Who are the best hockey players in the NHL today? The NHL has never enjoyed such a bounty of talent, and narrowing down the list of the greatest players was a struggle indeed. After agonizing over my choices I've finally whittled down the list. Here are my picks for the top 10 NHL hockey players playing today:
10 Pavel Datsyuk
Whatever the Detroit Red Wings' scouting staff are being paid it isn't enough. The year before they took Henrik Zetterberg 210th overall the Wings snagged this Russian star 171st overall. Those two players have gone on to form the cornerstone of the Wing's offense over the past several years. As great as Zetterberg has become Datsyuk is even better. He is arguably the best stickhandler in the league, and goaltenders' knees start knocking when he skates out to center for the shootout. Amazingly, as offensively gifted as he is that isn't the strongest part of his game. He leads the league in takeaways on a regular basis and is one of the game's best penalty killers. His incredible defensive play hasn't gone ignored. Datsyuk is the three-time defending Frank J. Selke Trophy winner as the league's best defensive forward. He is so smart that he almost doesn't require coaching, and is a huge reason why the Wings have been the closest thing to a dynasty the NHL has seen over the last decade.
9 Steven Stamkos
When the Tampa Bay Lightning selected this former Sarnia Sting star with the first overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft I'm sure they had high hopes he would blossom into a superstar. I don't think in their wildest dreams they anticipated it would happen this quickly. After a decent rookie campaign that saw him net 23 goals and 46 points Stamkos absolutely exploded in his sophomore year. A master of finding dead spots in coverage and possessed of an absolutely wicked one-timer, Steve Stamkos is very reminiscent of a player by the name of Brett Hull, who feasted on opposing goalies, particularly during his time with the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars. Stamkos has more weapons in his arsenal than just his incredible shot though. He's always hungry for goals and will crash the net to get them. He has the hands and the speed to beat guys one on one as well. All this talent helped him pot 51 goals and a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy last season. In my opinion this guy has several more of those in his future and is my pick to lead the league in goals this season.
8 Daniel Sedin
If anyone can challenge Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin for the title of deadliest NHL duo it is this man and his twin brother Henrik. For years they've made a living cycling the puck in the offensive zone, seeming to read each other's minds as they make one no-look tape-to-tape pass after another. However, earlier in their careers they could never seem to turn all that puck possession into goals. That has changed in recent years, and last year the twins enjoyed a career year. Unfortunately for Daniel he spent nearly a quarter of the season shelved with an injury. Despite playing in only 63 games he potted 85 points and had he played a full season he very likely would have challenged brother Henrik in the Art Ross Trophy race. If he can play a full 82 games this year Daniel will certainly be in the mix for the NHL scoring lead this year.
7 Jonathan Toews
As great as Mike Richards and Pavel Datsyuk are in my opinion the best two-way forward in the NHL today is Jonathan Toews. Toews' offensive stats might pale in comparison to some others on this list, but when the game is on the line no one delivers more consistently than Toews. His reputation as a clutch player was first established when he scored three straight shootout goals against the Americans to secure Canada a berth in the gold medal game of the 2007 World Junior Championships. He cemented it by leading Team Canada to a gold medal in 2010, and then captaining the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup, earning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, that same year. His consistency, his determination, and his ability to deliver under pressure make him one of the greatest leaders in the game today, despite his relative youth, and you can bet Toews will continue to be a force in the NHL for many years to come.
6 Duncan Keith
As key as Toews is to his team's success I would argue that it is blueliner Duncan Keith that is the Blackhawks' most valuable asset. Keith plays huge minutes for the Hawks, patrolling the blueline in all key situations, including powerplay, penalty killing, and in the final minutes of games, regardless of whether his team is ahead or behind. He was second in scoring among d-men last season with 69 points, and his potent offensive ability, combined with his talent as a shutdown man earned him the 2010 Norris Trophy. At just 27 years of age it is likely that Keith is actually still improving. Even Drew Doughty will have trouble wresting the title of the NHL's best defenseman from this superstar blueliner's hands.
5 Evgeni Malkin
Though last year was certainly an off year for the hulking Russian centerman there can be little argument that Evgeni Malkin deserves a spot in the top 5 best players in the NHL today. Remember, Malkin is just a year removed from winning both the Art Ross and the Conn Smythe trophies, and part of his struggles last year were due to injuries that caused him to miss 15 games. Look for Malkin to have a bounceback year and again challenge for the scoring lead.
4 Ryan Miller
The best goalie in the NHL today, without question, Ryan Miller has surpassed both Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo to earn the title of stingiest netminder in the game. Miller was absolutely superlative for the Buffalo Sabres last year, reminding many of the heyday of Dominik Hasek. Miller's spectacular play was the sole reason the Buffalo Sabres not only reached the post-season, but finished first in their division, securing third place in the Eastern Conference. His heroics earned him the Vezina Trophy and many around the hockey world were surprised when he wasn't named a Hart Trophy finalist. At just 30 years of age Miller is in the prime of his career. Don't be surprised if he improves upon last season and nabs his second straight Vezina.
3 Henrik Sedin
It seems wrong to have the Sedin twins 5 spots apart on the list of the best hockey players. Their career stats have been eerily similar over the years, and they almost seem to share a brain when they are tap-dancing on opposing d-men. However, I can't ignore Henrik Sedin's incredible season last year, where he managed to fend off Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin to capture not only the Art Ross Trophy but the Hart Trophy as well. Even more impressive is that he accomplished this feat with his brother out with injury for nearly a quarter of the season. If the pair can stay healthy for the full 82 games then Henrik certainly has a shot at another scoring title, and his main competition might end up being his own brother.
2 Alexander Ovechkin
Only a whisker's breadth separated my number two and number one selections. Alexander Ovechkin has been a one man wrecking crew ever since he entered the league in 2005. He is the most feared shooter in the game, and goaltenders shake in their pads when they see this burly Russian winger bearing down on them. Goalies aren't the only ones with cause for nervousness when the Great 8 is on the ice. He is also one of the most punishing hitters in the game, and he is without fear when in pursuit of the puck, crushing his opponents and taking the frozen biscuit as his prize. His combination of speed, size and skill make him the complete offensive package, and as the newest captain of the Washington Capitals he has shown himself to be an inspirational leader as well. Look for Ovechkin to again be a heavy favorite to capture the Hart, Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies this season.
1 Sidney Crosby
If Ovechkin is the favorite to capture the bulk of the NHL's most coveted individual hardware you might wonder why I've put #87 at the top of the list of the NHL's best players. There isn't much to choose between these two great stars. However, Ovechkin's stats are surely bolstered because he gets to play with talented Swedish center Nicklas Backstrom on a nightly basis. Crosby, on the other hand, rarely has the luxury of playing with another superstar. On most nights guys like Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, or Mike Comrie can be found on his wings - not exactly household names. Yes, on occasion he will get a shift with Evgeni Malkin, but as they are both centers that is a rare experiment. Despite playing with guys who should be pulling duty on the third line Crosby has continually put up big numbers. He had another great season last year, scoring a career high 51 goals (1 more than Ovechkin), earning a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy with Steven Stamkos, and 109 points to finish second in league scoring behind Henrik Sedin. I wouldn't bank on Crosby nabbing the Richard Trophy again this season, but he will certainly be in the hunt for both the Art Ross and the Hart, and no doubt will show up on the highlight reel on a regular basis.