the leading scorer on the best team in hockey for the first half of the season -- a team that didn't lose in regulation for 24 straight games," NHL.com deputy managing editor Adam Kimelman said. "He scored big goals all during that streak, was a plus player almost every game. In my opinion, that all adds up to him being the best right wing in the game right now."

2. Ilya Kovalchuk (3) -- 54

A few years ago, Kovalchuk would have been battling Alex Ovechkin for the top spot on the list of best left wings in the NHL. The New Jersey Devils coaching staff converted him to the right side, and the transition took hold last season when he helped the franchise to the Stanley Cup Final.

He has five 40-goal seasons and two 50-goal campaigns. Kovalchuk doesn't score quite like that anymore, but he logs a ton of minutes and plays in all situations for the Devils. He has 809 points in 806 career NHL games, and his international resume boasts two gold medals at the World Championship and more than 100 games and 100 points while playing for Russia.

"To me, there is nothing to not like about Ilya Kovalchuk at the moment. He is still in the prime of his career and he is among the game's most-proven goal scorers," NHL.com managing editor Shawn Roarke said. "There are very few players in this League who have scored at least 30 goals in nine straight seasons. Kovalchuk has. Plus, he is still developing as an all-round player. A constant threat on the power play, Kovalchuk is now a true threat on the penalty kill. He has four shorthanded goals and has a shorthanded chance almost every game. Plus, he is an absolute workhorse. No forward plays more than his 25 minutes a game and only 10 defenseman top that total. If I was an NHL coach right now, he is the wing around which I would build my team."

3. Marian Hossa (3) -- 53

Hossa's quest for the Stanley Cup became something of a punch line before 2010, but playing in the Final three times in three years for three different teams is a unique achievement in hockey history. His name is now on the Cup, and the Blackhawks star has earned his reputation as perhaps the top two-way wing in the League.

The offensive numbers are great -- seven 30-goal seasons, closing in on 1,000 career points -- but Hossa's status as an elite player also involves his defensive ability. His play internationally for Slovakia, including 25 points in 15 career Olympic contests, also cannot be overlooked.

"This one was really close for me, but I gave Hossa the nod because right now he plays a more complete game than Kane," said NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen, one of six voters who had Hossa higher than Kane. "Let me stress that I think Kane is having an all-world season and I would take him on my team any day of the week, but Hossa is a more powerful player due to his size and strength, just as effective in the offensive zone and has more of a defensive mindset. Again, it's close, but because Hossa's defensive mindset matches his offensive ability, he got the nod over Kane from me."

4. James Neal -- 38

Neal's career was off to a fine start with the Dallas Stars, but he has found a new level with the Pittsburgh Penguins. After an incredibly unlucky start -- one goal on 52 shots in 20 games after the trade in 2010-11 -- Neal has been "The Real Deal" for the Penguins.

He had 40 goals last season and isn't far off a pace for that many in 2012-13 despite the truncated season. Neal has one of the quickest releases in the League, and his hockey IQ leads him to open spaces in the defense for Evgeni Malkin and Crosby to find him.

"I consider the three guys ahead of [Neal] to be elite scorers but also elite playmakers. In the case of Kovalchuk and Kane, they're also really good penalty-killers and two-way players," NHL.com staff writer Dave Lozo said. "Yes, Kovalchuk is a good two-way player. It's not 2006 anymore. Neal isn't exactly one-dimensional, but I think he's the best of that next tier of guys because of his ability to put the puck in the net in many different ways. I'd pick over Neal over Kane, Kovalchuk and Hossa if I needed a goal late on a power play, but overall, I'd rather have those three guys ahead of him."

5. Martin St. Louis -- 34

St. Louis is still producing at an elite level for the Tampa Bay Lightning despite nearing his 38th birthday. One of the best diminutive players in League history, St. Louis is also one of the best all-round players of his era.

He didn't become a star until he was 27, but he's now put up 10 seasons of consistent production. That includes four 90-plus point seasons, a Hart Trophy and a Stanley Cup. St. Louis is nearing 1,000 games played, 1,000 career points … and a deserved spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"St. Louis was fifth for me, a notch ahead of recent Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry, because he continues to produce at an elite level despite being 37 years old," Rosen said. "Age doesn't seem to mean anything to St. Louis, who has a unique relationship with Steven Stamkos and does as much to make Stamkos a better player as Stamkos does to make him a better player. St. Louis has been a better than point-per-game player for the past six seasons and he is again this season. Like I said, age doesn't mean anything."

6. Corey Perry -- 33

Perry is a prototypical power forward: big, strong on his skates and possessing elite hands. He scores lots of goals and will punish defensemen on the forecheck. Currently serving the second suspension of his career, there is definitely an edge to his game.

He was the Hart Trophy winner in 2011 after leading the League with 50 goals, including an incredible second-half push to propel the Anaheim Ducks into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Perry won the Cup in 2007, and owns gold medals from the World Junior Championship and Winter Olympics.

"He's sixth overall and seventh on my list just because he's in a tough grouping," Lozo said. "I have him below those other guys because if you take away his MVP season, he's not average or anything, but he's more a 30-goal, 70-to-75-point guy. There's nothing wrong with that, especially when that's packaged with a physical, chippy big guy like Perry, but I don't think his two-way game is as strong as those ahead of him."

7. Rick Nash -- 30

Nash spent years toiling on a non-playoff team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, but he's gaining plenty of attention during his first season with the New York Rangers. He won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2003-04 and had a second 40-goal season in 2008-09, but the perception of his status around the League could grow with the Rangers.

He was one of Canada's best players at the 2010 Winter Olympics and was the MVP of the World Championship in 2007, but he might finally start getting a proper amount of recognition as a world-class player in the months and years to come.

"Nash has been the Rangers' offense this season, and when healthy has looked like the dominant force they were hoping for when they acquired him," Kimelman said. "The Rangers have problems this season, but Nash's performance -- especially the past 10 games -- has not been one of them. Since his return from injury he's taken his game to another level, and there's little reason to believe he won't sustain or continue to raise his level."

8. Teemu Selanne -- 13

One of the best players in the history of the sport, Selanne is still performing at an elite level for the Ducks despite being well past his 40th birthday. He's 11th on the NHL's career goals list and one point from the top 15 in points before a Thursday game against the Dallas Stars. He'd be pushing for a spot in the top five in goals if it weren't for circumstances he couldn't control.

Selanne is still a great player -- he had 31 goals and 80 points has a 41-year-old and has 18 points in 25 games at 42 this season. He's also one of the top ambassadors in the sport and a hero in his home country. Collecting 131 points in 124 appearances in a Suomi sweater has made the moniker "Finnish Flash" well deserved.

"Limitations that inhibit others do not apply to Selanne," Roarke said. "So what if he is 42 years old? He is still a magician with the puck on his stick, and he will still be shifty on his skates when he is a grandfather. He plays 16 minutes a game for the second-best team in the West and sits fifth on the team in scoring. Teemu Selanne is a freak of hockey, and he has a place on my team now -- and likely for as long as we are blessed to have him in this League."

Others receiving votes: Jordan Eberle (11, one first-place vote), David Clarkson (8), Tyler Seguin (7), Ryan Callahan (6), Jakub Voracek (6), Jarome Iginla (2), Jason Pominville (2), Phil Kessel (1)

Selanne edged out rising stars Eberle and Seguin for the final spot in the top eight. Eberle and Seguin are solid bets to be included on a list like this in the near future.

"I felt like [Seguin] would take a bigger leap this season after what he did last season [he was my Hart winner in our preseason picks] but I'd still take him there," Lozo said. "I think playing in Switzerland threw off his bearings when the NHL started up, but he's been playing far better lately. He's the total package and he's still only 21. I think he could have a Steven Stamkos-like breakout year next season."

Eberle earning a first-place vote was a surprise, as was the lack of support for Iginla and Kessel. If there is a breakout star at the position this season, it is the Flyers' Jakub Voracek, who has blossomed after Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk left Philadelphia.

"In his fifth season, Voracek finally has put together his full skill set," Kimelman said. "He's attacking in the offensive zone with speed, and his willingness to shoot the puck rather than look for fancy plays has accelerated his growth into a top-level offensive performer. While his entire resume might not look overly impressive, the fact that he's on pace for career highs in every offensive category while playing a half-season in 2012-13 speaks volumes about where he ranks among players at his position right now."

INDIVIDUAL VOTING

COMPTON

1. Jordan Eberle

2. Marian Hossa

3. Corey Perry

4. Patrick Kane

5. Teemu Selanne

6. Martin St. Louis

7. James Neal

8. David Clarkson

KIMELMAN

1. Patrick Kane

2. Rick Nash

3. Jakub Voracek

4. James Neal

5. Tyler Seguin

6. Corey Perry

7. Ilya Kovalchuk

8. Martin St. Louis

KREISER

1. Ilya Kovalchuk

2. James Neal

3. Martin St. Louis

4. Marian Hossa

5. Teemu Selanne

6. Patrick Kane

7. Ryan Callahan

8. Corey Perry

LOZO

1. Marian Hossa

2. Ilya Kovalchuk

3. Patrick Kane

4. James Neal

5. Martin St. Louis

6. Rick Nash

7. Corey Perry

8. Tyler Seguin

MASISAK

1. Marian Hossa

2. Ilya Kovalchuk

3. Patrick Kane

4. Corey Perry

5. Rick Nash

6. Teemu Selanne

7. Martin St. Louis

8. James Neal

ROSEN

1. Ilya Kovalchuk

2. Marian Hossa

3. Patrick Kane

4. Rick Nash

5. Martin St. Louis

6. Corey Perry

7. Jason Pominville

8. James Neal

ROARKE

1. Ilya Kovalchuk

2. Corey Perry

3. Patrick Kane

4. Rick Nash

5. James Neal

6. Marian Hossa

7. Teemu Selanne

8. Phil Kessel

HRADEK

1. Marian Hossa

2. Ilya Kovalchuk

3. Patrick Kane

4. Rick Nash

5. Martin St. Louis

6. Corey Perry

7. Jarome Iginla

8. James Neal

JOHNSON

1. Patrick Kane

2. Marian Hossa

3. James Neal

4. Martin St. Louis

5. Ilya Kovalchuk

6. Jordan Eberle

7. Tyler Seguin

8. Corey Perry

MELROSE

1. Patrick Kane

2. David Clarkson

3. James Neal

4. Martin St. Louis

5. Ryan Callahan

6. Ilya Kovalchuk

7. Corey Perry

8. Rick Nash

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