NHL Network is getting ready for this season by ranking the top 50 players in the League. Researchers, producers and on-air personalities compiled the list, and players 30-21 were revealed Sunday in the premiere of the seventh program in a nine-part offseason series. Here is the list:
30. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning
The 24-year-old tied Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets for the NHL lead in wins (44) and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators for first in shutouts (eight) last season, his first as Tampa Bay’s No. 1 goalie. He had a 2.62 goals-against average and .920 save percentage, and finished third in voting for the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the NHL.
Vasilevskiy’s 64 starts were an NHL career high and tied for fourth in the NHL. He helped the Lightning come within one win of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, going 11-6 with a 2.58 GAA and .918 save percentage in 17 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
29. Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals
Holtby had the worst GAA (2.99) and save percentage (.907) of his eight-season NHL career in 2017-18 but helped the Capitals win the Stanley Cup for the first time in their history, going 16-7 with a 2.16 GAA, a .922 save percentage and two shutouts in the playoffs. The 29-year-old leads the NHL in wins since the 2012-13 season (211); he had 34 wins last season and won at least 41 games in each of three previous seasons.
Holtby won the Vezina Trophy in 2015-16, when he tied Martin Brodeur’s NHL record with 48 wins (48-9-7) and had a 2.20 GAA, a .922 save percentage and three shutouts. He followed that up by going 42-13-6 with a 2.07 GAA, a .925 save percentage and an NHL-high nine shutouts in 2016-17, when he finished second in Vezina voting.
28. Artemi Panarin, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
The 2015-16 Calder Trophy winner with the Chicago Blackhawks as the top rookie in the NHL, Panarin set a Blue Jackets record with an NHL career-high 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists) in 81 games last season, his first with Columbus. He also set NHL career highs in assists, rating (plus-23), shots on goal (228) and average ice time (20:08). The 26-year-old left wing led the Blue Jackets with seven points (two goals, five assists) in six playoff games and has 233 points (88 goals, 145 assists) in three NHL seasons, seventh most in the NHL over that span.
“He is a game-changer for the Columbus Blue Jackets,” NHL Network analyst Bill Lindsay said. “He’s got a lot of tools in the arsenal that he can use on a nightly basis. Real smart, real crafty, the way that he goes about his business. I don’t think he gets enough credit for how smart he is. … He is a true game-breaker in Columbus. Watching him play every single night and the change of gears that he has, the ice time last year up over 20 minutes, [it's] pretty special to watch him play every single game.”
27. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Washington Capitals
The 26-year-old had a breakout season in 2017-18, with NHL career highs in goals (27) and points (83). Kuznetsov had 30 power-play points and scored eight game-winning goals. The Capitals advanced to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1998 when he scored in overtime in Game 6 of the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kuznetsov led the NHL with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in the playoffs to help Washington win its first Stanley Cup championship.
26. Blake Wheeler, RW, Winnipeg Jets
Wheeler led the Jets and was ninth in the NHL with an NHL career-high 91 points (23 goals, 68 assists) in 81 games last season. The 32-year-old right wing finished second in the NHL with 40 power-play points, behind Penguins right wing Phil Kessel (42). Wheeler, who has missed six games in the past seven seasons, has scored at least 23 goals in each of the past five and led the Jets with 21 points (three goals, 18 assists) in 17 playoff games last season, helping them advance to the Western Conference Final for the first time.
25. Jamie Benn, LW, Dallas Stars
Benn had 79 points (36 goals, 43 assists) in 82 games in 2017-18, the fourth time in the past five seasons he’s had at least that many. The 29-year-old left wing had 22 power-play points, seven game-winning goals and a plus-20 rating. Benn averaged 19:49 of ice time, the sixth straight season he’s averaged at least 19 minutes, won 52.48 percent of his face-offs, and was second among Dallas forwards in hits (140) and blocks (62). The Art Ross Trophy winner in 2014-15 (87 points), Benn has scored at least 34 goals in four of the past five seasons.
24. Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
After missing 65 games because of a knee injury in 2016-17, Stamkos returned in a big way last season. His 86 points were the most he had in a season since 2011-12 (97), and his 59 assists were an NHL career high. Stamkos scored 15 power-play goals and had 33 power-play points to help the Lightning earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference with 113 points. The 28-year-old had 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 17 playoff games for the Lightning, who lost in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Capitals.
23. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Columbus Blue Jackets
Bobrovsky won 37 games last season with a 2.42 GAA, a .921 save percentage and five shutouts. That followed up his Vezina Trophy-winning season in 2016-17, when he was 41-17-5 with a 2.06 GAA, a .931 save percentage and seven shutouts. He also finished third in voting for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP that season. Bobrovsky, who turns 30 on Sept. 20, has won at least 30 games in four of the past five seasons and won his first Vezina as the top goalie in the NHL in 2012-13.
“For Columbus to have a goaltender like that in net, it just instills confidence throughout your team,” Lindsay said. “It’s now become a consistency thing for Sergei Bobrovsky over a number of years, that’s why he belongs on this list, up near the top of this list, because he’s starting to do it year in and year out. The Vezina Trophy, you win one, maybe it’s a fluke; you win two, it’s not a fluke. You start to dominate save percentage-wise, goals against average-wise, the wins are there year after year after year. All of a sudden, you are at the top of the list in goaltenders in the NHL.”
22. Claude Giroux, LW, Philadelphia Flyers
Giroux made a seamless transition from center to wing with the Flyers last season. After he had 58 points (14 goals, 44 assists) in 82 games in 2016-17, the 30-year-old left wing had NHL career highs in goals (34), assists (68) and points (102) last season, and he finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting. He also set NHL career highs in rating (plus-28), shooting percentage (17.6 percent) and face-off winning percentage (58.64 percent), which ranked fourth in the NHL among players to take at least 250 face-offs. Since 2010-11, Giroux leads the NHL with 414 assists.
“For Philadelphia last year coming down the stretch, he was money,” Lindsay said. “When he’s carrying the puck, that’s when he’s at his best, coming through the neutral zone. He’s opposite of players like Stamkos, [Alex] Ovechkin, who just want to get open and shoot the puck. Giroux’s a player that just loves to have that puck on his stick, work his way through traffic, and then find the open player. He has a pass-first mentality … 102 points on the year, hard to argue with that, and that shooting percentage was up there.”
21. John Tavares, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
Tavares, who signed a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Maple Leafs on July 1, had 37 goals and 84 points in 82 games for the New York Islanders last season, one shy of his NHL career high in goals and two shy in points, each set in 2014-15. He led the Islanders in scoring in seven of his nine seasons with them and finished second twice. Tavares, who turns 28 on Sept. 20, had 30 power-play points in 2017-18 and has scored at least 24 goals in each NHL season.