The Hockey News recently released their Top 50 players and it was a joke. Several were too high (Patrik Elias #11, Rod Brind'Amour #38, Mathieu Schnieder #49) and many were rather low (Martin Havlat #31, Evgeni Malkin #44).
So Paul Kukla, a well respected blogger on his site and nhl.com came up with his top players with a twist. My choices (with his in parenthesis) are as follows:
Best one-on-one offensive player -- Sidney Crosby (Pavel Datysuk) You could probably choose about 6 or 7 players here. I'm going with Crosby because of his drive. I've never seen a player so solid that's motor runs as hard as Sid. I remember him bowling over people a shift against Chicago with less than a minute, refusing to give up the puck, skating around, through, over and making his own chances. Like I said, you could choose a lot of guys (Ovechkin, Datysuk, Heatley, Lecavalier, Kovalchuk, Jagr, Iginla) and make a pretty good case, but give me the youngest MVP and scoring champion in league history.
Best one on one defenseman -- Chris Pronger (Dion Phaneuf). Pronger has it all, size, skill, positioning, experience and great feet. He's mean enough to elbow you in the head without thinking twice of it, but he's really excellent with his stick. I mean second to none in lifting opponent's sticks or poke checking.
Assist man -- With excuses to Joe Thornton (who led the league in assists last year) I'm going Crosby again. Sidney has Mario/Gretzky level vision. It's clear he's seeing the game on a different plane than everyone else out there. For most of the year his wingers were the hopeless Ryan Malone (16 goals) and the aging Mark Recchi (24 goals) but still set them (and Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar) up left and right. Give Crosby Thornton's guy with a nose for the net in Cheechoo and he'd run away with it.
Best pure goal scorer -- Alexander Ovechkin (Ovechkin). His motor (when he has the puck) is on par with Crosby's. You can tell Ovechkin loves to score goals, hell he lives for it. Some say playmaking centers like recent additions Michael Nylander and rookie Nicklas Backstrom will make Ovechkin better. While it can't hurt, I don't think it'll benefit. AO's the unique player where you give him the puck and just let him go.
Power-play specialist --Sheldon Souray (Kovalchuk) Souray had 19 goals and 29 assists on the power play last season. That is ridiculous for a defenseman. A nod goes to Teemu Selanne's 25 PPG, but Souray lets them rip.
Shorthanded specialist -- Martin St. Louis (St. Louis). Me and Kukla agree, St. Louis is so dangerous every time he's on the ice, but especially killing penalties. It doesn't hurt his regular PK partner is one Vincent Lecavalier. Lecavalier and St. Louis have great chemistry and make up for each other's shortcomings, be it size, desire, positioning, or what.
Need one save-- Roberto Luongo (Turco). Last year I would have said Brodeur, but he looked downright human this playoffs. Luongo plays just as much as is money.
The guy you never heard of -- Jonas Hiller, goaltender Ducks (Igor Grigorenko) Kukla said Grigorenko, which I think is BS because 1)it's a homer pick, and 2)I think a prospect that's 23 and had a serious accident that people have heard of him. Hiller, on the other hand, is an unknown at 25 years old. Really, I haven't even heard of him. But if Brian Burke (the smartest GM in the league to me) has 2 solid NHL goalies but still gives this dude a $3.2 million dollar incentive laced contract, he must be good.
Biggest impact on a new team --Scott Gomez (Ryan Smyth) Gomez gets to get out of New Jersey's system and likely centering Jagr and/or Shanahan depending on how they settle the lines. I think he's going to have a great year.
When it gets chippy -- Georges Laraque (Derek Boogaard) This is not a homer pick, this is the truth. Laraque only got in 8 fights because no one has the rocks to throwdown more than that. The amount of post-whistle abuse that Crosby and Malkin took before Laraque was acquired to after he was in black and gold is like the diffence in day and night. Boogaard is a tough customer and heir apparent, but to be the man you have to beat the man. Laraque went 8-0 last season according to the voting from the folks at hockeyfights.com including decision wins over Boogaard and Brashear, although the latter fight was a dud (I was there). Still, you can't do better than 8-0.
Coach for a must-win game --Marc Crawford (John Tortorella) Tortorella is too much of a nutcase and criticizes his own players a little too excessivley to be effective to me. Crawford exudes confidence and has the smarts and the mentality to get the most out of his players in a more constructive manner. PS If Herb Brooks is still alive, obviously he's the pick.
Get under your skin guy -- Sean Avery (Sean Avery) Sean Avery sucks. If he didn't dive and turtle so much I could appreciate his style, since he actually is a good hockey player when he has the puck. But he's a complete jackass.
The home crowd -- Ottawa (San Jose) San Jose has a rockin building, but Ottawa gets the edge because it's Canada and they have the inferiority complex and pent of frustration of being stuck in between Montreal and Toronto.