Sidney Crosby tops the list, but with two players under 20, the future of the NHL is already making an impact.
BY MITCHELL TIERNEY
Hockey’s youth movement made great strides in 2016. As a result, two players on our list are under the age of 20. But this past year also saw some household names return to their former glory. This year proved that while the age of Connor McDavid will soon be upon us, Sidney Crosby’s reign as the best player on the planet isn’t done just yet.
Here are the players who had the best calendar years in 2016.
1. SIDNEY CROSBY
There were players who won more individual awards than Crosby in 2016, but nobody was more successful at the team level. Crosby hoisted the Stanley Cup for the second time in his career, before leading Canada to a Gold Medal at the World Cup of Hockey.
That’s not to say Crosby didn’t have plenty of individual success, either. No player had more points or goals in the 2016 calendar year than Crosby. He added 19 more points and a Conn Smythe Trophy in the playoffs, before leading the World Cup of Hockey in scoring and winning the tournament’s MVP award. He missed the start of this season with a concussion, but is now on pace for a career high in goals.
Despite doubters, he remains the best hockey player in the world.
2. PATRICK KANE
Kane was the big winner at this summer’s NHL awards. The Chicago Blackhawks winger walked away with the Ted Lindsay Award, the Hart Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer in 2015-16. He ran away with the scoring race last season, finishing 17 points ahead of runner-up Jamie Benn. A big part of Kane’s success was his chemistry with linemate Artemi Panarin, as the pair became the league’s dynamic duo. Although, Panarin was definitely the Robin to Kane’s Batman, and can partially thank the American for the Calder Trophy he won. Kane hasn’t been quite as dominant this season, but is still hovering around a point-per-game pace.
3. CONNOR MCDAVID
McDavid’s year didn’t get off to a very good start, as the then rookie missed the entire month of January with a fractured clavicle. The injury limited McDavid to a mere 45 games in 2015-16, and ultimately cost him a Calder Trophy. But he returned in February, putting up 36 points in his final 32 games. He then helped Canada win the World Championship, scoring the golden goal against Finland.
McDavid has been even better in the second half of 2016. He currently leads the league in scoring, and looks poised to race for his first Art Ross Trophy.
4. BRENT BURNS
As Burns’ beard continues to grow, so does his hockey ability. The 31-year-old defenseman had the best season of his career in 2015-16 with 75 points. He was then a point-per-game player for the Sharks as they made their first ever Stanley Cup Final. Burns led all defenseman in goals in 2016 by a fairly significant margin. His quality play hasn’t gone unnoticed, as he was a Norris Trophy nominee last season for the first time in his career. As 2016 draws to a close, he is a leading candidate in the Norris conversation once again.
5. BRADEN HOLTBY
Carey Price remains the best goalie in hockey, but injuries saw him miss the entire first half of 2016 and the first few games of this season. That opened the door for Holtby to step up and win the Vezina Trophy. He also finished fourth place in Hart Trophy voting as he helped the Washington Capitals to a 120-point season and a President’s Trophy, in 2015-16. No goalie has won more games than Holtby in 2016 and he is once again posting elite numbers this season.
6. MARIE-PHILIP POULIN
The year 2016 was a good one for Canadian hockey heroes. While Crosby was continuing his dominance in the NHL, fellow golden goal scorer Poulin was lighting up the CWHL. Captain of the Montreal Canadiennes, Poulin won CWHL MVP, the Angela James Bowl (as leading scorer), and Jayna Hefford Award (MVP voted by the players) in March after scoring 46 points in 22 games. Once again this season she is near the top of the league in scoring, and her Montreal team remains the class of the league.
7. ERIK KARLSSON
Karlsson turned back the clock with the numbers he has put up this year. Last season he finished top five in league scoring, the first defenseman to do that in three decades. He also led the league in assists, which hasn’t been done by a defenseman since Bobby Orr accomplished the feat in 1973-74. He was rewarded by finishing runner up to Drew Doughty in Norris Trophy voting, largely because his defensive game is still consistently called into question by many. He has continued his offensive tear to start this season, and is once again among the league’s leaders in defensive scoring.
8. DEVAN DUBNYK
Over the past year, the Minnesota Wild have been one of league’s worst offensive teams. Yet they still managed to qualify for the playoffs last season, and are in a good position to do so again this year. Dubnyk is a huge part of that, as he was solid down the stretch for the Wild last season, and has been even better this season. He currently leads all goalies who play consistently in save percentage and is an early candidate for both the Vezina and the Hart if he can stay near this pace. As aforementioned, no goaltender is on Price’s level, but Dubnyk has resembled him the most as of late.
9. JOE THORNTON
Everyone thought the Sharks’ Stanley Cup window had closed after they missed the 2015 playoffs. But Thornton wasn’t ready for that to happen just yet. At 37, he had his best year in at least a half decade, helping the Sharks get to within two wins of their first ever Stanley Cup. He finished tied for fourth in league scoring last season with 82 points. That earned him a spot on the second All-Star team, and he finished fifth in voting for both the Hart and Selke Trophies. He followed up a stellar regular season by finishing fifth in playoff scoring, and then helping Canada win the World Cup of Hockey. All that hockey might have caught up to Thornton this season, but expect him to come alive again as he gets closer to the playoffs and unfinished business.
10. PATRIK LAINE
Putting a rookie on this list might seem a little odd, but not when the rookie has the credentials that Laine does. Even before he was drafted second overall by the Winnipeg Jets this summer, Laine was having a year to remember. He began 2016 by helping Finland win the World Juniors on home soil, finishing third in tournament scoring. He followed that up by leading his Liiga team, Tappara, to a Finnish Championship and was named playoff MVP.
This summer he represented Finland at both the World Championship and World Cup. He was named World Championship MVP as his Finnish team won the silver medal. If that’s not enough, Laine has already established himself as an elite scorer at the NHL level. He is an early favorite for the Calder Trophy.