It is now mid-December and the NHL and NHLPA not only have yet to strike deal for a new collective bargaining agreement, but seem to be taking steps backwards as some of the biggest egos in professional sports continue to make this lockout about themselves and not the game. We are all frustrated as hell, and are sick to death of the daily public relations battles taking place in the media. So today, I’ve put together a list of the Top 10 players I miss watching play on a nightly basis.
10. Jordan Eberle – forward, Edmonton Oilers
Jordan Eberle is a fantastic young player and the captain-In-waiting for the young upstart Edmonton Oilers. The 22-year-old winger has put up some pretty good numbers throughout his brief NHL career, playing in 147 games and posting 52 goals and 67 assists for 119 points. More impressive than his stat line is actually watching this kid play. He is truly one of the smartest hockey players in the league today. I have said it once, and I will say it a thousand more times, Eberle is going to give the Crosby- Malkin- Ovechkin- Stamkos – Giroux group a run for their money as best player in the world sooner rather than later. Eberle has a knack for scoring big goals and always seems to be one step ahead of the play. His on-ice demeanor is reminiscent of Steve Yzerman…. perhaps one of the best compliments you can pay to a player.
9. Shea Weber – defenseman, Nashville Predators
If I am starting a franchise tomorrow, Weber would be the first defenseman I pick up if I have the chance. He is one of those players who dominates in nearly every facet of the game. He is big, strong, fast and skilled. Weber is the type of player that you create on your favorite video game to just dominate everyone. Weber has a supersonic shot, a snarly style of physicality and deservedly-so wears the “C” on his sweater in Nashville. He IS their franchise, especially since signing that massive blockbuster free agency deal in the offseason. You pretty much have to have the NHL Center Ice package to ever see him play as Nashville is the NHL equivalent to the Sacramento Kings of the NBA. They’re the team you always forget exists because they are never on TV and national newsworthy news rarely comes out of there, but Shea Weber is reason enough to tune in to Preds games if you have the opportunity. He is the prototypical defenseman in the league today, and the measuring stick for all others at his position
8. Pavel Datsyuk – forward, Detroit Red Wings
Entering the twilight era of his career, Datsyuk is still a treat to watch. By far the slickest player in the NHL, his hands are a gift from the hockey gods. I miss seeing Pavel trapped in a corner and tiptoe out through the defenders by putting a couple quick moves on his man, turning them inside out, then proceeding to generate a prime scoring chance.Lets face it, he finishes the play more times than not. The creativity with the puck that Datsyuk shows in one-on-one situations and shootouts is unparalleled in the league today. Quite honestly, he makes some of the best defenders and goalies in the league look ridiculous. Datsyuk and fellow Red Wing Henrik Zetterberg are the reigning faces of Hockeytown, which is reason enough to tune in to watch them play. But the flash that Datsyuk has mixed with his flare for showing how skilled he is should make any hockey fan miss watching him. In addition to the skill, he is often times nominated for the Lady Byng trophy for most gentlemanly player, so you don’t have to deal with a Sidney Crosby-esque yapping at the officials or Sean Avery-esque shenanigans.
7. Alex Ovechkin – forward, Washington Capitals
Despite The Great 8’s drop in production over the last couple seasons, there are few players as fun to watch as Ovechkin. His combination of size, speed and skill is truly unique. He has a laser beam of a shot that has the accuracy of Bruce Lee’s nunchucks and can be one of the most in-your-face players in the league. He is one of the few players in the league that keeps the crowd on the edge of their seat, no matter what arena in which he’s playing. Another aspect of Ovechkin’s game that makes him fun to watch is how physically involved he gets in games, which is rare for a star player of his caliber. He does not back down from anyone and can even take on the role of agitator, just ask Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Scott Hartnell. Ovechkin at his best is the most entertaining player to watch in the league but unfortunately over the past few seasons, Ovi at his best seems to come out only occasionally and he has had trouble consistently playing at a level that saw him pot 60 goals in a season.
6. Erik Karlsson – defenseman, Ottawa Senators
The smooth-skating Karlsson is another member of the up-and-comers club in the NHL and is coming off of his breakout season. The 22-year-old Swede finished third in the 2011-2012 season in assists with 59, and tenth in the NHL in points with 78 points in 81 games. His efforts were acknowledged with a Norris Trophy nomination for best defenseman in the league. Karlsson is a treat to watch because of his skating. He can move up and down the rink nearly effortlessly. Karlsson also has a mad offensive prowess and is a nightmare for penalty killers to defend on the power play. His shot won’t overwhelm goalies but his accuracy is surgeon-like. He can put a pass on his teammates tape from 150 feet away, or he can skate the puck out of trouble if needed. Although he is not physically dominant in his own zone, he sees the game well enough to play sound positional defense. When this youngster is playing, he jumps out at you and is a standout on a nightly basis.
5. Zdeno Chara – defenseman, Boston Bruins
“Big Z”, as he is known to teammates and friends, is a monster in multiple ways. Towering above the league at 6 feet 9 and 255 pounds, Chara is an imposing force on the back end for the Bruins. A full display of his physical strength was on display when he nearly killed Montreal’s Max Pacioretty when he checked him into the stanchion between the two teams’ benches. In addition to his freakish physical specs, Chara is a dangerous player and fun to watch because of his skill. He has the hardest slap shot in the league and he uses it quite often. He is an anchor on the Bruins power play and has the numbers to justify all the ice time he gets. I also enjoy watching Chara skate up and down the ice. With his long swooping strides, he may not be the most graceful player, but he certainly is effective.
4. Henrik and Daniel Sedin – forwards, Vancouver Canucks
The twins have been running the show in Vancouver ever since they were drafted second and third overall in the 1999 entry draft. For those of you who have never had a chance to watch these two play together, do yourself a favor and hit up YouTube and watch the mastery that the twins have in the offensive zone. Perhaps as a duo, the Sedins are the most creative and inventive playmakers in the league, tending to leave defenders befuddled and looking foolish. The two have been playing on the same line their ENTIRE life and it shows. They know where each other are at all times on the ice and together generate at least a couple tic-tac-toe or give-and-go plays per game. The Canucks pushed Boston to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final before falling to the Bruins, so in their 40-year existence , the Canucks have yet to capture a Cup. The brothers are in starting the downside of their careers, even though one of the brothers is always in the hunt for a scoring title and any hopes that Vancouver has rests on the shoulders of the Sedins and whichever goalie is in-between the pipes. I really wish we could watch them on their quest for glory in North America instead of the Swedish Elite League.
3. Claude Giroux – forward, Philadelphia Flyers
Giroux is coming off a fantastic season in which he emerged as one of the true superstars in this league, finishing third overall in scoring with 93 points, despite missing five games with a concussion last season. Giroux was partly responsible for the re-emergence of former superstar Jaromir Jagr when he played with Giroux and Scott Hartnell last season. Philadelphia is perhaps one of the most hostile environments in all of sports and Giroux flourishes there. He brings the mob to their feet on a nightly basis with his incredible display of skill and brains. Over the past couple seasons, Giroux has emerged as Philadelphia’s heart and soul, and a great antithesis to Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Giroux can play with those guys and once the puck drops again on an NHL season, Giroux will once again insert himself into the conversation of world’s best player, as long as the Crosby-like concussion issue that he currently is dealing with clears up. Having been injured playing in Germany during the lockout, Giroux has returned to the States to seek similar treatment as Crosby had with his well-documented concussion issues.
2. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin – forwards, Pittsburgh Penguins
Two of the games utmost elite talents, entering the prime of their careers and both having played the best hockey of their careers recently, what’s not to love about these two? We all remember the other-worldly tear that Sidney Crosby was on before his concussion problems derailed the better part of the next two seasons. We also remember Evgeni Malkin putting on GameShark for the 2009 playoffs and leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup. Last season, Malkin had the goal of the year (which was one of 50 that he scored all year) and won the scoring title and MVP. At the ages of 25 and 26, Crosby and Malkin have won every noteworthy award between the two of them; Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe, Rocket Richard Trophy, Lester B. Pearson award and so on and so forth. Pundits of the game have had one of these two as the best player in the game for the past three seasons or so. Both are one of a kind talents and bring different aspects to each game for the Penguins. Malkin has a blistering shot and has won the accuracy shooting at the All Star game, while Crosby is a cerebral assassin, and uses his brain as a weapon, always seeming to be in the right spot. These two are separately worth the price of admission each night, but together, it is the best deal in hockey.
- Henrik Lundqvist – goaltender, New York Rangers
King Henrik, for my money, is the most exciting player to watch in the NHL. He plays the toughest position in professional sports, in one of the toughest and most historic arenas in history, for one of the most demanding coaches in the league and he excels. Fresh off his Vezina Trophy victory last season for best goaltender in the league, Lundqvist will be looking to get off to a hot start next season. His play last season was truly MVP-worthy and his dominance in the playoffs helped the Rangers push the Devils to six games in the Eastern Conference Finals, only being bested by the best netminder of my generation, Martin Brodeur. There is nothing in the game more fun to watch than a goaltender put on a brilliant display in a game, and Lundqvist does it nightly. The Rangers are an Original Six team having had many great players throughout their existence, and Lundqvist is surely up there with some of the best. Henrik is one of those rare goalies that could easily be his teams captain, and garners the respect of his coaches, teammates, fans and media alike.
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