Alex Thomas’ NHL Top 50: 40-31

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Here is part two of my Top 50 player countdown, where I’ll take a look at the 50 best players in the NHL in my opinion. This series is in response to NHL Network’s #NHLTopPlayers countdown, which is currently going on each weekend. Here is NHL Network’s number 40-31 players. Part one of my countdown, looking at numbers 50-41, can be found here.

Let’s continue the countdown, shall we?

40. Sean Couturier – Center, Philadelphia:

Couturier erupted this past season, taking a featured role at center with Claude Giroux moving to the wing. Couturier, who was always one of the best two-centers in hockey, saw his offensive game shine when put in a top-line role. He posted a career high 76 points (31-45-76) in 82 games last season, emerging as one of the best centers out east. Consistency will be key, and Couturier will need to prove last season wasn’t an outlier, but he’s on his way to becoming a star in this league at just 25 years old.

39. John Carlson – Defense, Washington:

Speaking of breakout seasons, Carlson was sensational for the Capitals en route to a Stanley Cup Championship this past June. Carlson registered 68 points (15-53-68) in 82 games, adding 20 points (5-15-20) in 24 playoff contests. Carlson emerged as one of the best offensive threats from the blueline a year ago, and was a legit weapon on the powerplay for the Capitals. Carlson is a difference maker on defense, and one of the best puck movers in hockey. In today’s NHL, he has exceptional value.

38. Braden Holtby – Goalie, Washington:

Holtby did not have a great regular season by his standards. He only managed a .907 save percentage to go with a 34-16-4 record and lost his job heading into the playoffs. That said, Holtby has been one of the best goalies in the league during his career, and he was simply sensational after regaining the starting job, propelling the Capitals to their first ever title. Holtby earns this spot because of his overall body of work and strong reemergence in the playoffs.

37. Matthew Barzal – Center, New York Islanders:

Barzal won the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookies and put on a show for the ages. He managed 85 points (22-63-85) in 82 games for the Islanders, good for the team lead. He anchored the team’s second line, and will get the expanded challenge of being the club’s top pivot in 2018-19. It’s likely he takes a step back because of the elevated role, but Barzal is an impact player in the making. His speed and skill combination is simply amazing, and I’m really looking forward to watching his career play out.

36. Phil Kessel – Right Wing, Pittsburgh:

Lost in the spotlight of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, Kessel put forth his best season in 2017-18, totaling 92 points (34-58-92) in 82 games. Kessel is one of the most underrated players in the game, and is a legit impact goal scorer on the wing. He’s got the ability to drive his own line, and gives Pittsburgh that added push offensively that makes them so dangerous. Kessel is often the butt end of jokes, but he’s a sensational winger that deserves a lot of credit and praise.

35. Seth Jones – Defense, Columbus:

A legit contender for the title of best defender in the NHL, Jones has quietly become an impact player in Columbus. At just 23 years old, and only getting better, Jones is poised to be great for a long, long time. He registered 57 points (16-41-57) in 78 games last season, and proved once again that he is a legit number one defender in this league. The scary part about Jones? He is only growing and will certainly move up this list as the years go by.

34. Johnny Gaudreau – Left Wing, Calgary:

Gaudreau, for my money, is Calgary’s best player and arguably the best winger in the Pacific Division. Gaudreau can drive his own line, and posts terrific numbers on the Flames’ top-line. Along with Sean Monahan, he helps provide the most dangerous punch in Southern Alberta. Gaudreau saw a 23 point increase year-over-year, posting 84 points (24-60-84) in 80 games in 2017-18. One of the best left wingers in hockey, Gaudreau is worth the price of admission on his own some nights.

33. Nicklas Backstrom – Center, Washington:

The third Capital in today’s part of the countdown, Backstrom fell out of the spotlight a bit because of an injury in the playoffs and the emergence of others in the lineup. Don’t be fooled, however, because Backstrom is still one of the NHL’s best play-makers and an elite center. He’s a consistent 70 point producer, and is a key for Washington’s success year after year.

32. Vladimir Tarasenko – Right Wing, St. Louis:

In terms of pure goal scorers, few are better than Tarasenko. He potted 33 goals a season ago, his fourth straight 30 or more goal season. He took a step back points with, going from 75 in 2016-17 to 66 last season, but he’s still one of the best goal scorers in the NHL and as a result is one of the most dangerous offensive players in the game. The reason he comes in at 32? There are without doubt other areas he can improve in moving forward.

31. Aleksander Barkov – Center, Florida:

In terms of underrated players, Aleksander Barkov might be the most underrated in the game. An elite two-way center, Barkov provides strong offensive production (78 points, 27-51-78) and excellent defensive awareness and play while holding down the top line in South Beach. He doesn’t get the love he deserves because of where he plays, but Barkov is an impact player that might only be bested by Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar when it comes to two-way centers.

Photo Credit: By Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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