Nico Hischier has been the best of the eight players drafted in 2017 who have skated in the NHL this season. And of course Jaromir Jagr represents the 1990 draft class – he’s the only one left. But who represents each of the other draft years as the best NHLer this season?
From Jaromir Jagr in 1990 through to Nico Hischier in 2017, here’s a look at the best players in the NHL this season, as sorted by their draft year.
Draft year: 2017
Best player this season: Nico Hischier, New Jersey
Eight players who were drafted last June have made their NHL debut this season. Five of them have since been sent back to major junior or Europe for more seasoning. Two of them, Hischier and Philadelphia’s Nolan Patrick, were the top two picks in the 2017 draft and will surely remain in the NHL for the rest of the season and years to come. The other player is Dylan Ferguson, a seventh-round pick last June (194th overall) and the No. 5 goalie on the depth chart for the Vegas Golden Knights. He was called up on an emergency basis at the end of October and saw nine minutes of mop-up duty against Edmonton on Nov. 14.
Draft year: 2016
Best player this season: Auston Matthews, Toronto
We’ll take the Leafs sophomore over his 2016 draft rival, Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, and hot-shot rookies Clayton Keller, Alex DeBrincat and Mikhail Sergachev. Seventeen players – all skaters, no goalies – who were drafted in 2016 have played at least one game in the NHL this season.
Draft year: 2015
Best player this season: Connor McDavid, Edmonton
He hasn’t lived up to last year’s MVP performance, and the Oilers have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments, but he’s still Connor McDavid. Two of the best rookies so far this season were first-round picks in 2015: the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal (16th overall) and Vancouver’s Brock Boeser (23rd overall). A total of 31 players – 30 skaters and goalie Adin Hill, who had a cup of coffee with the Coyotes – that were drafted in 2015 have played at least one game in the NHL this season, including 22 first-round picks.
Draft year: 2014
Best player this season: Brayden Point, Tampa Bay
Detroit’s Dylan Larkin has put his sophomore slump behind him, and Boston’s David Pastrnak and Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers are pumping in goals. But Point’s points (sorry) and all-around contributions have been a big part of the Lightning’s league-leading success, as the 79th overall pick in 2014 has pushed his way up the lineup and has earned coach Jon Cooper’s trust to play in any situation.
Draft year: 2013
Best player this season: Sean Monahan, Calgary
Nathan MacKinnon has bounced back in a big way for Colorado, Aleksander Barkov is a force for Florida, and Anthony Mantha has dominated at times for Detroit. But with 14 goals and 26 points through 25 games, Monahan can’t be denied. After three straight seasons in the 60-point range, the Flames center is poised to approach 40 goals and point-per-game production.
Draft year: 2012
Best player this season: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay
No goalie drafted after 2012 has made an impact in the NHL, but four netminders who were selected in 2012 have emerged as starters. Connor Hellebuyck (130th overall) has stepped up in Winnipeg after stepping back last season, Frederik Andersen (87th overall) is winning in Toronto, and Matt Murray (83rd overall) finally had the crease to himself in Pittsburgh before going down with an injury. But it’s Vasilevskiy (19th overall) who gets the nod, on the strength of his Vezina-caliber numbers – 16-4-1 record, 2.23 goals-against average, .932 save percentage – and the fact he’s backstopped Tampa Bay to the top of the league standings. Nashville’s Filip Forsberg and Carolina’s Teuvo Teravainen have been the best 2012-drafted forwards this season, while Toronto’s Morgan Rielly and Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere stand out among defensemen.
Draft year: 2011
Best active player this season: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay
It’s not completely crazy to suggest that three forwards who were drafted in 2011 could be the three finalists for the Hart Trophy this season. Kucherov, selected 58th overall, leads the way ahead of Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau (104th overall) and Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele (seventh overall). OK, maybe it’s a little crazy – but it’s not completely crazy…
Draft year: 2010
Best player this season: Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis
Schwartz has been on fire all season, skating on a lethal line with fellow 2010 draftee Vladimir Tarasenko as well as Brayden Schenn (more on him in a moment). Dallas defenseman John Klingberg, who was the 131st pick in 2010, deserves acknowledgement for leading all NHL blueliners in scoring.
Draft year: 2009
Best player this season: Brayden Schenn, St. Louis
You know you’re playing well when you rank ahead of John Tavares, the No. 1 pick in 2009 who’s vying for the NHL goal lead this season. But Schenn has been nothing short of a revelation in St. Louis, from his instant chemistry on the Blues’ top line to his 5-on-5 defensive awareness to his physical presence. Tavares’ linemate Anders Lee is proving that last season’s 34-goal breakout was no fluke, while the Isles’ Nick Leddy is right up there with Klingberg in points by defensemen.
Draft year: 2008
Best player this season: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay
Stamkos has led the NHL in scoring virtually all season, forming the league’s most dominant duo with Kucherov. He’s on pace for more than 120 points, which would smash his personal-best mark of 97, set in 2011-12. The runner-up forwards from the 2008 draft class both play for the Islanders, the rising Josh Bailey and resurgent Jordan Eberle. Besides top pick Stamkos, 2008 will be remembered as The Great Defenseman Draft, featuring – in order of their on-ice contributions this season – the likes of Alex Pietrangelo, Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Roman Josi and John Carlson.
Draft year: 2007
Best player this season: Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers’ recent struggles – a nine-game losing streak and counting – can’t be blamed on Voracek, who has been a constant and consistent producer on the team’s prolific top line. Chicago’s Patrick Kane and San Jose’s Logan Couture are next, while Nashville’s P.K. Subban and the Rangers’ Kevin Shattenkirk lead the blueline brigade.
Draft year: 2006
Best player this season: Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh
Hot dog is the new steak. Kessel has had more than his share of critics over the years, but he’s been the best player this season on a team that has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux gets the consolation prize. Also notable: seven goalies drafted in 2006 are NHL regulars, but six are backups, with Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov as the only starter.
Draft year: 2005
Best player this season: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles
With 13 goals in 27 games, Kopitar has already surpassed his 76-game output last season, and he’s leading the renaissance in L.A. Crosby has run hot and cold in Pittsburgh, while Vegas’ James Neal and Washington’s T.J. Oshie are scoring true to form. But the second-best player this season from the 2005 draft might be Kopitar’s Kings teammate Jonathan Quick, who has easily outdistanced his crease counterparts Ben Bishop, Carey Price and Tuukka Rask.
Draft year: 2004
Best player this season: Alex Ovechkin, Washington
Just score, baby. Ovechkin, on the strength of three hat tricks, is once again leading the NHL in goals as he seeks his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy. Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler, Dallas’ Alex Radulov and Pittsburgh’s Malkin, as well as Detroit defenseman Mike Green, fall into line behind Ovie. Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, the 258th overall pick in 2004, has been the best masked man, with a nod to Boston backup Anton Khudobin, who was drafted slightly ahead of Rinne at 208th.
Draft year: 2003
Best player this season: Dustin Brown, Los Angeles
After posting point totals of 36, 28, 27, 27 and 29 over the past five seasons, Brown has had a rebirth in Los Angeles with 10 goals and 21 points through 27 games. The 33-year-old winger, who’s playing in his 14th NHL season, is on pace to challenge his career-highs in goals (33) and points (60), both of which were set back in 2007-08. Eric Staal continues to produce in Minnesota, Thomas Vanek is scoring in Vancouver, and Patrice Bergeron is, well, Patrice Bergeron. Corey Crawford has been great in goal for Chicago, and the same goes for Jimmy Howard in Detroit.
Draft year: 2002
Best player this season: Johnny Boychuk, NY Islanders
We went a little off the grid for this one. Why? For starters, there are only 11 skaters – and three goalies, all backups – who were drafted in 2002 that are still playing in the NHL. And, to be frank, none of them are shooting the lights out this season. The Rangers’ Rick Nash (seven goals, 13 points) and Chicago’s Duncan Keith (13 assists, 24:48 per game) are the obvious candidates, but we’ll take the hard-rock Boychuk, who has chipped in three goals and eight points while averaging more than 20 minutes per game, not to mention his rugged defensive play and impressive plus-9 rating.
Draft year: 2001
Best player this season: Mike Smith, Calgary
The Flames brought in the 35-year-old stopper to stabilize the crease, and he’s been up to the task. Smith has gone 12-8-1 with two shutouts, sporting a .924 save percentage. Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu gets the nod among the 13 skaters who were drafted in 2001 and remain in the NHL, but it’s by default as much as anything. The Wild captain has four goals and 15 points, with a minus-4 rating. Not great, but better than anybody else.
Draft year: 2000
Best player this season: Deryk Engelland, Vegas
No, we didn’t see this coming, either. Carolina’s Justin Williams (18 points) leads the 2000 draft class in scoring this season, Ron Hainsey has been a steady and surprisingly productive presence on Toronto’s blueline, and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has looked more like his old all-star self in recent weeks. But the Golden Knights have been the NHL’s biggest surprise by a golden mile, and local resident Engelland deserves as much credit as anybody else. He’s chipping in some offense (nine points in 24 games) while playing nearly 20 minutes a night as a tough-as-nails defenseman.
Draft year: 1999
Best player this season: Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit
The pickings are getting slim. We’ll take Zetterberg over Vancouver’s Sedin twins, Florida forwards Radim Vrbata and Derek MacKenzie, and Anaheim backup goalie Ryan Miller. And that covers everyone drafted in ’99 who’s still playing.
Draft year: 1998
Best player this season: Francois Beauchemin, Anaheim
The 37-year-old Ducks defenseman, selected 75th overall in 1998, is the lone player remaining in the NHL from his draft class.
Draft year: 1997
Best player this season: Patrick Marleau, Toronto
He’s on pace for a 30-goal campaign and if gets there, it would mark the fourth straight season in which he’s increased his goal total, a truly remarkable feat for a 38-year-old. Marleau’s closest competition is Joe Thornton, his longtime running mate in San Jose, and Florida goalie Roberto Luongo. The Islanders’ Jason Chimera is the only other player drafted in 1997 who’s still active.
Draft year: 1996
Best player this season: Zdeno Chara, Boston
The 40-year-old Bruins behemoth is still going strong – not as strong as ever, of course, but strong nonetheless. He’s playing nearly 24 minutes a night and he’s plus-7, which isn’t bad on a team with a negative goal differential. Minnesota’s Matt Cullen is the other ’96 draftee who’s still chugging.
Draft year: 1990
Best player this season: Jaromir Jagr, Calgary
Nine teams down, 22 to go.