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.
40. JAKUB VORACEK
Last season’s breakout scorer combines with Giroux to form one of the top offensive duos in hockey. That’s great news for the Flyers—and for the league, which needs big-market Philly to get back to contender status.
39. MILAN LUCIC
The Kings are the heaviest team in the NHL, and newcomer Lucic only adds to that reputation. He plays a fan-friendly style and is engaging off the ice. Hints that the pending UFA might one day play for his hometown Canucks sent Vancouver into a frenzy.
38. JAROMIR JAGR
The 43-year-old is the greatest European forward ever, can pass Gordie Howe for third in all-time scoring this season and is the only NHLer with a travelling fan club (@68isgr8). He’s also a living legend and national hero in the Czech Republic—his No. 68 remembers the year Soviet tanks stormed Czechoslovakia to quell the “Prague Spring.”
37. NICKLAS BACKSTROM
He’s the reason no one has ever said: Imagine what Ovie could be if he had someone to get him the puck.
36. RYAN JOHANSEN
Columbus isn’t a large market, but it boasts a rabid fan base. Johansen, 23, is the team’s most dynamic player and must continue to develop for the Blue Jackets to make a playoff run.
35. NATHAN MACKINNON
Hard to call a 20-year-old disappointing, but that’s what the 2014 Calder winner was last season. The 2013 No. 1–overall pick must mature into a star for the Avs to get back to playoff contention.
34. DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN
He has been the biggest star in one of the league’s smallest markets. But with a new contract needed for ’16–17 and a ton of depth on the blueline, what the Jets decide to do will shape the team’s future.
33. DEVAN DUBNYK
In the “State of Hockey,” Dubnyk will be integral to the Wild’s ascendance in the West. But he wouldn’t be the first goalie in recent memory to take a step back after a breakout year landed him a big contract.
32. MAX DOMI
If the Coyotes are going to survive in Arizona, Domi must become a breakout star and the face of the franchise. He’s got the personality and the flashy game to make that happen.
31. JAMIE BENN
The surprise Art Ross winner might be the NHL’s most under-the-radar superstar. In a market the size of Dallas, a healthy Stars franchise is important for the league, and Benn is a key cog in that machine.