In a year which saw the San Jose Sharks make their Stanley Cup finals debut, ‘The Next One’, Connor McDavid, announce himself to the world, and Sidney Crosby make an incredible mid-season comeback, there were a lot of elite performing skaters in the NHL in 2016.
So, in honour of a grand year of NHL hockey, here are the top-ten skaters of 2016.
10. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets, Center
The Winnipeg Jets have shot back into playoff contention this season, and whilst a lot of that has been credited to rookie Patrik Laine – performing at a Calder Trophy winning calibre – Mark Scheifele has been on fire too, scoring 15 goals and 31 points in 34 games.
But the 6’3’’ center hasn’t simply sparked into action for this campaign, 39 of his 71 points from 2016 came in the last 14 weeks of last season, leading to him being the top goal scorer and second top points scorer for the Jets, aged just 22, having missed 11 games. What sets him apart from the other top point scorers of 2016 is that only 13 of his 71 points of the year have come on the powerplay, meaning that he’s getting his team rolling at even-strength – Scheifele has the lowest powerplay points tally of the top-28 regular season point scorers of 2016.
9. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues, Right Wing
With 34 goals and 73 regular season points, Vladimir Tarasenko has continued to solidify his place among the NHL’s most elite scorers. Despite the St. Louis Blues struggling on the road this season, Tarasenko has managed to remain a consistent scorer for his team no matter where they play, with 38 of his 2016 points coming when away.
In a deep run to the Western Conference finals last season, Tarasenko managed to notch nine goals, which all but carried the Blues to their showdown with the Sharks. Only scoring twice in the round prior to the Stanley Cup final, the Russian winger will be aiming to up his game in this year’s postseason.
8. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks, Center
After breaking his ankle in a freak training incident just three games into last season, Logan Couture was forced to sit out all but three more games of 2015, but then he burst into action in 2016. Although he only scored 11 goals and 19 points after recovering from his major injury, he ended the 2016 playoffs as the highest point scorer of the postseason, with ten goals and 30 points in 24 contests.
The 27-year-old has carried this hot form into the new season, scoring 11 goals and 23 points after 35 games of this season. Being a member of the deadly San Jose powerplay, Couture will always be around the goals, but one of his best contributions to the team at this end of the year has been in helping rookie Kevin LaBanc ease into the league, with the alternate captain getting assists on four of the youngster’s six goals so far. What San Jose fans in particular enjoy the most is Couture’s continued tendency to score against their bitter California rivals, the Los Angeles Kings.
7. Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins, Right Wing
The Pittsburgh Penguins acquiring Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs in July 2015 greatly bolstered their already mighty lines, making them heavy Stanley Cup favourites. Despite the team struggling in the 2015 section of the last campaign, going 15-10-3 by December 12 – leading to Mike Johnston being sacked – Kessel managed nine goals and 17 points, but then he really stepped up in 2016, under new head coach Mike Sullivan.
In 82 games of 2016, Phil Kessel has 26 goals and 74 points in 82 regular season matches, but in the playoffs, on the infamous HBK line – Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, Phil Kessel – the American winger pulled in 22 points, four of which came in the finals.
6. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks, Center
One of the greatest injustices in NHL history is that veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau don’t have a Stanley Cup to their names. The 1997 first and second overall picks got to the finals last season, but fell short to the offensive brunt of the Penguins. However, throughout 2016, Joe Thornton has showcased his immaculate playmaking abilities.
In 81 regular season games this year, ‘Jumbo’ Joe Thornton has only scored 14 goals, but has helpers on a mighty 66, giving him by far the most assists in the NHL during 2016. The 37-year-old also went big in the playoffs, nailing 21 points – 18 of which were assists. In all 105 games that Thronton has played in during 2016, he has maintained a mighty 53.6 faceoff win percentage, being key to the attacking prowess of the Sharks.
5. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators, Defenseman
The Ottawa Senators had a dismal 2015/16 campaign, joining the rest of Canada in missing out on the playoffs. Despite this, Erik Karlsson was a continual source of inspiration, with the Sens captain nailing in 16 goals and 82 points to end the season as their leading point scorer. The Swede has started this season very much the same, with 32 points in 35 games. On the year, Karlsson has 14 goals and 73 points in 79 games, continuing to be Ottawa’s primary offensive threat.
Whilst his scoring has never come into question, a couple of seasons ago Karlsson was under intense scrutiny for his somewhat lacklustre defending. Well, he’s silenced those critics now. Putting up a mighty 193 blocked shots, 61 takeaways and 77 hits in 2016 shows how integral the blue-liner is in the defensive end.
4. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers, Center
Hailed as ‘The Next One’, Connor McDavid started last season with all eyes on him, but a broken clavicle sustained against the Philadelphia Flyers on November 3, 2015 – when the then 18-year-old was on five goals and 12 points – kept him out until February 2 of this year. The injury kept him out of the All-Star game, which he almost certainly would have been a part of, and held him to being a mere runner up for the Calder Trophy.
However, despite only playing 68 games in 2016, he’s scored the fifth most regular season points this year – 24 goals and 78 points. Now captain of the Edmonton Oilers, being the youngest ever NHL captain ever at just 19-years-old, McDavid has dragged his team up from the depths of the NHL to second in the Pacific Division, despite them trading away their former top scorer, Taylor Hall. McDavid leads the NHL in points, with 42 in 36 games, and looks set to take the Oilers to their first postseason in over a decade.
3. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks, Defenseman
The highest scoring defenseman of 2016, with 26 goals and 76 points in 81 regular season games, is San Jose’s and the NHL’s most premiere blue-liner, Brent Burns. Having continued to improve his defensive abilities with each passing year of his career, Burns has always had an eye for goal, being one of the few defensemen who have successfully spent time as a winger.
Burns has been pivotal to the recent success of the San Jose Sharks, especially in the playoffs, during which he pulled in 24 points whilst averaging 25:07 minutes per game. The 2016 All-Star is set to make yet another appearance at the All-Star games with him currently leading the Sharks in goals and points, 14 and 30 respectively. He also leads all NHL defensemen in points after 35 games of this season. With his 178 blocked shots, 126 hits, 63 takeaways and gargantuan 415 shots in 105 games of 2016, Burns has established himself as the best defenseman in the league.
2. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks, Right Wing
Ending 2015 by setting a new consecutive point scoring record for a US-born skater with a 26 game point streak, Patrick Kane continued his immense form through to the start of 2016 and into these closing games of the year. With 34 goal and 88 points in 81 games of 2016, Kane has cemented himself as the second highest point scorer of the year.
The Chicago Blackhawks exited the playoffs in the first round, taking the St. Louis Blues to Game 7, but in no way can the finger be pointed to Patrick Kane, who averaged a point per game in that series. The American winger was also the catalyst to the then 24-year-old rookie Artemi Panarin having such a great season. The Russian left winger was lined with Kane, benefitting greatly from his emphatic scoring season with the rookie’s first ten goals all being set-up by Kane, and 34 of his 47 career goals to date having Kane’s name in the assists column – 26 primary assists and eight secondary assists to Panarin from Kane.
Currently second in points for the Blackhawks, Patrick Kane will continue to be one of Chicago’s key players, relied upon to bring them playoff glory in 2017.
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins, Center
Who else did you really expect? Pittsburgh’s and Canada’s captain has hoisted both the Stanley Cup and the World Cup this year, whilst also scoring a whopping 59 goals and 119 points in 99 regular and postseason games combined over the year of 2016.
Long hailed as the greatest ice hockey player in the world, the now 29-year-old had a sodden start to last season, failing to score a single point in the first five games and only managing six goals and 19 points during Mike Johnston’s segment of the season. Two games into Mike Sullivan’s regime and Crosby exploded, clearly gunning to make up for lost time. Over the spell of the next 52 games – eight of which took place in 2015 – Crosby fired in 30 goals and 66 points to vault the Pittsburgh Penguins into the playoffs, where his impeccable play brought them the Stanley Cup.
From being with the bottom dwellers in mid-December, Sidney Crosby managed to end third in the NHL in regular season points with 85, just four behind the second placed Jamie Benn and 21 down on Patrick Kane. His immense scoring has continued into this season, despite missing the start with a concussion, with the center standing as the NHL’s leading goal scorer with 25, six more than the next closest contender, whilst also being joint second in the league in points, with 41 – tied with Evgeni Malkin and just one behind Connor McDavid.
There is no doubt that right now, Sidney Crosby is the best ice hockey player in the world, in a sport and a league which is one of the very toughest in the world, making him a top, if not the top, contender for being the greatest sportsman in the world. He’ll look to do what no one has done since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings, and that’s win back-to-back Stanley Cups.
Just missed out
This was all narrowed down to a top-ten, but those who came close to cracking into this list include: Joe Pavelski, Claude Giroux, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Wayne Simmonds, Alex Ovechkin, Ryan Kesler and Victor Hedman.
Who do you think was the best NHL player of 2016? Let us know in the comments section below.
Stats taken on December 28, 2016, prior to puck drop.