The 2016-17 National Hockey League regular season is officially underway. With a new campaign, however, comes a ton of new questions. Will the Pittsburgh Penguins become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings to win back-to-back championships? Will the Edmonton Oilers end their streak of 10 consecutive years of not making the playoffs? For that matter, will any Canadian team make the postseason? Unfortunately, we most likely won't get any answers until midseason, at the earliest.
In the meantime, one question that can be answered right now, is who is each NHL team's most untouchable player? The response is not as easy you might think. While it is hard to imagine names like Ovechkin, Stamkos, Lundqvist, Kane, or Bergeron being dealt, don't forget that in the past, we have witnessed perennial All-Stars, and future Hall-of-Famers like Patrick Roy, Teemu Selanne, Pavel Bure, Peter Forsberg, and even the Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky, traded to others teams. Fast forward to today, and superstars like Shea Weber, Taylor Hall and P.K. Subban, have been traded as well.
We here at The Sportster will attempt to answer the question by naming each team's most current untouchable player. Since this isn't the usual top 15 or 25 list, we will be putting the teams in alphabetical order.
30 Anaheim Ducks - Corey Perry
Blessed with strength and blazing speed, Perry — the 28th overall pick of the 2003 NHL draft — scored 34 goals last season. That number not only marked his third straight year of scoring 30 or more, but it marked the 6th time in his career that he has done so.
Perry, who played a key role on the team's 2007 Stanley Cup championship victory over the Ottawa Senators, led the Ducks in power play goals with 12 and PP points with 24 last season. He has found the back of the net a remarkable 330 times (as of this writing) in his 11 years in Anaheim.
When he isn't lighting the lamp for the Ducks, Perry is doing so for his country. In international play for Team Canada, he has a 2005 World Junior Championship, two Olympic Gold medals (2010 and 2014), a 2016 Gold Medal at the IIHF World Championships, and most recently, a World Cup of Hockey Championship.
The Ducks won't get rid of that type of production.
29 Arizona Coyotes - Oliver Ekman-Larsson
While some people might want to go with one of the Coyotes' young guns like Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, or Dylan Strome, we're going with Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The 25-year-old Swede, who was the sixth player taken overall in the 2009 NHL Draft, is young enough to he considered a core piece as the franchise as they take steps towards contention. But going into his seventh season, he has enough experience to not only navigate the marathon that is the 82 game regular season but to also deliver every night.
For Ekman-Larsson, delivering every night involves production in the opponent's end of the ice. For the past two seasons, the D-Man led his team in scoring. This past year, he not only beat his previous career-high in assists and points with 34 and 55, respectively, but he also led all defensemen in game-winning goals with 8.
With a young talented team on the rise like this, you don't trade a game-changer like Ekman-Larsson.
28 Boston Bruins - Brad Marchand
You can't go wrong with either Brad Marchand or Patrice Bergeron in this spot. The reason why we're going with Marchand here is because A) he is three years younger than his teammate, and B) he seems to be getting even better as a player, which should be a scary thought for the other 29 teams in the league.
The league's ultimate pest throughout his seven seasons in the NHL, Marchand has made it a habit of getting under the skin of opponents; to the point that he draws them into taking penalties on a regular basis. When he isn't being a nuisance, the 28-year-old uses his blazing speed and gifted hands to rack up points. This past season, he recorded a career-high in goals with 37 and finished third on the club in points with 61. Combine that with his strong showing at the World Cup of Hockey, and all signs suggest that Marchand is just scratching the surface talent-wise.
27 Buffalo Sabres - Jack Eichel
Current injury issues aside, the number 2 pick in the 2015 draft, Eichel, is a legitimate impact player and building block as he recorded a team-leading 24 goals and finished second in points with 56,. Besides bringing scoring ability to the Sabres, the franchise center has given the city and the team something it hasn't really had since The Dominator, Dominik Hasek, was patrolling the crease in Buffalo — and that is hope.
This offseason, the Sabres added more talent to the team upfront with the addition of sniper Kyle Okposo from the New York Islanders. He should help Eichel eclipse last season's numbers. At only 19 (he will turn 20 on October 28th), the young talent will only continue to get better, as will the team.
26 Calgary Flames - Johnny Gaudreau
I was tempted to go with center Sean Monahan here, but the Calgary Flames' recent re-signing of the man known as Johnny Hockey to a contract richer than Monahan's signifies that he is the most untouchable player on the roster.
Standing at only 5-foot-9 and weighing a paltry 157 pounds, Johnny Gaudreau doesn't have the size or strength to suggest that he should be an elite player. But the 2014 NCAA Hobey Baker Award winner has been a scoring machine since the 2014-15 season. Over the past two years, the former Boston College Eagle has recorded 54 goals.
Gaudreau is only 23 years old. While he will probably never be confused with a bodybuilder, he will eventually add a little bit more size on his frame, which would make him even harder to stop. That's a scary thought for a defenseman.
25 Carolina Hurricanes - Victor Rask
Sorry Jeff Skinner fans, but the 6th year forward has been linked to more than few trade rumors over the last few seasons.
With the departure of former face of the franchise Eric Staal via a trade to the New York Rangers last season, the 23-year-old Rask became the Carolina Hurricanes' number one center. The move paid off, as the Swede led the club in power play points with 18 and finished second in goals with 21.
For a Canes club that hasn't made the postseason since the 2008-09 campaign, the trip back to relevancy begins with Rask. Surrounded by a young nucleus of players that includes Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, Brett Pesce, and Teuvo Teravainen, the turn-around shouldn't be too far off. It's just a question of the team growing together.
24 Chicago Blackhawks - Jonathan Toews
Arguably the best player in the game not named Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, aka "Captain Serious," is a model of consistency and a difference maker on both sides of the ice.
Last season marked the third consecutive year that the captain and face of the Chicago Blackhawks scored 28 goals. His consistency in his own end of the ice is just as impressive, as he led the league in face-off winning percentage, was a staple of the penalty kill, and was first on his team in short-handed goals with seven.
While his teammate Patrick Kane is a sniper that delivers a lot of flash and highlight goals, Toews gives you substance, and more importantly, he is the leader and pulse of the team. Wherever he goes, the squad will follow.
23 Colorado Avalanche - Nathan MacKinnon
From doing commercials with fellow Nova Scotia native Sidney Crosby to being the author of the sweetest goal at the World Cup of Hockey, Nathan MacKinnon is an emerging star and one of the NHL's most exciting young players.
Blessed with strength, skill, and an abundance of speed, the first overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft and 2014 Calder Memorial Trophy Award winner still has room to grow as a player, as well as physically, given that he is just 21 years old.
If you look at winning organizations, it all starts down the middle with a dominant first line center. While the Colorado Avalanche hasn't been successful as of late (mostly due to bad coaching and a lack of defense), MacKinnon is exactly that type of player and asset that any team would kill to acquire.
22 Columbus Blue Jackets - Seth Jones
Yes, Seth Jones was traded by the Nashville Predators last season, but the Preds were dealing from a position of strength (defense) to acquire Ryan Johansen who plays an area of need (center).
Regardless, Jones made an instant impact for the Blue Jackets as he saw his ice time and scoring rate nearly double upon his arrival. Playing between 25 and 29 minutes a game, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones quickly supplanted teammate Jack Johnson as the team's number one defenseman.
At only 21 years old, Jones still has room to grow both physically and as a player. The Blue Jackets already gave up a lot to get him, there is no way that they will trade him away. He is the guy they'll want to build around.
21 Dallas Stars - Jamie Benn
Jamie Benn or Tyler Seguin is the question here. While Seguin has been nothing short of remarkable since he was acquired from the Boston Bruins in 2013 via trade, he has also missed numerous games due to a serious injury. Last season, he missed the final 10 games of the regular season and all but one of the team's 13 playoff contests. This year, Seguin has yet to play as he suffered a hairline fracture in his heel while playing for Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey.
Although three years older than Seguin (27 to 24) Jaime Benn is more durable (he played all 82 games last season). He also is more productive than his teammate as he won the NHL scoring title in 2015 and came in second place to the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane last season (89 to 106).
While picturing Dallas ever deciding to trade either one of their superstars seems next to impossible, if they did ever go down that road, the team would deem Benn untouchable.
20 Detroit Red Wings - Dylan Larkin
The Waterford, Michigan native shocked the Red Wings and the NHL last season as he made the Detroit roster straight out of training camp. To put the accomplishment in context, established names like Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller, Tomas Tatar, and Gustav Nyquist all spent time with the organization's famed American Hockey League team, the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Once the regular season started, Larkin continued to shock the masses as the then 19-year-old used his neck-breaking speed (he would go on to win the fastest skater competition at the NHL All-Star game last February), play-making skill, and ability to put the puck in the net to lead the Red Wings in goals (23), game-winning markers (5), and shots on goal (221).
Larkin, who turned 20 in July, is already 6-foot-1 and nearly 200 pounds. Not only will he grow from his spectacular rookie season, but he will also do the same physically. The league better watch out.
19 Edmonton Oilers - Connor McDavid
While the Wayne Gretzky comparisons are more than a little premature, there is no mistaking the fact that the supremely gifted McDavid is a generational talent. In his rookie year last season, the first overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft recorded 48 points in 45 contests. Despite missing 37 games due to a broken clavicle, he wowed fans, players, and media members alike with his advanced skills on the ice. If McDavid can avoid serious injury this year, there is no reason why he shouldn't challenge for the Art Ross and Hart Memorial Trophy.
Besides highlight plays and the ability to make his teammates better, Connor McDavid offers the Oilers and the city of Edmonton hope. For a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs in a decade, their newly minted captain has fans believing that their fortunes are about to change. While it is way too early to predict whether or not McDavid can even come close to matching the production of the Great One, there shouldn't be any question that the 19-year-old superstar is the most important Oiler since number 99.
18 Florida Panthers - Aaron Ekblad
The Florida Panthers are a team that is loaded with superb young talent. Between Jonathan Huberdeau, Alexander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Mike Matheson, the franchise has a solid nucleus that should keep them in contention for years to come.
The 6'4, 215 pound, 22-year-old Aaron Ekblad gives the Panthers a towering blue-chip defenseman who has been an impact player since he was drafted first overall in the 2014 draft.
His play at both ends of the ice has been so phenomenal that it's not too early to say that he is both a shutdown player as well as an offensive defenseman, given that he not only led the team in power play minutes, but he also has scored at least 12 goals in consecutive seasons.
The 2014 Rookie of the Year, and future Norris Trophy candidate, is a cornerstone piece for the Panthers and a player who is truly untouchable.
17 Los Angeles Kings - Drew Doughty
Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, Marian Gaborik, Jake Muzzin... There are a ton of different players who could've ended up in this spot.
Drew Doughty got the nod because he is the best all-around player on the Los Angeles Kings. Furthermore, with his booming shot, top notch stick-handling skill, creativity with the puck, bone-jarring hits, and superior skating ability that allows him to seamlessly transition from the offense to the defensive end at the drop of a hat, the two-time Olympic gold medalist is widely regarded as the best defenseman in the NHL.
While the team has received numerous contributions from multiple players on the way to winning two Stanley Cups over the last five years, no other King delivered more than Doughty, who game after game goes up against opponents' top offensive threats. More often than not, number 8 comes out on top, and that is a huge part of what makes him untouchable.
16 Minnesota Wild - Ryan Suter
While teammate Zach Parise is usually instant offense for the Minnesota Wild, the talented forward has missed time with injury in four straight seasons, including missing 12 games with a bad back last year.
Ryan Suter gets the call here. Not only is the blue-liner a difference maker at both ends of the ice, but he played in all 82 games and logged just under 30 minutes a game (28:35) last season. That ranked him second in the league behind the Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson.
The Wild's firing of defense-conscious head coach Mike Yeo and the hiring of offensive-minded Bruce Boudreau to replace him means that Suter has a chance to best his career-high in goals (8), assists (43), and points (51) that he set last season.
15 Montreal Canadiens - Carey Price
The June trade of former Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban ended the long-term debate of who the face of the bleu, blanc, et rouge really is. Besides the fact that Carey Price is the best goalie in the league, it is the numbers that really show why he is untouchable. When in the lineup, the club won 10 of his 12 starts. After a November knee injury knocked him out for the remainder of the year (70 games), the Habs only won 28 games.
For the last few seasons, the Canadiens and their fans have viewed the club as a Stanley Cup contender. Those hopes and dreams, no matter how misguided, start and end with the 2015 Hart Trophy winner. If they're going to win it all, it'll be on the back of Price.
14 Nashville Predators - P.K. Subban
Speaking of P.K., the electrifying Subban made quite the debut for his new franchise as he scored on his first ever shot as a member of the Nashville Predators. Acquired for fellow All-Star defenseman and former face of the Preds in Shea Weber in a blockbuster trade this summer, Subban and his brand have now become the hottest thing in the entire city. His jersey is flying off the shelves, just like they did during his time with the Montreal Canadiens.
Subban's value as a player should grow as well, as he is now surrounded by better teammates and a coaching staff and front office that not only looks more suited to deal with a player of his talents, but that appears to actually want to.
13 New Jersey Devils - Cory Schneider
As if replacing a future Hall-of-Famer and face of the franchise in Martin Brodeur wasn't hard enough, Cory Schneider has had to do so while playing on some New Jersey Devils teams that quite frankly, haven't been all that good.
While Schneider's 27 wins last season won't knock your socks off, keep in mind that it came for a team that ranked 30th in goals scored per game with 2.2 and was giving major minutes on defense to household names like John Moore, Jon Merill, and Damon Severson.
This past offseason, the Devils traded their best defensemen in Adam Larsson and only added veteran Ben Lovejoy to the blueline. Yeah, it might be another long year for the franchise goalie. Any success the team has this season will mostly be because of Schneider.
12 New York Islanders - John Tavares
There's really no question with this choice right here. John Tavares is not only the New York Islanders' best player, he is also the face, heart, and soul of the franchise.
Since being taken with the first pick of the 2009 NHL Draft, Tavares, who has recorded a whopping 471 points in 510 career games, has brought the franchise from being the laughing stock of the league to a consistent playoff team.
Once in the postseason, Tavares elevates his games to another level. Last spring, the center produced a point in all 11 of the team's playoff contests.
With the offseason departures of the Islanders' second and third leading scorers in Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielson, respectively, Tavares' value and position as the franchise's untouchable player will be solidified even more.
11 New York Rangers - Ryan McDonaugh
After getting bounced in the first round of last year's playoffs by the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Rangers turned over a large part of their roster in the offseason. Saying goodbye to household names like Derick Brassard, Dan Boyle, and Keith Yandle, among others, the Rangers now have a revamped team.
Despite all the change, the one constant in the blue shirts' lineup, however, is the presence of stud defenseman Ryan McDonaugh. The Rangers captain has been a rock on the blueline since he was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in the infamous Scott Gomez trade.
Serving as the Rangers' captain since 2014, the 27-year-old, who earned his first All-Star nod last year and led New York in ice-time with just over 22 minutes a game for the second year in a row, is the heartbeat of the team.
10 Ottawa Senators - Erik Karlsson
The captain of the Ottawa Senators is the team's best player. Erik Karlsson is also the epitome of an offensive defenseman, as his 82 points last season were good enough to put him in fourth place overall in league scoring. In addition, his 66 assists were the most by anybody in the NHL last year.
While he isn't a shutdown defensemen like Zdeno Chara, Drew Doughty, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, or Duncan Keith in his own end of the ice, the 26-year-old Swede is still more than capable of solid play in his own end. Karlsson, of course, is also a former NHL Norris Trophy winner, which is given to the league's best defenseman. Many argue he also should have won it last year and that the choice of Doughty was simply because voters felt he was "due".
9 Philadelphia Flyers - Shayne Gostisbehere
While a lot of people including many Philadelphia Flyer fans will be tempted to go with center Claude Giroux, the four-time All-Star will turn 29 this season and has seen his goal scoring and points total dip the last two years in a row.
Shayne Gostisbehere seemingly came out of nowhere to make the Flyers in training camp last year. Once the regular season started, the former Union Dutchman (NCAA) continued to be a revelation, as he made his presence felt on the offensive end of the ice by recording 17 goals, which ranked him sixth among defensemen.
While no one will ever confuse him with former Flyer and Hall-Of-Fame defensemen Chris Pronger, the breakout performance by the guy nicknamed "The Ghost" should have opponents running scared. He is just 23 years old and appears to only be scratching the surface of his talents.
8 Pittsburgh Penguins - Sidney Crosby
Arguably the NHL's best player, whether he's leading the rush, scoring a highlight goal, setting up a line-mate with a beautiful pass, or even helping out on the penalty kill, Sidney Crosby can do it all. Since he made his debut in 2005, no player has more points than number 87.
Off the ice, the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native is the face of not only the Pittsburgh Penguins, but of the league as well, as Crosby is featured in numerous commercials and advertisements all across North America.
In international play, Sid the Kid has been just as impressive, as he led Canada to gold at two Olympic Games, a World Championship, a World Junior Championship, and most recently, a World Cup of Hockey Championship.
Simply put, the defending Stanley Cup champions would never dream of trading their star, let alone even listening to what astronomical offer teams would send their way.
7 St. Louis Blues - Vladimir Tarasenko
The talented Russian is blessed with speed, great hands, and big play ability. More importantly, Tarasenko gives St. Louis their first real sniper since Hall-of-Famer Brett Hull was still playing for the Blues back in the mid to late 90s.
After leading his team in the regular season with a career-high 40 goals, the right winger continued his torrid pace in the playoffs, as Tarasenko found the back of the net 9 times and recorded 15 points in 20 games. He was nearly the sole reason the franchise got out of the first round of the postseason for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign.
At just 24 years of age, the sky is the limit for Tarasenko. That, among many of the other reasons listed above, is why the Russian sniper is the team's most untouchable player.
6 San Jose Sharks - Brent Burns
This one was the most challenging to pick, as the defending Western Conference Champions have a plethora of options to choose from. From Logan Couture to Joel Pavelski, Joe Thornton to Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the San Jose Sharks are a team stacked with big names and impact players.
I chose to go with Brent Burns here, because not only does he have the best beard in hockey (teammate Joe Thornton was a close second) but the Norris Trophy candidate sets the tone by making plays at both ends of the ice. With his physical and dominant play in his own end, the 6'5 230 pound former winger is capable of shutting down just about anybody in the league.
On offense, his booming shot is a game-changer that helped him lead the NHL in goals last year by a defenseman with 27 and shots with 353.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning - Victor Hedman
You guys thought I was going to go with Steven Stamos, didn't you? While the Lightning captain is an elite player, the 26-year-old is also injury prone. To make matters worse, when Stamkos misses time, it is due to major ailments. Some of them include a broken tibia that forced him to miss 45 games and thoracic outlet syndrome (blood clots) last season that caused him to miss 11 of the Bolts' 12 playoff games.
Victor Hedman, on the other hand, is present when his team really needs him. The 6-foot-6, 223 pound Swede has become one of the best all around defenseman in the NHL. In his own end, he uses his towering size and superior skating ability to chase after forwards and separate them from the puck.
In his opponents' end of the ice, Hedman, who finished third in points for D-Men in the 2016 playoffs with 14, uses his speed and a booming slap-shot to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. At only 25 years old, the Norris Trophy candidate is only going to get better.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs - Auston Matthews
What a debut! The new face of the Toronto Maple Leafs had a historic first game in the blue and white, as he scored 4 goals, and almost single-handedly carried his team to an opening night victory over the Ottawa Senators.
The player first taken in last June's draft, Matthews possesses the speed, stick skill and on-ice awareness to be the league's next superstar. He already dominated at the professional level last year while playing for the ZSC Lions of the Swiss National League A, where Matthews recorded 46 points in 36 games. It shouldn't take too long for him to dominate at the NHL level.
Since the moment he was drafted, Matthews has energized a city and a franchise that hasn't had much to get excited about in a number of years. His play so far this season has backed up the hype. Under no circumstances will the Leafs trade their young superstar.
3 Vancouver Canucks - Bo Horvat
Going with one of the Sedin twins would be the easy, but wrong answer here. While both Daniel and Henrik are still very talented players even at the age of 36, the Vancouver Canucks are no closer to winning the Stanley Cup now than they were in the duo's prime. The franchise should trade the brothers and fully embrace a long overdue and much-needed rebuilding phase.
Bo Horvat, the Canucks' first round pick of the 2013 draft, was scheduled to be the team's third line center last year. However, sports hernia surgery for forward Brandon Sutter halted those plans, and propelled the 21-year-old Horvat to the second unit.
The Sutter injury was a huge blow to the team, but Horvat took full advantage of the situation by recording a career-high in goals (16), points (40), and shots on goal with 155.
While the team is stuck in that no man's land of not being good enough to compete, but just good enough to not be horrible, Horvat's breakout season and potential represents one of the few positives the club has going for itself.
2 Washington Capitals - Braden Holtby
Alexander Ovechkin fans might be all up in arms right now, but the truth is despite the insane amount of points that number 8 has put up throughout his 11-year tenure with the Caps (966 points in 839 games), the team has yet to get out of the second round of the playoffs.
First and foremost, what Holtby brings to the equation is elite goaltending, which is something the team didn't have with former goalies Semyon Varlamov or Michal Neuvirth.
The 27-year-old also brings a sparkling save percentage when in goal. Over three of the last four seasons, as he has posted .920 and better. This past spring, Holtby, the former fourth-round pick of the 2008 NHL Draft, stepped up his game even more, as he raised it to .942, and averaged a stellar 1.72 goals against average.
Scoring goals is important, and the Caps are loaded with firepower. Stopping pucks is even more crucial especially come playoff time. Holtby, who made his first All-Star team last season, is more than capable of doing that. For the team to move forward, their goalie has to be the one player who is untouchable.
1 Winnipeg Jets - Mark Scheifele
After trading former team captain Andrew Ladd at the trade deadline to the Chicago Blackhawks last season, the new face of the franchise has become Mark Scheifele.
Now in his fourth year with the Winnipeg Jets, Scheifele has seen his goals and points total increase every year. At 6-foot-3, nearly 210 pounds, and just 23 years old, the Kitchener, Ontario native, who already possesses blazing speed, solid stick-handling, and soft hands, shows no sign of slowing down his production anytime soon.
The Jets' drafting of Finnish scoring phenom Patrik Laine (it was a hard choice between the two) this past June, along with the presence of sniper Blake Wheeler and the emergence of sophomore winger Nikolaj Ehlers, should give Scheifele more than a little help, which in turn could drive up his production even more.
For a franchise like Winnipeg that struggles to attract high-priced free agents, a home-grown talent like Scheifele is someone the team wouldn't and shouldn't dream of trading.
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