Even though those four NHL players are in a class of their own, there may be other players who may be very close to include in that conversation.
To have some fun, let’s assume that those four names never existed. In that case, we may ask who could loosely be considered as a generational talent in the NHL today? To makes things less complicated, let’s narrow down the list to players currently playing in the NHL.
Even though these players may not be on the same level as Gretzky, they are still very close to the upper echelon of professional hockey. With that said, let’s take a look at some players who might fall into that conversation.
Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Kane is arguably the best American-born NHL player in his generation. Ever since being selected 1st overall in 2007, his efforts helped change the Chicago Blackhawks into a modern-day dynasty.
Kane is a six-time NHL All-Star, has won the Calder, Conn Smythe, Art Ross, Hart Memorial and Ted Lindsay awards. Kane is also a big reason why the Chicago Blackhawks were able to win three Stanley Cups in seven seasons. Impressively, he has done all that by the age of 26 and he is only 28-years-old right now.
Whenever he chooses to retire, he should finish somewhere in the top five, on the all-time point list for American NHL Players.
Other things that can’t be overlooked is Kane’s game-changing ability and his spectacular stick handling skills. On any given night he has the ability to change the complexion of the game with one clutch play or wow the crowd with his world-class stickhandling abilities.
Aside from Pavel Datsyuk, #88 might be the best stickhandler to play in the NHL in the past 20 years.
Jaromir Jagr – Free Agent
Although Jaromir Jagr is currently a free agent, he finished last season as the oldest player in the NHL at 45-years-old. Jagr has played 1,711 games in the NHL and has scored 765 goals and 1,914 points. He is the definition of an “ageless wonder” and has been able to stay productive well into his 40’s.
The Czech’s CV speaks for itself; He is a 13-time NHL All-Star, has won five Art Ross Trophies, three Ted Lindsay Awards and a Hart Memorial Trophy, on top of two Stanley Cups won in his first two campaigns in the league. Jagr has played an amazing 26 seasons in the NHL and may be back for another one in 2017/18. He is one of those rare players that has been in his prime for arguably over two-decades.
If Jagr didn’t go over to the KHL from 2008-2011, he would have played 29 seasons in the NHL by now and should be well over 2,000 points. He is second on the NHL’s all-time points list, only behind Wayne Gretzky. Jagr is also the only player born in the Czech Republic to be in the NHL’s top 50 points list.
Drew Doughty – Los Angeles Kings
Drew Doughty may be the least flashy name on this list, but he gives us plenty of reason to be considered as one of the best all-around defensemen of this generation.
Doughty entered the NHL as an 18-year-old and instantly became the Los Angeles Kings’ number one defenseman. He has a career average 26:11 of ice time per game and has been the ice-time leader any NHL team he has played for in any season. That fact alone shows how special of a player he is.
He also helped the L.A. Kings capture two Stanley Cups in the three years (2012, 2014) and received NHL All-Star votes in every season he has been in the NHL. He has also received Norris Trophy votes in seven different seasons and had his first Norris Trophy win in 2015/16.
Most importantly, he was a two-time Stanley Cup winner, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist before his 25th birthday. To put things into perspective, many top defenders don’t come into their prime until they are 25. For example, Nicklas Lidstrom was only voted for the Norris Trophy twice before 25 and didn’t win his first Stanley Cup until he was 26-years-old.
A portion of Doughty’s success must be attributed to the Los Angeles Kings for surrounding him with the right type of players, including Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and Jonathan Quick. However, the former Guelph Storm defenseman can be viewed as one of those rare players who will be in his prime almost his entire career.
As for the 27-year-old, it is not so much about his prime years but rather his legacy and what he can do to glorify it.
Erik Karlsson – Ottawa Senators
Erik Karlsson was a major steal for the Ottawa Senators back in 2008 when they took him 15th overall. His ability to control the ice and generate offense as a defenseman is definitely one of the best the NHL has seen in the past 20 years.
Karlsson also has the numbers to back that up, he has had five seasons of 66 points or more in his eight-year NHL career. He is a four-time NHL All-star, with two Norris Trophies wins and will likely be a perennial candidate to win the award for several more years.
Most impressively, he has been able to put up these kinds of numbers on very mediocre Ottawa Senator teams built around him.
Surprisingly, a lot of what Karlsson does on the ice does not translate onto the scoresheet. You simply have to watch him play to see the type of his impact he has on the game, and for the Senators. He may need a few more accolades and possibly a Stanley Cup or two to be considered a generational talent.
However, Karlsson is still young at 27-years-old and will have plenty of time to make his case as one of the best defensemen to ever play in the NHL.
Evgeni Malkin – Pittsburgh Penguins
Ever since joining the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006/07, Evgeni Malkin has been a franchise cornerstone for the team. Despite playing on the same team as Sidney Crosby, Malkin has managed to shine on his own, capturing two Art Ross trophies, a Conn Smythe Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy, a Calder trophy, and a Ted Lindsay award.
“Geno” is also a three-time Stanley Cup winner, and has hit the 100-point plateau three times in his NHL career. On top of that, he has scored at greater than a point-per-game rate, in every season he has played in the NHL.
Malkin is only 31-years-old and looks to have several more prime years left in him. When it’s all said and done, he should finish his career with over 1,000 points, and possibly an extra Stanley Cup ring or two.
He should be considered as one of the greatest Russian players to ever play in the NHL. Hypothetically speaking, if Crosby never existed, do you think the second overall pick in 2004 would have been able to achieve just as much in his career? Or maybe even more?
Alexander Ovechkin – Washington Capitals
Ever since entering the NHL in 2005/06, Alexander Ovechkin has amazed everyone with his goal-scoring abilities. After 12 seasons in the NHL, Ovechkin has averaged 47 goals per season. So far in his NHL career, he has hit the 50-goal plateau six times and has scored at least 32 goals or more every year of his NHL career.
He is a six-time NHL All-Star, has won six Maurice Richard Trophies, three Hart Memorial trophies, three Ted Lindsay awards, an Art Ross and a Calder Trophy. The only thing missing from his resume is a Stanley Cup, but Ovechkin is only 32, and still, has some years to get him a ring or two.
Some may consider the left wing as the best goal-scorer the league has ever seen, and also the greatest Russian-born player to ever play in the NHL.
Honorable Mention: Auston Matthews – Toronto Maple Leafs
Obviously, it is still too early to say how good Auston Matthews will be, but if his rookie season is any indication, he looks to be a very special player. He instantly became the Toronto Maple Leafs number one franchise center, as a 19-year-old rookie, and led the team in scoring with 40 goals, 29 assists for a total of 69 points.
He also took home the Calder Trophy and other than Alexander Ovechkin, was the only rookie in the last 20 years to score 40 or more goals in their first year.
Many Toronto fans have already witnessed the impact the American has made for his team and the franchise. Along with Mitch Marner and William Nylander, the trio looks to be the future of the Maple Leafs for a long time. As a result, the Leafs may be perennial Stanley Cup contenders in the Eastern Conference very soon.
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