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 50-41 were revealed Sunday in the premiere of the fifth program in a nine-part offseason series. Here is the list:[#NHLTopPlayers Right Now: Top 20 Centers | Top 20 Wings | Top 20 D-men | Top 10 Goalies]
50. Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames
Gaudreau has been one of the most dynamic forwards in the NHL since arriving full-time in the League in 2014-15. Although his 58 points last season were the fewest of his six full NHL seasons (he played one game in 2013-14), he led the Flames with 40 assists. Gaudreau had NHL career highs in goals (36), assists (63), points (99), power-play points (27) and game-winning goals (eight) in 2018-19 to help Calgary finish with the best record in the Western Conference.
“He’s been doing it from Day One,” NHL Network analyst Mike Rupp said. “… He’s the type of player that leaves you wanting a little bit more where I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a big, bang out year, this guy could be a top 25 guy.”
49. Zach Werenski, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
Werenski led NHL defensemen with 20 goals last season, an NHL career high and the most in a season by a Blue Jackets defenseman. He scored 41 points, 13 power-play points (five goals, eight assists) and four game-winning goals, and was second on the Blue Jackets in ice time per game at 23:59, the third straight season he’s increased his average.
“His clutch ability with the Columbus Blue Jackets is the biggest thing,” Rupp said. “… When he gets challenged, Zach Werenski steps up. He’s a gamer and I think we’re seeing a better Werenski every single year.”
Video: Gaudreau, Werenski make the Top 50 Players list
48. Max Pacioretty, LW, Vegas Golden Knights
Pacioretty led the Golden Knights with 32 goals and 66 points in 71 games, after he scored 40 points (22 goals, 18 assists) in 66 games in 2018-19, his first season with Vegas. It was the sixth time in the past nine seasons Pacioretty scored at least 30 goals, helping Vegas win the Pacific Division and qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third straight season. Pacioretty scored eight points (five goals, three assists) in 16 playoff games last season.
“He doesn’t have to be the guy every night, but you can see in his goal total with 32 this past season, he’s very capable of being that,” Rupp said. “He’s a threat from all over the ice and that’s very good for Vegas to have a guy like that, that can change a game with one shot.”
47. Patrik Laine, RW, Winnipeg Jets
Laine scored 28 goals last season, including nine in nine games from Jan. 19-Feb. 9. He also had an NHL career-high 35 assists and was a plus-8 in 68 games after he was a minus-24 in 82 games in 2018-19. Since entering the NHL in 2016-17, Laine is tied for seventh in the League with 138 goals. He scored 18 goals in 12 games in November 2018, including becoming the first NHL player in nearly eight years to score five goals in one game, Nov. 24, 2018 against the St. Louis Blues (Johan Franzen of the Detroit Red Wings, Feb. 2, 2011).
“He has the world-class ability to put the puck in the net,” Rupp said. “But I think with the talent level that he has, he should be a lot higher.”
Video: Pacioretty, Laine crack the Top 50 Players list
46. Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks
The runner-up to Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year last season, Hughes led rookies in assists (45), points (53) and power-play points (25) in 68 games, and his 21:53 of ice time per game was second to Edmonton Oilers defenseman Ethan Bear (21:58). Hughes helped the Canucks reach the playoffs for the first time since 2014-15 and scored 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) in 17 postseason games.
“He not only thinks a play ahead, his legs are already getting him there ahead of the defender, so he is fun to watch,” Rupp said. “You’ve got to have a guy connect the dots from the backend, that’s what he does for this team.”
45. Miro Heiskanen, D, Dallas Stars
Heiskanen scored 35 points (eight goals, 27 assists) in 68 regular-season games, was a plus-14, and averaged 23:46 of ice time per game to lead Dallas. He scored 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 27 postseason games, most ever by a Stars/Minnesota North Stars defenseman. He also scored eight power-play points (two goals, six assists), was a plus-8 and averaged 25:58 of ice time per game to help the Stars advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2000.
“Miro Heiskanen shuts down plays before they even start,” Rupp said. “He’s so good of a skater. He challenges the other teams forwards. … It’s not about if he wins a Norris (Trophy), it’s how many he’s going to win.”
44. Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston Bruins
McAvoy had four points, all assists, in his first 19 games last season but finished with 32 points (five goals, 27 assists) in 67 games, matching his NHL best in points (32 in 2017-18) and setting a new high in assists. He led the Bruins in average ice time per game (23:10) and blocked shots (131), and he was third in hits (131). McAvoy averaged 1:00 more of ice time per game last season than he did in 2018-19, and he was plus-24 to improve to plus-58 in three NHL seasons.
“With the departure of Torey Krug (St. Louis Blues), we get him at where he’s on this list now and I think it’s just going to get higher,” Rupp said. “He’s just going to have more and more on his plate. … He’s got an all-around great game.”
43. Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
Letang scored 44 points (15 goals, 29 assists) in 61 games last season, when he averaged 25:44 of ice time, fourth in the NHL. He tied his NHL career high with six power-play goals (also 2013-14), and reached double-digit goals for the seventh time in 14 seasons. A three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins (2009, 2016, 2017), Letang has scored 537 points (127 goals, 410 assists) in 808 regular-season games and 80 points (21 goals, 59 assists) in 136 postseason games.
“We put a lot of onus on the ability to drive offense and defensive play from a defenseman,” Rupp said. “… He does something special and unique that not many defensemen can do in this League.”
42. Mathew Barzal, C, New York Islanders
Barzal has led the Islanders in scoring in each of his three full NHL seasons (he played two games in 2016-17), and has scored 207 points (59 goals, 148 assists) in 234 games. Last season he led the Islanders with 12 power-play points, was tied with Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle for first with four power-play goals and led Islanders forwards in average ice time per game (20:03). Barzal scored 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 22 playoff games to help the Islanders reach the Eastern Conference Final. He won the Calder Trophy in 2017-18, when he scored 85 points (22 goals, 63 assists) in 82 games.
“Mathew Barzal could potentially be a top 10 player on this list, he’s just not there for me now,” Rupp said. “Elite talent, elite. It’s a process. It’s coming along, he’s working at it, but we saw some things even in the postseason that he’s got to get out of his game.”
41. Sean Couturier, C, Philadelphia Flyers
Couturier won the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL last season, when he led the League in face-off winning percentage at 59.6 percent. His defensive-zone face-off winning percentage of 59.5 percent was third behind teammate Claude Giroux (65.8 percent) and Jay Beagle of the Vancouver Canucks among those to take at least 300 defensive-zone face-offs. Couturier ranked first among Flyers forwards in average ice time per game (19:50) and total shorthanded ice time (140:29). He scored 59 points (22 goals, 37 assists) and was plus-21 in 69 regular-season games, helping the Flyers earn a playoff berth after they missed the postseason in 2018-19.
“He does those little things,” Rupp said. “Those intangibles win Cups and that’s what [the Flyers] have in Sean Couturier.”