A Definitive Ranking of the Best Players in the NHL Right Now
We looked at six categories to determine who's the very best in the league at this moment.
Photos by Timothy T. Ludwig, Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
We all agreed for a while that Sidney Crosby was the game's best, then someone passed the torch to Claude Giroux, then the torch was immediately taken back and given to Crosby, then Hart Trophy voters gave it to Connor McDavid last year.
But who has the torch now? Who is the best player in the NHL? Not last year, not over the past few years—right now.
Is it Steven Stamkos? Is it Nikita Kucherov? With all the extra offense this season, there are a lot of very good players having career seasons while some of the bigger names have taken a step back. Has the door opened for someone new to take the crown of best player? John Tavares? Johnny Gaudreau? Josh Bailey???
(No, it's not Josh Bailey)
Using my hockey expertise and wisdom, I chose 21 players that could make a case for that crown right now, with the emphasis being on right now. Is that subjective? You bet. I then selected six categories by which to rank and judge these players to unequivocally decide who is the NHL's best player right now.
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This list was compiled with love and using the following categories through Wednesday's games:
(A) 2017-18 points — This is about right now, so this seems a good category to reference.
(B) 2017-18 points per game (minimum 20 games) — We don't want to exclude anyone that's missed some games this season, so here's your chance to be counted higher than on the totals list.
(C) 2017 calendar year points — We don't want too much emphasis on the first 30ish games of this season.
(D) 2017 calendar year points per game — The cutoff is 33 games because that's how many games Steven Stamkos has played this season. That may seem arbitrary and unfair but so is life.
(E) 2017-18 raw Fenwick — We don't want to make it all about points, and yeah there are better versions of shot attempt stats, but the NHL's stats page sucks and there's only so much effort I'm willing to put into this. I wanted to do another category of calendar year Fenwick but the site wouldn't let me. I also don't want to overweight the list, as you can get a huge gap between 1 and 200 without much difference in percentages, so let's leave it at this and agree to never speak of it again.
(F) 2017-18 ice time per game — Not a great stat for judging greatness, but I think it works fine in the context of my 21 players and is usually a good indicator of a quality defenseman. The rankings are based on position, so our forwards aren't ranked super low behind all the defensemen eating up ice time.
(G) The 25-point bonus — If you're first in any of these categories, you get 25 points shaved off your final total. Again, life, arbitrary, unfair, these are my rules, make your own list if you don't like it.
This is all based on where you rank, so if you're 15th in every category, you get 80 points, which is really good. Please enjoy this list and be sure to find me on social media to yell about it because I definitely will listen to all your complaints without muting you.
21-11. Drew Doughty, Auston Matthews, Alex Ovechkin, Mark Scheifele, Nathan MacKinnon, Erik Karlsson, John Klingberg, Evgeni Malkin, Jakub Voracek, Filip Forsberg, Anze Kopitar
No defensemen cracked the top 10 on this list for one simple reason—it's an extremely weird time to judge defensemen. Is Alex Pietrangelo the best defenseman in the NHL? Absolutely not. But because of Karlsson’s offseason surgery and every other defenseman in the league seemingly immune to the scoring increase, Pietrangelo looks like it right now. I didn't even bother to calculate him in this thing because I don't care where he ends up. He's not the best player in the league right now but I'd entertain the idea of the three defensemen that didn't reach the top 10.
This is about the right now, and right now it's just weird to be a defensemen.
As for the placement of the forwards, you can probably guess why some failed to reach top-10 status, be it even-strength deficiencies, time missed due to injury or a dip in production this year over last. This is a very scientific and mathematical list and I'm not here to quibble with science and math.
10. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Let's just get this out of the way now—lists are bad, my categories are silly, and despite all my science talk, I never got my degree from MIT so this list is as arbitrary as any other. But doesn't Giroux at 10 just feel right? You look at his numbers over the past calendar year and you're like, "Yeah, sure, he's still pretty good." People always talk about how a good player in a small market doesn't get attention but Giroux seems to get lost on a bad Flyers team in a bustling sports town.
9. John Tavares, New York Islanders
The future [enter team that's not the Islanders here so Islanders fans get mad] is having a tremendous walk-year season and has always been a top-10 player and at times a top-5 player. He's a [Stan Fischler voice] a poor man's Sidney Crosby, which is still a very rich thing to be. He's not fast, doesn't have a big shot, but he does everything incredibly well but gets lost in the shadow of New York sports and also the Islanders have been awful for much of his time there.
8. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
I'm telling you—my formula is flawless so far. It's impervious to crap like grit and heart and leadership and just gives you the best players right now. Maybe he should be higher. But it's too late to reexamine the formula. I'm sorry. Jon Hamm can fight me if he wants.
7. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
Not playing a single game during the second half of last season is why Stamkos is only at No. 7. You may not like it but the parameters are bigger than all of us. But shouldn't durability be of some value? It's not Stamkos' fault that he's had such bad injury luck, but can you really consider a player that's missed so much time recently the best at the moment?
I mean, you can, but science and I do not. Sorry.
6. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
I knew the creation of the Golden Knights would lead to more scoring but I thought for sure that Kane would be one of those guys that had a career year. He's still a point-per-game player but you have to wonder if he'd be higher if the Blackhawks kept linemate Artemi Panarin.
5. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
He's not having a great season! No, you're stupid! Stop yelling at me through your computer! He's only got 33 points in 35 games! Yes, it probably has a lot to do with a toll being taken on his body from winning two straight Stanley Cups, but this list is about the best player right now, not the best player the past two years, so shove off!
I'm sorry that I yelled. I'm defensive of this very important list.
4. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Now you're probably asking yourself, "Is Johnny Gaudreau really better than Sidney Crosby, and Steven Stamkos, for that matter?" Yes! And... well, the system is weighted against Stamkos, but at this time next year, assuming everyone is healthy, Stamkos will be here. It can't be a super specific definition of right now, because Paul Carey scored two goals the other night and he's not getting on this list.
Gaudreau is 11th in points in the calendar year and fourth this season. He does it all while being terrific at 5-on-5 and not getting as much ice time as others on this list. Play the little guy more!
2(t). Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Yeah, a tie. And it feels fair. I sort of thought Kucherov would be No. 1. He's been a wrecking ball in 2017 and may win the Hart this year and very little separates him from No. 1 on the list. And nothing separates him from No. 2.
2(t). Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
If Marchand had been healthy all season, he'd be No. 1. If you take away Stamkos and Kucherov, nobody is averaging more points per game in the 2017 calendar year than Marchand. Do enough people realize that? Or do they not care because he's got the well-earned reputation as an on-ice dick? Does he get lost in Patrice Bergeron's leadership narrative shadow? You'd think Marchand was European, he gets so little respect.
Marchand is a beast in all facets of the game and should get MVP consideration if he can will the Bruins to a playoff spot. But alas, this list ends with a whimper...
1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Yeah, he's the best player in hockey right now. Still. He was last year and he still holds the crown this year. He's only eight points behind Kucherov for the league lead but I'd bet he catches him eventually. As much as I would have enjoyed the hot take closing, this is McDavid's league until further notice.