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Toews, Kane near top of shootout specialist rankings

by Brian Compton / Chicago Blackhawks
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Who are the best 14 players in the NHL at each position as teams prepare for the start of the 2014-15 season? Arpon Basu, Brian Compton, Corey Masisak and Dan Rosen have cast their votes and the result is NHL.com's "Top 14 for '14-15" project. Each first-place vote is worth 14 points and continuing in descending order to each 14th-place vote being worth one. There are two tiebreakers. First, which player appeared on more ballots? Second, which player had the highest individual ranking? If the voting was exactly the same for each player, it was declared a tie. Does NHL.com's list match your rankings for the best players in the League entering the 2014-15 campaign?

It is becoming vital for each team to have at least one player who specializes in shootouts.

Don't think so? Ask the New Jersey Devils, who went 0-13 in shootouts last season and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs by five points. New Jersey, which converted once in its first 30 shootout attempts last season, became the fourth team to go an entire season without a shootout victory; the Toronto Maple Leafs (0-5) and Calgary Flames (0-3) were winless in 2012-13 and the Carolina Hurricanes went 0-5 in 2006-07. New Jersey has dropped 17 consecutive shootouts dating back to the 2012-13 season. The Devils finished five points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for a wild-card spot; Columbus won five of seven shootouts last season.

Even the Devils' more skilled players struggled. Patrik Elias, who is seven goals shy of 400, went 0-for-8 in shootouts. No player has fared worse since James Neal went 0-for-10 with the Dallas Stars in 2009-10.

Of course, there are some shootout statistics that will have fans scratching their heads. For instance, Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin, a goal-scoring machine, scored twice in 16 attempts last season. Teammate Eric Fehr, who had 13 goals last season (or 38 fewer than Ovechkin), went 5-for-11 (45.5 percent).

Indeed, it is a science that is difficult to comprehend. But as time passes, one could argue it is more important to have a shootout specialist on the roster than a player who fills the role of enforcer.

Here is NHL.com's list of the top 14 shootout specialists:

T.J. Oshie

1. T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues, 56 points (4 first-place votes)
2013-14: 9/12, Career: 27/48

Nobody will soon forget Oshie's heroics at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, when the Blues forward led the United States to a 3-2 victory against Russia by scoring four times on six attempts in the shootout. Why did U.S. coach Dan Bylsma elect to keep using Oshie? Because he excels in the breakaway competition; Oshie went 9-for-12 last season and is 27-for-48 (56.2 percent) in his career. Fourteen of Oshie's 27 goals have clinched victories for St. Louis, including five last season.

Frans Nielsen

2. Frans Nielsen, New York Islanders, 51 points
2013-14: 8/15, Career: 33/60

The New York Islanders have a superstar in John Tavares, but Nielsen is their go-to guy when the game goes beyond overtime. Nielsen fakes a forehand shot before roofing a backhand nearly every time, and goaltenders still experience a difficult time coming up with the save. Only Oshie has a higher career conversion rate than Nielsen (55 percent) for players who have taken at least 30 career attempts. Fifteen of Nielsen's 33 shootout goals have been clinchers; four of them were scored last season. He is tied with Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Minnesota Wild forward Mikko Koivu for the most game-deciding goals since the shootout was implemented at the start of the 2005-06 season.

Jonathan Toews

3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks, 43 points
2013-14: 7/13, Career: 34/68

Is there anything the Blackhawks' captain can't do? Toews scores timely goals, kills penalties, leads by example on and off the ice, and yes, excels in shootouts. He converted more than half of his attempts last season and four of his goals came on the road.

Brad Boyes

4. Brad Boyes, Florida Panthers, 40 points
2013-14: 6/10, Career: 37/80

The veteran forward had to battle his way onto the Panthers roster last season and ultimately became their top shootout performer. Boyes scored six goals on 10 attempts and improved to 37-for-80 (46.2 percent) in his career. He has 12 game-deciding goals.

Jordan Eberle

5. Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers, 24 points
2013-14: 5/7, Career: 14/30

The skilled right wing boasts a variety of moves and was successful again in the shootout for the Oilers last season, when he scored five times in seven tries. The 24-year-old enters 2014-15 converting at a rate of nearly 47 percent.

Joffrey Lupul

6. Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs, 18 points
2013-14: 6/7; Career: 11/25

Injuries have prevented Lupul from truly maximizing his potential, but there's no doubt he is productive when healthy. This was certainly the case in the shootout last season, when Lupul failed to score just once in seven attempts and had four game-deciding goals. He is 9-for-16 since 2010-11.

Patrick Kane

7. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks, 17 points
2013-14: 1/11; Career: 30/77

Kane struggled in the shootout last season, but he has been a weapon for Chicago in the breakaway competition since entering the League in the fall of 2007. Kane scored 12 times in 23 attempts during the previous two seasons and has taken at least 10 attempts in each of the past five. Of Kane's 30 career shootout goals, 14 have decided games.

Matt Moulson

8. Matt Moulson, Buffalo Sabres, 17 points
2013-14: 7/14; Career: 13/27

Moulson played for three teams last season (Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Wild), but that didn't affect his performance in the shootout. The three-time 30-goal scorer scored on half of his 14 chances and is converting at just under 50 percent over the course of his career.

David Desharnais

9. David Desharnais, Montreal Canadiens, 17 points
2013-14: 5/7; Career: 13/25

Desharnais had to spend time in the ECHL and American Hockey League before finally getting a well-deserved opportunity with the Canadiens, and he's since emerged as one of the NHL's top shootout performers. He's converted 12 times in 23 attempts since the start of the 2011-12 season. Desharnais had three game-deciding goals last season.

Jussi Jokinen

10. Jussi Jokinen, Florida Panthers, 15 points
2013-14: 2/9; Career: 33/76

The Florida Panthers will be Jokinen's fifth team since 2005-06 (he went 10-for-13 that season with the Dallas Stars), but he's been a premier shootout performer over that stretch. His two goals last season with the Penguins were game-deciders; he has 12 of them in his career.

Zach Parise

11. Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild, 15 points
2013-14: 5/14; Career: 37/83

Parise tied for fourth in the NHL last season when he took 14 shootout attempts. The veteran forward converted on five of them to help the Wild win eight of 16 breakaway competitions. Parise converted on 50 percent of his shootouts with the New Jersey Devils in 2011-12 when he scored a League-high eight times in 16 opportunities. Overall, he's converted on 44.6 percent of his chances.

Mikko Koivu

12. Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild, 14 points
2013-14: 6/14; Career: 36/84

Koivu has been one of the more reliable shootout performers of the past decade. He led the Wild last season with six goals, three of which clinched wins for Minnesota to keep pace with Nielsen and Crosby for the most game-deciding goals in history. Koivu was most impressive in 2006-07, when he went 8-for-15.

James van Riemsdyk

13. James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs, 13 points
2013-14: 6/10; Career: 7/14

The 25-year-old had a breakout season in the shootout in 2013-14, when he converted on 60 percent of his opportunities. Van Riemsdyk had taken all of four shots in his career before Toronto coach Randy Carlyle asked him to take 10 last season. Expect more of the same in 2014-15.

Sidney Crosby

14 (tie). Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins, 11 points
2013-14: 3/8; Career: 26/62

Crosby scored two more game-deciding goals last season, keeping him atop that all-time category alongside Nielsen and Koivu. His eight attempts in 2013-14 trailed only Jokinen on the Penguins. Crosby's best performance came in 2009-10, when he scored eight goals in 10 opportunities.

Tyler Bozak

14 (tie). Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs, 11 points
2013-14: 3/5; Career: 10/18

Bozak scored three shootout goals for the third time in the past four seasons in 2013-14. He has not received more than five opportunities in a season since entering the League in 2009-10, yet he already has 10 shootout goals on his resume.

Others receiving votes: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings (10 points); Andrew Ladd, Winnipeg Jets (7 points); Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues (7 points); Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks (6 points); Matt Hendricks, Edmonton Oilers (6 points); Maxim Lapierre, St. Louis Blues (5 points); Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks (5 points); Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals (3 points); Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars (3 points); Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins (2 points); Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (2 points); Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames (1 point); Shea Weber, Nashville Predators (1 point)

TOP 14 SHOOTOUT SPECIALISTS (VOTING BREAKDOWN)
Arpon Basu
Brian Compton Corey Masisak
Dan Rosen
1. Oshie 1. Oshie 1. Oshie 1. Oshie
2. Nielsen 2. Nielsen 2. Toews 2. Nielsen
3. Boyes 3. Lupul 3. Nielsen 3. Toews
4. Bozak 4. Eberle 4. Crosby 4. Boyes
5. Toews 5. van Riemsdyk 5. Datsyuk 5. Desharnais
6. Jokinen 6. Boyes 6. Koivu 6. Moulson
7. Parise 7. Toews 7. Boyes 7. Eberle
8. Desharnais 8. Ladd 8. Parise 8. Steen
9. Hendricks 9. P. Kane 9. Jokinen 9. Lupul
10. Lapierre 10. Perry 10. P. Kane 10. Couture
11. Moulson 11. Moulson 11. Eberle 11. P. Kane
12. van Riemsdyk 12. Backstrom 12. Seguin 12. Koivu
13. P. Kane 13. Koivu 13. Chara 13. Giroux
14. Eberle 14. Couture 14. Weber 14. Monahan
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