Mitch Marner

Ranking the NHL's Top 100 players for 2020: Nos. 75-51

Ranking the NHL's Top 100 players for 2020: Nos. 75-51

With the NHL getting ready to go back to work with training camps across the league set to start on July 10 for a Return to Play, what better time to discuss the Top 100 players in the NHL right now.

Certainly, we took the shortened regular season into account along with the player’s body of work prior to this year, and with a little projection as to how much room they have to grow in the future. Put it all together and you’ve got a mix of two-way centers, high-scoring wings, hard-hitting defensemen and red-hot goaltenders who combine to get the best 100 players in the league.

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Here’s the second 25 (Nos. 75-51) of those players as we count down from 100 all the way back down to 1 with apologies to familiar players like Phil Kessel, P.K. Subban and Henrik Lundqvist, all of whom fell out of the Top 100 with tough seasons this past year.

75. William Nylander, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs

Now that he’s removed from the contract squabbles, Nylander is back to being one of the best young players on a young, talented Maple Leafs roster. He still has defensive issues and isn’t as dominant as one would like him to be a nightly basis, but he posted 31 goals and 59 points in 68 games before the regular season went on pause in mid-March.

He’s only 23 years old so there’s time to improve, but he’s also clearly not up with peers from his age group like David Pastrnak and Leon Draisaitl.

74. Sebastian Aho, LW, Carolina Hurricanes

The fact that the Aho got both Hart and Selke votes last season at just 21 years old should let everybody know that he’s a force to be reckoned with down in Carolina.

Sure, he went through the whole offer sheet fiasco when he almost bolted for Montreal. But he bounced back with 38 goals and 66 points in 68 games this season before the games went on pause, and he was still a plus-10 while also leading the NHL with four shorthanded goals this season. He was well on his way to 40 goals this season and seems to keep getting better every season.

73. Jaccob Slavin, D, Carolina Hurricanes

Extremely underrated because he’s not a pure offensive defenseman, Slavin is an old-fashioned two-way D-man with size (6-foot-3, 207-pounds), decent offense with six goals and 36 points in 68 games and a plus-30 mark that shows how he excels at both ends of the ice.

Slavin keeps growing support each season for All-Star consideration and the Norris Trophy as well, and is one of the best defensemen in the NHL that nobody talks about. The Stanley Cup Playoffs may have been a bit of a learning curve for him last season, but he just keeps getting better.

72. David Krejci, C, Boston Bruins

After posting 20 goals and 73 points last season in a standout year for the veteran center, the 33-year-old Krejci had fallen back a bit this year with 13 goals and 43 points in 61 games. He was a plus-10 and was playing 17:10 of ice time per game while driving things on Boston’s second line with an inconsistent Jake DeBrusk and a group of musical wingers on the right-hand side. So he wasn’t getting much help either.

Krejci did show how much greatness he is capable of, however, when he centered Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak for a couple of weeks when Patrice Bergeron was out with injury. Krejci has precision passing skills and a keen hockey I.Q. and those things become weapons when he’s playing with big scorers on his line.  

71. Mikko Rantanen, RW, Colorado Avalanche

After back-to-back 80 point seasons, Rantanen took a little bit of a step back this year due to injuries. He had just 19 goals and 42 points in 41 games while the Avs had a hard time keeping their super line of Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon together, and Rantanen was back to being a minus player after a couple of years in the positive.

Rantanen also had six goals and 14 points in 12 games during last spring’s playoffs and showed there’s an extra gear there when it matters most. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right winger just keeps getting better and better.

70. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Arizona Coyotes

A lifelong member of the Coyotes organization, the 28-year-old Ekman-Larsson was enjoying another solid year with nine goals and 30 points in 66 games in Arizona. He was also only a minus-3 after some pretty rough defensive seasons in the recent past, so that’s not too shabby for a guy who's a minus-92 for his entire NHL career.

He was also one goal short of scoring double-digit goals for the seventh straight season and had only finished under 40 points once in the last seven years.

69. Morgan Rielly, D, Toronto Maple Leafs

Coming off 20 goals and 72 points for the Maple Leafs last season, the bar was set pretty high for Rielly headed into this year. Instead he was with a Maple Leafs team that struggled out the gate and resulted in Mike Babcock getting fired while Rielly took a major step back with just three goals and 27 points in 47 games.

Some of that might have been about losing out on offensive chances to new D-man Tyson Barrie, but perhaps some of it was also about last season being a bit of a monster, aberrational year for the 26-year-old former first round pick. Still, he’s good enough to be the No. 1 guy in Toronto right now.

68. Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Calgary Flames

The 6-foot-2, 202-pound Tkachuk has certainly made a name for himself in Calgary, where he’s a power forward who can beat you with his physicality, his offense and the attitude he brings to the table as well. Like many Flames players, he took a bit of a step back from last season where he posted 34 goals and 77 points while totaling over 200 shots on goal for the first time in his career.

This season, he dipped into the minus and had just 23 goals and 61 points in 69 games, but he’d also become a major crap-stirrer in games against the L.A. Kings and Edmonton Oilers. There aren’t many guys in the league like Tkachuk anymore, so it’s important to fully credit the guys who do play that way.

67. Jordan Binnington, G, St. Louis Blues

The runner-up for the Calder Trophy last season and a player who got Vezina, Hart and All-Star votes while leading the Blues to their first Stanley Cup title, Binnington wasn’t quite as brilliant this year. But he was still solid with a 30-13-7 record along with a .912 save percentage and 2.56 goals against average, and was dealing just fine with heightened expectations after he stormed onto the scene as a 26-year-old rookie.

Binnington could be one of the best in another year or two as he keeps getting comfortable at the NHL level, but he’s already shown he’s a big-time performer in the playoffs.

66. Zach Werenski, D, Columbus Blue Jackets

The 22-year-old Werenski was enjoying his best NHL season this year with 20 goals and 41 points in 63 games while averaging a career-best 23:59 of ice time per game. He also bounced back from a tough defensive season last year to be a plus-9 this season for a Blue Jackets group that wasn’t nearly as talented as they were a season ago.

He should get the most Norris Trophy consideration he’s ever received this year when it comes time to tabulate the votes and he’s just scratching the surface of how good he can be as he gets into his mid-20s.

65. Travis Konecny, C, Philadelphia Flyers

Another member of the 2015 NHL Draft, the 23-year-old Konecny was in the midst of setting career-highs with 24 goals and 61 points in 66 games while becoming one of the young leaders on a Flyers team pointed to the playoffs.

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound winger had topped 20 goals and 40 points in each of the previous two seasons, but it appeared that he’d taken his consistency and overall game to a different level this year while doing much more damage on the power play. The feisty Konecny is a great fit for the Flyers group.

64. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington Capitals

With just 12 goals when the season went on pause, it looked like Backstrom was going to miss out on scoring 20 goals for the first time in five years this season, but the playmaking Swedish center was still nearly a point-per-game with 54 points in 61 games. Impressively, only 18 of his points came on the power play, so Backstrom was earning everything he was getting on the ice offensively.

He’s still one of the best dishers in the entire NHL and forms a dangerous 1-2 combo with Alex Ovechkin when they really get going. He may begin seeing decline in his game at 32 years old, but he should still be a mainstay for the Capitals for years to come.

63. Filip Forsberg, C, Nashville Predators

The 25-year-old Predators center has trailed off a little after back-to-back 30-goal seasons from 2015-2017, but he’s still a premium game-breaker for a Nashville team headed for the playoffs.

Forsberg had 21 goals and 48 points in 63 games for the Predators when the regular season went on pause in mid-March, but was also headed to being a minus player for just the second time in six seasons. But the potential is there for the 6-foot-1, 205-pound pivot to really take over games and he’s shown it in the postseason with 21 goals and 44 points in 61-career playoff games.

62. Tomas Hertl, C, San Jose Sharks

Injuries and a lousy Sharks team conspired to railroad his season this year with 16 goals and 36 points in 48 games along with a minus-18 rating, but he’s a premium talent who's shown it in flashes. He also put together a season where he posted 35 goals and 74 points in 77 games last season and earned Lady Byng consideration in the process.

It hasn’t been quite as smooth this season for the 26-year-old center, but everyone knows he’s a big, skilled dominating force when healthy. The 10 goals in 19 playoff games last spring were a testament to that as well.

61. Tyler Seguin, C, Dallas Stars

One of the most athletically gifted players in the entire NHL, the 28-year-old Seguin is another player with so-so numbers this season with just 17 goals and 50 points in 69 games. Some of that is about a much greater attention with the Stars' approach to defense and playing the 200-foot game, but still we’re talking about a guy who just last season had 33 goals and 80 points in 82 games.

Two seasons ago he scored 40 goals for the first time in his career. This year he was barely going to break 20 goals and clearly is better than that when he’s at his best. Both Seguin and Jamie Benn could have stood to be better in Dallas this season.  

60. Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals

A two-time All-Star, Vezina Trophy winner, Jennings Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champ, Holtby was not having a good year by his standards in Washington. Holtby had a 3.11 goals against average and .897 save percentage and had lost some playing time to youngster Ilya Samsonov as the season rolled on.

In fact there was some question who was going to man the pipes for the Capitals in the playoffs. Interestingly enough, he hasn’t been quite as good since the Capitals winning season in 2017-18, but he’s still young enough to turn things around at 30 years old.

59. Seth Jones, D, Columbus Blue Jackets

Normally a workhorse who plays more than 25 minutes per game, Jones was injured this season and had just six goals and 30 points in 56 games with a plus-10 rating. But he was averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game and the pause to the season has allowed him time to get healthy for a return when the playoffs happen in August.

He hasn’t been as good in the last few years as he was when he snagged All-Star honors with 16 goals and 57 points for the Blue Jackets in 2017-18, but he is a No. 1 defenseman who’s fully capable of greatness. The 6-foot-4, 209-pounder has everything you could want in a franchise D-man and he’s got a partner in Zach Werenski who's just as talented.   

58. Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames

Like many other Flames players, Johnny Hockey was not close to his best this year. with nearly half as many goals (18) and points (58) as last season in 70 games played. He was also a career-worst minus-10 for the Flames this year, so he wasn’t his standout self at either end of the ice in Calgary.

Given that he’d averaged around 30 goals and 90 points the two prior seasons and was good enough to finish fourth in the Hart Trophy voting last season, one has to believe that things are going to be a lot better for the 26-year-old Gaudreau when the NHL is playing again. He’s way too good to have struggled like he did this year.

57. Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh Penguins

A two-time Cup winner and two-time All-Star, Letang has come back from concussion issues to continue being an extremely effective top defenseman for the Penguins. Letang finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 61 games while playing to an even plus/minus rating and has averaged over 25 minutes of ice time in each of the last six seasons for Pittsburgh.

Letang has only finished as a Norris finalist once and has been top-5 just twice in his NHL career, which seems like a criminal underrating for a scrappy, skilled player who has been a leader on an excellent Penguins team.

56. Brock Boeser, RW, Vancouver Canucks

The 22-year-old Boeser has been a key part of a youth movement with the Vancouver Canucks, but battled injuries this season while putting up 16 goals and 45 points in 57 games. He’s gone upwards of 20 goals and 50 points in each of his first two NHL seasons.

In the good news department, he was a plus player for the first time after finishing in the minus in each of his first two seasons. It’s about offense with Boeser, though, who features a dangerous shot from the wing and has good size (6-foot-1, 208-pounds) to mix it up physically. He should be back healthy once the playoffs begin while Vancouver hopes he continues to improve after locking him up long-term.

55. Ben Bishop, G, Dallas Stars

The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Bishop has been instrumental in Dallas shifting to a greater defense-and-goaltending approach and was enjoying an excellent year with a .920 save percentage and a 2.50 goals against average. Bishop had teamed with Anton Khudobin to be an outstanding 1-2 combo between the pipes and was coming off an All-Star season last year where he finished as the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy.

He could be in the running again this season as a finalist and would appear to be at the peak of his game at 33 years old. My only question is how long a big-bodied goaltender like Bishop will be able to keep in peak form.

54. Mitch Marner, RW Toronto Maple Leafs

Mitch Marner can certainly score points. After nearly getting to 100 points last season, Marner battled through injuries and early Toronto struggles to still post 15 goals and 67 points in 59 games this year.

Marner is ultra-quick and ultra-skilled while forming a lethal 1-2-3 combo with Auston Matthews and William Nylander, and should be poised to dominate in the Atlantic Division for years to come. Last season he garnered All-Star, Selke and Lady Byng consideration and should continue to threaten in those categories for years while also dangerous with the puck on his stick. 

53. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Vegas Golden Knights

The 35-year-old Quebec native continues to enjoy a second chapter in his NHL career with the Vegas Golden Knights. MAF was 27-16-5 this season with five shutouts and had decent .905 save percentage and 2.77 goals against average numbers this year.

Flower isn’t always able to stay healthy throughout the year and needs a good backup supporting him these days, but he showed a couple of seasons ago how good he can still be in the playoffs while leading the Knights to the Cup Final. There’s a reason he was a No. 1 overall pick back in the day and is approaching Hall of Fame status with his career numbers and three Stanley Cups. 

52. John Klingberg, D, Dallas Stars

The 27-year-old Klingberg is another Dallas player who seems to have made the transition from all-offense to two-way player this season for the greater good. After routinely racking up double-digit goal totals and big points as an offensive D-man for the run-and-gun Stars, Klingberg six goals and 32 points in 58 games this year while dealing with some injuries.

He was also a minus-10, which tells you the adjustment to tighter defense was a challenge for him. Still, he’s a guy who's garnered All-Star, Norris and Lady Byng consideration during his NHL career and has career highs of 13 goals and 67 points as a defenseman. 

51. Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks

While Toews might not be the guy he once was when the Blackhawks were winning Stanley Cups, he’s still a premier two-way center and Selke Trophy favorite each and every year. Toews had 18 goals and 60 points in 70 games when the regular season went on pause, but was also a minus player for just the second time in his entire NHL career for a struggling Chicago team.

The 31-year-old Toews got off to a rough start to the year before catching fire midway through, but should have plenty of energy stored when Chicago gets to take part in the playoffs this summer. That’s when Captain Serious gets really series.

Bruins' Perfection Line is again the NHL's best and the rest of the league is trying to get in on the action

Bruins' Perfection Line is again the NHL's best and the rest of the league is trying to get in on the action

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and that most certainly applies to the competitive world of the NHL.

The Bruins didn’t end up hoisting the Stanley Cup last summer, but they did end up as one of the final two teams playing for Lord Stanley’s chalice at the very end. They made it that far partially because of the incredible circumstance of all four top playoff seeds amazingly ousted in the first round, but also in large part due to the high-powered, dominance of their top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.

Of course, the Perfection Line was effectively bottled up in the Stanley Cup Final by the Blues and that turned out to be a major storyline behind Boston’s ultimate defeat in the ultimate playoff.

Still, that didn’t discourage the Black and Gold from continuing with the Perfection Line setup this season and the results are impossible to argue a little more than a month into the regular season.

Pastrnak is tearing up the NHL with 14 goals and 29 points in 14 games, Marchand is right behind with 28 points after his second five-point game of the season (three assists and two goals, including the game-winner in the final two minutes in the 6-4 win over the Penguins on Monday night) and Bergeron is on pace to be a 40-goal scorer and point-per-game player as the NHL’s best two-way center.

The trio has been the best line in hockey the past two seasons, but they are taking it to a different level lately after getting bottled up against the Blues last spring.

They are a handful for any opponent on any night and unstoppable on nights such as Monday when they have their chemistry working and one of them goes off, as Marchand did, when the opponent doesn’t have adequate defensive assets to neutralize them. All three forwards scored against the Penguins.

Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak have combined for a ridiculous 31 goals in 14 games, meaning their line averages more offense (2.21 goals per game) than the entire Detroit Red Wings (2.13 goals) and has scored as many as the entire Chicago Blackhawks team this season.

“The way that they can pass the puck, and you even see it in practice that they always make the extra pass. I’d focus on taking away those chances to make the extra pass to each other, but that definitely would not be an easy task,” said Brandon Carlo, when asked how he’d approach shutting down the Perfection Line as a shutdown D-man. “I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it. I think they set a great example and they obviously have a lot of success with putting pucks in the net. Their chemistry is unbelievable and unmatched in a way. I don’t think it’s a surprise to see other teams trying to emulate what a top line in the league would be doing. It’s fun and it’s a challenge when teams put their top players on a certain line.”

So, it looks like the Perfection Line is going to be the NHL’s best trio for the third year in a row, but now they are starting to attract a lot more company. Other teams have clearly taken note of the damage a front-loaded top line is doing and they've moved to make themselves more like Boston’s best.  

In an NHL that routinely copycats those achieving success, those teams are attempting to replicate the Bruins successful formula with varying degrees of success compared to the real thing in Boston.

Colorado has obviously been doing it the past couple of seasons with Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. That’s been a part of the Avs resurgence into a playoff team. Similarly, the Tampa Bay Lightning started the season with Steve Stamkos, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov headlining the Bolts attack, and injuries forced Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander into a top line for the Maple Leafs for a time while John Tavares was out.

Given the early-season matchups between the Bruins with Tampa Bay and Toronto, the B’s got a bird's-eye view look at other top teams loading up on their forwards due to both design and circumstance, and took note of it. It certainly upped the level of challenge for Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak knowing they’d be locking up against the other team’s best, and it brought out their best in the season’s first month.

“I think teams are seeing the benefits of doing it. Not everybody has the ability to do it on every team, but when you have the depth we have it’s great to keep certain guys together if they have great chemistry on a line. I think the biggest thing is you find the recipe that makes your team successful and you stick with it,” said Marchand. “It’s something that’s working and that’s the way it’s been here. It’s fun to see the different talent and abilities in the league nowadays.

“Every night there’s a team with a very good top line and if we end up against them we enjoy it and take pride in playing against them.”

Out in Edmonton, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have been teamed with the resurgent James Neal to push the Oilers to the top of the Western Conference. There are plenty of examples of other teams at least attempting to go heavy offense on their top forward line, so that’s a testament to what the Bruins have been doing the past few seasons.

“I could see teams doing it and the argument becomes ‘Do you have enough balance [in your lineup]?’ Each team has to decide that, but we’ve decided to stick with our guys [on the top line] right or wrong for the most part,” said Bruce Cassidy. “It’s a copycat league and if that’s what they feel works then I could see [more teams going top-heavy].”

As we’ve all see in Boston, it can turn from strength into exploitable weakness against high-caliber teams in the biggest moments as well. Nobody needs to look any further than the Stanley Cup Final when a big, strong and physical Blues team pushed a banged-up Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak to the outside and took advantage of individual issues bothering each of the three after the two-month playoff grind.

If a team can shut down the super-powered line at the top, then it becomes a little easier to shut down a team such as the Bruins as a whole. Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak were held to just two even-strength goals in the seven-game Cup Final. The Bruins were so reliant on their Perfection Line that they didn’t have enough other assets to get by St. Louis. A similar thing played out two postseasons ago when the Bruins went out in the second round against a similarly big, strong and physical Tampa Bay defense that also frustrated the Perfection guys in 5-on-5 play.

Still, nobody is shutting down the B’s Perfection Line right now no matter which opponent is put in front of them.

“We don’t really pay attention to what’s going on around us,” said Pastrnak. “We just focus on our team. There are challenges along the way and it’s good motivation for us to face [other super lines] and get us going.”

That’s all Pastrnak needs is extra motivation when the 23-year-old looks like a lock for 50 goals and 100 points this season.

There will be times when the offense won’t be coming so easily for Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak, and there will be instances when the Bruins philosophy to stack their top line will be challenged. It was good enough to get to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last season, but not good enough over the course of the grueling seven games to finish the job.

It’s worth noting, though, that while local hockey fans might decry the one-dimensional slant of the Bruins offense and the sporadic nature of their secondary scoring, other organizations around the NHL are intently watching what the Black and Gold are doing and attempting to adapt it to their own programs.

The Perfection Line is the envy of the rest of the NHL and is truly unstoppable when going through the kind of stretches they’ve enjoyed in the first 14 games of this season.

 

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Bruins must slow Leafs' Mitch Marner before NHL playoff series slips away

Bruins must slow Leafs' Mitch Marner before NHL playoff series slips away

Mitch Marner is a great scorer, but it was his toughness that stole the show for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the dying seconds of Game 3 on Monday night.

The 22-year-old forward blocked two David Pastrnak shots in the final seconds of the third period to secure the Leafs' 3-2 victory, giving them a 2-1 lead in their first-round 2019 Stanley Cup playoff series against the Boston Bruins.

Marner's offense has been a driving force for the Leafs in this series versus the Bruins. He scored two goals in Toronto's Game 1 win and added an assist in his team's Game 3 triumph. He's also posted 13 shots on goal through the three games. Marner now has 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 10 career playoff games against Boston dating back to last season's first-round matchup.

The postseason isn't the only time Marner shines against the B's, though. He's scored 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 12 career regular-season games versus Boston. 

Toronto's top line is outplaying Boston's top line by a considerable margin. Marner and his center, John Tavares, each have three points in the series. They found the scoresheet in both of the Leafs' wins and were held scoreless in the Bruins' lone victory in Game 2.

Marner was drafted No. 4 overall in 2015 by the Leafs and has increased his scoring total in each of the last two seasons. The 2018-19 campaign was his breakout, evidenced by a team-leading 94 points (26 goals, 68 assists) in 82 games to help Toronto notch back-to-back 100-point seasons for the first time in team history.

The Bruins have mostly matched up the Patrice Bergeron line, one of the best defensive trios in the league, against Marner, and the results haven't been positive for Boston. Marner is driving puck possession above 57 percent (using the Corsi-For percentage stat) during 5-on-5 play versus the Bergeron line in this series, per Natural Stat Trick. Anything over 50 percent is good, and 57 percent is quite good. Sure, the sample size is very small (three games), but it highlights a matchup that will have a profound impact on the outcome of the series.

Marner is the engine driving the Leafs, and if the Bruins don't slow him down, Toronto likely will march past Boston and into the Eastern Conference semifinals.

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