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Top Players

#NHLTopPlayers: Nos. 10-1

NHL Network reveals best of current crop

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / NHL.com 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 10-1 were revealed Sunday in the premiere of the final program in a nine-part offseason series. Here is the list:

 

[RELATED: #NHLTopPlayers: Nos. 50-41#NHLTopPlayers: Nos. 40-31#NHLTopPlayers: Nos. 30-21 | #NHLTopPlayers: Nos. 20-11#NHLTopPlayers Right Now]

 

10. Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs

Injuries didn't stop Matthews from an impressive second NHL season in 2017-18. He followed up his Calder Trophy-winning season with 63 points (34 goals, 29 assists) in 62 games. Matthews was plus-25, had 13 power-play points and scored five game-winning goals for the Maple Leafs, who set Toronto records for wins (49) and points (105). The 21-year-old center had 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in a 10-game season-ending point streak.

"He is one of the best players in the League already," NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson said. "This guy started his career with a four-goal game and he's gotten better since that. You wouldn't think that's possible, but Auston Matthews, despite missing that time last year, took some strides and showed exactly why he will be in this top-10 list for about the next decade. He has that rarest of combinations: Size, speed, strength and skill."

Video: Auston Matthews is named No. 10 on the list

 

9. Taylor Hall, LW, New Jersey Devils

Hall became the first Devils player to win the Hart Trophy as League MVP after he had NHL career highs in almost every statistical category, including goals (39), assists (54), points (93), plus/minus rating (plus-14), power-play points (37) and shooting percentage (14.0 percent) last season. The 26-year-old left wing scored seven game-winning goals, including three in overtime, to help the Devils qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2011-12. He had 38 points (18 goals, 20 assists) in a personal 26-game point streak from Jan. 2-March 6, and set a Devils record with a 19-game point streak during that span, from Jan. 30-March 6 (13 goals, 13 assists, 26 points).

"His offensive game just rounded out in every possible way in New Jersey last year," Johnson said. "I think he took the challenge of not making the playoffs and maybe being a little disappointed with Edmonton's great year (in 2016-17) and said, 'You know what? I want to show why I can be as great as everyone knows I can be.' … Everyone is game-planning against you, everyone knows that you're the key player for your team and they still can't stop you ... that means you're having a special year and you're a special player."

Video: Taylor Hall comes in at No. 9 on the list

 

8. Erik Karlsson, D, San Jose Sharks

Karlsson managed to put up good offensive numbers last season even though the Ottawa Senators finished 30th in the NHL standings and were 25th in the League in scoring (219 goals). He had 53 assists, the fourth time in five seasons he's had at least that many, and had 62 points in 71 games. The 28-year-old defenseman, who was traded to the Sharks on Sept. 13, averaged 26:44 of ice time, third in the NHL behind Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (26:50) and Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter (26:47). A two-time Norris Trophy winner as the best defenseman in the NHL (2011-12, 2014-15), Karlsson also had 120 blocked shots last season, second on the Senators behind defenseman Cody Ceci (171).

"Erik Karlsson is as dynamic an offensive defenseman as we have seen since Paul Coffey, maybe Brian Leetch," Johnson said. "Given the era in which Erik Karlsson plays and the challenges that it is to create points, the fact that he's close to a point a game for four, five, six seasons as a defenseman. … This guy is a difference maker, you cannot cover him. … He's got the hands, the skills. One of the most exciting players and [I'm] happy that he arrived in the top 10 and was not punished too much by Ottawa having an off year."

Video: Erik Karlsson takes the No. 8 spot on the list

 

7. Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles Kings

Doughty led the NHL in total ice time for the second straight season and third time in the past four in 2017-18 (2,200:31). He had double-digit goals for the third straight season (10), and his 60 points were an NHL career high. The 28-year-old defenseman was plus-23 and played all 82 games for the fourth straight season. He won the Norris in 2015-16 and has been a finalist three of the past four seasons.

"What he really is, is efficient in his decision making," Johnson said. "[He's] one of the best outlet passers in the NHL, so he lets the puck do the work for him after he does a lot of good things to get it back. That's what allows him to play as much as he does. He doesn't waste any extra energy, he goes where he should, he makes the plays that he's supposed to, and when it comes time to do something individual or a little out of the norm, he can do that as well."

Video: Drew Doughty lands at No. 7 on the list

 

6. Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning

Hedman won the Norris last season. He scored 17 goals, tied for the most among NHL defensemen with Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers and Dougie Hamilton of the Calgary Flames, and his 63 points ranked fifth. His plus-32 rating was his NHL career high and second among NHL defensemen behind Josh Manson of the Anaheim Ducks (plus-34). The 27-year-old averaged 25:51 of ice time (fifth in the NHL) and had an NHL career-high 216 shots on goal.

"He just cruises around the ice effortlessly, and despite being such a gigantic guy (6-foot-6, 223 pounds) with his reach and his range, he is still very effective [by] getting pucks away from guys," Johnson said. "He doesn't worry about hitting anyone, he just worries about the puck. Because it's a lot more fun to play with a puck … once he has it, he does some really good things with it."

Video: Victor Hedman is named No. 6 on the list

 

5. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals

The Capitals captain led the NHL with 49 goals last season, the seventh time he's done so. Ovechkin also led the League in shots on goal (355), the 12th time in 12 full NHL seasons he's had at least 300. He scored 17 power-play goals last season, the fifth consecutive season he's had at least that many, and had 31 power-play points. The 33-year-old leads active NHL players with 607 goals. He helped the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup championship and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the 2018 playoffs with 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) in 24 games.

"Alex Ovechkin answering all his critics this year, winning the Stanley Cup, winning the Conn Smythe, winning the Rocket (Richard Trophy) once again," Johnson said. "We know what he does well; he shoots the puck. On the power play he's got such great feel about where to go ... and once he gets there, look out, he cannot be stopped. … He belongs on this list and he'll belong on it every [season] he plays because he is the greatest goal-scorer of this generation and arguably the greatest goal-scorer of all-time."

Video: Alex Ovechkin comes in at No. 5 on the list

 

4. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh Penguins

Malkin was fourth in the NHL with 98 points (42 goals, 56 assists) in 2017-18, the most he's had in a season since 2011-12 (109). Malkin scored 14 power-play goals and seven game-winners, and he had a five-game goal streak, during which he scored nine goals, from Jan. 25-Feb. 6. The 32-year-old center had 26 multipoint games, including 12 when he had at least three points. A three-time Cup winner, Malkin has scored at least 33 goals in six of his 12 NHL seasons.

"Another great year," Johnson said. "Could you have a quiet 40-goal plus, almost a 100-point season? I guess if you could he did, because once again he showed the full arsenal of his offensive repertoire. He is bigger (6-3, 195), stronger, more skilled and talented than just about anybody else on the ice, including his teammate, Sidney Crosby. When he gets rolling he is tough to stop."

Video: Evgeni Malkin takes the No. 4 spot on the list

 

3. Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov has increased his point total each season since he had 18 as an NHL rookie in 2013-14, and his NHL career-high 100 points (39 goals, 61 assists) last season ranked third in the League, behind Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (108) and Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux (102). He also set NHL career highs in power-play points (36, tied for sixth in NHL) and shots on goal (279, ninth). The 25-year-old has scored at least 30 goals in each of the past three seasons. He led the Lightning with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 17 playoff games last season, and his 58 postseason points (28 goals, 30 assists) since 2014-15 are second in the NHL behind Penguins center Sidney Crosby (71) in that span.

"[He's an] offensive wizard," Johnson said. "Whether it be by passing, shooting, skating or stick-handling, there is no part of the offensive game he does not have. … Underrated skater. You don't think of him of being fast, but when there's a break to be had, he's not caught, he's not getting tracked down. He draws in defenders' attention and their eyes before he makes his plays. (He scored) 100 points; anytime you get to triple-figures you're having an incredible year. The best offensive winger in the NHL this past season, he deserves to be at the very top of our list."

Video: Nikita Kucherov lands at No. 3 on the list

 

2. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins

Crosby had 89 points (29 goals, 60 assists) in 82 games last season. His 38 power-play points tied Malkin for third in the NHL, behind Pittsburgh forward Phil Kessel (42) and Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler (40). In 2016-17, the 31-year-old led the NHL in goals (44) and tied Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane for second in the League in points (89) behind McDavid (100), and helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup for the second straight season. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the 2016 playoffs (19 points) and 2017 playoffs (27 points).

"What we love about Sidney Crosby is that he gets around the front of the net [more] than just about anyone and recognizes, of course with his skill, where to go to make plays," Johnson said. "Playing defense now, he's got a responsibility to battle, to be physical and [is] as hard as anyone to control in and around the boards."

Video: Sidney Crosby is named No. 2 on the list

 

1. Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers

For the second straight year, McDavid tops the list of best players in the NHL, and for good reason. The 21-year-old forward has led the League in scoring the past two seasons; last season, he had 108 points (41 goals, 67 assists) after he had 100 (30 goals, 70 assists) in 2016-17. He also has won the Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player as voted by the NHL Players' Association the past two seasons. McDavid's 41 goals were his NHL career high, and he had three hat tricks last season, including a four-goal game against the Lightning on Feb. 5. Despite missing 37 games with an injury as a rookie in 2015-16, McDavid's 256 points since entering the NHL rank third in the League, behind Kane (271) and Crosby (263).

"[McDavid] is the best offensive player in the game," Johnson said. "That is undebatable; that's just the reality. He does things at a higher rate of speed than we've ever seen anyone do them before. He fits through a lot of physical play because he gets the puck often, because the other team's focused on their defense, and yet despite that he still manages to create in those high-duress moments in and around the net."

Video: Connor McDavid comes in at No. 1 on the list

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