Cue the outrage!
A panel of Sportsnet hockey insiders, through an intricate voting system, were tasked with ranking the top 100 players for the 2018-19 NHL season, and the results are in.
There are more than 700 players in the NHL so once you get past the no-brainers it becomes somewhat daunting to whittle down that list and settle on the top 100. And when you see some of the players on the outside looking in, you realize how much high-end talent there is across the league.
Naturally, some readers will argue certain players were snubbed, while others might say certain names in the top 100 don’t quite belong. We get it, our list won’t be the same as your list, but generating conversation among hockey fans is kind of the point of the exercise.
Lists like this are always contentious and there are often variables that lead to some interesting results.
For example, when voting began Ilya Kovalchuk had not officially signed with the Los Angeles Kings. He received some votes, but didn’t make the list. Had timing been different, however, the 35-year-old Russian easily could’ve landed somewhere in the top 100 had his official NHL return and role been finalized a bit sooner. Kovalchuk, after all, is the best pure goal scorer we’ve seen in the 21st century not named Alex Ovechkin. From 2001–2013, his first stint in the NHL, Kovalchuk’s 417 goals in 816 games were the most among all players during that stretch.
Meanwhile, Buffalo Sabres rookie Rasmus Dahlin, who went first overall at June’s draft, received votes despite having not yet played an NHL game. The only other players with zero NHL experience to garner votes were Red Wings 2018 first-round selection Filip Zadina and top Vancouver Canucks forward prospect Elias Pettersson.
Overall, the top 100 is comprised of 56 forwards, 29 defencemen and 15 goalies.
With that in mind, here’s a closer look at six players with top-100 talent — three forwards, two defencemen and a goalie — who didn’t quite qualify for the final list.
Schwartz is a high-end talent often overshadowed.
He is sixth in scoring from the 2010 draft class behind only Tyler Seguin, Taylor Hall, Jeff Skinner, Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan Johansen despite ranking 14th in games played.
In fact, Schwartz had been on pace to shatter previous career highs before he suffered an ankle injury on Dec. 9. Schwartz had 14 goals and 21 assists for 35 points in 30 games playing on a line with Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn.
The Blues were 20-8-2 in those 30 games and went 9-10-1 in the 20 games Schwartz ended up missing. His linemates’ numbers dipped significantly when he was out, too, illustrating his importance.
Schwartz, along with his team as a whole, couldn’t quite regain the same form after returning as he scored 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points over the final 32 games of the season and the Blues ended up missing the playoffs by one point — a likely contributing factor to why he was omitted from the list.
The 26-year-old Wilcox, Sask., native makes high-difficulty plays seem routine, yet nothing about Schwartz jumps off the page or screams star power. Yes, he was a first-round pick but never had that shine of a top-10 selection. Even his $5.35-million cap hit just sort of blends in.
Let’s not kid ourselves either… the market he plays in would’ve been a key factor to him placing outside the top 100. For example, Schwartz and Calgary Flames forward Sean Monahan have similar skill sets and similar career numbers. If Schwartz played in a Canadian market and Monahan was in a relatively small-market American city like St. Louis, their places on the list might be reversed.
There’s been a few eyebrow-raising decisions made in Carolina ever since new owner Tom Dundon came aboard last year, but there’s a reason Aho was the only player on the team declared untouchable.
“We’re not finding better players than Sebastian Aho. We’re just not,” Dundon told reporters in April. “We’re not finding harder workers or more committed hockey players.”
General manager Don Waddell and the Hurricanes traded away Jeff Skinner, Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm this summer, but Aho is still there, set to enter his third NHL season.
Aho got off to a slow start last year but after registering 57 points, including all 29 of his goals, over the final 63 games of the season it’s no surprise why he’s the forward the Hurricanes have decided to build around.
Aho’s playmaking and puck skills are what sets him apart from most players. He finished second in scoring at the 2018 IIHF World Championship with a whopping 18 points in eight games (his 2.25 points per game led the tournament) and will look to carry that momentum into the 2018–19 campaign.
The Hurricanes are a young team with tremendous potential and Aho should have the opportunity to increase his offensive output playing on a line with dynamic 2018 second-overall pick Andrei Svechnikov.
The Red Wings were the lone team without a representative in the top 100, but if one player deserves to be there it’s Larkin. He’s been a staple on United States national teams because of his speed, nose for the net, effectiveness at both ends of the ice, and ability to play on either wing in addition to centre.
The 21-year-old recently signed a five-year contract that will pay him an average of $6.1 million per season. He’ll have to earn that paycheque and be a catalyst up front if the Red Wings, a team in serious transition, are to turn things around.
The three-year pro went through a definite sophomore slump — his point totals dipped from 45 to 32, he went from plus-11 to minus-28, his playing time decreased and his possession metrics suffered — but he bounced back in 2017–18 and was easily the best forward on his team.
Ekholm is a classic “Jack of all trades, master of none” defenceman whose team is consistently better when he’s on the ice. The Swede began 53.5 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone this past season, but still managed a Corsi For percentage of 54.
Whether he’s playing with P.K. Subban (his go-to partner), Ryan Ellis or Roman Josi, Ekholm is usually the player to sit back when his partner jumps up into the rush, although he’s opportunistic when he does get scoring chances.
The fact Ekholm is basically fourth on the Preds’ blue-line depth chart behind Subban, Josi and Ellis speaks to the genius of Nashville GM David Poile.
Ekholm was the 101st-ranked player on the list.
After breaking into the league as an undrafted college free agent, Krug quickly emerged as one of the top offensive blue-liners in the Eastern Conference. Krug had as many points as Subban in six fewer games in 2017–18 and outscored the likes of top-100 ranked Seth Jones, Alex Pietrangelo, Josi and Ryan Suter among others.
Krug ranks 13th in total points, seventh in power-play points and fifth in shots on goal among defencemen over the past five seasons. That’s the type of company Krug finds himself in when we’re talking offence.
It’s almost certainly the holes in his game defensively that contributed to him being left out while teammates Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy both made the list. But what he lacks defensively he more than makes up for with the man advantage. Krug is among the most gifted power-play quarterbacks in the NHL.
There’s nothing overly impressive about the 21-17-6 record Raanta posted in his first season with the Arizona Coyotes but he is by no means the reason the team finished with the worst record in the Western Conference and missed the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season. In fact, without Raanta things would’ve been much, much worse in the desert.
Among goalies who played in at least 30 games, believe it or not, Raanta had the second-best five-on-five save percentage (.937). The only netminder that fared better five-on-five? Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne (.939). Raanta’s overall .930 save percentage was tops among goalies who played at least half the season. Same goes for his 2.24 goals-against average.
Martin Jones, Roberto Luongo, Ben Bishop, Cam Talbot, Semyon Varlamov and Cory Schneider also received votes but finished outside the top 100. Even though Raanta doesn’t have the experience nor name value of those six netminders, his numbers were superior this past season and his trajectory is on an incline. His wins, save percentage and quality start percentage have all improved in each of the past three seasons.