Seth Jones

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.

Haggerty: Bruins should go bold and tender an offer sheet to Seth Jones

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Haggerty: Bruins should go bold and tender an offer sheet to Seth Jones

The Boston Bruins are desperate for a No. 1 franchise defenseman, what with Zdeno Chara turning 40 this season.

Just how desperate is the question.

General manager Don Sweeney is hard at work to bolster the team's defense corps. Trade talks are percolating for puck-moving, All-Star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, and there are several other irons on the fire.

Barring development of a diamond-in-the-rough defenseman (the way Duncan Keith developed in Chicago), that's the route -- going outside the organization -- the Bruins are going to have to take. They don't appear to have a No. 1 defenseman-in-the-making on hand, despite the obvious talents of young, developing players like Brandon Carlo, Robbie O’Gara, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon. Nor does it appear they'll be able to draft their future franchise d-man with the 14th overall pick in the first round. 

Unfortunately, young players like Sami Vatanen are getting locked up to long-term deals, while fellow promising young D’s -- Colorado’s Tyson Barrie, Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba -- appear destined to remain with their current teams. The Bruins will be hard-pressed to muster offers tempting enough to land other young defensemen like Hampus Lindholm or Matthew Dumba, particularly if names like Taylor Hall and Matt Duchene get dangled by Edmonton and Colorado, respectively.

So here’s an outside-the-box thought that anybody involved with the Bruins would have to consider, seeing that their long-term future is very much in question right now:

What about a massive offer sheet to restricted free agent defenseman Seth Jones?

He won't come cheap. Thanks to their own missteps -- dealing a second-round 2017 pick to New Jersey for Lee Stempniak, flat-out wasting their 2017 third-round pick in the Zac Rinaldo trade with the Flyers -- the Bruins don't have enough compensation picks to make a reasonable offer to a restricted RFA. So they would need to make an offer of $9.3 million per season, and forfeit their next four first-round draft choices, in order to qualify for an offer sheet to the 21-year-old Jones.

But he would be the young, big-bodied franchise defenseman the B's need, and the move would be similar to a bold one made 10 years ago when they landed the prototypical big-bodied, franchise defenseman in Chara.

The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Jones struggled last season with 3 goals and 31 points along with a minus-14 rating in 81 games for Nashville and Columbus, and he looked every bit the young D-man in late-season games against the Bruins. But he’s also the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, and still projects to be a frontline, franchise No. 1 defenseman once he grows into his massive body, gains NHL-level experience, and sees his game mature . . . like so many other young blueliners on a learning curve.

A $9.3 million cap hit would be 12.7 percent of Boston’s salary cap starting in 2016-17, and moves would obviously need to be made to fit him and Chara under the cap for next season. But to put it in perspective: Chara’s $7.5 million contract was 17 percent of Boston’s $44 million cap availability in 2006-07, his first year in Boston. The Bruins took a short-term hit on the huge deal that season, but watched the contract become reasonable as the salary cap consistently rose over the last 10 years.

If the Bruins believe Seth Jones could be the next Chara-type franchise defenseman, he certainly could be worth the monetary investment.

As far as the four first-round picks are concerned, losing them would be painful as well. But perhaps not as painful as one might think, given that -- since they'd start surrendering the choices in June 2017 -- the Bruins will have made five first-round picks in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 drafts, replenishing their prospect cupboard. And, besides, the Bruins could be picking in the 10-20 range for the foreseeable future as they’re stuck in the middle with a serviceable-but-not-good lineup on the cusp of the playoffs. They'd never got a shot at a Seth Jones-type player in the draft over the next four years anyway.

Also, the Bruins haven’t exactly consistently killed it with their first-round picks over the last 10 years. So perhaps shooting for the moon with Jones is a much safer bet than hoping to hit gold with a mid-first-round choice.

Offer sheets to restricted free agents are the exception rather than the norm in the NHL, where GM’s don’t want to break form from the other 29 members of the fraternity. In Boston’s case, however, part of the reason the B's lost Dougie Hamilton last season was fear of the Edmonton Oilers were going to swoop in with an offer sheet. So wouldn’t turnabout be fair play?

Yes, it's a very bold move. Yes, they’d have to ridiculously overpay, given their draft-pick situation.

But it’s something Cam Neely and Don Sweeney -- who need to do something creative, innovative and ballsy in order to reverse Boston’s slide to mediocrity -- should think long and hard about.

Bruins deal with changing market as they seek to acquire defense help

Bruins deal with changing market as they seek to acquire defense help

They're not quite in desperate straits just yet, but the Bruins' search for a viable top-4 “transitional defenseman” hasn't gotten off to a great start.

It began last week, when Avalanche president Joe Sakic said flatly that, despite rumors to the contrary, defenseman Tyson Barrie will be with the Avs next season. It continued when the Coyotes traded a fifth-round pick to Dallas for the negotiating rights to looming unrestricted-free-agent defenseman Alex Goligoski. Barrie certainly could fill a major puck-moving need for the Bruins were he on the trade block, and Goligoski was one of Boston’s top free-agent choices.

Then, over the weekend, Sami Vatanen signed a four-year contract extension with Anaheim just shy of $5 million per season, taking another attractive restricted-free-agent defenseman option off Boston’s potential trade board. That also helped set the market for fellow RFA Torey Krug, who could easily use Vatanen was a comparable while pushing for a new contract with the Bruins.

Clearly, there are still very viable options for Boston. 

Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has indicated a preference to sign Jacob Trouba prior to July 1, but that RFA defenseman's future still seems a bit cloudy. While not often a tool used by NHL GM’s, the offer sheet could conceivably come into play if a team like the Bruins gets desperate enough. Anaheim's Hampus Lindholm, Columbus' Seth Jones and Minnesota's Matthew Dumba are other young, talented RFA defensemen due for new deals prior to July 1, and therefore potentially susceptible to offer sheets if they enter restricted free agency.

The biggest reason the B’s lost Dougie Hamilton a year ago was because they were concerned the Oilers were going to pluck the young puck-mover away with an offer sheet. 

Will turnabout be fair play?

“We had our pro meetings . . . I’m not going to give my whole plan out to you,” general manager Don Sweeney said a couple of weeks ago on a conference call with reporters. “[We're] exploring a bunch of different things trade-wise. It’s difficult in this league, but I think that we’re in the position with two first-round picks to be either selecting really good players, or to be in the [trade] marketplace.”

Perhaps the bigger impediment for the Bruins acquiring a player like Trouba without an offer sheet: Those in the know mention names like Matt Duchene, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as possible players going the other way in a trade with Winnipeg. The Bruins don’t have the kind of young star players to match what a team like Edmonton, or Colorado, could offer.

But there are other avenues to explore. Kevin Shattenkirk has been a trade target of Sweeney's for years, and now it appears the Blues might be forced to deal him in his walk year. The All-Star defenseman would be a perfect fit for Boston, although he’d come with a heavy price. And even if Goligoski winds up with the Coyotes, the Bruins could also still very easily sign a more accomplished puck-moving defenseman like Boston-bred Keith Yandle when free agency opens on July 1.

As reported last week, Sweeney has had discussions about trading for Florida Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. The B’s trade package for Kulikov was said to be something roughly like the 29th pick in the first round of this weekend’s draft, and a top prospect like Frank Vatrano. That’s a steep price, but exactly what Boston will have to pay to fix its back end.

It’s believed Sweeney has made several of those exploratory-type phone calls to several GM’s in recent weeks, seeking alternate options should their original plans dry up.

So while it’s again looking like a stiff challenge for the Bruins -- who failed to move up in the first round to select Noah Hanifin a year ago -- to acquire a defenseman, it’s also not “Mission Impossible: Hockey Edition."

If the Bruins are creative and bold enough, they can find a way to solve their biggest existing problem headed into next season. If not, it'll be same song, different verse when the Black and Gold open in Columbus against the Blue Jackets on Oct. 13.

And that’s not something anybody is looking for.