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Top 50 player countdown begins on NHL Network

Defensemen highlight Nos. 41-50 on list chosen by expert panel @NHLdotcom

As the dog days of summer wind down, NHL Network is getting you ready for this season by ranking the top 50 players in the League. NHL Network researchers, producers and on-air personalities compiled the list, taking into account players coming back from injury, younger players expected to break out, and veterans with a proven track record.

Check out Nos. 31-40 | Nos. 21-30

Here are the first 10 on the list, numbers 50-41: 

50. Martin Jones, G, San Jose Sharks

Jones, 26, burst onto the scene during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, helping the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final. In his first season as a starting goaltender in the NHL, Jones went 37-23-4 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.

After spending two seasons backing up Jonathan Quick with the Los Angeles Kings, Jones went to the Boston Bruins as part of the trade that sent forward Milan Lucic to the Kings. Four days later, Jones was traded to the Sharks for a first-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and center prospect Sean Kuraly. The Sharks then signed Jones to a three-year contract and gave him the starting job.

Video: Recapping the Top 50 Players right now: 41-50

49. Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Philadelphia Flyers

Gostisbehere, who is known as Ghost, was a force as a rookie last season. Selected in the third round (No. 78) by Philadelphia in the 2012 draft, he had 46 points (17 goals, 29 assists) in 64 games. The 23-year-old finished second to Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

Gostisbehere led Flyers defensemen in scoring, and his special season included a 15-game point-scoring streak, a League record for a rookie defenseman. The streak was the longest by an NHL defenseman since the 1995-96 season, when Chris Chelios of the Blackhawks had a point in 15 straight games.

48. Ryan McDonagh, D, New York Rangers

Entering his seventh NHL season, the Rangers captain has led New York defensemen in scoring in two of the past three seasons and has been better than plus-20 the past two. McDonagh, 27, had 34 points last season (nine goals, 25 assists), the fourth straight full season he had 32 points or more.

Selected by the Montreal Canadiens with the 12th pick in the 2007 draft, McDonagh was traded to the Rangers in 2009 as part of a package that sent forward Scott Gomez to Montreal. Named captain in 2014, McDonagh became the fourth-youngest Ranger to wear the "C."

Video: PIT@NYR: McDonagh wraps around to even the game at 3

47. Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis Blues

In Pietrangelo's first full NHL season, in 2010-11, he had 43 points (11 goals, 32 assists), tying fellow rookie Kevin Shattenkirk as the leading scorer among Blues defensemen.

Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk have since provided a formidable 1-2 punch on the St. Louis blue line. With the departure of former captain David Backes, Pietrangelo is in line for more of a leadership role this season. He has 255 points (51 goals, 204 assists) in 459 NHL games.

46. Aaron Ekblad, D, Florida Panthers

Ekblad, 20, led Panthers defensemen in points as a rookie in 2014-15 with 39 (12 goals, 27 assists) on the way to winning the Calder Trophy. Last season, the No. 1 pick of the 2014 draft again led Florida defensemen in scoring with 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists).

Ekblad, entering his third NHL season, showed his commitment to the Panthers when he signed an eight-year contract extension reportedly worth $60 million (average annual value $7.5 million) on July 1. He should be a cornerstone in Florida for years to come.

45. Blake Wheeler, RW, Winnipeg Jets

Wheeler, 29, broke into the NHL with the Boston Bruins in 2008-09 and had 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) in 81 games as a rookie. After being traded to the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets franchise in February 2011, his career took off. He had 64 points (17 goals, 47 assists) in 80 games in 2011-12, the franchise's first season in Winnipeg, and set his NHL career high with 78 points (26 goals, 52 assists) last season as the Jets' leading scorer.

If Winnipeg can develop the pieces around him, Wheeler should continue to thrive.

44. John Klingberg, D, Dallas Stars

Klingberg led NHL rookie defensemen with 40 points (11 goals, 29 assists) in 2014-15, even though he began the season with Texas of the American Hockey League and played in 65 games with the Stars. He followed that up with 58 points (10 goals, 48 assists) last season, fifth among NHL defensemen.

A fifth-round pick (No. 131) in the 2010 draft, there's no reason Klingberg, 24, shouldn't continue to play a major role for the Stars this season.

Video: DAL@MIN, Gm6: Klingberg tallies on two-man advantage

43. Brent Seabrook, D, Chicago Blackhawks

In 11 NHL seasons, Seabrook, 31, has gotten better with age; last season, he set an NHL career high with 49 points (14 goals, 35 assists) for the Blackhawks, who chose him with the 14th pick of the 2003 draft.

Seabrook has the reputation of a clutch performer; he has three overtime goals in the NHL playoffs, including in Game 7 of the 2013 Western Conference Second Round against the Detroit Red Wings and in triple overtime against the Nashville Predators in Game 4 of their 2015 first-round series.

42. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Winnipeg Jets

After winning the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010, Byfuglien, 31, was traded to the Thrashers/Jets franchise and has flourished in multiple roles, playing on the wing and on defense. Selected by Chicago in the eighth round (No. 245) of the 2003 draft, Byfuglien (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) has outlasted and outperformed many players taken ahead of him.

He has had more than 50 points in four of his five full seasons with the Thrashers/Jets, including last season, when he had 53 (19 goals, 34 assists).

41. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim Ducks

Getzlaf, 31, has been the face of the Ducks since he joined them in 2005-06 after he was the 19th pick in the 2003 draft. In his second full NHL season, he won the Stanley Cup playing on the "Kid Line" with Corey Perry and Dustin Penner. He was named captain in 2010.

Getzlaf has led Anaheim in points each of the past four seasons, including when he scored an NHL career-high 31 goals in 2013-14. With 741 points (221 goals, 520 assists) in 787 career NHL regular-season games, he ranks second on the Ducks' all-time list behind Teemu Selanne (988).

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