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Top Players

#NHLTopPlayers: Nos. 30-21

NHL Network reveals best of current crop

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

NHL Network is getting ready for this season by ranking the top 50 players in the League. Researchers, producers and on-air personalities compiled the list, and players 30-21 were revealed Sunday in the premiere of the third program in a five-part offseason series. Here is the list:


[RELATED: #NHLTopPlayers: Nos. 50-41#NHLTopPlayers: Nos. 40-31]


30. Mathew Barzal, C, New York Islanders

Barzal scored 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in 55 games last season, the fourth time in his four full NHL seasons he's led the Islanders in scoring. His plus-15 was an NHL career high and tied with three others for the New York lead. Barzal led Islanders forwards in ice time per game (18:43), and led the team in power-play time per game (2:30). He has scored 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 41 Stanley Cup Playoff games the past two seasons.

"The thing that really astounds me where Barzal is concerned is that ability to escape laterally," NHL Network analyst Stu Grimson said. "Side to side he's among the best players in the game today. Top-end speed, top-end puck handling, he's got a great shot. But that ability to change direction laterally, to throw off false information ... when you get this player underneath the face-off dots, underneath the hash marks in the offensive zone, I think he's as hard to contain, as hard to defend against, as there is in this game today."

Video: NHL Tonight on NHL top player Mathew Barzal


29. Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets

Hellebuyck, who won the Vezina Trophy voted as the best goalie in the NHL in 2019-20, was 24-17-3 with a 2.58 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and four shutouts in 45 games last season. He faced the most shots (1,335) and made the most saves (1,223) among all goalies for the third straight season. Since 2017-18, Hellebuyck is second in the NHL with 133 wins, behind Andrei Vasilevskiy (149), and third with 18 shutouts, behind Marc-Andre Fleury (23) and Vasilevskiy (22).

"He checks all the boxes where elite-level goaltenders are concerned," Grimson said. "He's big, he's rangy, very flexible, very determined. ... Really a remarkable collection of attributes in Connor Hellebuyck."

Video: NHL Tonight on NHL top player Connor Hellebuyck


28. Alex Pietrangelo, D, Vegas Golden Knights

In his first season with the Golden Knights, Pietrangelo made an immediate impact, leading them in average ice time per game (24:26) and scoring 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 41 games. He had a plus-20 rating and was second on Vegas in blocked shots (80; Alec Martinez, 168) despite missing 15 games because of injury. Prior to last season, Pietrangelo scored at least 13 goals and 41 points in four straight seasons with the St. Louis Blues.

"A general manager's dream," Grimson said. "Comfortable playing every part of the game. He's a great leader, brings all kinds of leadership experience from a [Stanley] Cup-winning team in St. Louis. But he's very skilled in terms of how he defends from the blue line."

Video: NHL Tonight on NHL top player Alex Pietrangelo


27. Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres

Eichel scored 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 21 games last season and was leading the Sabres in scoring prior to missing the final 33 games of the regular season with a neck injury. He scored an NHL career-high 36 goals in 68 games in 2019-20 and 82 points (28 goals, 54 assists) in 2018-19. Eichel had scored at least 24 goals in each of his first five NHL seasons prior to last season and is third among players selected the 2015 NHL Draft in scoring with 355 points, behind Connor McDavid (574) and Mitchell Marner (358).

"He tends to be one of the more cerebral players in our game," Grimson said. "For the most part forwards, even the high-level guys, the high-talent guys, they tend to play on a lot of emotion, a lot of adrenaline. Eichel is different in that respect. Yes, there is pace to his game, but he tends to be a little bit more cerebral. Kind of out-smarting his opponent and using that top-end skill set whether passing, the great [shot] release and firing one to the back of the net."

Video: NHL Tonight on NHL top player Jack Eichel


26. Ryan O'Reilly, C, St. Louis Blues

O'Reilly was second on the Blues with 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists) in 56 games last season, four points behind David Perron, and led their forwards in average ice time per game (20:45). He took the third-most face-offs in the NHL (1,196) and won the second-most (703), behind Patrice Bergeron (714). O'Reilly won 58.8 percent of face-offs (fourth; minimum 500 face-offs), and his plus-26 rating was tied for 10th. He won the Selke Trophy voted as best defensive forward in the NHL in 2018-19 and has finished in the top five each of the past three seasons.

"It starts with the determination, and he is infuriating in terms of the opposition forwards he plays against," Grimson said. "He's great with that stick. ... Really strong on the puck, really doggedly determined just in terms of winning those puck battles. And there is the offensive upside that comes along with all that."

Video: NHL Tonight on NHL top player Ryan O'Reilly


25. Roman Josi, D, Nashville Predators

Although he took a step back offensively last season, scoring 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists) in 48 games, Josi was the anchor of the defense for the Predators, averaging 24:21 of ice time per game and leading them in blocked shots (83). He won the Norris Trophy voted as the best defenseman in the NHL in 2019-20 when he scored an NHL career-high 65 points (16 goals, 49 assists) in 69 games, and had scored at least 12 goals and 40 points in seven straight seasons prior to last season.

"He's a great defender, very capable in the defensive zone," Grimson said. "But just weighing the two aspects of his game, he is incredibly talented on the offensive side [and] it starts with the skating. ... We play in a game today where we look to our [defensemen] to provide more offense for us. We like to have somebody that behaves more like a fourth forward out there from time to time. Roman Josi can be that guy."

Video: NHL Tonight on NHL top player Roman Josi


24. Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg Jets

Scheifele led the Jets with 63 points (21 goals, 42 assists) in 56 games last season and has finished third or better each season since 2015-16. He led Winnipeg in power-play points (17) and was second among Jets forwards in blocked shots (38; Andrew Copp, 41). Scheifele is one of two NHL players to have scored at least 20 goals and 60 points in six straight seasons (Brad Marchand). He also leads the Jets and is 10th in the NHL with 220 points (88 goals, 132 assists) the past three seasons.

"A great big, rangy guy, plays with a lot of pace, he's got top-end speed and he's a really great distributor," Grimson said. "Sees the game exceptionally well, processes it at a higher level. ... The kind of guy you want to have out there each and every night at the center position because he's a bear inside the face-off circle but also very capable of shutting down top-six offensive players from the other side."

Video: NHL Tonight on NHL top player Mark Scheifele


23. Jonathan Huberdeau, LW, Florida Panthers

Huberdeau led the Panthers with 61 points (20 goals, 41 assists) in 55 games last season, which was tied with Mark Stone of the Vegas Golden Knights for 11th in the NHL. His 24 power-play points led Florida and his plus-12 was tied for third among forwards with Aleksander Barkov and Sam Bennett. Huberdeau has scored at least 20 goals and 61 points in each of the past four seasons and is Florida's all-time leader in points (498).

"He is dynamic, he is a game breaker and has great offensive instincts, great offensive flair, finding the back of the net with regularity," Grimson said. "This guy is just really hard to defend against. Never mind the great shot, he's a really gifted playmaker and has found some fabulous chemistry in the top-six with the Florida Panthers."

Video: NHL Tonight on NHL top player Jonathan Huberdeau


22. Adam Fox, D, New York Rangers

In his second NHL season in 2020-21, Fox won the Norris Trophy, finishing second among defensemen with 47 points (five goals, 42 assists) in 55 games, one behind Tyson Barrie of the Edmonton Oilers. He was plus-19 and led the Rangers in average ice time per game (24:42), more than three minutes more than defenseman Jacob Trouba, who was second (21:29). Fox scored 23 power-play points, tied for second in the NHL at the position behind Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning (24), had 102 blocked shots, and was third in the League among defensemen in takeaways (38).

"From the moment he has stepped onto NHL ice, and it goes to the confidence that he has in his game and the skill set, but the way he processes the game, it allows him to do the things that he does on the offensive side of the game," Grimson said.

Video: NHL Tonight on NHL top player Adam Fox


21. Sebastian Aho, C, Carolina Hurricanes

Aho led the Hurricanes with 57 points (24 goals, 33 assists) in 56 games last season, and has led them in scoring in each of the past four seasons. He led Carolina in game-winning goals (seven), takeaways (33) and shooting percentage (16.2 percent; minimum 10 shots on goal), and tied for first in power-play points (18) with Vincent Trocheck and Dougie Hamilton. Aho is fourth in points among players selected in the 2015 draft with 320 points (145 goals, 175 assists), behind McDavid, Marner and Eichel. He also has produced in the playoffs, scoring 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) in 34 games the past three seasons.

"He checks each and every box," Grimson said. "He's a tremendous disher, he's got a great shot, has a real knack for the net, a real know-how around the net. And he has top-end speed, and it's really the ability to shift gears on the fly. He kicks in an afterburner, and for a lot of NHL defenders, especially ones that don't see Aho a lot, he can get you back on your heels and you're losing him in time and space."

Video: NHL Tonight on NHL top player Sebastian Aho

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