It’s one thing to rank players by skill, scoring, Stanley Cups or individual awards, it’s quite another to determine their importance to the NHL—and the game—as a whole. Here we’ve done exactly that.
It’s not a precise science, but a decade after “Sid the Kid” and Ovie became shining lights for a league coming out of its darkest hour, we set ourselves the task of determining who will carry that torch this season and beyond. We’ve taken into account their abilities and achievements, but also the markets they play in and franchises they play for, on- and off-ice earnings, celebrity status, legacies carved out or those still being created and more.
Through this week, we’ll release the top 50 most important players, ranked by Sportsnet Magazine. Today, we reveal players 40-31.
30. AARON EKBLAD
His points total last season was the
third highest in history by an 18-year-old defenceman. The Calder winner’s the future of a now 23-year-old Panthers franchise still struggling to find its footing in the greater Miami area.
29. ANDREW LADD
The two-time Cup winner captains the up-and-coming Jets and has bought into the organization’s plan to build from within. He sets the tone for his teammates.
28. NAZEM KADRI
He’s of the former “truculent” regime, but he needs to impress the current analytical one. Can he star for the NHL’s most valuable franchise?
27. VALDIMIR TARASENKO
The underachieving Blues—who reportedly had to contend with the threat of Tarasenko defecting to the KHL—are banking on their highest-paid player moving firmly into the NHL’s elite.
26. TAYLOR HALL
All eyes will be on McDavid this season, but Hall’s ability to score—and stay healthy—will be central to an Oilers resurgence. He’s also reportedly going to live with McDavid, meaning Edmonton is banking on Hall to become a top-flight leader as well.
25. BO HORVAT
He’d better be a star. He’s all a marquee franchise has to show for its Great Goalie Carousel.
24. RYAN GETZLAF
As Getzlaf goes, so goes small-market Anaheim. The three-time defending Pacific Division–champion Ducks captain ranks fourth in points-per-hour the past three seasons.
23. ZACH PARISE
One of the highest off-ice earners thanks to sponsorship deals with Polo Ralph Lauren and Chobani. The Team USA mainstay’s 13-year contract with his hometown Wild is worth $98 million.
22. PAVEL DATSYUK
The “Magic Man” is getting long in the tooth—he’s the last holdover from the 2002 Cup champs—but he’s still the player many NHLers call the most skilled in hockey. He’s a world-class ambassador for the game and key to the success of one of the NHL’s flagship franchises.
21. ROBERTO LUONGO
If the Panthers are able to turn a corner and become a success on and off the ice in Sunrise, Fla., Luongo needs to be their best player. A well-respected veteran, he’s also a huge social-media star thanks to his @strombone1 Twitter account.