I thought I would put a list together to generate some debate and conversation. These names are strictly coming from my personal opinion so feel free to comment and start some discussions if you like. I tried to base much of the list on a lengthy body of work and not just a good season or two.
#10 – Teemu Selanne RW Anaheim Ducks
Teemu makes the list for a couple of reasons. The first would be his speed and the ability to really fly out there at the age of 40. Similar to Mike Modano, Selanne seems like he will never lose his great skating ability along with his nose for the net. The Ducks star is still a dangerous threat to score every time he is on the ice and he is also a very strong power play asset.
In an injury ravaged season last year, Selanne still managed 27 goals, 21 assists, for 48 points in just 54 games. He doesn’t quite get the attention he once did but producing almost a point a game after almost 20 years in the league is certainly worthy of a spot on this list.
#9 – Joe Pavelski C San Jose Sharks
This one is about much more then stats. Sure a 25 goal campaign for Pavelski last year is nothing to sneeze at, but his worth runs much deeper then that. In his four seasons in the NHL, Pavelski has never been a minus player and he is slowly but surely becoming a clutch player that the Sharks desperately need.
Pavelski helped the Sharks to the conference final by putting up 17 points and three game winning goals in the playoffs, not to mention taking almost every key draw. He was also a key contributor in the United States Silver medal performance at the 2010 Olympics. At just 26 years of age the best may be yet to come.
#8 – Mikko Koivu C Minnesota Wild
The great thing about Mikko is that he just keeps getting better.
With a 71 point campaign last season he is quickly becoming one of the leagues top two way forwards. Putting up those kind of numbers on a defensive minded Wild team with a poultry roster at best is no easy feet.
Often in the shadow of his older brother Saku Koivu, Mikko is finally starting to make a name for himself on his own. One similarity between the two is their leadership ability. Now the captain of the Wild, Mikko has added some grit and toughness to his game to go along with his skill. Expect a Selke nomination in the very near future.
#7 – Daniel Alfredsson RW Ottawa Senators
I know you are all probably questioning this one because most people understand that Alfredsson is a great player. However sometimes it’s easy to overlook how great he really is. He belongs up there with the elite players in the game.
Last year, Alffy put up 71 points in 70 games without Dany Heatley and with Jason Spezza injured for a quarter of the season. He also led a team with spotty defence and average goaltending to an unlikely playoff berth.
Over the past decade Alffy has averaged more then a point a game and even put up a 103 point season in 2005-06. He is also very solid in his own end separating him from many of the top tier scorers in the game today. Perhaps the only thing missing from his resume is a Stanley Cup.
#6 – Andrei Markov D Montreal Canadiens
Markov may mean more to his team then anyone on this list. After suffering an injury on opening night last season against Toronto, the Canadiens sputtered out of the gate. Upon Markov’s return in late December Montreal turned it around and made an improbable run to the Eastern Conference finals.
In 2008-09 Markov put up 64 points as a defenseman proving he is just as good offensively as he is defensively. Not only has he never won a Norris Trophy, even more shockingly he has never been nominated. Montreal’s search for their next captain may soon be over.
#5 – Chris Mason G Atlanta Thrashers
Mason is the only goalie to crack the top 10. For some reason no one will give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to being a No. 1 goaltender. After helping Nashville to some solid postseason runs he was always cast aside in favour of goalies Pekka Rinne, Dan Ellis, or Tomas Vokoun. After being shipped to St. Louis all he did was post back to back winning seasons while leading the Blues back to the playoffs in 2008-09.
Mason has a better then .900 save percentage over his career and has had a winning record in each of his seasons as a starter except for one. Hopefully he will get a fresh start in Atlanta and maybe even eventually a long term deal from the Thrashers.
#4 – Travis Zajac C New Jersey Devils
Zajac is a coach’s dream because he can play in every situation on the ice. A perfect fit for the Devils system, this two way forward posted a +22 season last year and a +33 campaign in 2008-09. With 25 goals and 67 points in 2009-10, he has added some offensive punch to the typically defensive minded Devils.
Another incredible thing about Zajac is his durability. After skating in 80 games in his first full National Hockey League season, he has not missed a game over the past three seasons. If NHL players are participating in the 2014 Olympics in Russia, you can bet that Zajac will be playing for Canada.
# 3 – Derek Roy C Buffalo Sabres
Roy has led his team in scoring in each of the last 3 seasons and he also has led the Sabres in game winning goals over the past two seasons with six and nine respectively. Outside of Ryan Miller, Roy has been the back bone of the team over the past few years with many top tier players like Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, and Brian Campbell leaving in free agency.
In addition to his ability to score big goals, Roy has found ways to get under his opponents skin giving the team some much needed grit that it has missed in recent years. His relentless effort makes him one of the toughest players to play against in the National Hockey League which may be the ultimate compliment.
#2 – Paul Stastny C Colorado Avalanche
Stastny is not a player who is riding the coattails of his father. He is a legitimate superstar in the making. The scary thing is he has probably only scratched the surface. Quickly become one of the best setup men in the league, Stastny has compiled 47, 50 and 59 assist seasons during his short NHL career. His speed and faceoff ability make him that much tougher to match up against.
Stastny’s strong play last season gave the Colorado Avalanche a playoff berth when most critics had them pegged for last in conference. With one of the youngest teams in league, Stastny now finds himself in more of a leadership role and with continued success look for the Avalanche to improve on last years efforts.
#1 – Mike Knuble RW Washington Capitals
Here is another guy who has bounced around over his career for some unknown reason. Over the past seven seasons Knuble has averaged 28 goals and averaged a +13 rating over that span as well. At 38 years of age it feels more like his career is just beginning rather then winding down as he got a late start in the NHL after playing University hockey for four seasons and then bouncing around in the minors.
Knuble has proved to be a consistent scorer and a reliable power play asset for every team he has played on. He kind of reminds me of a Mike Gartner, tremendous production but often overlooked and never quite received the credit he deserved. Of course now in Washington his 29 goals last season are easily glossed over while everyone focuses on Alexander Ovechkin and company.