Leading up to the start of the 2023-24 season, theScore is counting down the top 100 players in the game today, as voted on by our NHL editors.
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Hughes‘ awaited breakout arrived in full force last season. He stayed healthy and annihilated even the loftiest of expectations going into the campaign.
The 22-year-old finished one point shy of 100 and was among the biggest reasons the Devils went from bottom five to top five in the league last season. We knew he could be among the NHL’s best playmakers, but what truly surprised was his dominance as a shooter.
Not only did Hughes finish top 10 in goals with 43, but his 336 shots on goal ranked fifth, more than doubling his previous career best. The sky’s the limit for the electrifying center.
The “C” in Crosby stands for “consistency.” The Pittsburgh Penguins captain is 18 seasons into his prolific NHL career and has never not been a point-per-game player, and last year was no different.
The Pens failed to make the playoffs in 2022-23 for the first time since Crosby’s rookie season, but it was hardly the longtime captain’s fault. Crosby paced his team with 93 points – 10 clear of the second place Evgeni Malkin – while appearing in all 82 games for the first time since 2017-18. The 36-year-old also led Pittsburgh in goals above replacement (15.8) and wins above replacement (2.7) by a wide margin.
The Penguins will be champing at the bit to return to postseason relevancy in 2023-24, and it’s a safe bet that a highly motivated Crosby will lead the charge.
The Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t the juggernaut they once were, but Kucherov remains one of the NHL’s most gifted stars. The Russian winger racked up more assists last season than anyone except the No. 1 name on this list, and his 113 points tied for third in the league. Most impressively, Kucherov averaged a career-high 20:08 in ice time, proving that even as he reaches the typical stage of a player’s decline, he’s anything but a typical player.
Pastrnak may have waltzed to MVP honors last season if it weren’t for some fellow named Connor McDavid, but the Bruins sniper had to settle for runner-up after a ridiculous 61-goal, 113-point outburst. Boston’s unprecedented regular-season success may have overshadowed just how dominant Pastrnak was, as no other Bruins skater reached 30 goals or 70 points.
Perhaps most impressively, a league-leading 43 of Pastrnak’s goals came at even strength. He also paced the NHL in game-winners (13) and shots (407) while averaging 19:34 per contest – a new personal high. Pastrnak has gone from an established star to one of the absolute best wingers around. The Bruins are facing some uncertainty heading into this season, but you can bank on him being their primary difference-maker.
Tkachuk cemented his status as one of the game’s elite players with back-to-back 40-goal, 100-point seasons. But he truly put himself in the conversation for the world’s second-best player this past postseason when he carried the Panthers to the Stanley Cup Final with 11 goals (including three OT winners) and 13 assists in 20 playoff contests.
While skill alone would already make Tkachuk one of hockey’s best, it’s his tenacity, competitiveness, and in-your-face style of play that truly make him special. Tkachuk is one of the very few players on this list who are routinely willing to drop the gloves to stand up for teammates. That rare breed of skill and physicality makes him a unicorn in today’s game.
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Despite missing 22 games, Makar still finished as a Norris finalist for the third straight campaign.
That says all you need to know about the best defenseman in hockey. Makar logged a career-best 26:23 per appearance and was one of only two blue-liners to operate at over a point per game alongside Erik Karlsson. His 71.5 goals above replacement since coming into the league in 2019 are nearly 10 better than the next-best defenseman.
If Makar can stay healthy – he’s missing time in the preseason already – it feels like the Norris is his to lose for the foreseeable future. His unbelievable blend of skating, skill, and shooting is unlike anything we’ve seen from a rearguard in years and makes him one of the most exciting players in the game.
Matthews is coming off a down year by his standards but still posted 40 goals in 74 games despite being hampered by a nagging wrist injury and a career-worst 12.2 shooting percentage.
If the ailment is completely behind him, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him rejoin the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy race in 2023-24. He won the hardware in back-to-back years prior to last season, highlighted by a 60-goal performance in 2021-22 that also earned him the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award as the league’s most valuable player.
The 26-year-old has been one of the NHL’s most consistent goal-scorers since his debut, and his 299 tallies since 2016-17 are the most in the league. Matthews will be the NHL’s highest-paid player beginning in 2024-25, and he can start proving why he’s worth that this season.
Draisaitl‘s elite performance has long been unfairly downplayed because of his association with our No. 1 player, but the German center just keeps producing at an otherworldly level. He leads all NHLers in goals and all forwards in average ice time since 2018-19, ranking second in points over that span behind you-know-who. Some of that is due to Draisaitl’s durability, as he’s missed only four games over the last five seasons and just eight over the last seven. But that in itself is remarkable considering he’s consistently among the forwards taking on the heaviest workloads.
MacKinnon was no worse than fifth on any of our seven ballots and came in second on three of them. The 28-year-old is fresh off registering a career-high 111 points in only 71 contests – good for the league’s third-most points per game (1.56) – while pacing all his peers with 77 even-strength points. Few players can change a game like MacKinnon, and if it weren’t for the one player ahead of him in our rankings, he could stake a serious claim as the world’s best player.
Since his breakout 2017-18 campaign, MacKinnon is third among all players in points, and he’s earned three Hart Trophy nominations, two All-Star selections, and a Cup along the way. He’s got plenty of time to add to his hardware collection, and if he produces like this for a few more seasons, he very well might skate his way straight into the Hall of Fame.
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While four different players received votes for No. 2 on this list, there was no doubt about No. 1. McDavid was our unanimous choice – and rightly so.
Matthews sparked some debate for best player in the game after winning the Hart Trophy with his 60-goal season in 2021-22, but McDavid put all that to bed with a historically great 64-goal, 153-point campaign. It marked the most goals in a season since Alex Ovechkin‘s 65 in 2007-08 and the most points since Mario Lemieux’s 161 in 1995-96. Considering the quality of goaltending and competition in today’s NHL, what McDavid did was nothing short of incredible.
The NHL hasn’t seen a player with skating so superior to his counterparts since Bobby Orr. The things McDavid can do with the puck on his stick while at full speed may never be matched – ever. Today’s fans should consider themselves lucky to watch him play. It’s only a matter of time before McDavid carries the Edmonton Oilers to a Cup victory and puts an exclamation mark on his status as one of the all-time greats.
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