1. Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton
The question is never about his skill or worth; it’s whether it will matter at the end of any given season. While the Edmonton Oilers attempt to retool for the umpteenth time, they do so knowing they have the best player on the planet in McDavid. His speed is blinding, as is his ability to make plays while moving faster than everybody else. Really, the only thing wrong with McDavid is that there’s only one of him. His valor in the face of mediocrity has practically opened a rift amongst Hart Trophy voters the past two years: the award is for “most valuable,” but is there any value in a performance that does not result in a playoff spot? This, of course, is no fault of McDavid’s, but it has been his lot in life for most of his young NHL career. What is indisputable, however, is that he is the dominant force in the league right now. If the Oilers make the playoffs this season, it will be because McDavid leads them there. Sure, he has an elite running mate in Leon Draisaitl – who can play on McDavid’s wing or center his own line, giving the Oilers a modicum of depth amongst their forward corps – but McDavid is the straw that stirs the drink. The only thing that can really stop McDavid is the crushing weight of his situation. The state of his team clearly had him vexed during the 2019 all-star weekend in San Jose, and the roster hasn’t changed much since then. On the other hand, McDavid is a legit phenom who will be just 22 when the season begins. In terms of his “prime,” he’s in that window, much like Sidney Crosby was in his early 20s. McDavid’s points have gone from 100 to 108 to 116 in the past three seasons. Does anyone doubt he could hit 124 – or more – this year?
2. Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay
Yes, his juggernaut team got swept in the first round of the playoffs, but let’s not forget Kucherov set a salary cap-era record for points with 128 last season, and he’s still in his prime at 26. With the Lightning ready for revenge, there are few players in the NHL with the all-out skill and savvy of Kucherov. He will once again be a prime candidate to win the Art Ross and Hart Trophies, and you know he’s going to be much better in the playoffs this time around. One of the smartest offensive players in the game with a laser shot, Kucherov has established himself as a terror in this league.
3. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh
Never count out Sid. The Penguins may be on the downturn but, with Crosby as captain, you always have to consider them at least a threat to do something big. Crosby, 32, has set the benchmark for excellence in the salary-cap era, and he’s got the trophy case to guarantee himself a spot in the Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible. Will Pittsburgh make one more run at the Stanley Cup during his tenure? Even with a depleted depth chart (particularly on defense), it’s always possible thanks to No. 87. Maybe one day he begins to slow down, but there’s no sign of that happening yet.
4. Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado
A force in the regular season and an absolute beast in the playoffs, MacKinnon centered a monster top line in Colorado that rivalled Boston’s storied first unit. His combination of speed, power and skill is overwhelming and, thanks to some nice building in Denver, MacKinnon has depth around him now. He came close to a Hart Trophy two years ago and, if he continues to burn up the ice the way he has in recent years, he’s a threat to clinch the award soon. Colorado is a sleeper pick to go deep in the playoffs, and any talk of championship glory has to start with 24-year-old MacKinnon as the centerpiece.
5. Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston
We’re going to keep Bergeron, a surefire Hall of Famer, high on this list until he proves us wrong. The pre-eminent two-way center guided his team to another berth in the Stanley Cup final and steers the ship on the NHL’s best line with wingers Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. A true leader who can shut down other stars and create plenty of offense himself, Bergeron will go down as one of the game’s best defensive centers ever. Not many players set a career-high in points when they’re 33, but Bergeron did with 79 last season while tying his previous best of 32 goals.
6. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington
Another veteran you can’t count out, ‘Ovie’ followed up his Cup parade with another 50-goal season and another Rocket Richard Trophy. Teams still can’t stop him despite knowing his favorite shooting spot.
7. Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay
The best defenseman on the best regular-season team, Hedman has one Norris Trophy and could easily claim a couple more. His size, skating and skill propel him to two-way greatness.
8. Aleksander Barkov, C, Florida
Maybe all the summer activity in Florida will get Barkov more love for his elite two-way play. The big pivot is coming off a huge career year with 96 points. Can he hit 100 and/or win the Selke Trophy?
9. Auston Matthews, C, Toronto
His frame is getting more imposing, and his release is lightning-fast. If Matthews can stay healthy, he has a legitimate shot at a couple trophies. Of course, the best one would be a Stanley Cup.
10. Ryan O’Reilly, C, St. Louis
The Conn Smythe Trophy champ outduelled Bergeron in the final, and O’Reilly is coming off a career year that saw him notch 77 points. What can he and the Blues do for an encore after their first Stanley Cup win?
11. Brent Burns, D, San Jose
Try and stop the point shot. Heck, try and stop the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Burns when he comes barrelling down the ice. The Sharks may have lost some talent, but No. 88 will keep them competitive.
12. Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago
Last year was a pleasant surprise, as Kane turned back the clock for his first 100-plus point season since 2015-16. Still fast, still creative, the Blackhawks veteran established a personal best with 66 assists.
13. John Tavares, C, Toronto
Tavares’ first season back home saw him set a career-high with 88 points while flirting with 50 goals for the first time. So smart, Tavares is an elite two-way player who’s adept in all situations.
14. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay
Forget the first-round blip against Columbus. Vasilevskiy is the top goalie in the NHL right now. The Lightning stopper has all the tools and still has room for improvement. Oh, and he’s got the Vezina, too.
15. Seth Jones, D, Columbus
With his size, smarts and skill, Jones is a Norris candidate for years to come. He finished the playoffs with nine points in 10 games and 28:32 of ice time per content. He’s the star no one is talking about.
16. Mark Stone, RW, Vegas
The best two-way winger in the game, the versatile Stone is coming off a career-best 73 points and his first 30-goal campaign. What can he do full-time in Vegas? It’ll be a lot of fun to watch.
17. Brad Marchand, LW, Boston
When he keeps the shenanigans to a minimum, Marchand is one of the best wingers in the league. From piling up points to killing penalties to getting under the skin of opponents, he’s a lethal weapon.
18. David Pastrnak, RW, Boston
The youngest member of Boston’s top line, Pastrnak, 23, has nonetheless established himself as one of the most dangerous shooters in the game, and he still has room to grow. He flirted with 40 goals last year.
19. Leon Draisaitl, C, Edmonton
Yes, he spent a lot of time playing with McDavid, but you can’t ignore 50 goals and 105 points. The big, talented German has the versatility to play wing or helm his own line as a center.
20. Erik Karlsson, D, San Jose
His health has become a question mark, but Karlsson can still get the puck up the ice and produce a ton of chances from the back end. Having a new permanent home in San Jose is intriguing.
21. Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary
Incredibly skilled and hard to get a bead on thanks to his speed and hands, Gaudreau is coming off a career-best 99-point effort on the top regular-season team in the West. He can definitely hit 100 this year.
22. Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg
Maybe a little underrated outside Winnipeg, Scheifele is a superb two-way center who came close to 40 goals while setting a career high with 84 points last season. Great playoff performer, too.
23. Artemi Panarin, RW, NY Rangers
The most coveted free agent of the summer, Panarin accelerates the Rangers’ rebuild and instantly makes them must-see TV this season. His elite skill set gives him 90-point potential, if not more.
24. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Florida
Another top free agent, Bobrovsky gives the Panthers exactly what they need to get back to the playoffs: a workhorse starting stopper in his prime with the size and talent to steal games.
25. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh
Defensively, Malkin had his struggles last season. But he was still a point-per-gamer and an ace setup man. If he’s healthy, he remains an extremely dangerous offensive force in Pittsburgh.
26. Brayden Point, C, Tampa Bay
Who is Tampa Bay’s top center? Given the way he has matured, Point makes a pretty good case for himself. The 200-foot pivot broke 40 goals and 90 points for the first time last season.
27. Mitch Marner, RW, Toronto
His chemistry with Tavares was magical, and the progression in Marner’s silky game is obvious. Can the smooth operator hit 100 points this season? He had 94 last year, with room to grow.
28. Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay
The Lightning are blessed with Point and Stamkos, the latter of whom just set a career high with 98 points. ‘Stammer’ got back to his sniping ways last season, too, piling up 45 goals.
29. Roman Josi, D, Nashville
With P.K. Subban traded, Josi gets a bigger spotlight in Nashville, where his superb two-way game is just so solid. Will the long-underrated Predators captain find Norris acclaim soon?
30. Ben Bishop, G, Dallas
When healthy, the towering Bishop is one of the best goalies in the game, and he helped the Stars nearly knock off St. Louis in the playoffs. With more depth in front of him, Bishop’s ready for another run.
31. Mark Giordano, D, Calgary
Not many players win their first Norris at 35, but ‘Gio’ never had a typical career path en route to stardom. The excellent puck-rusher and Flames captain was nearly a point-per-gamer last season.
32. John Carlson, D, Washington
Slowly and steadily, Carlson has climbed to the top rung of NHL defensemen thanks to his excellent two-way acumen. He ranked fourth in the NHL for scoring among blueliners and tied for second with 57 assists.
33. Morgan Rielly, D, Toronto
His minutes aren’t elite, but he could play more. Otherwise, Rielly is the type of puck-moving defenseman every team needs at the top, and he jumped up to 72 points last year from 52 the prior season.
34. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Washington
Wily and super-deadly with the puck, Kuznetsov has his signature goal celebration and ample opportunities to show it off. He’s become the top center on a solid Caps squad that also features pivot Nicklas Backstrom.
35. Blake Wheeler, RW, Winnipeg
Back-to-back 91-point campaigns have Wheeler in the zone, but the Winnipeg captain is more than just points. He’s a character guy with size and quickness who can play in all situations.
36. Mikko Rantanen, RW, Colorado
Though he slowed down a bit at the end, Rantanen’s torrid start established him as one of the most offensively gifted power forwards in the NHL, propelling the Avs to an impressive playoff performance.
37. John Gibson, G, Anaheim
On virtually any other team, Gibson is your Vezina winner. But the porous Ducks couldn’t help their No. 1 netminder, whose size and athleticism make him elite. Don’t worry, John, we see you.
38. Tyler Seguin, C, Dallas
He got called out by the top brass, but Seguin still led the Stars in scoring in both the regular season and playoffs. Now that Dallas has a second line, look for the talented center to really go off.
39. Taylor Hall, RW, New Jersey
A knee injury wrecked his 2018-19 season, but before that, Hall was coming off a Hart Trophy campaign. His speed and skill are still a sight to behold and, with more help in New Jersey, look for him to pile up points again.
40. Sebastian Aho, C, Carolina
The offer sheet with Montreal was awkward, but Aho was worth every penny in the end. Smart, skilled and responsible, the Hurricanes’ top pivot had a breakout 83-point season and he just turned 21. More to come.
41. Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo
Maybe now Eichel has the surrounding cast to support his offensive aptitude? The big, talented captain needs his team to move in a positive direction, because he and McDavid have both been suffering.
42. Claude Giroux, RW, Philadelphia
His move to the wing proved brilliant, though Giroux’s numbers dipped a bit in Season 2 of the experiment. But the captain leads by example in Philadelphia, and the Flyers need him to be big again.
43. P.K. Subban, D, New Jersey
New town, same passion as Subban brings his heavy shot and hard-hitting defensive game to Newark. The Devils will be a lot more exciting this year, and P.K. will do wonders for the power play.
44. Elias Pettersson, C, Vancouver
The Calder Trophy winner must beware of the sophomore jinx but, based on how offensively gifted ‘Petey’ is, he’ll likely be fine. Already Vancouver’s most important forward.
45. Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Calgary
He plays the game tough, and he plays to win. Tkachuk, 21, is a supreme agitator who already has a 34-goal campaign under his belt, and he’ll be crucial for any deep playoff run by the Flames.
46. Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston
Zdeno Chara’s partner will be Boston’s most important defender this season. McAvoy is an excellent puck-mover who can play major minutes, and he’s just getting started. Look for a lot more points this year.
47. Carey Price, G, Montreal
He’s not prime Price, but he’s still one of the best netminders in the league thanks to his size and coolness. He had a nice bounce-back season after a rough 2017-18. Without him, the Habs are not a playoff contender.
48. Jonathan Huberdeau, LW, Florida
Maybe the quietest 90-point player in the NHL. You can bet goalies aren’t sleeping on Huberdeau anymore. The hands are elite, the quickness is impressive, and his team is on the rise.
49. Logan Couture, C, San Jose
He’s already a proven playoff performer, delivering goals in the clutch. Now Couture gets a bigger spotlight on the rejigged Sharks with Joe Pavelski gone. Couture’s two-way game is excellent, and he can get you 30 goals.
50. Mathew Barzal, C, NY Islanders
His offensive numbers took a hit, but his team was much better defensively and much more successful – a tradeoff Barzal will surely take. He’s the top center on Long Island and a playmaking wizard.