In part one of my series, I analyzed the NHL‘s deadliest weapons. While Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux, Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin could prove to be an NHL goaltender’s worst nightmare, this list of superstar talent is by no means all-inclusive. In part two of my look at the league’s most explosive talent, I take a look at “The Best of the Rest.”
Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils Ilya Kovalchuk’s 37 goals scored ranked 6th in the NHL last season while his 83 points ranked 5th amongst all players. The Russian sensation is more Alex Ovechkin than Evgeni Malkin, but even Ovechkin can’t match Kovalchuk’s physical prowess. Kovalchuk is just as likely to lay you out in an open ice collision as he is to weave his way through the entire opposition and make very good defensemen and goaltender’s look very bad in the process. This Russian sniper uses his hands for more than fancy stickhandling.
Kovalchuk isn’t afraid to drop the gloves and when he does it usually spells trouble for unsuspecting opponents who underestimate his scrapping ability. The sheer physicality that Kovalchuk possesses is absolutely integral to his offensive arsenal. Kovalchuk demands respect on the ice and thanks to his ability to back himself up physically, he usually gets it.
Kovalchuk creates space for himself because his reputation suggests if a defender gets too close, he’ll dance right around them or physically plow his way right through them. Couple this with one of the best shots in the league and a one-timer from the point (where he stations himself on the PP) that could most closely resemble a weapon of mass destruction, and it’s not hard to see why Kovalchuk has the distinction of leading the way when it comes to “The Best of the Rest.”
Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers If there’s a bigger contrast between any two players on this list than Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Gaborik, I’d like to hear about it. Like Kovalchuk, Gaborik is one of the most feared snipers in the entire league, but the way Kovalchuk and Gaborik go about creating their chances couldn’t be any different. While Kovalchuk is completely in your face, Marian Gaborik thrives on his ability to lay low.
If Gaborik were a missing person, he might be classified as a drifter, disappearing from defenders and reappearing seemingly out of thin air to find himself in the middle of golden scoring opportunities. Gaborik isn’t going to surprise anybody through his limited physical play, but he will surprise both defenders and goaltenders with his ability to accelerate and reach top speed faster than most vehicles can go from zero to sixty.
Gaborik isn’t the fastest player in the league (although one could argue he would certainly be on the list), but his ability to generate speed off of just one or two strides can completely throw off his defenders. Because of his quickness even while standing still, defenders are very seldom going to win a foot race against Gaborik. He isn’t a stickhandling specialist either, but that’s not to say he isn’t known to undress a defender or two on more than rare occasion and his shot is arguably more deceptive, quick and accurate than any of his peers.
There’s a reason Gaborik’s 41 goals scored ranked 3rd in the entire league last season, why he’s hit the 40 goal plateau twice since appearing on Broadway (he ranked top 5 during the 2009-2010 campaign) and why goaltenders need to keep their head on a swivel whenever #10 hits the ice.
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Redwings Pavel Datsyuk is a human highlight reel. Don’t believe me? Go check out Youtube and pair phrases such as “Pavel Datsyuk” and “sick” together in your video searches. There’s not a prettier player in the league to watch and I’m not talking about chiseled good looks.
What Pavel Datsyuk can do with a stick and a puck while gliding seamlessly up and down the ice is absolutely beautiful for everybody but the opposition. Just as easily as he can glide his way past defenders through the neutral zone and go shelf, he can alter speeds, stop and go and deke opposing defenders and net-minders out of their proverbial boots.
Part of why Datsyuk is so dangerous is his ability in his own end. He’s arguably the most talented two way forward in the game, as committed to playing in the defensive end as he is to dominating the offensive one. His ability to play in his own end means more ice time, more take-aways, more opportunity to pick up the puck and go coast to coast from his own zone and more ability to create the prettiest offense in the entire world.
While Datsyuk had a down season less than a year ago, he’s a point-per-game player who’s constantly flirting with 30 goals and 90 plus points and with somebody who can stick handle their way out of a phone booth, defenders are never safe. One might call it a beautiful disaster.
John Tavares, New York Islanders John Tavares was supposed to be the face that turned the Islanders back into a perennial contender when he arrived on Long Island three years ago. For Tavares and the Islanders it hasn’t been an overnight success. For J.T. it’s all about gradual improvement.
Tavares blossomed into a point-per-game player last season, ranking 7th in the NHL with 81 points; a feat that hardly went unnoticed. Tavares is somebody, perhaps more than anyone mentioned above or in part one, that relies more on his pure hockey sense than his raw hockey skill.
Even before Tavares became touted as one of the league’s best talents, he still registered 24 goals and 54 points (as a rookie) and 29 goals and 67 points during the 2010-2011 campaign. John Tavares knows where to be at all times. He doesn’t chase the puck, the puck finds him. Even before his skating was up to snuff, J.T.’s hockey IQ was noticeably on another level.
There’s a reason why both Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau blossomed into legitimate NHL talent under Tavares’ watch. Now that his skills are rapidly catching up to his ability to think the game and stay one step ahead, it’s only a matter of time before he takes the Islanders and turns them into serious contenders.
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators The lone defender on this list, there’s nothing about Erik Karlsson that even slightly resembles a blue-liner. Karlsson is arguably the most dynamic defenseman since Hall of Fame superstar Brian Leetch dominated Broadway. His speed and skating ability is truly second to none. He handles the puck as confidently as the best forwards in the league and his ability to read a play and step up at the right time is uncanny.
Karlsson scored 19 goals last season en route to finishing top 10 in the NHL with 78 points. There wasn’t another defender who came close. He can set plays up as well as any blue-liner in recent memory and he’s not shy about shooting the puck. With Erik Karlsson flanking the Senators offense and Jason Spezza helping out with the youngsters on the front line, the Senators could have one of the NHL’s most underrated offenses for years to come.