Welcome to Sportsnet’s top 100 NHL players of the 2018–19 season.
We didn’t arrive at this list overnight. In fact, we started work as soon as Alex Ovechkin and Co. lifted the Stanley Cup in June. First, we asked 16 of our NHL insiders to rank the top 100 players in the league at this exact moment, and then we combined their individual lists to create a definitive master ranking.
The exact formula for what makes an NHLer great — or, more importantly, greater than another — is subjective, and everyone’s top-100 list looks different.
But let’s make one key criteria clear: This list is about the 2018–19 season — not last season or the next five years. It’s about who’s the best right now.
On Monday, we offered up the first 50 names on the list. Today we bring you the next 20. Come back Wednesday for No. 30 to No. 11 and, finally, the top 10 on Thursday.
Without further adieu, here are Nos. 50 to 31:
50. Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks
At 30, Toews has almost everything an NHL player could desire. He’s earned three Stanley Cups and two Olympic golds, and has five years left on an eight-year, $84-million contract. But the talent pool around him has thinned from Chicago’s salad days, and they’ve played just four post-season games in the past two years. Toews put up a modest stat line in 2017–18 (20 goals and 32 assists in 74 games), but it’s not like his game has fallen off a cliff — he’s scored 30 goals or more only twice in his career, the last time in 2010–11. He earned the handle Captain Serious by rising to the highest moments in greatest need, but now the battle is just to return to relevance.
49. William Karlsson, C, Vegas Golden Knights
Wild Bill was the biggest surprise last season on a team full of them. And if the Golden Knights are going to repeat that magic, Karlsson is going to have to build on a nearly point-per-game season. He’s 25 with a ton of upside, an elite two-way forward with slick hands and great hair.
48. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim Ducks
Getzlaf didn’t figure in the Hart Trophy voting, which is what you’d expect of a player who scored 11 goals in 56 games. But fans in Anaheim would build a case for him. In a season in which Getzlaf missed significant time due to a fractured cheekbone, the team was 35-16-5 with him the lineup and just 9-9-8 without him. At 33, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll ever score 20 goals again — which he last did in the 2014–15 season. But if the Ducks are going to contend, they’ll do it on Getzlaf’s back.
47. Carey Price, G, Montreal Canadiens
We’re a long way from that banner 2014–15 campaign. The 2015 Vezina Trophy winner saw his numbers fall to career lows in 2017–18, with his .900 save percentage a far cry from the .923 he put up one year prior. Price remains among the best in the game, but whether he’ll be able to return to the form that left little doubt about that fact depends on how much help he gets in front of him.
46. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning are a perennial threat for the Stanley Cup for a number of reasons, and Vasilevskiy is one of them. The Russian netminder was a finalist for the Vezina after manning the Lightning goal in 44 wins — tied with Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck for most in the NHL. Vasilevskiy also set a franchise record with eight shutouts, surpassing the mark set by Nikolai Khabibulin. And at just 24 years old and with just 155 games played, he is already third on the Lightning’s list for most franchise wins.
45. Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres
Taken second overall behind Connor McDavid in the 2015 NHL Draft, Eichel has soft hands, excellent vision, an above-average shot and can use his frame to expertly guard the puck and beat opponents wide. He initially demonstrated the type of dominant athlete he can be at the 2015 scouting combine by finishing top 10 in seven fitness-testing categories, and he’s only gotten bigger, faster and stronger since. The 21-year-old American is talented enough to make his $10-million cap hit look like a bargain in a couple years, and with the Sabres continuing to put more talent around him we should see his ability and point totals taken to the next level.
44. Sean Couturier, C, Philadelphia Flyers
After six seasons of modest offensive production, Couturier broke through in 2017–18, posting 31 goals and 76 points. Add in a runner-up Selke Trophy finish and Couturier has become the complete package. A hat trick and five-point night in Game 6 of the first round against Pittsburgh — while playing with a torn MCL in his right knee — was the piece de resistance. The 25-year-old is only getting better.
43. Filip Forsberg, LW, Nashville Predators
Humming along at a .955 points-per-game pace last season, Forsberg established himself as the most electric member of one of the best lines in hockey, spinning, sniping and speeding on the left flank of Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. That Forsberg already has two 30-goal seasons and three 60-point campaigns at age 23 is impressive. But it’s the winger’s boundless creativity that wows us. “I’m just a fan when I watch him play,” Pekka Rinne marvels.
42. Jakub Voracek, RW, Philadelphia Flyers
This is a big, playmaking winger who can consistently pot 20 goals while playing on Philadelphia’s top unit. He posted 65 assists and 85 points this past season (both career-best marks) while on a new-look first line with Sean Couturier and captain Claude Giroux. The 29-year-old is a consistent leader on the ice for the Flyers, using his vision and puckhandling to gain the offensive zone with possession.
41. John Carlson, D, Washington Capitals
He was thought to be the best defenceman available in free agency, but after leading all blue-liners in regular-season and playoff scoring, the Capitals made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Carlson inked an eight-year, $64-million deal, putting him in line with the contract Brent Burns signed ahead of the 2017–18 season. The good news for the Caps is Carlson, at 28, is five years younger than Burns.
40. Mathew Barzal, C, New York Islanders
Barzal blew the rest of the Calder competition away in 2017–18 with his 85-point season. Now, for his second act, the 21-year-old will attempt to fill the hole left in the Islanders’ lineup after the departure of John Tavares. The soon-to-be No. 1 centreman showed plenty of poise with the puck as a rookie and found instant chemistry with Jordan Eberle and Anthony Beauvillier — both of whom will be returning for 2018–19. The best part of Barzal’s game? We’ve only just seen the beginning.
39. Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis Blues
It took an offensive explosion — a career-high 15 goals and 54 points — for the always-steady Blues captain to finally start getting some overdue shine. Pietrangelo (finally!) earned his first all-star game invite in 2018 and popped up on many a Norris ballot. With St. Louis smartly addressing its secondary-scoring issues this summer — adding centres Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak, and stealing UFA winger Patrick Maroon for a song — Pietrangelo’s excellent defence core should have more run support. Let’s just hope the new father of triplets can squeeze in a nap before puck drop.
38. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Winnipeg Jets
Byfuglien is a player capable of changing a game in a variety of ways. Armed with a booming shot and a powerful stride, the 33-year-old has a rare talent to create offence from the blue line. But it’s his physicality without the puck that makes him an intimidating presence, and one of scarce few elite two-way rearguards left in the NHL. Opposing players have to keep their heads up at all times when working against Big Buff — at close to 300 pounds, the big man’s hits can leave a mark.
37. Phil Kessel, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins
No player in the league is made fun of more than Kessel. He is a character, there’s no doubt, but there’s also no denying his elite offensive output. Since breaking into the league in 2006 he’s tied for 13th in points, tied for 11th in games played and sits 11th in goals. His point totals have increased in each of his three seasons in a Pens uniform. He’s in his 30s now, so we might see him lose a step in the near future, but for the time being he still has eye-popping separation speed, a clean skating stride and one of the best releases among wingers.
36. David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins
If you’re looking for a dark-horse Rocket Richard contender to lay a nickel on this season, give some thought to Pastrnak. He’s 22, has posted 34- and 35-goal seasons the past two years and plays right wing on the best line in hockey. All the ingredients for a significant spike appear there. Of course, the biggest factor in Pastrnak’s success is his raw skill and ability to bury from anywhere inside the offensive zone.
35. Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals
Holtby’s .914 even-strength save percentage last year was 14 points lower than his previous career-worst of .928. However, after watching Philipp Grubauer stumble in the Caps’ first two post-season outings, Holtby came in and re-discovered the form that made him one of the best in the business the previous five years. In three Vezina Trophy votes from 2015 to ’17, Holtby — who’ll be 29 on opening night — never finished worse than fourth, winning the 2016 award. His outstretched-stick save on Alex Tuch in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final preserved Washington’s first win of the series and the Caps didn’t drop another contest.
34. Seth Jones, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
Jones was the Blue Jackets’ No. 1 defenceman as soon as he set foot in Columbus in January 2016, and he’s done nothing but solidify that status ever since. Paired up with Zach Werenski, the former Predator makes up one half of one of hockey’s most dynamic blue-line pairings. Equal parts shut-down D-man and offensive powerhouse, Jones’s 16 goals and 41 assists (both career bests) helped push him into the Norris conversation in 2017–18, where we suspect he’ll stay for the foreseeable future.
33. Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames
Johnny (Hockey) and James (Neal) have the potential to look pretty, pretty good together. Gaudreau was one of the bright spots on a disappointing team that missed the playoffs last season, putting up more than a point a game. With big Neal coming to town and the likelihood they’ll be on a line together in Calgary, Gaudreau — speedy, with ridiculous hands — could have his best season yet. Certainly a big body like Neal will help compensate for Gaudreau’s lack of size, and his play-making ability will pair well with Neal’s goal-scoring touch.
32. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis Blues
Tarasenko is a proven goal scorer who creates scoring opportunities with the NHL’s finest. But the 26-year-old saw a slight dip in his production last season — tallying 33 goals and 33 assists in 80 games. There’s probably not much to the regression from 75 points in 82 games, or 75 in 80 he scored in the previous two seasons respectively. Tarasenko remains a lethally slick winger at the heart of the Blues offence.
31. Artemi Panarin, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
A trade from Chicago to Columbus, and away from linemate Patrick Kane, was supposed to expose Panarin as simply a lucky sidekick to the Blackhawks’ scoring phenom. Instead? Kane took a slight step back with a 76-point effort while Panarin’s 82 were a franchise record for the Blue Jackets. His future in Columbus appears up in the air, but no questions remain about the dynamic forward’s ability to be an offensive focal point.