Kucherov is NHL’s top player, but he's still looking to improve
Last season, No. 1 Nikita Kucherov won the Hart Trophy as the league’s Most Valuable Player, Ted Lindsay Award as the NHL Players Association Most Outstanding Player and the Art Ross Trophy as the scoring champion.
It’s late August, so that must mean it’s time for Hockey Weekly’s annual ranking of the NHL’s Top 10 players.
Back when HW began this tradition, the names at the top were Jagr, Lidstrom, Pronger, etc. That was a long time ago. Now these guys are at the top of the heap:
1.Nikita Kucherov – The Tampa Bay Lightning right wing had a historic 2018-19 season as he won the Hart Trophy as the league’s Most Valuable Player, Ted Lindsay Award as the NHL Players Association Most Outstanding Player and the Art Ross Trophy as the scoring champion. Kucherov’s 128 points last season were the most by an NHL player in 23 years, since Mario Lemieux won the 1995-96 Art Ross Trophy with 161 points. Kucherov also led the league with 87 assists, which are the most since Joe Thornton’s 92 in 2006-07. In addition to his offensive prowess, Kucherov, 26, is also outstanding defensively and has continued to improve in almost every area during his six-season career.
"He's a student of the game, so he's constantly watching others, learning from others," agent Dan Milstein told the Associated Press. "He's very much in the know of what's happening around the league and what's happening around the hockey world. He works. Every free moment he has, he spends improving his own skills."
2.Connor McDavid – The Edmonton Oilers center posted his third consecutive 100-point campaign last season, and his 116 (41 goals and 75 assists) were the most of his four-season career. McDavid, 22, is recognized as the NHL’s fastest skater, and the things he can do at high speed constantly amaze teammates, opponents, coaches, fans and media members. But a knee injury (torn left PCL) in Edmonton’s final game of the season on April 6 has kept McDavid off the ice over the summer. He is aiming to be ready by the beginning of training camp.
3.Alex Ovechkin – With 51 goals in 2018-19, the Washington Capitals star led the NHL for a record eighth season, breaking the record of seven that had been held by Bobby Hull. And there is a chance that Ovechkin may be able to accomplish something that once seemed out of reach for any player. At the age of 33, Ovechkin has 658 career goals. If he can maintain his average of 47 goals per season for the next five seasons – admittedly a big “if” – Ovechkin would be within one goal of Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record of 894. But Ovechkin is not sure how long he will continue to play.
“I have two more years to play, under my contract,” he said in a news conference hosted by Russian news network TASS earlier this summer. “Let us wait and see whether I will continue my career as everything depends on the health.”
4.Sidney Crosby – The Pittsburgh Penguins captain remains one of the NHL’s top players after being on top of those rankings for much of his 14-season career. Now 32, Crosby racked up his sixth 100-point season (35 goals and 65 assists) in 2018-19. ESPN recently selected its NHL all-decade team (2010-19), and not only was Crosby the center but he was also the MVP of the decade, beating out Ovechkin and Patrick Kane.
5.Patrick Kane – A case could be made that Kane was the NHL’s best player during the second half of last season when he almost led the Blackhawks into the Stanley Cup Playoffs after they had one of the league’s worst records early in the campaign. Kane put up his second 100-point season (44 goals and 66 assists for 110 points) and enhanced the 30-year-old right wing’s standing as one of the best American-born and trained players in league history.
6.Mark Giordano – The Calgary Flames defenseman has managed the unique feat of developing from an effective performer into an elite-level NHL player deep into his career. That was emphasized when he won the Norris Trophy last season at the age of 35, in his 13th season. Giordano is only the fourth defenseman in the 65-year history of the award to win the Norris after turning 35, joining former Red Wings Nicklas Lidstrom, Doug Harvey and Al MacInnis. Giordano set career highs with 74 points and 57 assists in 2018-19.
7.Patrice Bergeron – Universally recognized as the NHL’s best defensive forward, Bergeron had a career-high 79 points (32 goals and 47 assists) last season, despite missing 17 games due to injury. The Boston Bruins star is 34, and 2019-20 will be his 16th season. But Bergeron has not shown any signs of slowing down.
8.Nathan MacKinnon – Almost as speedy as McDavid, the Colorado Avalanche center had 99 points (41 goals and 58 assists) in 2018-19, after 97 points the previous season.
9.Brent Burns – Once one of the few NHL players who played both forward and defense, Burns now has to be content with being only one of the league’s top defensemen. The prominently bearded San Jose Shark combines great size (6-5, 230 pounds), speed, a great shot and the ability to virtually always get it on net from the point. His 83 points led all defensemen last season as did his 67 assists.
10.Brad Marchand – Even when he’s not infuriating opponents with his antics, Marchand is making things difficult for them with his play. He had his first 100-point season (36 goals and 64 assists) in 2018-19.