Who were hockey’s most elite performers over the past 365 days? We count down our top 10 of 2015.
Let 2015 be known as the Year of Momentum. So many of the players who caught fire in January carried their sizzling performances from the second half of the 2014-15 campaign to the first half of 2015-16, proving they didn’t fluke into their excellence. Most of the names dotting the current NHL scoring leaderboard were there last season, too.
With that theme in mind, and expanding our list to include either gender, we present the top 10 hockey players of the 2015 calendar year.
10. MARK STONE
Stone was the league’s unknown superstar once January 2015 arrived. He exploded for 47 points in 46 games in the New Year, producing as a top-five scorer in the NHL. Andrew Hammond got a lot of credit for carrying Ottawa into the post-season, but the Sens don’t get there without Stone, either. He sniped all six of his game-winning goals last season between January and April. Stone has maintained close to his point-per-game production in 2015-16 as well.
9. JOHNNY GAUDREAU
‘Johnny Hockey’ was a winner everywhere he played, from Boston College to the U.S. world junior team, so it wasn’t staggering to see him lead the Calgary Flames to the playoffs ahead of schedule as a rookie in 2014-15. Instead of tiring down the stretch, as plenty of freshmen do, Gaudreau played his best in March and April, racking up nine goals and 20 points 19 games and doing it after Calgary lost its star, Mark Giordano.
Surely the sophomore slump would follow, right? Teams would key on his shiftiness and game-plan to stop him, right? Instead, Johnny Hockey looks even better. He has 39 points in 36 games, giving him 59 in his past 55 dating back to last season, and he has five game-winning goals in 2015-16, besting his total from his entire rookie year.
8. BRIANNA DECKER
To put into perspective what Decker accomplished: Rebecca Johnston of the Calgary Inferno won the CWHL MVP after she led the circuit in goals and points with 17 and 37, respectively, in 24 games. Decker, a rookie, finished one goal and five points back to place second in both categories – in exactly half the games. She scored at a Gretzky-like pace, with 16 goals and 32 points in 12 games. Wow.
And it was new league, same result for Decker once she switched to the NWHL for 2015-16. Her 12 points in nine games put her second in league scoring, two points behind Boston Pride teammate Hilary Knight. Both have earned their $22,000 paycheques.
7. BRADEN HOLTBY
Henrik Lundqvist almost cracked this list but missed roughly two months with a vascular injury in his throat last season, opening the door for Holtby. The cool, calm customer has taken his game to a whole other level under the tutelage of goalie whisperer Mitch Korn in Washington. Holtby has been remarkably consistent in the calendar year, posting a save percentage of at least .921 in every month. He looked unbeatable at times during the Caps’ playoff run last season and certainly wasn’t the reason for their demise, as he posted a 1.71 goals-against average and .944 save percentage for the post-season. Holtby has maintained that lofty standard in the home stretch of 2015 and is the Vezina Trophy frontrunner right now.
6. TYLER SEGUIN
It’s not even a hindsight-is-20/20 situation with Seguin and the Bruins. It was foresight for many of us, was it not? Seguin was 21 years old and had already scored 56 NHL goals when Boston shipped him to Dallas. He always had elite offensive pedigree, the rare kind you don’t want to trade away, and now he’s carrying out what was always his destiny. He has 209 points in 189 games as a Dallas Star. And Seguin, armed with high-end speed and a deadly release, has made beautiful music with linemate Jamie Benn. Seguin has 81 points over 73 games this calendar year. He’s right in the thick of the league scoring race and should be for years to come. The next step is for he and the Stars to start making noise in the playoffs, and they appear ready to do so.
5. DUNCAN KEITH
Keith did everything – EVERYTHING – during the 2015 post-season. He played more than half of every game, a whopping 31:07 per contest. He logged difficult minutes against opponents’ best players, including Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Steven Stamkos and The Triplets Line. Keith amassed 18 assists and 21 points in 23 games, scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in a tight Game 6 and took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Keith’s Hall of Fame resume now includes the Smythe, two Norris Trophies, three Stanley Cups and two Olympic Gold medals. He missed some time early in 2015-16 with knee woes but picked up where he left off upon returning. Plus he’d accomplished enough for a full calendar year by June, anyway.
4. ERIK KARLSSON
Don’t waste time hating on Karlsson’s two-way play or wishing there was a separate NHL award for best defensive defenseman. Instead, just enjoy the greatness. Karlsson, comfortably nestled among a bunch of forwards on the NHL scoring leaderboard, is producing the kind of numbers we haven’t seen since the days of Ray Bourque or even Paul Coffey. Karlsson has a legit chance to become the first 90-point blueliner in more than two decades and to join Coffey, Bobby Orr and Denis Potvin as the only defensemen ever to finish top-10 in league scoring more than once.
Karlsson will never be a lockdown defender but has a positive defensive effect when he’s on the ice in that he increases his own team’s scoring chances astronomically. His possession effect on Senator shot attempts is through the roof.
3. JAMIE BENN
The first half of 2015 might’ve left Benn asking, “What must I do to earn some respect around here?” Benn won the scoring title but finished a mere 12th in MVP voting, likely because his Stars missed the post-season. He’s been such a man on a mission in the new season, however, that he’s as safe a bet as anyone to be a Hart finalist, especially with Dallas lapping the field in the standings this time around.
Benn’s 2015 is especially impressive because his best damage last season came in the New Year. He finished 2014-15 with 55 points in 46 games. Coupled with his blistering first half this season, Benn racked up 105 points in 84 games over the past calendar year. His time as an under-the-radar star in a relatively obscure market has ended.
2. CAREY PRICE
Price was inhuman in 2014-15, winning 44 games with a 1.96 AA, .933 SP and nine shutouts. He was the Montreal Canadiens. He was somehow even better after the all-star break than before it. He backstopped an offensively deficient club to a division title and, on top of snagging a shoo-in Vezina, became the first goaltender in 13 years to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP. He also became the first goaltender ever to win the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete. Price should top this list, but he has been a background presence this season, with two extended absences due to injury.
1. PATRICK KANE
This list rates players purely for their on-ice efforts, so we’ll leave the Kane investigation aside for now. He’s been the most dynamic player in the game this year. Kane broke his collarbone in late February and returned less than two months later to suit up for Game 1 of the playoffs with the Hawks. He stepped right into the lineup and led the league in post-season scoring with 23 points in 23 games, helping Chicago to its third Cup in six seasons.
Kane’s followup act has been just as impressive. He has blown away the field in scoring so far this season, tracking for well north of 100 points, and there was, of course, the points streak. Kane broke Bobby Hull’s franchise record of 21 and finished at 26, the longest mark since 1992-93. The streak was especially impressive given the low-scoring era in which Kane toils.
And thus, on the ice, things could not have gone better for Kane in 2015, especially after he overcame a severe injury.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin