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Year in Review: Top 10 NHL players of 2018

More than 900 skaters found their way into a single game last season, but we've narrowed that list down to the 10-best of the past year. Who takes top spot?

Sorry, New Jersey Devils fans. Taylor Hall hasn’t made this list of top 10 players of the past calendar year.

You see, while Hall closed out an excellent 2017-18 campaign by winning the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, his award-winning year was based in part on his play through the first few months of that same season. And when we’re counting down the best players of the past year, we’re including only their performance from Jan. 1 on through Dec. 31. (Or, in this case, Dec. 28. But we’d bank on not much changing over the next few days.) As such, Hall missed this list. Reason being is that while he was exceptional — 40 goals and 100 points in 78 games across the regular season and playoffs — he wasn’t quite as prolific as several other forwards who find their way onto this list and he likely wouldn’t make any MVP shortlists as we head toward mid-season of the current campaign.

That’s not to say Hall wasn’t in the running as one of the year’s 10 best, however. And that in and of itself is quite the accomplishment given nearly 950 players skated in at least one game over the past calendar year. But the 10 players listed below were the cream of the crop.

10. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
Why not begin with what will surely be a controversial pick? Giordano doesn’t ply his trade with much flash, but the Flames captain has continued to be among the best rearguards in the game and it could be argued that no defender has had a better 2018 at both ends of the ice. Offensively, he had himself a top-10 2018, scoring 57 points in 79 games throughout the calendar year, but it’s his two-way play that earns him a spot on this list. Always up against top competition, Giordano has dominant possession numbers and impeccable underlying numbers. He’s as underrated as defensemen come, and after earning a couple Norris Trophy votes last season, he’s looking like he could be a frontrunner when mid-season rolls around.

9. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
The point most will make in an attempt to refute Rinne’s position on this list is his post-season showing, which likely cost the Predators a return trip to the Western Conference final, at the very least. But in his other 57 games in the past 365 days, Rinne’s play has been exceptional. True, he plays behind one of the most vaunted D-corps in the NHL, but Rinne’s .928 save percentage and 2.16 goals-against average are top marks among netminders with at least 41 games played over the past year. And while he has competition in both statistical categories from John Gibson, who also boasts a .928 SP, we’ll give Rinne the edge given his playoff performance was actually better than Gibson’s.

8. John Carlson, Washington Capitals
True as it may be that there’s more to being a blueliner than stuffing the scoresheet, it’s hard not to look at Carlson’s past year in awe. The Capitals power play quarterback was a prolific point producer, scoring the most goals of any defenseman in 2018 (22) across the regular season and playoffs, and his combined production was a remarkable 94 points in 101 games. What puts Carlson ahead of his counterparts, though, is that he paced the Capitals blueline en route to Washington’s first Stanley Cup victory. He averaged upwards of 25 minutes per game and led all defensemen with five goals and 20 points.

7. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
Rantanen used the past year as his coming out party. In fact, he scored at such a rate that he is the only player not named Connor McDavid to crack the 110-point plateau in regular season play from Jan. 1 through to Thursday’s action. McDavid is the league leader with 117 points, but Rantanen isn’t far behind with 33 goals and 111 points of his own. The gifted playmaker is the league leader with 78 regular season assists over the past year, and his play as part of the Avalanche’s league-best first line led Colorado to its first playoff berth in four years.

6. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
Wheeler did it all for the Jets in 2018 and, despite the excellent play of Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg’s captain was undeniably the team’s MVP over the past year. From stepping off the wing and into a role as a first-line center upon the injury to Mark Scheifele to playing big minutes at all strengths, Wheeler excelled in all aspects. He certainly made his mark on the scoresheet, as well. Across the 78 regular season games and another 17 in the post-season, Wheeler scored 20 goals and 115 points. Few players — we’re talking a mere handful — were as offensively impactful.

5. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
It almost seems like a slight to put Crosby smack-dab in the middle of any list of the year’s 10-best players, particularly given his ability to be the best player in the world on any given night. Statistically, though, there are players who had better showings across the past year. That’s not to say Crosby wasn’t a monster, however. In 76 regular season outings over the past year, Crosby notched 97 points. That’s seventh-best in the NHL. But what puts him ahead of his competition is showing up at the right time, and he took his game to another level in the post-season. Though the Penguins only played two rounds, Crosby managed an incredible nine goals and 21 points in 12 games. His 1.75 points per game tied for the best mark of any player to skate in at least two rounds, and he finished tied for fifth in playoff scoring despite playing in half the number of games as the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

4. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Closing out the season on a hot streak hasn’t hurt Kucherov’s case as one of the top 10 players of the past year. Kucherov has seven goals and 26 points in a dozen games in December, including seven multi-point outings and four games with three or more points. He’s been excellent all year, though, not just over the past four weeks. His 105 regular season points are the fourth-most among all forwards in 2018, and Kucherov added to his yearly total with 17 points in 17 post-season games as the Lightning fell one win short of advancing to the Stanley Cup final. One last note on Kucherov: should he maintain the league scoring lead through Dec. 31, he will end consecutive seasons as the NHL’s leading scorer come the turn of the calendar. His 56 points put him atop the Art Ross Trophy race come Jan. 1, 2018, and he’s the league’s scoring leader by one point with a pair of games remaining before Jan. 1, 2019.

3. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
The past 12 months have been a dream for MacKinnon, who has not only established himself as the true offensive leader of the Avalanche but a player inching beyond stardom towards superstardom. In 73 regular season contests over the past year, MacKinnon ranks fourth in goals, third in points and he helped guide Colorado to its first playoff appearance in four seasons. MacKinnon then went on to help the Avalanche put a serious scare into the Nashville Predators, with his six points in six games making what most expected to be a short series much more interesting than many believed it had any right to be. His growth as a player has been astonishing, and after finishing second in Hart Trophy voting for his play in 2017-18, his start to the 2018-19 campaign has him looking like a candidate to land on the MVP shortlist once again.

2. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
It’d be easy enough to argue that McDavid should fall into top spot on this list. He is the single most gifted offensive talent the league has to offer, and that’s evidenced by his NHL-best 117 points (and counting) in 79 games over the past season. But the only thing separating McDavid from first-place on our list of the 10-best players of the past calendar year is post-season success. That’s no fault of the Edmonton captain, to be sure, as he was at times the only thing pumping lifeblood into a struggling club throughout the 2017-18 campaign, but it’s difficult to measure McDavid’s season in the same way as some others when those same players added some post-season heroics. The list of players who have performed at a higher level than McDavid over the past year, though, is minuscule.

1. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
No one had a better year than the Capitals captain, and the greatest goal scorer of his generation — and arguably of all-time — set the tone for what was the best calendar year of his career early on. On Jan. 2, Ovechkin notched a pair against the Carolina Hurricanes, and he was off to the races from there. Through the remainder of the 2017-18 campaign, Ovechkin scored another 23 goals to bring his tally to 49 on the season and win his seventh goal-scoring crown. He added another 15 markers in the post-season. And he has started the 2018-19 season on an absolute tear. His 29 goals are the league’s top total, and his 60-plus goal pace has him looking like he’s turned the clock back by a decade.

Though it’s the offense that undoubtedly helped Ovechkin reach top status, what truly separated him from the pack this year was the hardware. Finally, at long last, Ovechkin was able to propel Washington past the rival Pittsburgh Penguins in the post-season, and with that weight lifted, the Capitals skated on to win the Stanley Cup. For his effort, Ovechkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy as post-season MVP.

Ovechkin truly checked all the boxes in 2018 — including a few that some believed he’d never be able to — and for that reason, he’s the top player of the past year.


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