The National Hockey League is the premier organization for professional hockey the world over, and in 2017 they celebrated their 100th season of ice hockey. It’s the goal and dream of every young athlete that straps on their skates, grab their stick, and spend hours on end shooting pucks at the garage door. For most, the dream never becomes a reality, but for a select few, a future playing their favorite sport is a possibility.
As fans, we often have the difficult choice of picking just one team to root for. It’s favoritism, but for the sport's fan, it’s everything. Some of us don’t have an obvious choice; maybe there’s no hockey team around for one to adopt as a “home team”, or maybe we're stuck half-heartedly cheering for both our Mom's favorite and our Dad's favorite team. It becomes difficult to wade through all 31 teams, deciphering all of the talent that’s out there and combating all those external influences. We decided to make it easy. Pick or pass on these 35 of the most talented hockey players in the game right now and we’ll decide which jersey one should buy next. Or, at the very least, we’ll make an educated guess as to which teams colors are everyone's favorite.
The second most beloved hero of the Windy City, Patrick Kane came out of left field (mostly because he’s pretty short for a hockey player) when the Hawks drafted him 1st overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Patrick Kane quickly found his place in the scoring races, and into the upper echelon of the NHL elite thanks to his long-time line-man Jonathan Toews. Throughout his 11 year journey so far he has won the Calder Trophy (for most outstanding Rookie), has three Stanley Cups, and has been showered with numerous other statistical awards. (NHL.com)
They call him “The Flow” in Vancouver for his especially magnificent head of blond locks, but the true magic is in Brock Boeser’s (pronounced “Bess-er”) hockey stick. Fortunately, for Canucks fans across the board, Boeser made it all the way to the number 23 spot in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, and Vancouver was able to draft the almost assuredly future hall-of-famer. Boeser was named to the All-Star game in his rookie campaign with the Orcas in 2018, and if it hadn’t been for severe hurts, would have been a front-runner for the Calder Trophy. (NHL.com)
The man that has spun the most crazy off-season debates in recent National Hockey League history, John Tavares finally left the fans that loved him in New York (as an Islander), when he was drafted in the 1st overall spot during the 2009 draft. He took his astounding talents up north to the Toronto Maple Leafs, his hometown, by the way, for loads of well-deserved dollars. Now, as a stalwart player in what has become a very viable 21st century cup contender, this hockey team is strutting to their goal horns in their blue and whites.
What does one actually say about the golden child of modern professional hockey? The Nova Scotian Sidney Crosby took the league by storm in the middle of the 2000s when he became the poster-boy for the entire sport nearly overnight. He’s redefined the legacy of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and won his home nation a gold medal, thanks to a single goal, at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games on home ice in Vancouver, Canada. It’s hard to pass up on one of the greatest to ever play the game. (Hockey-Reference)
He’s not quite a household name, but Nikita Kucherov has made a huge name for himself in Florida to the Tampa Bay Lightning faithful over the past few years, climbing up the ranks in what is a very good Lightning team, in the scoring column. Kucherov has played in six all-star games in his seven year status, and holds almost a handful of Tampa Bay Lightning franchise records. That’s hard to do with folks like Steven Stamkos around in the Bay. (NHL.com)
Even though the reputation and the stock of the Los Angeles Kings hockey team has dipped considerably in the last six years, there are still some golden shining players on that roster; Drew Doughty being one of them. The modern bad-boy on the blue-line, Doughty helmed the Stanley Cup winning Kings in 2012, and 2014, and has five gold medals for Team Canada. (NHL.com) Doughty is a strong, point-scoring defenseman that has kept the LA Kings relevant in their fall from grace.
In the same breath that many people use to speak of Sid the Kid, we have to mention the Great Eight. Alexander Ovechkin has been (up until recently) the only player to dress in the NHL that could stand next to the astoundingly talented Sidney Crosby. He has played 14 seasons as a member (and most as the team captain) of the Capitals, and until last year was considered one of the most talented players to ever play in the league without a Stanley Cup victory. The 2018 Washington Capitals finally ended the drought, and the beloved Ovi got his due time with Lord Stanley. (NHL.com)
He's one of a small group of elite players to come over from halfway around the world and absolutely slay in the NHL. Karlsson, who was drafted by the Senators in 2008, quickly became the most beloved player (possibly ever) to wear the Gold and Red in this capital city. To the heartbreak of Senators fans all over the globe, the organization allowed their golden boy to leave following almost a decade with the team. So far in the 2018-19 season, Karlsson has done some amazing things in San Jose for his new squad, remaining one of the league's elite defenseman.
Part of the Maple Leafs recent successes was their past disappointments (one gets to pick higher in the draft, the lower in the league they finish the previous year), and Mitch Marner came from that loss. Picked fourth overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, Marner got to suit up for his “home” team. He brings intense goal-scoring ability as well as speed to this newly-dubbed powerhouse team. Not to mention helping them get a little more youthfulness into the Leafs line-up. (Hockey Reference)
Another part of that epic Kings flash in the pan dominance is Anze Kopitar. One of the best (actually, probably inarguably the best) players to ever come out of Slovenia, Kopitar hasn’t seen the same successes in the International rinks as other superstars have. That might be because he’s one of only a few players from his nation to ever make an NHL roster. He does have two Stanley Cup victories, and continues to lead his Kings in the 2018-19 season. (NHL.com)
The most charismatic and meme-able member of the National Hockey League, Brent Burns began his hockey adventure in Minnesota before finding his stride, and a new squad, in San Jose. He has flourished here since being traded in 2011. Burns, the man of the few teeth, the big laugh, and the gigantic wizard's beard, is a fan favorite, and plays a large leadership role on this reformed and formidable Sharks team. Burns has also suited up for his home country in multiple appearances during the World Hockey Championships. (Hockey Reference)
It’s another case of a majorly loved and elite blue-liner, getting traded because the prices climbed as quickly as production did. Pernell-Karl Subban was part of an exciting certain Montreal team until head office decided to “shake up” the locker room and traded Subban for another elite defenseman. The Predators look to have gotten the sweeter end of that deal though, as Subban has quickly become a favorite in the music town and continues to produce on the blue line. Subban is also part of a large hockey family, with three brothers total, all of which have current NHL contracts. (NHL.com)
While many folks contemplate Alex Ovechkin as Sidney Crosby’s counterpart, a certain coffee brand (Tim Horton’s) has been matching Sid the Kid with MacKinnon, putting the two on even playing field in popular opinion. On the ice, MacKinnon won the Calder Trophy in his rookie campaign for the Avalanches, and is reaching a 100-point average season points production. (NHL.com) It may not have happened yet, but he will justifiably be considered among the elite in the NHL any time now, in our opinion.
There are usually two halves (or more) to any winning production in the National Hockey League. Gretzky was a superstar, but a lot of that was able to happen because of his linemates. The same goes for Sidney Crosby, who has had Evgeni Malkin skating beside him since he came into the black and gold team. Malkin has three Stanley Cup wins in what has been one of the greatest team dynasties in modern professional hockey. He has also seen a lot of success playing for his home country during international tournaments. (Hockey Reference)
The pride of in-the-middle-of-nowhere, Braden Holtby (the recent superstar of the Stanley Cup finals) is one of the most athletic elite goaltenders in league history. In his short (six year) National Hockey League journey, Holtby has been to four All-Star games, won the Vezina Trophy (best goalie in the league), and last year helped his Capitals win their first ever Stanley Cup. There are a lot of years (presumably) yet to be played in his job, and we’re all very excited to see how much better he can get. (NHL.com)
Connor McDavid is one of the most talented, prolific, fast, smart, and collected hockey players to ever strap on a pair of skates and slosh a puck around. Before even entering the league, he was compared to Wayne Gretzky (the greatest of all time), and has done nothing but live up to that reputation. If it weren’t for a hurt collarbone, McDavid would have won the Calder Trophy in his rookie season with the Oilers, and has scored 100 points or more in each of the two full seasons he’s been able to play. He’s a hockey legend, alive, and on the ice. (NHL.com)
Another grand prize of the “dark years” for Toronto Maple Leafs fans, is the wonder kid that is Auston Matthews. Number 34 for the blue and white has brought a whole lot of flair, speed, and talent to the Leafs line-up. With the addition of John Tavares this past off-season, it looks to be a huge key to the team's soon-to-be great success. The 2017 Calder Trophy winner appears to be a final-ish piece of the Maple Leafs winning puzzle. (Hockey Reference)
Probably the greatest thing ever to come, Ryan Getzlaf is part of an amazingly athletic family and was selected 19th overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Ducks (then, the Mighty Ducks). Since then Getzlaf has led the team both on and off the ice, as captain and community member, and has served every one of his 15 years in the league with them. The team, under Getzlaf’s charge, has one Stanley Cup victory, and Getzlaf has helped lead the national team to two Olympic gold medals. (NHL.com)
The most recent Windsor prodigy, the 1st overall choice by the Panthers in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Aaron Ekblad has quickly joined elite ranks as one of the league’s best young defenseman. Though he plays on a seemingly ordinary Panthers squad, Ekblad won the 2015 Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie and has been invited to two All-Star games. The hardworking Panthers have a very bright future if they manage to keep talent like Ekblad in FLA. (NHL.com)
It doesn’t happen all that often, but sometimes really good players stuck in a rut get a second chance at stardom when they are moved to another team. This is precisely what happened to the Bruin’s Tyler Seguin, who played well in black and gold, but didn’t stand-out among the league until he was shipped in (what was then) a blockbuster deal. Shining with line mates like Jamie Benn, Seguin has found a home, and a first-line position with the Stars, though that teams brightness seems to be fading of late. Perhaps Seguin will become a clutch rental player and get a second chance at a Stanley Cup. (Hockey Reference)
One of the amazing talents that has taken the entire hockey world in a state of surprise and awe is Laine. To see what the Jet’s 2nd overall 2016 Draft pick can do on the ice is to witness brilliant hockey playing. He’s a one-in-a-billion talent that just blows the league up, and has since sparked major joy in the Jets' faithful fans north of the border. Laine’s addition to the Jets line-up has immediately made their future a strong one, let’s just hope (for Peg fans) that he stays in the prairies. (Hockey Reference)
They call him “The King” and it has nothing to do with any sort of heritage (at least, we don’t think it does). Rather, Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers is considered the Ruler of the Goal Crease. And there isn’t a stat in the National Hockey League that can refute that. He has been named the team’s MVP for nine seasons since his 2005 draft, and has never (we repeat, NEVER) had a losing season in goal for his only NHL squad. He’s throne material for sure. (Hockey Reference)
This young phenom has finally caught fire in the NHL, grabbing the attention of every hockey fan on earth with his astoundingly athletic style of goaltending. Since being drafted in 2012, Vasilevskiy has played two full seasons with the Lightning, with a record of 67-34-10 in those two years. Which, if one is not up to speed on goaltending stats, is a ridiculous record, hardly comparable to any other goalie the league over. The future is bright for Andrei, and we see many attempts at the Stanley Cup. (NHL.com)
Playing just in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy is Steven Stamkos. He’s the guy that has been giving Lightning fans hope since his being drafted 1st overall in 2008 by the franchise. Now, with a more than viable team built around him (took them long enough), the Lightning are a difficult squad to play against. Stamkos has won two Rocket Richard Trophies for most goals in the league, and has played in one Stanley Cup Finals match-up. Not to mention how he has been invited to six All-Star games. (Hockey Reference)
The young leader in the Canucks' ever-younger line-up, Bo Horvat began his hockey adventure with every eye on the West Coast staring at him. Luckily for Canucks fans he got a few seasons in with the exquisite Sedins before they retired, and has shifted his performance from production on the points line to leadership and grit. Horvat is an exemplary hustler, and voice of teamwork in what has become a drastically young locker room for the team. The future captain of the Canucks will continue to take charge in the Pacific Division, we feel.
He’s not only Gritty’s favorite player on the planet, but a whole lot of fanatics' pick for greatest player in the league right now. We tend to agree for the most part. Claude Giroux is one of the fastest and strongest players to ever dress in the modern era of the National Hockey League. He has, however, been forced to endure a very poor era of Flyers hockey, and for that we’re just as apologetic as we are thankful for his wondrous plays.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the name and face of Marc-Andre Fleury was synonymous with the Penguins squad that struck surprise in the hearts of their opponents for years. The Pens are still a tough team to beat, but they lost Fleury in the Golden Knights expansion draft, where “Flower” (as he is called) helped take the first-year Knights to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. He's in his 15th year of professional hockey, and hopes to see his Golden Knights to another Cup run before his time to retire knocks. (Hockey Reference)
Everyone told Johnny Gaudreau that he was too small to play professional hockey in the National Hockey League, and boy are hockey fans the world over glad he didn’t listen. This kid is one of the most fantastic players in the history of the sport, in our humble opinion. One of the most electrifying snipers ever to lace up skates, Gaudreau has already helped provide a wicked switch in atmosphere within the Flames organization in just a few seasons. The young sharpshooter is destined for greatness. We just hope his team’s lack of stability doesn’t get in his way.
Seth Jones was drafted by the Predators in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, and quickly proved that he was just as good at the professional level as he was in his junior hockey path. Thanks to tournaments like the World Junior Hockey Championships, players like Jones have been able to boost their draft ranking significantly by performing well on a world stage in front of millions. Now, as a member of the Blue Jackets, Jones is a leader among the youthful squad, and is carving a real name for himself among blue-line elite. (NHL.com)
There are so many things to say about Elias Pettersson, and there has been so much fanfare and splendor surrounding the teenager; and all of it in his first ever National Hockey League year! The rookie that is tearing up franchise and league-wide record books with his astounding display of talent, awareness, and athleticism, is sure to bring a whole lot of spark to the Canucks line-up for years to come. He’s currently a front-runner for the Calder Trophy, despite two hurts in this, his first ever NHL campaign.
A rough part about being drafted by a bad team is that there’s a potential the team doesn’t actually get much better with a superstar on it. Vladimir Tarasenko is one of those jaw-dropping hockey talents that is just plain ignored because no one actually cares about the Blues hockey club. This has greatly affected Tarasenko’s stock, as he is relatively left without the spotlight thanks to his squad, but he is one of the most elite goal-scorers the league has right now; at least, that's the game we're watching.
A big part in the rise to power we’ve seen with the Predators organization of late has a lot to do with their profoundly talented goaltender Pekka Rinne. He’s been a fan favorite for a long time, being drafted in 2004, but has only recently started overtaking the entire league with his stellar play. Since being called up full-time with the Preds in 2008, Rinne has been nominated for four Vezina Trophies, and won the Vezina in 2018. He has seen action in six All-Star games, and will most-likely take his team back to the big dance. (Hockey Reference)
Another stellar, but smaller, guy from the 2016 draft class, Clayton Keller has quickly become a fan favorite in the deserts thanks to his absolutely incredible wrist action and his speed on the ice. Keller sparked so much enthusiasm in the Coyotes franchise his rookie year that he was a finalist for the Calder Trophy. Though it eventually went to Mathew Barzal, there is a very bright future in the National Hockey League for Clayton Keller,(and it may or may not be in the desert with the dogs). (Hockey Reference)
A lot of Buffalo Sabres fans have long-since made young Jack Eichel the leader of their franchise, but many hockey fans will know Eichel from the intensely stacked roster that almost upended the entire 2015 World Junior Hockey Championships. Now, as an established and elite leader in the National Hockey League, Eichel is raising the stock value by large margins every season. He’s definitely a bet that one can take into the future of their franchise with them. (Hockey Reference)
Mathew Barzal surprised a whole lot of people last season when he came out of the gate with rockets strapped to his skates, and overtook the entire season of rookies to win the Calder Trophy for most outstanding NHL player in their first campaign. He was drafted by the Islanders in the 2015 class in the 16th slot and came out swinging, under-the-radar, in his first full year with the team in 2017-18; he nearly racked up 100 points in his first season! (NHL.com)