The 15 best NHL players of 2018 (PHT Year In Review)

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Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best goals, saves, moments, players and more as we remember 2018.

This week’s PHT Power Rankings wraps up our 2018 year in review by taking a look back at the best players of the past calendar year. Obviously that means taking into account just what happened from Jan. 1 through the end of the year.

It was a great year for some of the NHL’s best players, especially as goal-scoring has seen a spike around the league. That means players like Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were able to put up some huge numbers.

They were not the only players that shined in 2018 so let’s take a look at the top-15 players from the past year.

To the rankings!

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. There isn’t a better offensive player in the world. In 2018 he completed his second straight 100-point season, won his second straight Art Ross Trophy, and probably had a strong argument to be the league ost Valuable Player if he had a better team around him. His 119 points in 80 games were the most in the NHL during the calendar year and he did it playing for a team where he literally had to create more than half of the offense. Imagine if he had more around him.

2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. The Tampa Bay Lightning have been one of the league’s best teams the past five years and Kucherov has become their best player. He is a remarkable offensive talent and can take over a game like few others in the league. He has surged to the top of the NHL’s points race this season in recent weeks with an absolutely mind-blowing run that has seen him record 46 points in 22 games. He has recorded at least one point in 20 of those games.

3. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He did not get enough Hart Trophy consideration last year considering he was once again the league’s leading goal-scorer on a contending team. It also turned out to be a huge year for him and the Capitals as they finally ended their Stanley Cup drought with Ovechkin playing a key role in that run. He is 33 years old and still the most dominant goal-scorer in the league, and there really are not many players that are close to him.

4-5. Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon. I am putting these two together because their production has been nearly identical, they typically play on the same line, and they are the driving force behind the Colorado Avalanche’s resurgence the past two seasons. They are both among the top-three point-producers in the NHL from 2018 and are usually good to team up for at least one goal in almost every game the Avalanche play. It’s not often that one line can turn a team into a playoff team, but this one does it.

6. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. His days as an NHL scoring champion are probably over, but he is still one of the best all-around players in the league and a game-changing force every time he is on the ice. He had 100 points in 77 games in 2018 and is still one of the best in the world at dictating the pace of the game.

7. Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils. He almost single handedly carried the New Jersey Devils to a playoff spot during the 2017-18 season and won the Hart Trophy as a result. It was a well deserved honor. Unfortunately the Devils haven’t done enough to surround him with talent and he may now be having flashbacks to his days in Edmonton where he is the only player providing the offense.

8. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks. He is trying to do the goaltending version of what Hall did a season ago and drag an otherwise mediocre a team to the playoffs on his back. There has not been a better goaltender in the NHL over the past year, and assuming he stays healthy and keeps playing at his current level he should be a front-runner for the Vezina Trophy at the end of this season.

9. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning. The most complete defender in the NHL. A workhorse in terms of the minutes he plays and a shutdown defender that also helps drive the offense.

AP Images

10. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. If hadn’t missed so many games due to injury he would probably be even higher on the list. His 36 goals are 17th in the NHL for 2018, but he scored them in only 57 games. That is a 54-goal pace over a full 82-game season. He opened the 2018-19 season with 19 goals in his first 25 games.

11. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins. Like Crosby, his days as a potential scoring champion are probably behind him, but when he is playing at his best there are few players in the league that can match him. 

12. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators. He had a couple of down years that made it look like his career was starting to wind down, but over the past two Pekka Rinne has rebounded in a big way to once again play like one of the top goalies in the league. In 2018 his .926 save percentage was right there with Gibson for the best in the league and after a couple of seasons as a runner-up, he finally took home his first Vezina Trophy.

13. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets. The second-best goal scorer in the NHL after Ovechkin, and probably the player that is going to take over his throne as the league’s goal-scoring champion whenever Ovechkin finally slows down (if he ever slows down). He scored 50 goals this past year in 77 games.

14. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers. Because the team around him has been a bit of a mess it’s probably easy to overlook just how good Claude Giroux still is. He was one of seven players in the NHL to top 100 points during the 2018 calendar year and is still one of the league’s elite playmakers. After a couple of down years from a points perspective he has quickly rocketed back to the top the past two seasons.

15. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. He is one of the league’s most hated players (unless you play for the Bruins or cheer for the Bruins) because of the way he plays and his attempts to annoy his opponents. But he is also one of the league’s best players when you combine his offense (94 points in 77 games during 2018), defensive play, and ability to drive possession. He has been one of the top offensive performers for a couple of years now and seemed to take his game to an even higher level in 2018. He is a remarkable all-around player.

More PHT Year in Review:
• Bloopers
• Moments

Saves
 Goals

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

ovechkin all star
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports
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SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

WELCOME HOME, LU

Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

Luongo, who was regaled by “Luuuuu” chants from the Florida fans all night, was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

“You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design depicted his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks. They were a gift from CCM for his making the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“I’d never put the pads on since I retired,” Luongo said. “First time I put them on was this week. Felt pretty good.”

He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night. But if there’s more alumni games, Luongo suggested he might jump back into the net.

“It back some good memories tonight to be in the blue paint, hearing the chants,” Luongo said. “Maybe one day we’ll hear them again.”

REMEMBERING JIMMY

Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

ANTHEM POISE

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

SLAP SHOTS

Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

“Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

mark stone surgery
Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.