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Joe Thornton Ranks 33 in NHL.com's Top 50 Players in the League

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks

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.

Here are Nos. 31-40:

40. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Washington Capitals

Kuznetsov, 24, flourished playing with Alex Ovechkin last season, his 77 points (20 goals, 57 assists) leading the Capitals. Since coming to Washington from the Kontinental Hockey League late in the 2013-14 season, he has found creative ways to feed the puck to his teammates, including no-look, behind-the-back one-timers and slap passes.

Kuznetsov should continue to improve in his third full season in the NHL.

39. Artemi Panarin, LW, Chicago Blackhawks

Panarin, 24, who won the 2016 Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, had 77 points (30 goals, 47 assists) last season, second on Chicago behind right wing Patrick Kane, who had 106 points (46 goals, 60 assists). The Blackhawks already had two of the most dynamic players in the League, Kane and center Jonathan Toews, and the addition of Panarin makes them even more of an offensive threat.

Panarin was the 31st rookie in NHL history to score 30 goals and first since 2010-11, when Michael Grabner (34 goals), Logan Couture (32) and Jeff Skinner (31) each did it.

38. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington Capitals

Backstrom, 28, who had centered Washington's top line with Ovechkin much of the previous eight seasons, thrived on the Capitals' second line in 2015-16, when he had 70 points (20 goals, 50 assists), third on the Capitals behind Ovechkin (71) and Kuznetsov.

Over the past five seasons, Backstrom has averaged nearly a point per game, with 319 points (78 goals, 241 assists) in 329 games. If the Capitals continue to surround him with talented wings, that trend should continue.

37. Corey Perry, RW, Anaheim Ducks

Entering his 12th NHL season, all with Anaheim, Perry, 31, has been a consistent scorer with an edge to his game that makes him difficult to play against. His 664 career NHL points (330 goals, 334 assists) in 804 games are the tip of the iceberg for Perry, who is an effective checker and aggressor, as indicated by his 936 penalty minutes in the League.

Perry had 62 points (34 goals, 28 assists) last season, one fewer than Ducks leading scorer Ryan Getzlaf, ranked No. 41 on this list, and has scored at least 33 goals in each of the past three seasons. Perry and Getzlaf have helped make Anaheim a perennial force in the Western Conference.

36. Ryan Suter, D, Minnesota Wild

Once half of one of the premier defense pairs in the NHL with Shea Weber for the Nashville Predators, Suter, 31, has maintained that high level of play since signing with Minnesota as a free agent in 2012, helping the Wild to a Stanley Cup Playoff berth in each of his four seasons with them.

He had an NHL career-high 51 points (eight goals, 43 assists) in 2015-16, setting a Wild record for most points by a defenseman in a season. At 6-foot-2, 206-pounds, he is a physical force on top of his playmaking upside: Of his 402 career NHL points, 342 are assists, to go along with his 60 goals entering his 12th NHL season.

35. Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov, 23, has blossomed into a top scoring talent, having increased his production in each of his three NHL seasons. He had NHL career highs of 30 goals and 66 points last season, but it was during the playoffs that he truly shined.

With captain Steven Stamkos out because of a blood clot, Kucherov had 19 points (11 goals, eight assists) in 17 playoff games before Tampa Bay was eliminated by the eventual Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final. Kucherov has 21 goals and 41 points in 43 playoff games over the past two seasons.

34. Claude Giroux, C, Philadelphia Flyers

Entering his ninth NHL season, Giroux, 28, has become the face of the Flyers. He has averaged close to a point per game over the past six seasons, with 443 points (141 goals, 302 assists) in 448 games, and leads the NHL in scoring in that span. Giroux was named Philadelphia captain in 2012.

Giroux also has been extremely durable, having missed 10 games in the past seven seasons, making him a reliable veteran presence in the Flyers lineup.

33. Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks

"Jumbo Joe" is chugging along at 37 years old. He played at a point-per-game pace last season, with 82 (19 goals, 63 assists) in 82 games, his best offensive season since he had 89 points (20 goals, 69 assists) for the Sharks in 2009-10, when he was 30.

Last season, Thornton helped San Jose to its first Stanley Cup Final. His 21 points (three goals, 18 assists) were fifth-most in the playoffs.

32. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Arizona Coyotes

Having a defenseman lead a team in scoring is unique. Having it happen in back-to-back seasons, even more so. But that's what Ekman-Larsson, 25, has done with Arizona; he led the Coyotes with 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists) last season and 43 points (23 goals, 20 assists) in 2014-15.

Entering his seventh NHL season, Ekman-Larsson is regarded as one of the better offensive defensemen in the League and lives up to his role as a cornerstone on the Arizona blue line.

31. Corey Crawford, G, Chicago Blackhawks

Crawford has won two Stanley Cup championships with the Blackhawks (2013, 2015) and twice won the William M. Jennings Trophy (team goaltenders, fewest goals allowed), also in 2013 and 2015.

Last season, Crawford had an NHL career-high 35 wins and led the League with seven shutouts. He has the most playoff wins (43) in the past four seasons, 13 ahead of Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, and has at least 30 wins in each of the past five full NHL seasons.

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