Wayne Gretzky's No. 99 is retired throughout the NHL not only because he is considered the greatest player in League history, but because the number and his name are synonymous.
Though there is no debate over the best player to wear that number, there are 98 other numbers with more than one worthy candidate. That is where the "NHL's Who Wore It Best?" comes in.
NHL.com writers and editors have cast their votes, each selecting his or her top three for each number, with the top vote-getter receiving five points, second place getting three points and third place one point. Candidates will be debated, and the winners revealed in a weekly, five-part series first airing on Sportsnet, NHL.com and League platforms each Friday at 5 p.m. ET, and re-airing each Tuesday on NBCSN (5 p.m. ET) and NHL Network (6:30 p.m. ET). NHL.com will provide the list of winners each Friday at 5:30 p.m ET, following the premiere of each episode, beginning this week.
[RELATED: Who Wore It Best?]
Each Tuesday on NHL.com, selected writers will each make his or her case for which player in the history of League wore a certain number best. Each Friday, in a companion piece, the debate will center on current players.
Today, the discussion focuses on the best current player to wear No. 55.
Tim Campbell, staff writer
Mark Scheifele's reliability is why he's the best current No. 55 in the NHL. When the Winnipeg Jets' No. 1 center plays poorly, they have little chance to win. The No. 7 pick of the 2011 NHL Draft has evolved into a top-line presence, which comes with ever-increasing attention from opponents. His maturation has seen him become a point-per-game player during the past four seasons (299 points in 292 games, 1.02 per game). He also has become an elite shooter, with a shooting percentage of 18.6 percent since 2016-17, second in the NHL behind T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals (18.7 percent) among those who have played at least 100 games in that span. When the Jets go power-on-power, more responsibility falls on Scheifele and outcomes are determined on his performance; the Jets have the fifth-best points percentage (.623) in the NHL since the start of 2017-18, and that to me makes Scheifele the best No. 55 today.
Video: WPG@WSH: Scheifele nets tying goal while falling down
Tom Gulitti, staff writer
Like Tim, I appreciate all that Scheifele does for the Jets. But St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko deserves more recognition. Although Parayko has received additional attention since helping the Blues win the Stanley Cup last season, he remains among the more underrated defensemen in the NHL. Parayko is an imposing figure (6-foot-6, 230 pounds) and leads a deep group of Blues defensemen this season in hits (87) and blocked shots (106) despite missing seven games with an upper-body injury. Before this season, the 27-year-old had missed six games in his first four NHL seasons. So like Scheifele, Parayko also is reliable and steady, averaging 23:00 in ice time playing in St. Louis' top four, often against opponents' top lines. That makes him a worthy contender for being the top No. 55 today.
Video: FLA@STL: Parayko blasts puck past Driedger
Pete Jensen, senior fantasy editor
Rasmus Ristolainen has had far less help around him with the Buffalo Sabres, who have not made the Stanley Cup Playoffs during the defenseman's seven NHL seasons, than Scheifele or Parayko each has had with his team. When the Sabres had valuable forwards Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane, Ristolainen didn't have much help from his fellow defensemen. Now, with Jack Eichel solidifying himself as one of the best centers in the NHL and 2018 NHL Draft No. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin taking the lead at defenseman, Ristolainen has become a stronger all-around player and still has a higher ceiling. He ranks among the top 25 defensemen in power-play points (104; tied for 19th) and shots on goal (1,053; 24th) and is top 10 at the position in hits (1,162; eighth) since entering the NHL in 2013-14.
Video: BUF@WPG: Ristolainen fires puck home from tough angle
Like Parayko, Ristolainen often is overlooked. It would be interesting to see what Ristolainen will be able to do now that he is fully established on a team that is looking to take the next step. Part of Parayko's legacy will be his character off the ice. His relationship with superfan Laila Anderson, who inspired the Blues with her battle with the life-threatening inflammatory syndrome, hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, was one of the feel-good stories of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The best part about it is that friendship is genuine. So it was fitting when Parayko handed the Stanley Cup to Anderson and lifted it with her after the Blues' Game 7 win at TD Garden in Boston. This is something neither of them ever will forget, and that connection is why Parayko's No. 55 always will have special meaning in St. Louis.
Ristolainen has been a consistent producer when on the first power play and has a chance to be even better at even strength with proper reinforcements and improved team play. He had four straight seasons of at least 17 power-play points before this season (nine) and had the best rating (minus-2) of his NHL career in 2019-20, a big improvement compared to previous seasons. Ristolainen is 29th among defensemen in points per game (0.46; minimum 400 games) since entering the NHL, proving how reliable he's been.
I'm a huge fan of each of the defensemen in this conversation, and I think in Ristolainen's case a repeat of the Tyler Myers scenario is possible, that his stock might rise significantly in a different situation. The what-ifs also were a huge part of Scheifele's early seasons with the Jets, including his first two seasons after being drafted, when he made the Jets' season-opening roster only to be returned to his junior team after playing just a few games. The consternation and rush to judge Scheifele a flop in Winnipeg at those times was oppressive and wrong. Scheifele's early experiences and the lessons from them were growth, not failures, and all part of what makes him the best No. 55 in the NHL today.