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#NHLTopPlayers: Top 20 Wings

NHL Network reveals best of current crop

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

The ability to score thrilling goals, make eye-popping passes, and go to the net with superb skating are the hallmarks of a top wing. NHL Network experts chose the top 20 wings in the League for a special program that premiered Sunday as the third in a nine-part series leading up to the regular season. Here is the list:

1. Nikita Kucherov, 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. 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 right wing was tied for 11th in the NHL with seven game-winning goals and has scored at least 30 goals in each of the past three seasons. Kucherov led the Lightning with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 17 Stanley Cup Playoff games last season and is second in the NHL in playoff points since 2014-15 (58),

"A lot of talk about why he's so good is because he plays with Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman," NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson said. "I'd say it's the other way around. The reason those guys are so good is because they're playing with Nikita Kucherov. He is the guy who drives that great offense in Tampa [Bay] with his play, his setup and his ability to finish in all kinds of ways. He has such good vision and touch in and around the net."

Video: Nikita Kucherov lands at No. 1 on the list


2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

The Capitals captain led the NHL with 49 goals last season, one shy of reaching 50 for the eighth time in his NHL career. Ovechkin, 32, also led the League in shots on goal (355), the 12th time in 12 full NHL seasons he's had at least 300. He had 17 power-play goals last season, the fifth consecutive season he's had at least that many, and 31 power-play points. The left wing leads active NHL players with 607 goals and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs last season with 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) in 24 games to help the Capitals win the Stanley Cup for the first time in their 43-season history.

"[Scoring goals is] the hardest thing to do, and Alex Ovechkin is arguably the greatest ever in the history of the League to do it," Johnson said. "We start talking about adjusted, you factor in goaltenders' equipment and save percentage, his numbers stack right up with [Mario] Lemieux and [Wayne] Gretzky with how great he is."

Video: Alex Ovechkin is named No. 2 on the list


3. Taylor Hall, 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), 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 playoffs for the first time since 2011-12. Hall 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).

"He's as good as anyone at taking the puck, gaining the blue line and creating plays whether it's for himself or for his teammates," Johnson said. "When you can do that and skate as well as he can, then you're on to something, because he's as good of a passer as he is a finisher, but you saw a bit more finish in his game this year. …Taylor Hall had a season for the ages for himself, for the New Jersey Devils. By any standard you want, he had a great year."

Video: Taylor Hall comes in at No. 3 on the list


4. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Kane led the Blackhawks in scoring for the third straight season with 76 points (27 goals, 49 assists) in 82 games. The 29-year-old right wing has scored at least 21 goals in each of his 11 NHL seasons, and his 828 points (312 goals, 516 assists) in that span rank fourth in the League. A three-time Stanley Cup champion, Kane won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2012-13 and hasn't missed a game in the past three seasons.

"He's a top-10 talent for sure and he's been doing it for a really long time," Johnson said, "It's no surprise to see him this high on the list, and maybe Chicago had a bit of a down year, maybe even Patrick Kane had a bit of a down year last year, but he'll be back because he is one of the most talented players in the NHL."

Video: Patrick Kane takes the No. 4 spot on the list


5. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Marchand had 85 points each of the past two seasons, including an NHL career-high 51 assists last season, and has scored at least 34 goals in each of the past three. The 30-year-old left wing had 23 power-play points and eight game-winning goals last season, and his five overtime goals led the NHL. Marchand was plus-25 in 2017-18, the sixth time he's been at least plus-20 in the NHL, and ranked third in the League among players who scored at least 20 goals and played at least 20 games with a shooting percentage of 18.7 percent. 

"Just focus on the skill and the puck play, he's as good as there is in the NHL," Johnson said. "You know shorthanded he's a threat, he can score goals, he can set up plays. He is absolutely growing into one of the best wingers in the game, and it's rare for players to do that at his age, to find that kind of level."

Video: Brad Marchand lands at No. 5 on the list


6. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets

Following a rookie season when he had 64 points (36 goals, 28 assists) and finished second in voting for the Calder Trophy to Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, Laine improved on those numbers in 2017-18 with 44 goals and 70 points, and led the NHL with 20 power-play goals. From Feb. 16-March 12, Laine scored 16 goals, including at least one in 11 of 12 games. In two NHL seasons, the 20-year-old right wing has 13 game-winning goals and a shooting percentage of 18.0 percent.

"Whether it's a wrist shot, whether it's a slap shot, 5-on-5, on the power play, he likes to work over in that weak side office just like Ovechkin does," Johnson said. "He is accurate, has as heavy velocity as anyone, and in his first two seasons had 80 goals combined. … It all starts and ends with his shot, and he's got one of the best in the world."

Video: Patrik Laine is named No. 6 on the list


7. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Giroux made a seamless transition from center to wing last season. After he had 58 points (14 goals, 44 assists) in 82 games in 2016-17, the 30-year-old left wing had NHL career highs in goals (34), assists (68) and points (102) last season, and he finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting. He also set NHL career highs in rating (plus-28), shooting percentage (17.6 percent) and face-off winning percentage (58.64 percent), which ranked fourth in the NHL among players to take at least 250 face-offs. Since 2010-11, Giroux leads the NHL with 414 assists.

"He is very good off the rush because he's good at buying time and space, and is an excellent, excellent passer," Johnson said. "He knows how to find open ice, how to get lost in coverage and how to finish when he gets those opportunities. You put all of that together, and someone who embodies the spirit of the team that he plays for and the organization and the city, and that he's competitive and fiery and he's tough and he won't back [down], but he's also really talented and great with the puck."

Video: Claude Giroux comes in at No. 7 on the list


8. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

Benn had 79 points (36 goals, 43 assists) in 82 games last season, the fourth time in the past five seasons he's had at least that many. The 29-year-old left wing also had 22 power-play points, seven game-winning goals and a plus-20 rating. Benn averaged 19:49 of ice time, the sixth straight season he's averaged at least 19 minutes, and won 52.48 percent of his face-offs. The Art Ross Trophy winner in 2014-15 (87 points), Benn has scored at least 34 goals in four of the past five seasons. He also finished second among Dallas forwards in hits (140) and blocks (62) last season.

"We know about his hands, his shot, his passing, his speed, all these different things," Johnson said. "He gets a little physical, he gets a little chippy, he gets a little mean, he can do all those things as well. … He just racks up the points year after year after year. A really well-rounded, tough player."

Video: Jamie Benn takes the No. 8 spot on the list


9. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

Wheeler led the Jets and finished ninth in the NHL with a career-high 91 points (23 goals, 68 assists) in 81 games in 2017-18. The 31-year-old right wing also finished second in the League with 40 power-play points, behind Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel (42). Wheeler, who has missed six games in the past seven seasons, has scored at least 23 goals in each of the past five and led the Jets with 21 points (three goals, 18 assists) in 17 playoff games last season, helping them advance to the Western Conference Final for the first time.

Video: Blake Wheeler lands at No. 9 on the list


10. Artemi Panarin, Columbus Blue Jackets

The 2015-16 Calder Trophy winner with the Blackhawks, Panarin set a Blue Jackets record with an NHL career-high 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists) in 81 games last season, his first with Columbus. He also set NHL career highs in assists, rating (plus-23) and shots on goal (228). The 26-year-old left wing led the Blue Jackets with seven points (two goals, five assists) in six playoff games and has 233 points (88 goals, 145 assists) in his three NHL seasons, seventh most in the League over that span.

"He's a game-breaking player," Johnson said. "He was brought into Columbus to provide the instant offense that he's provided away from Chicago. He's made all the players around him better. …I love what he's able to do off the rush, challenge guys with his speed [and] hands, not afraid to get to the net. A point-a-game player, he is just a dynamic guy."

Video: Artemi Panarin is named No. 10 on the list


11. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

Tarasenko had 66 points (33 goals, 33 assists) in 80 games last season and led the Blues in goals for the fourth straight season. He's one of two players, along with Ovechkin, who has scored at least 30 goals in each of the past four seasons. The 26-year-old right wing ranked fifth in the NHL with 306 shots on goal and had a plus-15 rating, 16 power-play points (six goals) and five game-winning goals.

"Underrated size to his game, he's a heavy player and he plays heavy," Johnson said. "When he goes into the piles, after the puck, when he goes into the crowd looking for opportunity, he comes out and gets it. Very consistent. … Four (seasons) in a row now with 30-plus (goals). I don't see that ending anytime soon. …He is a gifted, gifted goal-scorer."

Video: Vladimir Tarasenko comes in at No. 11 on the list


12. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames

Gaudreau had NHL career highs in points (84) and assists (60) in 80 games last season, and has had at least 61 points and 16 power-play points in each of his four NHL seasons. The 25-year-old left wing finished third in the Calder Trophy voting in 2014-15 and won the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded to the player voted to best combine sportsmanship, gentlemanly conduct and ability, in 2016-17, when he had two minor penalties (four penalty minutes). Gaudreau has led the Flames in scoring in each of the past three seasons.

Video: Johnny Gaudreau takes the No. 12 spot on the list

13. Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins

Kessel set NHL career highs in assists (58) and points (92) in 2017-18, when he scored 34 goals. It was the 10th straight season he scored at least 20 goals. The 30-year-old right wing led the NHL in power-play points (42) and played in every game for the eighth straight season. Kessel has played in 692 straight games, the third longest active streak in the NHL behind Florida Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle (715) and Maple Leafs center Patrick Marleau (706). 

"All he does is show up, play and produce," Johnson said. "That's what you want out of your high-end, offensive guys. ... You want points, you want productivity and you want consistency. That's the guy to do it."

Video: Phil Kessel lands at No. 13 on the list


14. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

Pastrnak had NHL career highs in almost every offensive statistical category last season, including goals (35), assists (45), points (80), power-play goals (13), power-play points (26) and shooting percentage (14.2 percent). The 22-year-old right wing played in all 82 games for the first time in his fourth NHL season, and had 18 multipoint games, including six with at least three points. Pastrnak led the Bruins with 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 12 playoff games.

"What I like about David Pastrnak is it's so incredibly rare for a player like him to make the kind of moves he makes in tight spaces and to beat defenders 1-on-1. It's not easy," Johnson said. "There's just nothing he can't do offensively with [the puck], whether it's off the rush, off the cycle."

Video: David Pastrnak is named No. 14 on the list


15. Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators

Forsberg led the Predators with 64 points (26 goals, 38 assists) in 67 games last season. It was the third time in his four full NHL seasons he led Nashville in points. The 24-year-old left wing also led the Predators with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 13 playoff games and set NHL career highs in rating (plus-27), power-play goals (13) and shooting percentage (14.5 percent). In 2016-17, Forsberg scored 31 goals and had 10 in a five-game span from Feb. 21-Feb. 28, including back-to-back hat tricks.

Video: Filip Forsberg comes in at No. 15 on the list


16. Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

Voracek had a bounce-back season in 2017-18 with an NHL career-high 85 points (20 goals, 65 assists) in 82 games after he had 61 points (20 goals, 41 assists) in 82 games in 2016-17. The 29-year-old right wing ranked fourth in the NHL in assists, set an NHL career high with 35 power-play points, was plus-10, and had a shooting percentage of 8.8 percent, his highest since 2014-15 (10.0). Over the past five seasons, Voracek has had at least 61 points four times and ranks sixth in the NHL in power-play points (137) and assists (248) over that span.

"He just wants to make his linemates better, he wants to make his team better," Johnson said. "When you pass it as well as he does, you almost understand why he's a pass-first guy, because they lead to so many opportunities. [Voracek has] some of the best vision and hands for passing the puck in the League."

Video: Jakub Voracek takes the No. 16 spot on the list


17. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche

The 21-year-old right wing had a breakout season in 2017-18, tying for 16th in the NHL with 84 points (29 goals, 55 assists) in 81 games. In his second full season, Rantanen had 35 power-play points, 12 power-play goals, three game-winning goals, 178 shots on goal and a shooting percentage of 16.3 percent. Rantanen had 55 points (20 goals, 35 assists) in 40 games at home, which ranked eighth in the NHL, and had nine games with at least three points and three games with four points.

Video: Mikko Rantanen lands at No. 17 on the list


18. Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks

Rakell led Anaheim in points last season (69) and led it in goals in each of the past two seasons (34 last season, 33 in 2016-17). The 25-year-old left wing also led the Ducks in power-play goals (eight) and power-play points (18) in 2017-18. Rakell's 163 points (87 goals, 76 assists) in the past three seasons rank third behind Corey Perry (164) and Ryan Getzlaf (197) on the Ducks, and his 20 game-winning goals are tied for fourth in the NHL.

Video: Rickard Rakell is named No. 18 on the list

19. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks

Boeser finished second in voting for the Calder Trophy last season behind New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal after he had 55 points (29 goals, 26 assists) in 62 games. The 21-year-old right wing had 11 multipoint games, including six with at least two goals, and tied for the Canucks lead in points, power-play goals (10) and power-play points (23). In November, he led the NHL with 11 goals.

"He can really just shoot at the most elite level right away," Johnson said. "He's got the knack for scoring goals because he can shoot and score from so many different ways. … I don't think he's going anywhere, as far as this list, except for up because as his years go by, he's only going to get better."

Video: Brock Boeser comes in at No. 19 on the list


20. Viktor Arvidsson, Nashville Predators

Arvidsson led the Predators with 29 goals last season and had 61 points for the second consecutive season. The 25-year-old left wing was plus-20, was tied for fifth in the NHL with three shorthanded goals, and tied for the Predators lead with six game-winning goals. Arvidsson had nine points (five goals, four assists) in 13 playoff games.

"He's got the kind of skills that can attack 1-on-1 and he's got a point-producing, goal-scoring mentality no matter when he's out there," Johnson said. "Whether it's power play, 5-on-5 or shorthanded, Viktor Arvidsson really makes things happen for Nashville. He's very consistent in the kind of game he plays every night."

Video: Viktor Arvidsson takes the No. 20 spot on the list

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