Within the last few years, the National Hockey League has been trending in a much different direction than it was 5 years ago. Nowadays, we're seeing long-time pros such as Mike Ribeiro, Brooks Laich and Jaroslav Halak being demoted to the AHL to make way for promising, young talent. By doing so, the NHL is turning the page by saying goodbye to the gritty, two-way enforcers and are welcoming speed, skill and flair with open arms - commencing a new era of high-end hockey in its 100th season. It goes without saying that the NHL is the most-competitive-hockey league in the world and, as always, with competition always comes rankings to determine who's the best - which is normally decided by statistics and career achievements to indicate a player's value to their franchise.
However, while it's relatively easy to point out the best player on a given team compared to others - doing so relegates many other talented players to live in their shadows. What people don't know is that the gap between some of these players that fly under the radar, isn't as big as you might expect. Being the second-best player on a team is nothing to be ashamed of, and some of the names can really turn heads. With that in mind, the following list will be dedicated to shining some light on the shadow-dwellers; the current second-best players on every team in the NHL.
30 Anaheim Ducks: John Gibson
At the young age of 23, John Gibson has already proved his worth to the Anaheim Ducks by out duelling the Toronto Maple Leafs' current-starting goalie, Frederick Anderson, for the starting job in Orange County. Runner up to team captain, Ryan Getzlaf, Gibson comes in at number two due to his elite play this season that has allowed his team to steal many games off of his great saves, almost compensating for the Ducks deflated offence. His acrobatics have propelled the Ducks to the 3rd seed in the Pacific Division. With the aging core of Getzlaf and Corey Perry, it would seem naive to think that Gibson doesn't have the potential to eventually work his way towards the number-one spot on the roster and be a franchise cornerstone for the Ducks.
Here's to hoping for all Anaheim Ducks fans (and fantasy owners) that Gibson's current injury doesn't sting too badly and he picks up right where he left off.
29 Arizona Coyotes: Max Domi
Coming in at what the team lists as a rather generous 5"10 and 198 lbs, the future for Arizona-Coyotes superstar, Max Domi, is looking bright indeed. Being drafted 12th overall in the 1st round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Yotes knew exactly what was in store for this feisty forward. Turning 22 in early March, he's presently the only runner up to blue-line stud, Oliver Ekman-Larsson; however, Domi has already shown how important he is to the under-achieving Coyotes by putting his quick speed and fast hands on display. Unfortunately, being limited to only 37 games this season due to a hand-injury, Domi hasn't been able to have the season that he's capable of.
Putting talent aside, he has also displayed some gritty qualities that his dad, Tie Domi, was always known for - most notably his one-bomb punch that brought the heavyweight grinder that is Ryan Kesler, to the ice. You know what they say, "like father, like son."
28 Boston Bruins: Brad Marchand
It appears that the reputation of the Boston Bruins' 28-year-old pest, Brad Marchand, has begun to change -- at least partially. Being behind two-way centerman, Patrice Bergeron, he's still known as the guy who doesn't mind getting in the faces of opponents and playing with a chip on his shoulder, but is now being recognized as an elite-NHL-Scoring threat - which was proven by his World Cup-winning goal for team Canada. After a 37-goal campaign last season, it looks as though Marchand is on the brink of breaking the 40-goal plateau for the first time in his career and has shown no signs of slowing down.
His ability to get opponents off their game by chirping is a unique talent that many don't have - allowing him to direct the other team's attention to himself, which opens up room for his highly-skilled teammates. If the Bruins are to make the postseason this year, he will be a key factor.
27 Buffalo Sabres: Rasmus Ristolainen
Jack Eichel can be deemed the best player on the Buffalo Sabres. Nonetheless, the Finnish defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, has truly displayed his talents this season; breaking out with 37 points in 61 games - a pace that will allow him to surpass last season's total of 41 points in 81 games. The big-framed dman is a powerplay specialist, with more than half of his points coming with the man advantage, and is viewed as a pass-first player, as he is ranked 5th in the league for assists amongst defenceman this season. His ability to move the puck efficiently makes life much easier for his fellow teammates.
A threat at both ends of the ice and locked up for 6 years, the Sabres are certainly well positioned for the future knowing that Ristolainen will be holding down the point.
26 Calgary Flames: Sean Monahan
Living in Johnny Gaudreau's (small) shadow, Sean Monahan has already shown his scoring sense at the young age of 22 -- hitting the 30-goal mark once, and having respectable 22 and 27 goal seasons as well. He has proven he can compete at the NHL level, and his chemistry with Gaudreau has been a real difference-maker for the Calgary Flames -- a factor that pushed them into the playoffs two years ago. Although he came out of the gate with a slow start to the season, Monahan has been excellent as of late with 5 points (1 G, 4 A) in his last 4 games while also carrying a +6 rating. He was also honoured by being named to team North America for the World Cup of Hockey that took place last September.
The Flames currently hold on to the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference and will need Monahan to continue his scoring ways if they are to entertain hopes of bringing playoff hockey back to Calgary again.
25 Carolina Hurricanes: Sebastian Aho
After being strongly endorsed by Finnish legend, Teemu Selanne, Sebastian Aho has shown glimpses of brilliance this season -- such as notching a hat trick against the Philadelphia Flyers in his rookie season. Runner up to long-time Carolina Hurricane, Jeff Skinner, Aho is considered to be the second-best player on the Hurricanes as he sits third overall in points in his first NHL season with the inconsistent club. However, with a strong rookie class this year, he currently sits in 7th place in scoring amongst all rookie skaters.
Being only 19-years old, Aho is a standout amongst the crop of young prospects in the system. If Carolina is looking to become as lethal as they were when Eric Staal guided them to their only Stanley Cup, then Aho will be a main reason that any post-season hockey returns to the state of North Carolina.
24 Chicago Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews
Although some may consider Jonathan Toews to be the best captain in the league, he is the second-best player on the Chicago Blackhawks, being behind good friend, Patrick Kane -- but the gap is marginal and obviously up for debate. Toews plays more of a two-way style and is one of the best faceoff guys in the league; he's also fully loaded with silky mitts, an accurate shot and flawless skating strides. Add that to his impressive resume of 3 Stanley Cups, 2 Olympic-Gold medals, a Conn Smythe and copious amounts of other awards, and you're able to realize he is easily one of the best players to ever play the game.
Toews was also added to the NHL's list of top-100 players of all time. A first-ballot Hall of Famer as well as having his jersey retired will occur at some point, and will be a well deserved honour for #19.
23 Colorado Avalanche: Matt Duchene
Right now, life in Colorado is extremely tough for the Avalanche; sitting dead last in the entire NHL, there hasn't been much to smile and laugh about during the 2016-2017 NHL season. Their best player, Nathan MacKinnon, hasn't been meeting expectations and Matt Duchene hasn't been able to generate the offensive numbers that he was capable of a few years ago - this is the product of poor depth and a weak roster. Matt Duchene is still an extremely-talented hockey player with great offensive upside and blazing speed that could be a top-line player on almost any NHL team. He's a proven winner - winning Olympic gold in 2014 and the World Cup in 2016 - and could help any team.
Duchene's name has been consistently popping up in trade rumours; one would expect a change of scenery would certainly benefit the 26-year old and a rebound in 2017-2018 would certainly bring his stock to where it rightfully belongs.
22 Columbus Blue Jackets: Alexander Wennberg
It appears as though when the Columbus Blue Jackets traded Ryan Johansen, that they had Alexander Wennberg in mind when the topic of whom their first-line center would be. After a strong finish to last season's campaign, Wennberg has broken out this season for the Blue Jackets. Wennberg has become a powerplay specialist that quarterbacks the first unit, not to mention he was a huge reason for Columbus' 16-game-winning streak. His excellent vision allows him to thread the needle and has him up to 40 helpers this year.
It's hard to argue against the Blue Jackets' Cam Atkinson being the team's best player, but Columbus has an elite-level center in Wennberg at the young age of 23.
21 Dallas Stars: Tyler Seguin
Once viewed as a problem in Boston, Tyler Seguin has turned out to be one the the NHL's best players. A victim of injury-ridden seasons, Seguin has never played a full season in his career - unlike team captain Jamie Benn who is viewed as the franchise's MVP. Had Seguin been able to stay healthy, one may think he could potentially be the Stars' best player. With a Stanley Cup already to his name, Seguin is on the hunt for his second and will use his speed and quick release to burn opponents. When paired up with Benn, the two prove how effective they can be - which is largely a reason why the Stars managed to make it to the second round of the 2016 NHL playoffs.
20 Detroit Red Wings: Dylan Larkin
It's been a tough year for Dylan Larkin; but it has got to make you believe that the sophomore slump is a factual thing. And to make matters worse, it appears that the Red Wings will miss the playoffs for the first time in 25 seasons. However, Larkin is a major asset to Detroit and should be there for years to come; he slides in at #2 due to the veteran presence of Henrik Zetterberg - who won the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2008, while also being honoured with the Conn Smythe. With his blistering speed and high-end-skill set, one can only expect a rebound campaign next season.
Without a doubt the Red Wings will be leaning heavily on Larkin with the absence of Pavel Datsyuk going forward.
19 Edmonton Oilers: Leon Draisaitl
Living in the shadows of Edmonton Oilers posterboy, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl has had a breakout campaign this year - tallying 54 points in 64 games - and could even break the 70-point plateau. An excellent puck distributor, Draisaitl has benefitted from playing alongside McDavid this year and has shown why he was selected 3rd overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
With the Oilers holding onto a playoff spot, Draisaitl will need to be at his best for the remainder of the season so he (and majority of the Oilers' roster) can enjoy their first taste of playoff hockey.
18 Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad
Selected first overall in 2014, Aaron Ekblad has shown just how impressive his talents are. Although Aleksander Barkov can be viewed as the Panther's MVP, this is no insult to the Calder Trophy winner. With Ekblad's big frame and elegant skating, he has shown that he can be a threat at both ends of the ice. The sky's the limit for this young cat.
Although the Panthers were a victim of a slow start this season due to key injuries, they certainly have hit their stride as of late. Ekblad will have to pickup his game if the Panthers have any desire to make the postseason this year.
17 Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Quick may have been injured for the better part of the season, but there's no denying his talent. He has two Stanley Cups to his name and will certainly be bringing his 'A' game to every start he sees for the rest of the season -- with hopes of the Kings sneaking into the postseason. Teammate, Anze Kopitar, still surpasses Quick as the franchise MVP due to his diligent two-way game he plays, but this brings no shame to the Los Angeles' goaltender - Quick can be considered a top-5 goalie in the league.
With the Kings' acquisition of Ben Bishop, there's a chance that the Kings will be splitting starts between the two tendys. With not much room for error, Quick will need to be at his absolute best down the stretch.
16 Minnesota Wild: Mikael Granlund
Mikael Granlund has been enjoying his breakout season by capturing 59 points in 61 games. It's hard to place Minnesota's success solely on Granlund's shoulders when Devan Dubnyk has been the major reason the Wild have been as good as they have. In spite of that, Granlund has been riding on the Wild's top line this season and it has paid off tremendously. The 9th overall pick in 2010 has a bright future ahead of him.
It appears as though the Wild have bought in this year and will be expecting nothing but a Stanley Cup. If Granlund can maintain his excellent play, they could go deep in playoffs.
15 Montreal Canadiens: Shea Weber
With a very memorable trade in the summer -- sending fan-favourite P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators in exchange for their captain, Shea Weber -- there were many questions surrounding Weber's ability to fill the hole Subban left. Yet, the Canadiens are currently 1st in the Atlantic Divison and Weber currently sits third amongst Canadiens in points. Other than the best goaltender in the world, Carey Price, Weber is an extremely valuable asset to the Canadiens.
With his big frame and gritty-playing style, other teams always know when Weber's on the ice and will do almost anything to avoid him.
14 Nashville Predators: Roman Josi
Other than P.K. Subban, Roman Josi is Nashville's MVP. Josi is an excellent skater who's capable of moving the puck efficiently. With the ability of logging in tons of minutes on the ice and producing at elite numbers, Josi is one of the best defenders in the game today. Some may even argue against him being better than Subban -- the slight gap between the two always brings discussion to the topic of who's better.
After a slow start to the season, the Predators seem to look like quite the force everyone thought they would be. Although Filip Forsberg has been lighting it up as of late, you cannot deny Josi's significant importance to the club.
13 New Jersey Devils: Taylor Hall
After a busy offseason for the Edmonton Oilers, Peter Chiarelli evidently decided that Taylor Hall wasn't part of the Oilers' future going forward. A tough bounce nonetheless, Hall is still an extremely talented forward, but only second to franchise-cornerstone, Cory Schneider, who holds the most value for the Devils. Hall has found spurts of success this season but has been affected by the Devils' poor depth as he doesn't have the same talent as he did in Edmonton.
Hall's blistering speed allows him to burn defenders wide and dispense the puck to teammates crashing the net. However, the Devils will need to acquire more help up front to see Hall's production go up.
12 New York Islanders: Anders Lee
It's obvious that John Tavares is the New York Islanders' best player -- hands down -- there's no shame in being second to him. The 26-year old, Anders Lee, is having his best season to date and is on pace to hit the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career. With a big frame and a natural gift for scoring, Lee has proved that he belongs at the NHL level and can play with the best.
Lee is currently tied with Tavares for the team lead in goal scoring -- not to shabby for the Ex-Notre Dame captain.
11 New York Rangers: Ryan McDonagh
Regardless of Ryan McDonagh's stellar, stay-at-home-playing style, Henrik Lundqvist is the backbone of the New York Rangers. After being acquired by the Canadiens in 2009, McDonagh has had no problem fitting in with the Rangers -- which ultimately resulted in him gaining captaincy of the club. McDonagh is a minute muncher and can play in all situations; with his good size and physical play, McDonagh is one of the most-reliable defenders in the game.
The Rangers currently sit in the first wild-card spot in the East, with a tough, potential matchups against candidates such as the Capitals or the Canadiens, look for McDonagh to log in a shift out there.
10 Ottawa Senators: Mike Hoffman
Erik Karlsson may be the Ottawa Senators' MVP, but Mike Hoffman is a natural goal scorer. The Kitchener-Waterloo native owns a quick release and has a good nose for the net. Hoffman has always been an excellent option on the powerplay and tends to burn teams on the man advantage -- making him an excellent asset for the Senators going forward.
Hoffman currently tied with Mark Stone for the team lead in rips and is on pace for his first 30-goal season this year.
9 Philadelphia Flyers: Wayne Simmonds
If someone were to have told me Wayne Simmonds would hit 30 goals in his career, I wouldn't have believed them. Yet here we are, on the brink of Simmer hitting 30 goals for the second time in his career. Although Claude Giroux is still a better player, Simmonds has proved a lot of doubters wrong by showing he is a legitimate 30-goal scorer. His gritty play intimidates his opponents and often opens up room for his teammates.
And if you need more proof, Simmonds currently leads the Flyers in rips this year...by 8. That's right, the second-most goals on the team is 19 -- belonging to Braydon Schenn.
8 Pittsburgh Penguins: Evgeni Malkin
I'm going to get this out of the way early -- Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world, whether you like it or not. There is one player though who could give him a run for his money, and that's Evgeni Malkin. Arguably one of the most skilled players in the league, Malkin holds onto the puck like it's attached to a string. A natural-point producer, Geno piles up points either by highlight-reel goals or ridiculous playmaking. A victim of consistent injury, Malkin hasn't played a full season since 08-09.
After a hot playoff performance and a second Stanley Cup, Geno will be giving it his all to ensure he obtains his third Cup.
7 St. Louis Blues: Alex Pietrangelo
The St. Louis Blues have lost some key players to free agency, but their captain, Alex Pietrangelo, is here to stay. Although he doesn't hold as much value as the young Russian stud, Vladimir Tarasenko, he's one of the better defencemen in the league. He's a versatile D that can play on the powerplay or shorthanded. A product of Canadian-Olympic hockey, Pietrangelo has always played the right way.
The Blues are currently in the last playoff spot and will need Pietrangelo to shut things down if they want to hang on to that last spot.
6 San Jose Sharks: Joe Pavelski
Joe Pavelski is without a doubt the San Jose Sharks' best forward; however, it's hard to label him as the MVP of the club when they have the bearded beast, Brent Burns, holding down the fort on the backend. Nonetheless, Little Joe is one of the most lethal snipers in today's game. He managed to take the Sharks to their first Stanley Cup final in franchise history -- totaling a remarkable 23 points in 24 games. Pavelski is a proven Elite-NHL-Scoring threat.
Pavelski's small structure and persistence allows him to get to the dirty areas - ending with him either tipping it or ripping it home.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning: Nikita Kucherov
You can't argue against Steven Stamkos being the Lightning's best player, but if you were to argue against it, chances are it's with Russian-Sniper Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov carries a quick release and a heavy shot - making many compare him to the Great 8. With Stamkos' health always being questioned, the Lightning have always had a great-second option with Kucherov. Going to the Stanley Cup finals and the Eastern Conference finals in the last two seasons, Kucherov played a crucial role in both runs.
Kucherov's explosive stride and quick release are the qualities of the NHL's best. With the Lightning selling players at the deadline, it looks as though playoffs may not be a reality this season. Look for the Lightning to have a major bounceback season if they can stay healthy.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs: Mitchell Marner
Auston Matthews is the Maple Leafs best player and he always will be - it's not up for discussion. That's no dirt off of Mitch Marner's shoulders; he's an organic point producer and maintains excellent skating ability. Marner has erased all doubt that he couldn't play in the NHL this season by taking huge strides this season. The Leafs drafted a stud in Marner.
Although he's small, Marner's an absolute force on the powerplay, with 15 of his points coming with the man advantage. Leaf fans should get excited about this guy.
3 Vancouver Canucks: Bo Horvat
Once referred to as a "left-handed Joe Pavelski", Bo Horvat has provided the fans of the Vancouver Canucks a glimmer of hope as they gradually get set for a rebuild. Horvat was voted to this season's all-star game over team captain, Henrik Sedin, due to his strong play. With both of the Sedins aging, it's only a matter of time until the 21-year old's average-ice time of 17:01 jumps up to even larger minutes. With his gritty, two-way playing style and an excellent hockey sense Horvat would be an asset on any NHL team.
Horvat currently leads the Canucks in goal scoring and points.
2 Washington Capitals: Nicklas Backstrom
Arguably one of the best playmakers in today's game, Nicklas Backstrom has been the Washington Capitals best player this season. With that being said, it's hard to claim Backstrom as the club's MVP when the generation's best-goal scorer, Alex Ovechkin, is on the same roster. Backstrom is certainly accountable for a large-chunk of Ovechkin's success and has extraordinary vision - allowing him to find teammates on the ice with ease. His relaxed style of game makes every deke, pass, shot or takeaway look effortless and has been Washington's number-one center for a few years now.
If the Capitals are able to continue their scoring ways it appears that Backstrom could hit upwards of 60 apples on the season.
1 Winnipeg Jets: Patrik Laine
Owner of one of the most elite releases in the game, Patrik Laine is no joke. The 19-year old has 30 goals in 55 games so far this season and is on pace to reach the 40-goal plateau in his rookie season - not to shabby for the Finnish sniper. Having the opportunity to play with the uprising Mark Scheifele has certainly helped the rookie offensively. The ongoing debate between Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine will be similar to those of Crosby and Ovechkin.
Laine's lethal shot has landed him a spot on the point for the Jet's first-powerplay unit; he also plays on his offside, much like Ovie - opening the door for him to tee up clappers. Laine's ceiling is extremely high.
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