NHL.com lists Ovechkin, Datsyuk among its most exciting players of all-time

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If the Sidney Crosby-free but highly successful 2011 playoffs proved anything, it’s that there is plenty of star power to go around in the NHL. That being said, there’s a difference between watching the star of the moment and a witnessing a force of sheer entertainment. We’re talking about the kind of player whose over-the-top skills won’t be forgotten and whose abilities make them worth the price of admission.

To some extent, a player can often be memorable for being ahead of his time or for utilizing methods that simply should not work. Bobby Orr captivated hockey fans in Massachusetts and beyond with the kind of skating skills and two-way abilities that made others pale in comparison. It’s tough not to least ask if he would be as special in the modern NHL, though. In retrospect, it’s almost as if he traveled back in time to revolutionize his position.

However you explain exactly why those players are or were so special, NHL.com’s John Kreiser compiled an interesting list of the most exciting players of all-time. It’s pretty tough to argue with his list, but let’s look at (and expand upon) his arguments. We’ll begin with two active players who should be on the tip of any unbiased hockey fan’s tongue.

Alex Ovechkin (2005-06 – present)

… But it wasn’t just how many goals Ovechkin scored — it was the way he scored them. A spectacular goal against Phoenix in his rookie season, scored falling down on his back, told the hockey world he was something special, and he’s added to his library of “how did he do that” moments with each passing year.

Pavel Datsyuk (2001-02 – present)

The 1980s had the “Savardian Spin-o-rama.” The 2000s had the “Datsyukian Deke.”

Pavel Datsyuk’s offensive numbers with the Detroit Red Wings won’t match his countryman Ovechkin’s totals with Washington — they are different types of players. But while Datsyuk may not ring up 50 goals, he doesn’t have to take a backseat to anyone when it comes to highlight-reel moments.

Describing what makes Ovechkin and Datsyuk special is the hockey equivalent to a music critic trying to contextualize the impact of the Beatles or Bob Dylan’s most famous works; after a while you run out of ways to skin that cat. One could argue that Ovechkin is the choice of casual fans while “connoisseurs” might prefer Datsyuk, but in the grand scheme of things they’re both able to ply their on-ice art in a time in which teams are better prepared to stop scorers than ever before. (Although defenses were certainly given more freedom to impede scorers in the Dead Puck Era.)

Kreiser provides some bullet-proof great choices from earlier eras, tabbing Orr, Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur, Denis Savard and Maurice “The Rocket” Richard.

Maurice Richard (1942-43 – 1959-60)

Maurice Richard did one thing better than any player of his generation — put the puck in the net. He was as unstoppable from the blue line to the net as any player in NHL history. The sight of Richard, eyes ablaze as he attacked the goal, was enough to send a shiver down the spine of any NHL goaltender.

Two semi-recent stars Kreiser mentioned were Pavel Bure and Dominik Hasek. “The Dominator” was such a unique goaltending presence that Kreiser lead off his article by discussing the one of a kind Czech goalie.

By the time Hasek arrived in the NHL, with Chicago in 1990, the butterfly was in full vogue. But Hasek was more than just a butterfly goalie — he would do anything, use anything, to keep the puck out of the net. That could mean flopping, rolling onto his back, doing a snow angel, leaving his stick on the ice or gloving the puck with his blocker — he never gave up on a shot, and found ways to keep pucks from entering the net that other goaltenders hadn’t even dreamed of. His unorthodox style may have driven his coaches crazy, but it drove opposing shooters to distraction while earning him the nickname “The Dominator.”

Hasek’s excitement quota was off the charts — you never knew what new move he’d come up with to keep the puck out of the net.

Tim Thomas might be our closest answer to Hasek, but he admitted that he couldn’t use a Hasek-type sprawling move after a few years at the NHL Awards in June. Thomas said players have gotten too adept at lifting the puck for him to use the type of spinning save that Hasek used in the past (see No. 6 and No. 2 in this countdown for a solid example of what Thomas was talking about).

Hasek might be a solid example of what I was talking about earlier, then: a force ahead of his time. Maybe Hasek’s slinky-spine tactics wouldn’t work quite as well – and maybe Orr’s innovative game wouldn’t have been so impossible to match – in a higher skill league today, but perhaps that’s part of what made them such sites to see in their primes?

Either way, hockey fans should enjoy every chance they get to watch Ovechkin and Datsyuk. Players with their jaw-dropping skills don’t come along every day.

McDavid makes Keith, Blackhawks look helpless with absurd assist (Video)

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Connor McDavid‘s speed and skill are glorious, but the thing that makes him extra-sensational is just how unstoppable he seems. Even against some of the NHL’s best.

To start the season, McDavid made very-solid Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie look downright permeable during the most impressive goal in his opening-night hat trick.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, the superstar tore through the Chicago Blackhawks – including certain future Hall of Famer Duncan Keith – and then sent absolutely obscene pass to Patrick Maroon for an easy goal.

You know how people used to say that a fire hydrant could score 50 goals with Mario Lemieux? We might need to bump that down to 30 for modern hockey, but either way, Maroon might laugh uncomfortably at such jokes.

If you prefer your jaw-droppers in GIF form, drop away:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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First pick, first goal: Nico Hischier also flirting with first hat trick

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One remarkable thing about the New Jersey Devils’ hot start is that Nico Hischier, the top pick of this past draft, had yet to score his first NHL goal.

Of course, there’s a danger to looking at only goals. After all, the 18-year-old had four assists in six games, with three coming in his last two contests. The Devils were justified in all of those comments about it being just a matter of time …

… As it turns out, it didn’t take Hischier much time against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

Not only did the Swiss scorer find the net for his first goal by roofing a nice setup from Taylor Hall and Drew Stafford.

He also showed some savvy in scoring his second goal less than two minutes later.

Hischier now has two periods and change to collect his first-ever hat trick in that same game.

A quick look at how he’s been doing, overall

Even when other Devils stole some of his thunder in what might have been an opening statement of a first win for New Jersey, Hischier showed some dynamic moves.

Nice.

As NJ.com’s Chris Ryan reported, Devils coach John Hynes was left raving about Hischier after he collected two assists in the Devils’ shootout win against the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this week.

“He was very good in all aspects,” John Hynes said on Wednesday. “Defensively he was excellent, going back to the video this morning, some of the chances he had that he didn’t score on were excellent. When you look at the chances he created, the assists he had, the assist on the game-tying goal, he set up (Taylor Hall) very well in the offensive zone. I’d say that was his most complete game to date.”

Hischier began the season being used sparingly, but he logged more legitimate top-six minutes the past couple games. He sure seems like a quick study so far. Hischier’s getting some protected zone starts and other situations, but there’s also sense that Hynes is going to take off the training wheels very quickly.

Thursday seems like the reward, or the flashing light, for all that good early work. This post will be updated as we wait to see if Hischier can manage that hat trick.

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Look, it’s very, very early.

All we can judge Hischier and the Devils on, right now, is how they’ve played so far … and with each game, this team looks more and more legit. And so does their prized prospect.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Bruised Bruins get Bergeron and Backes back, at least

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On paper, a game against old chums the Vancouver Canucks would probably be an assumed W for the Boston Bruins.

It hasn’t been safe to assume much during an up-and-down start so far, and that goes straight down to injuries, as Bruins news seems to rotate with the bad and the good.

In the case of Thursday, the good and the bad seem to come in hour rotations rather than days. Earlier, the unfortunate news came: Tuukka Rask was diagnosed with a concussion, adding to the rough news about Ryan Spooner.

If Anton Khudobin struggles and the Bruins need to outscore their problems, at least they’re getting reinforcements in that regard, as both David Backes and Patrice Bergeron are back in action.

One would expect Bergeron to resume much of his puck-mastery tonight, or at least soon, even if he might take a while to improve after a 2016-17 season he wasn’t totally pleased with.

(Bergeron was probably in the minority there, what with winning the Selke Trophy and his line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak dominating opponents.)

Backes might be most interesting to watch. He reportedly lost 10 lbs. because of diverticulitis, so you wonder if he’ll be limited for a while. He’s trying to bounce back from 2016-17 in a more objective way than Bergeron, after all.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Bruins turn to Khudobin after Rask diagnosed with concussion

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A bad start to the season officially got worse on Thursday as the Boston Bruins announced that Tuukka Rask has been diagnosed with a concussion.

The 30-year-old netminder collided with Anders Bjork during practice on Wednesday and needed to be helped off the ice. Anton Khudobin will start Thursday night against the Canucks and Zane MacIntyre will serve as his backup.

The Bruins are 2-3-0 on the season with a minus-4 goal differential. Rask has struggled as well with an ugly .887 even strength save percentage in four starts. With four games over the next 11 days, the hope is that either Khudobin or MacIntyre can right the ship as Rask heals.

“I feel good. Camp was good and everything is fine, and I’ve started better than last year,” said Khudobin via NBC Sports Boston. “My role is just day-to-day. Today is a game day and hopefully, you get a good result, and then tomorrow is another new day.”

As the Bruins get David Backes and possibly Patrice Bergeron back, they’ve watched as Rask and Ryan Spooner (4-6 weeks) leave the lineup with injury. Having a roster in flux while you’re trying to find some consistency will be a tough ask for head coach Bruce Cassidy and his players.

The 31-year-old Khudobin has played well in two appearances this season, stopping 32 of 33 shots faced and posting a .970 ESSV%.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.