You have rummaged through our skill-training videos and have even picked up some of our top-end training equipment. But when you’re just sitting back and watching the game, which NHL superstars should you be watching for each skill attribute?
At the end of the day, you really can’t go wrong with anyone in the NHL. Every player is where they are at because their skill level far exceeds the competition they faced in juniors, college or European leagues.
New Jersey Devils defenseman Damon Severson may not be known for his offensive prowess, but he was a 15-goal, 61-point scorer with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL in 2013-14. The same can be said for Philadelphia Flyers center Chris VandeVelde, who slots in as a fourth-line forward. The notable penalty killer was once a college star, finishing fourth among WCHA goal-scoring leaders (18) his junior year.
However, just like you’ve noticed in any league you’ve ever played in, some players are just better at certain aspects of the game than others.
This list will help you determine who the best skater is in each position.
Defensive Positioning: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
The 2015-16 Norris Trophy winner as the league’s best defenseman, Doughty is the go-to guy for anyone wanting to learn the position. Doughty’s vision of the ice is nearly unmatched, as he seems to know what play will develop seconds before it happens. This is why you will rarely find him caught up ice. The Kings assistant captain is constantly making the perfect play on odd-man rushes, as well as plays along the boards. His footwork and quick hands make him a dynamic defenseman who can break up a play and spring one of his forwards on a breakaway in one motion.
Notable mentions: Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (San Jose Sharks), Shea Weber (Montreal Canadiens)
Goalie Positioning: Cory Schneider (New Jersey Devils)
Although he probably isn’t the first goalie you think of when you hear elite, he should be right at the top of the class. Schneider, a former Vancouver Canucks split starter, has succeeded Martin Brodeur in New Jersey valiantly, supplying his team a chance to win every night. Despite the Devils not qualifying for the playoffs in Schneider’s three-year tenure, he is constantly finding his name atop goaltending stats leaders (a 2.15 goals-against average and .924 save percentage was among the top-5 best in 2015-16). Schneider also rarely makes the nightly highlight reels because he is rarely out of positioning, necessitating a miraculous save. Whenever a shooter is squaring up for a shot, Schneider is ready to gobble up the puck into his chest or catching glove.
Notable mentions: Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals), Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers), Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings)
Passing: Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
Thornton was already a standout player with the Boston Bruins early in his career, but he truly became a superstar when he was traded to San Jose in November 2005. The crafty center compiled 92 points in 58 games for the Sharks that season, ending the campaign with a league-leading 125 points. Although he’s not reaching the 100-point mark anymore, Thornton can still thread the needle as well as anyone. In 2015-16, at 36-years-old, Thornton registered 63 assists in 82 games. He has always been a pass-first player and has made teammates around him that much more deadly (just ask Jonathan Cheechoo and his league-leading 56 goals in 2005-06). His ability to find the open man is legendary and it will likely land him in the Hall of Fame when it’s all said and done.
Notable Mentions: Nicklas Backstrom (Washington Capitals), Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins), Tyler Seguin (Dallas Stars)
Skating: Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings
If you’re looking to improve your skating, you can’t go wrong with taking a look at the NHL’s fastest skater in history. Larkin, starting his sophomore season in 2016-17, broke the two-decade-long record of 13.386 seconds through the NHL’s Fastest Skater Challenge, set by Mike Gartner during the 1996 NHL All-Star Weekend. Larkin’s time, 13.172, is a number that won’t likely be broken anytime soon. The Red Wings forward is able to reach such a top speed due to long strides and tight cornering. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound forward uses every inch of muscle in his body to jet at any point, making him a danger for odd-man breaks and offensive rushes.
Notable mentions: Carl Hagelin (Pittsburgh), Taylor Hall (New Jersey Devils), Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators)
Slap Shots: Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens
When Weber winds up from the point, there isn’t one player on the rink that doesn’t think twice about getting in front of it — including the goaltender. Weber has an absolute cannon from the point; his laser beam has been the root of many player injuries, as well as goals for his team. His 108.5 mph bomb in the 2015 NHL All-Star Skills Competition ranks second in the NHL all-time and is just shy of Zdeno Chara’s 108.8 howitzer he blasted in 2012. It’s not only the speed, though — it’s the accuracy. His teammates are often finding chances for deflections and rebounds, steering the puck past the netminder if the shot gets through. His feet’s positioning and his full body motion through the shot make Weber a force to be reckoned with when he has the puck.
Notable Mentions: Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins), Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning), P.K. Subban (Nashville Predators)
Stickhandling: Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
The 2015-16 Art Ross and Hart Memorial Trophy winner has shown time and again that no one is more dangerous one-on-one with the goaltender. Although others may match him in shot release or quickness, Kane is in a league of his own when it comes to handling the puck. Utilizing head fakes, changes in skating speed, toe drags and vision (among numerous others), Kane causes defensemen and goalies to have many sleepless nights ahead of games against the Blackhawks.
Notable mentions: Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins), Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators), Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)
Wrist Shots / One-Timers: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Ovechkin proves time and again that he is one of history’s most elite snipers. The six-time Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy winner, awarded to the league’s top scorer, ranks 89th in the NHL all-time point-scoring list (966) and 33rd in all-time goals scored (525). The 31-year-old is showing now signs of slowing down, as he possesses some of the quickest hands ever known to the sport. Watch the Russian superstar when the Capitals head to the power play; he is always square to the net and always crouched, ready to one-time the puck the minute his teammates can find him. His follow-through is just as menacing as his shot, as his stick always ends up pointing to his target and his knees are always bent in the perfect position. The flick of his wrists creates an explosion of the puck off the stick.
Notable Mentions: Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks), Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks), Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues)
As stated previously, you can’t go wrong with any player who has made it to the NHL. These players possess the highest talent in the world and can show any future NHL superstars how the job is done.
Feature photo courtesy Trixy Larue | Flickr
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