Whether the NHL participates in the 2018 Olympics or not, it will forever be hard to top the talent seen in both the 2010 and 2014 games. Not only was the men’s game showcased on one of the brightest stages, the women’s game provided some incredible drama in the medal round.
As such, there is a pair of women on this year’s top 10 players. There are also appearances from a few future stars. One member of this list did outstanding things before becoming a pro, and is already making his mark on the NHL in his rookie season, while others are breaking out or remaining at the top of their games.
10. Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel
You can’t have one without the other, and it’s fitting to leave these two tied for 10th place on the top 10 players of 2014.
McDavid has long been considered the first overall pick in 2014, but Eichel is making more than a fair case for the top spot in the draft. The two will certainly forever be linked by the debate surrounding which player should have been drafted with the top pick, but regardless it seems like both will be stars in the big league.
McDavid, playing his second season in the OHL on his way to turning 17, tallied 28 goals and 99 points in 56 games, and added another 51 points in 18 games this season before a broken hand derailed his season. As for Eichel, the 18-year-old registered 38 goals and 87 points with the U.S. NTDP in 2013-14, and currently leads NCAA Division 1 hockey in scoring with 8 goals and 27 points in 16 games.
9. Natalie Spooner
Spooner had one of the best years based solely on the fact that she became the first women’s hockey player to capture Olympic gold and the CWHL’s Clarkson Cup in the same season. Add to it that she was no slouch in either tournament, and she was a shoo-in to make this list.
Over the five game Olympic tournament, Spooner registered two goals and four points, and skated in 18:35 of the gold medal game. Back with her club team, the Toronto Furies, Spooner assisted on the Clarkson Cup’s overtime winning goal.
8. Phil Kessel
It’s hard to believe someone with Kessel’s talent could be underrated, yet he continually is. Playing in Toronto may not help his cause as often times the things he can’t do are overshadowed by those he can.
And what he can do is score like few players in the game. Kessel tied for the Olympic lead with eight points, led the tournament with five goals, and was named to the tournament’s all-star team. With the Leafs, Kessel finished sixth in scoring with 80 points and fifth in goals with 37. He led the Maple Leafs in scoring by nearly 20 points, and is at it again in 2014-15 with 38 points in 35 games. Kessel is one of only 15 players with at least a point-per-game pace this season.
7. Johnny Gaudreau
The aptly nicknamed ‘Johnny Hockey’ made a name for himself last season in the NCAA, but he’s quickly vaulting himself into Calder Trophy contention.
In 2014, Gaudreau led the NCAA scoring with 36 goals and 80 points in 40 games, went on a 31-game, 61-point scoring streak, was named Hockey East Player of the Year for the second straight season, and picked up the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s best player. Oh, he also played one game with the Calgary Flames, scoring on his first professional shot.
To follow it all up, Gaudreau has 12 goals and 29 points in 36 games with the Flames in his rookie season, including notching his first hat trick on Dec. 22 against the Los Angeles Kings in a Flames come-from-behind victory.
6. Duncan Keith
Keith is continually one of the league’s best defenders, and he was awarded with the Norris Trophy for his efforts in 2013-14. He also added another gold medal to his trophy case, playing as a key member of Team Canada’s victory at the 2014 Sochi games.
Add to it all that he continues to be a monster on the blue line for perennial contender Chicago and one of the most relied upon players in their entire lineup, it all adds up to one of the best years for any defenseman in the NHL. As for 2014-15, Keith has already matched his goal total from last season in just 35 games, and is on pace for another near 50-point season.
5. Shannon Szabados
There’s not enough great things that can be said about what Szabados is doing, and already has done, for growing the women’s game and pushing the boundaries when it comes to women in the men’s game.
Not only did Szabados win Olympic gold with the best numbers of any netminder in the tournament, she also made her men’s debut, becoming the first woman to play in the SPHL. She signed a deal with the Columbus Cottonmouths in early March, but made her first start on March 15. On Nov. 21, she became the first woman to win an SPHL game, picking up a 5-4 overtime victory.
In nine games this season, Szabados has a 5-4 record, 3.28 goals-against average, and .907 save percentage.
4. Erik Karlsson
Karlsson finished 2013-14 with more points than Anze Kopitar, Matt Duchene, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and John Tavares, just to name a few. His 74 points in 82 games was the best mark among all defenseman, and though some will continue to deride his defensive ability, his offensive upside more than makes up for what he may lack as a defender.
Add to it all that he helped Sweden to Olympic silver and tied Kessel for the tournament lead with 8 points, and it all adds up to one of the greatest season by a defenseman in recent memory. He may not have taken home his second Norris Trophy, but he was named the Olympic tournament’s best defenseman, an honor only handed out once every four years.
3. Drew Doughty
Doughty’s regular season wasn’t incredible, but it was his ability in both the Olympics and Stanley Cup playoffs that put him over the top as one of the best players of 2014.
The 25-year-old Doughty was as timely a scorer as there was during the tournament, scoring four goals and six points over the Olympic tournament en route to Olympic gold and a nod as one of the tournament’s top two defensemen.
If that’s not enough reason to put him in the top 10, what puts him over the top is his five goals and 18 points over the course of 26 playoff games, which was capped off with his second Stanley Cup championship. He finished one spot ahead of Karlsson in Norris voting and continues to chase the ever elusive nod as the league’s top defender, but we’re sure he’ll take the Stanley Cups in the Norris’ stead.
2. Tyler Seguin
Following a trade to the Dallas Stars in the summer of 2013, Seguin broke out and became the star he was expected to be. Not only did Seguin finish the season tied for fifth in goals with 37, he tallied the fourth most points with 84. And he’s shown no signs of slowing down.
Heading into the New Year, Seguin is second in the league with 43 points, much of that on the strength of a league leading 25 goals. Seguin is on pace to be the first 60-goal scorer since Steven Stamkos in 2011-12, and it’s hard to believe he won’t get there.
Heading to Dallas gave Seguin’s career a new life, and he’s quickly become one of the most feared snipers in the entire league.
1. Sidney Crosby
This isn’t another case of favoritism to the face of the game. What it is, however, is a nod to the only player deserving of being named the greatest player of 2014. While he didn’t win the Stanley Cup, he did capture Olympic gold and win the NHL’s scoring title by more than 15 points.
Add to it that he picked up his second Art Ross Trophy, his second Hart Trophy, and third Ted Lindsay Award, and it’s easy to call Crosby the greatest player of 2014 because, simply put, he’s the best player in all of hockey. No player continually improves their game the way that Crosby almost obsessively does.
At this point in his career, Crosby is a surefire Hall of Famer. He could retire tomorrow and still make it. That’s how good Crosby has been – not just in 2014, but since he came into the league.