The NHL has acquired a tremendous influx of young talent in recent years. It is flooded with gifted players aging from 18 all the way to 44 (cheers to Mr. Jagr). Players are starting to achieve success more abruptly, developing into superstars at a much younger age than in the past. As these players grow into veterans before they're even 30, they are able to pass along the lessons they've learned to the new youngsters of the league speeding up their learning curves.
Deciding the value of a player can be completely subjective based on a managers strategy and rational. Is a 28-year-old star more valuable than an 18-year-old with superstar potential? How do you know when a player is going to fall out of his prime? Age is obviously important, but there are other factors involved when predicting their decline. Duncan Keith may possibly be the best defenceman in the world, but the 32-year-old workhorse has put a lot of miles on those legs. Would you want five more seasons of Duncan Keith or 15 more seasons of Aaron Ekblad? Neither of these players were able to crack the top 15, showing the pure depth of top end talent in NHL.
Other honorable mentions go to the once mighty combo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and a trio of young talented forwards Claude Giroux, Matt Duchene, and Vladimir Tarasenko. To win the Stanley Cup you need an outstanding performance from your netminder. So why then is there only one goalie on this list? Goalies can be very inconsistent from year to year, and some of the best goalies are already in there 30s. Unsurprisingly the established stars on this list play for teams who have all made the playoffs consistently over the last few years. While the younger ones play for teams who have been in the cellar and will look to their new stars to be the savior. The Kings and Blackhawks both have multiple players on this list, as they just so happen to have won five of the last six Stanley Cups between them.
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15 Jack Eichel
America's next hockey superstar. At just 18, Eichel dominated at the college level for Boston University winning the coveted Hobey Baker award. At just 19, he's already leading the Sabres in goals. His size, speed, and ridiculous hockey IQ have him on the path to being an absolute offensive force of nature. Eichel was drafted 2nd overall in 2015, which would seem crazy if it wasn't for the player selected ahead of him. More on Eichel's new rival later.
14 Anze Kopitar
The slick Slovenian has remained an undervalued commodity to the casual observer. Anyone who watched Kopitar put up a point per game in two Stanley Cup runs, while also playing the shutdown center role, knows how invaluable he is to the Kings squad. Though only 28, Kopitar has already played 10 full seasons, establishing himself as one of the best two-way players in the world. He still has many gallons left in the tank, as he looks to add another ring to the finger of a probable Hall of Fame career.
13 P.K. Subban
Subban is the most polarizing player in the NHL. This would be true even if he didn't play in Montreal's insanely passionate hockey market. His confidence, style of play, and yes, skin color, have consistently created controversial conversation. All this put aside, Subban is electrifying offensively, constantly putting points on the board, and continues to develop defensively entering the prime of his career. Montreal would riot if the Canadiens ever tried to trade away the heart and soul of their team.
12 John Tavares
It surprises people to hear that this former 1st overall pick is only 25. The captain of the Islanders has been their leader and best player since the day he signed his first contract. His number one weakness coming out of junior hockey was his speed, so he fixed that, turning into an above average skater. His second weakness was face-offs, so he fixed that too. Tavares has improved his game every season, and is steady as they come. He still has his best years ahead of him. Will it be enough to finally bring the Islanders out of obscurity?
11 Johnny Gaudreau
Johnny Football has to be feeling damn envious of Johnny Hockey right about now. In only his second season, the dynamic Gaudreau is already considered among the best offensive players in the game. Standing in at 5-foot-9, the diminutive playmaker has given Flames fans a new hope. Shorter players are starting to find more success at the NHL level and as hockey continues to tighten up defensively, there is less room on the ice, proving to be beneficial for those who take up less space.
10 Drew Doughty
Doughty burst onto the scene at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with a phenomenal performance as the youngest player on Team Canada. He's anchored the Kings blue line since his rookie year at 18, developing into a perennial Norris Trophy candidate. Doughty is not as flashy, or offensively gifted as other top defensemen, but he rarely makes mistakes. He has a very similar style to Duncan Keith, another incredible defensemen who was kept off this list only because of his age.
9 Tyler Seguin
Inhale Bruins fans. Seguin was traded from the Bruins after only three seasons, he's since become a superstar scoring 37 goals a year for the Stars. He is one of the fastest skaters in hockey; combine this with his powerful wrist shot and you have a goal scorer effective as they come. As his hockey IQ continues to improve, it will be no surprise to see him challenge the 50 goal mark. Dallas has many bright years ahead of them up front with Seguin and one of his teammates, who is also on this list. Exhale, Bruins fans.
8 Erik Karlsson
He is going to be the first defensemen to lead the league in assists since the great Bobby Orr in 1970. In that season Orr and three other teammates were top 4 in scoring. Incredibly, Karlsson does not have one teammate who is top 20 in scoring this season. Doughty is the only person standing in the way of Karlsson's third Norris trophy in five seasons. The popular argument early in Karlsson's career was that his offensive dominance meant he was a defensive liability. Analytics and advanced stats have become prominent in the NHL world and have completely debunked this premise.
7 Carey Price
Coming off a season where he won the Hart and Vezina trophies, Price was locked in as an untouchable player. His injury issues this season may have actually improved this sentiment, as the Canadiens have absolutely imploded during his absence. They'll be lucky to get to 80 points after reaching 110 last year when they won the Atlantic Division. If Subban is the heart and soul of the Canadiens, then Carey Price is their back bone. Look for the Habs to bounce back in a big way next season.
6 Jamie Benn
The hulking center has blossomed into a dominating presence, winning an Art Ross Trophy last year in dramatic fashion. His reach and size make it a burdensome task to knock him off the puck and as soon as you double team him he finds the open man. Drafted in the 5th round, he is the biggest draft steal on this list. Thanks to age and injuries, Benn and Seguin have passed Crosby and Malkin, and Getzlaf and Perry, as the 2nd best combo in the NHL.
5 Alexander Ovechkin
The great 8 is going to go down as one of the best pure goal scorers to ever play the game. Reaching the age of 30 this season, Ovechkin has shown no signs of slowing down, leading the Capitals to the best record in the NHL. He is poised to win his 4th straight Rocket Richard trophy, and his 6th overall. The decorated Russian has also won three Hart trophies as league MVP. Ovechkin will spend the rest of his career chasing that elusive silver cup. I can't even imagine how large that goofy smile will be if he ever meets Lord Stanley.
4 Patrick Kane
Kane and Jonathan Toews make up the best combo in the NHL. The decision between who should be ranked better was as strenuous as they come, a 1st world problem at its finest. They have led the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups in the last six years, as close to a dynasty as you're ever going to get in the salary cap era. Kane is a wizard with the puck and is crushing the competition this season, 10 points ahead of 2nd place. He is the most talented American hockey player ever.
3 Jonathan Toews
I wouldn't expect Toews to find out about his victory over Kane in "The Sportster's Top 15 Most Untouchable NHL Players" list. But if he did I'm sure he would be super modest about it; Toews is your typical cliché spewing hockey player. There is nothing modest about his on-ice performance though; Toews will go down as one of the best two way players ever. His skill set knows no bounds, from the face-off circle, to the defensive end. Captain Serious is as clutch and consistent as we've ever seen.
2 Sidney Crosby
A slow start to the season provided us with the typical, lazy analysis that Crosby is past his prime. As usual he's doused that ridiculousness, vaulting up the leader boards, averaging an unreal 1.46 points per game since the all-star break. He is quite simply one of the best to ever lace up the skates. He might not be Sid the Kid anymore, but he's only 28 and will continue to be the best player on an off the ice. An incredible ambassador to the game, Crosby could retire right now and already be among the all time greats.
1 Connor McDavid
First McDavid dethrones Crosby as the most hyped prospect ever, and now he moves past Crosby as the most untouchable player in the NHL. He is the clear cut choice for player that you would want to start a franchise with. Only time will tell us if he will be as good, or as successful as Crosby but he is off to a blazing start. The 18-year-old uber-phenom already looks like a man among boys, putting up his first 5 point game even quicker than Gretzky. He's been heralded as McJesus in Edmonton, as he looks to use his godly talent to bring the Oilers back to the glory days.
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