Top five right wingers of the decade: Kane, Kucherov take the offensive reins

Watch as Nikita Kucherov splits through the Bruins defenders and beautifully slides it past Tuukka Rask for an amazing goal.

A look at the crop of right wingers who did their best work over the past decade tells a story of where the league’s been and where it’s going.

An exceptionally impressive pool of talent has gathered on that right side of the ice, and the 2010s featured a little bit of every type of them.

There were a few elite right wingers on the last laps of their careers, highlighted by a pair of them that went head to head in the ’04 Cup Final: Jarome Iginla and Martin St. Louis, both of whom played their last games in the 2010s.

Then there was the crew of young phenoms that came in at the tail end, still figuring out how to piece it all together but clearly on the cusp of league-wide dominance. Two particular names stand out among that crowd, with David Pastrnak and Patrik Laine looking like they could become the class of the NHL over the next decade.

And then there was everyone in between — those for whom the 2010s served as the timeline of their greatest feats. With more than a few elite names dotted among the bunch who made waves over the past decade, let’s look at the five who finished as the absolute best the right side had to offer over the past 10 years:

1. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

If we’re going by the numbers, it’s tough to find any way to knock Patrick Kane off the 2010s throne.

Kane wasn’t just the highest-scoring winger of the past decade, he amassed the most points of any NHLer in the game since Jan. 1, 2010, his 795 points over 737 games sitting a handful above Sidney Crosby’s sum over that span (albeit in far more games).

But what’s most impressive about Kane’s total over that stretch is that he ranked fourth overall in both goals (bested only by Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares) and assists (topped only by Nicklas Backstrom, Claude Giroux and Crosby). Essentially, Kane managed to keep pace with both the best snipers and the best playmakers in the game, and reigned as the best stickhandler.

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Past that, it’s tough to ignore the three Stanley Cup rings he acquired during this timeline, pulling the Blackhawks out of a historic drought and turning them into the closest thing we’ve seen to an NHL dynasty in what feels like eons. And as the best offensive player on all three of those Cup teams, he played a central role — while Jonathan Toews topped him by one point for the post-season scoring lead during the first run, Kane led the club for Runs 2 and 3, earning a Conn Smythe Trophy for the second. All told, he finishes the decade as second in playoff scoring, behind only Crosby.

Key to remember is the fact that Kane was a great but not elite scorer through his first eight years in the league — a hefty chunk of his career. It was during this decade that he made the transition, beginning with 2016, when the playmaking wiz notched his first 100-point season, netting the Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award and Art Ross Trophy in the process (becoming the first American to win the Hart and Art Ross).

Just last year, at age 30, he did it again, posting a career-best 110 points for the offensively depleted Blackhawks.

2. Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs/Penguins/Coyotes

The hockey world is no stranger to downplaying Phil Kessel’s success, but if we’re looking at the last decade, start to finish, it’s tough to argue there’s more than one right winger who’s done more than No. 81.

Again, look to the numbers. Over these past 10 years, Kane is the only player at Kessel’s position to outscore him, with the Madison, Wisc., native finishing with the second-most points and goals over that timeline. Part of the reason for those lofty sums is the number of games Kessel’s played in — tops among his position during the 2010s. That’s impressive in its own right — the quick-footed winger hasn’t missed one single regular-season game in nine seasons, and it likely wasn’t because he somehow managed to avoid any semblance of an injury during that time.

Take Kessel’s 695 points since January 2010 and compare them to NHLers at large, and only seven names sit above Kessel’s — an elite group: Kane, Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Claude Giroux, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Backstrom. In the goals department, it is a similar story, with only six players sniping more than Kessel.

That elite goals sum also came on the back of Kessel emerging as one of the best power-play practitioners in the league, earning the fourth-most man-advantage points in the game behind only Giroux, Ovechkin and Backstrom since 2010.

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Follow the timeline of Kessel’s career through this past decade, and his value in the league becomes more clear.

First, the trade to Toronto. Kessel swapped Bruins black and gold for Maple Leafs blue and white. He led the team in scoring every year he was there — six straight seasons. Then, the move to Pittsburgh — in his first year with the Penguins, the club claimed its first Stanley Cup in seven years. Kessel didn’t just push the talented group over the top — he led that squad in playoff scoring, putting forth a Conn Smythe-worthy performance, though it was the captain who eventually got the trophy.

He added another Cup the next season. And the year after that, though not earning a coveted three-peat, Kessel upped his game once again, this time in the form of a dominant 92-point season. It ranked as the best mark of his career, just a handful behind Malkin for the team lead, and even a few points and goals above Crosby, despite both playing all 82 games.

3. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

There’s no question who the top right winger of the next decade will be. Pastrnak and Laine will make strong bids, but it’ll be No. 86 in blue and white rolling through the competition, no doubt.

Of course, the fact that Kucherov’s only even been in the league for the latter half of this past decade precludes him from outshining high-scoring champion wingers like the two above him on this list. But he’s an interesting case.

Firstly, it’s not just that he only suited up for half the decade — he didn’t even start scoring at a truly elite level until the past few seasons. Even so, the reason Kucherov slots in at No. 3 is because one of those recent campaigns wasn’t just elite, it was the single most prolific offensive campaign anyone has mounted in 20 years.

After a breakout year in 2017-18 that brought his first 100-point effort, Kucherov finished up last year with a ridiculous 128 points — earning the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award for his efforts, while unseating Connor McDavid for the scoring title.

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While that 128 might feel like only a hair higher than other recent sums, it represents far more. Not a single player in the league has scored more than that total since 1996, when Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr both topped it.

Think of the absolute best seasons you’ve seen from Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid. Think of every 100-point player you’ve watched go to work over the past two decades. Exactly zero of them managed to score more in any single season than Kucherov did just last year, at age 25.

That said, Kucherov isn’t on the list due only to one banner season. Overall, he’s still amassed the sixth-most points among all right wingers over the past decade — and he wasn’t even in the league for the first three seasons of it. He ranks sixth with 498 points through just 479 games, despite playing hundreds of games fewer than the majority of the top 20 players at his position.

Boiled down to points-per-game, he ranks second, bested only by Kane, the top scorer of the decade.

4. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

On the face of it, Vladimir Tarasenko doesn’t seem like an obvious choice over more high-scoring names like Blake Wheeler or Jakub Voracek.

The Blues sniper ranks just 14th overall in points among right wingers over the 2010s. Look to his specialty, goal-scoring, and it becomes a bit clearer. He ranks sixth on the list in goals scored over that span — and taking into account the number of games he’s played, having come into the league two years into the 2010s, that sniping skill is vaulted up even higher.

Among all right wingers who’ve been regular NHLers for at least half the decade, Tarasenko’s goals-per-game pace is tied for No. 1 over that timeline. And the two players tied with him sit above him on this list — Kane and Kucherov.

While Tarasenko’s overall scoring ability is impressive, he also ranks among the tops at his position due to his role in authoring one of the greatest comeback stories in NHL history, if not the greatest.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

The tale’s been told many times by this point — on Jan. 1 of last season, St. Louis ranked last in the league. Once the calendar flipped, they found their game, flipping the script and eventually marching all the way to the Cup. The part of that story that doesn’t get told as often is the impact Tarasenko’s scoring spree had on St. Louis’ rise.

From that Jan. 1 date to the final game of the season, Tarasenko amassed an incredible 22 goals and 46 points through just 39 games — team-leading totals over that span, in both categories. He then helped lead the club in the goal-scoring department, pacing the team in shots and finishing just one goal behind Jaden Schwartz for the team lead during St. Louis’ Cup run.

5. Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators/Vegas Golden Knights

If you measure value in the league by offence alone, then maybe it should be one of those previously mentioned veterans slotting in here. Maybe Corey Perry, for his success early in the decade, or T.J. Oshie, for his versatile game and championship pedigree.

But if we widen our scope to all aspects of on-ice play, Mark Stone can’t be ignored.

The former Ottawa Senator is the rarest talent among every right winger on this list, and perhaps every right winger in the game. Stone made his name on the back of his two-way abilities, on the number of times his lizard-tongue-like stick snaps out to intercept a dangerous pass.

As of this moment, Stone leads the league in takeaways. Just like he did last year. In fact, in every year in which he’s been healthy enough to play a near-full season since he came into the league, Stone’s dominated in the takeaways department. But that’s far from the only area in which he excels defensively.

As Andrew Berkshire’s pointed out on numerous occasions, Stone’s not only the best defensive winger in the NHL — he’s challenging for best defensive forward overall, excelling also in key defensive areas of detail like winning puck battles or blocking passes to the slot.

Last season marked a game-changing point in his ascent among the league’s top two-way players, as Stone earned his first Selke Trophy nomination — a supremely rare feat for a winger, with the award often claimed by centremen.

But Stone’s proven he’s right there. It’s uncommon for a winger to have the ability to impact games defensively as much as he does, and the Winnipeg, Man., native is now to the point of challenging Patrice Bergeron for the title of the NHL’s two-way king.

On top of that, he’s no slouch in the offence department, with a pair of 60-point seasons over the past two years and a current pace in Vegas that would have him land in the 90-point range.

Stone is already somewhat of a unicorn among NHL wingers, and at only 27 years old on a deep, dangerous team, he figures to be just as much of a handful for the opposition next decade as well.

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