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.

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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.

The Playoff Buzzer: Coyle plays OT hero; Tarasenko puts on show

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  • The Boston Bruins brushed off a 13-second disaster in the third period as Charlie Coyle scored the game-tying goal and then the game-winner in OT against the Blue Jackets
  • Blues picked up right where they left off in Round 1 thanks to Vladimir Tarasenko, Jordan Binnington and others. 

Boston 3, Blue Jackets 2 [OT] (BOS leads 1-0)

Everything looked breezy for Boston before Brandon Dubinsky and Pierre-Luc Dubois scored 13 seconds apart in the third period to turn the tide of the game. That was until the Charlie Coyle Show made its second-round debut. In the first episode, Coyle played hero, scoring the game-tying goal and then the winner in the ensuing overtime frame. The Bruins deserved it based on metrics and they ended up winning it on merit.

Blues 3, Stars 2 (STL leads 1-0)

The Blues needed Tarasenko to get going and they needed to rally around the same defensive structure that helped them see off the Winnipeg Jets. Job done in Game 1. Tarasenko had scored a brace. The Blues held the line and Binnington took care of the rest. The Blues were also able to penetrate a penalty kill that had gone 15-for-15 in Round 1, so there’s more joy to be had in Joyland for St. Louis.

Three stars

1. Charlie Coyle, Boston Bruins

Depth. It matters.

Coyle scored his fourth and fifth goals of the postseason, a game-tying goal late in the third period to force overtime and the game-winner off a slick feed from Marcus Johansson in the extra frame.

Boston was dangerous with their two top lines. If they’re getting continued scoring their bottom six, watch out everyone.

2. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

The Blues needed more from Tarasenko if they were going to taste success in their Round 2 series against the Dallas Stars.

Tarasenko had two power-play goals in Round 1 but didn’t get much-done five-on-five. Tarasenko scored once again on the power play in Game 1 against the Stars and then extended a third-period lead to 3-1 with his first five-on-five goal of the playoffs.

This is a good start.

3. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues

This guy. On Jan. 6 he didn’t have a win in the NHL, now he has five playoff wins under his belt spread across two rounds.

Binnington couldn’t care less about his likely snub in the rookie of the year race. He’s got a much bigger trophy on his mind. Binnington made 27 saves in the game, including 16-of-17 in the third period as the Stars searched for a tying goal. Something about Binnington’s calmness…

Highlights of the night

OT winners are always better:

Don’t give this man this kind of space:

Factoids

Friday’s games

Game 1: Hurricanes at Islanders, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live stream)
Game 1: Avalanche at Sharks, 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live stream)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Tarasenko takes over, Blues snag Game 1 vs. Stars

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If you needed a star player to score a big goal in a playoff game, who would you pick?

Most hockey fans would tab Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and other players who’ve already won at least a Stanley Cup. Maybe you’d lean toward Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, or Nikita Kucherov, if you wanted to mix things up.

St. Louis Blues fans would insist that Vladimir Tarasenko should be on the tip of your tongue, and in a tight 3-2 Game 1 win (and 1-0 series lead) for the Blues against the Dallas Stars, he added to his robust big-game resume.

(Game 2 airs on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday; stream here.)

While Ben Bishop will be haunted by allowing the Blues 1-0 goal early in Game 1 via Robby Fabbri, you wonder if there’s only so much anyone could do to stop Tarasenko on both of his goals. In particular, Tarasenko showed why his nickname is “Tank” on his second goal, as he absolutely powered his way past Miro Heiskanen and roofed a fantastic goal by Bishop. Tarasenko simply would not be denied:

At the time, Tarasenko’s second goal of Game 1 made it 3-1, but with Jamie Benn scoring a strange 3-2 goal that survived a goal review after an ill-timed whistle, the Blues needed every one of those Tarasenko tallies. Tarasenko’s nicest goal of the evening ended up counting as the game-winner.

With this result, Tarasenko now has an outstanding 26 goals in his last 50 playoff games. That ties Tarasenko with Sidney Crosby for the fourth-most postseason goals since 2013-14, and Crosby hit that mark in 82 playoff contests. None of that is meant to insult Crosby; instead, the point is that Tarasenko’s been an absolute superstar in the postseason.

Interestingly, Tarasenko was pretty quiet in Round 1, only managing two goals in six games against the Winnipeg Jets. The Blues were carried by other players like Jaden Schwartz with Winnipeg’s top line carrying the way, but on Thursday, it was the Tarasenko show.

***

While it was a tough night at times for Bishop (who took a scary puck to the head), Jordan Binnington was a mix of brilliant and a touch scrambly. Binnington also felt some content during Game 1, as this scuffle began when the rookie goalie was bumped by Blake Comeau:

Binnington gave up a juicy rebound or three in Game 1, yet he really locked it down when Dallas tried to wage a comeback; Binnington stopped 16 out of 17 shots in the third period alone.

This loss stings, but the Stars can feel comfortable that they weren’t merely facing a struggling Predators team. Dallas was absolutely able to hang with a St. Louis squad that was a buzzsaw at times down the stretch this season, and honestly, the Stars sometimes looked flat-out better.

The Blues found a way to win Game 1, which in this case, meant riding Tarasenko’s dominant scoring and Binnington’s brilliant netminding. If this one was any indication, more wins against Dallas won’t come easy, so the Blues might need more of that from their biggest star, and their rising star in net.

The Stars will try to even up the series against the Blues as Game 2 takes place at the Enterprise Center on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET (NBC; stream here).

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.

If Bruins keep getting secondary scoring, look out

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The Boston Bruins have long been considered a “one-line team,” and that’s not such a bad thing when that one line features Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak.

You’d think that the Bruins would have lost Game 7 against the Maple Leafs and Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, what with that one line essentially being held scoreless.*

Nope. The Bruins won both of those games, which leaves them with a 1-0 series lead against the Blue Jackets to begin Round 2.

[Read all about the Bruins’ 3-2 OT win here.]

* – Bergeron scored an empty-netter in Game 7, but it was a 5-1 goal that barely beat the buzzer and meant even less to the outcome of that decisive contest.

Consider some of the less-obvious players who’ve come through for the Bruins lately, and we’ll ponder how likely it is that they’ll be able to continue to contribute.

David Krejci

But first, an obvious player, as Krejci is a player whose play (73 points this season, tying a career-high) screams that the Bruins really haven’t only been a one-line team, in the first place. It’s probably true that Krejci isn’t quite the pivot who topped all playoff point producers in 2012-13 (26, seven more than anyone else) and 2010-11 (23), but he remains worthy of more attention than he gets on a team with justifiable spotlight-takers in Bergeron, Marchand, and Zdeno Chara.

The Bruins might end up needing even more from the supporting cast members below if Krejci needs to miss some time. NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that Krejci is considered day-to-day, and it’s possible he got hurt here.

Even if Krejci plays, there’s the chance he wouldn’t be at full-strength, so these players may need to continue to step up as the series moves on to Game 2 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC; stream here).

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Charlie Coyle

The headline-grabber, naturally, is Coyle. He was already heating up during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Game 1 was his masterpiece, as Coyle scored the goal that sent Game 1 to overtime, and then tapped home the 2-1 OT-winner.

If you ever want a snapshot of how dramatically luck can shift from terrible to incredibly friendly, you could do worse than to look at Coyle right after the trade deadline versus Playoff Coyle.

Through 21 regular-season games after being traded to Bruins: two goals, six points, a pitiful 4.8 shooting percentage on 42 SOG.

Through eight playoff games: five goals, six points, an absurd 35.7 shooting percentage on 14 SOG.

Obviously, the truth about Coyle is somewhere between the guy who couldn’t buy a bucket during the regular season with Boston, and the player who’s scored a goal on his last three shots on goal.

Coyle finished 2018-19 with 34 points, but he generally strikes as a 40-50 point player, and has shown a decent ceiling with a career-high of 56 points in 2016-17. You can’t really expect spectacular scoring from Coyle, but if this run really heightens his self-confidence, he could really give the Bruins a chance to win the depth battle, at least some nights. That’s not as spectacular as scoring OT goals, but in the likely event that the top line starts scoring again, it makes the Bruins frightening.

Marcus Johansson

Goal scorers are the guys who “hit the long ball” to a great passer’s Maddux, but you merely need to watch replays of the two Coyle goals to see that Marcus Johansson was just as instrumental in those tide-changing tallies.

It’s tough not to root for a player like Johansson. When he was traded from Washington to New Jersey, it seemed like the Capitals got cap-crunched, and the Devils were really building something. Unfortunately, thanks in large part to a bad hit by Johansson’s now-teammate Brad Marchand, Johansson suffered serious health issues, and really hasn’t been the same player.

The Bruins were smart to give Johansson a shot via a rental, though, and the B’s could really be onto something if he finds chemistry with Coyle. Johansson’s 30 points in the regular season are actually a lot more impressive when you consider that he was limited to 58 games played, and if he can stay healthy, the Swede could put together a stellar contract year (er, contract playoff run?).

Again, don’t expect Coyle and Johansson to do Game 1 things during the rest of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, yet the chemistry and confidence could start soaring at this rate.

(And, hey, Coyle’s contract ends after 2019-20, so really, they’re both more or less playing for their futures.)

Jake DeBrusk

As the Bruins’ frequent second-liner alongside Krejci, DeBrusk quietly put up 27 goals despite being limited to 68 games. He had some memorable moments during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and remains a strong contributor for Boston. In fact, if Krejci misses time, DeBrusk could show how much havoc he can create on his own.

Sean Kuraly/Noel Acciari/Joakim Nordstrom

OK, these guys weren’t exactly high-scorers during the regular season, and their contributions might not be super-dependable. Acciari’s goal on Sergei Bobrovsky to start the scoring in Game 1, and Kuraly’s big 3-1 goal against Frederik Andersen in Game 7 of Round 1 were both goals that the netminders really should have had. Still, if those guys can get the occasional goal and avoid being deep underwater on tougher nights, that could be big. (Some nights will be easier than others.)

Kuraly, in particular, shows a nice burst that can cause headaches for opponents, and his possession stats have been positive so far now that he’s managed to get healthy enough to appear in the playoffs.

***

Don’t let some hit-posts and other near-misses fool you; the Bruins are still going to lean heavily on their top trio, and barring health issues or a truly profound cold streak, they’ll likely deliver.

You need another players to pick up during the grind of the postseason, particularly against teams that are gameplanning to stop Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak. The Bruins have been getting needed contributions from their supporting cast, and while that luck is almost certain to eventually cool off, there’s a solid chance that Coyle and Johansson could be bigger contributions than they were during the regular season.

That makes the Bruins a scary postseason opponent, especially if Krejci’s issues are short-lived.

The Bruins hope to build on their 1-0 series lead against the Blue Jackets in Game 2 at TD Garden at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday (NBC; stream here).

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.

Coyle’s clutch as Bruins take 1-0 series lead vs. Blue Jackets

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Some deadline deals never work out for teams once they hit the playoffs. Others take a little time to find their stride.

And then there’s some that make an immediate impact.

While Charlie Coyle‘s arrival in Boston earlier in the year wasn’t much to write home about, his presence in the Stanley Cup Playoffs has been nothing short of sensational.

And the Boston Bruins can thank Coyle for a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven Round 2 series against the Columbus Blue Jackets after he scored two monumental goals for the Bruins in a 3-2 overtime win on NBCSN on Thursday.

Coyle’s wasn’t the biggest name to get a plane ticket to a new destination. He was added depth for a Bruins team were bolstering their lineup for a run at Lord Stanley. But sometimes depth plays a crucial part for a playoff team, and Coyle now has five goals and an assist in eight playoff games with his new club.

Coyle came through in the clutch not once, but twice on Thursday.

Boston had jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period on a shorthanded goal by Noel Acciari (more depth) as Boston tried to deliver the knockout blow in a flurry of offense in the opening period.

The Blue Jackets withstood the storm, much like they did against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. As the game progressed, Columbus slowly found its stride. They hadn’t played in a week after sweeping the Lightning in the biggest shocker of Round 1. They looked, perhaps, too relaxed.

But when the third rolled around, a gift of manna emerged from the heavens in the forms of a 13 stretch where the Blue Jackets turn the game on its head.

Boston will probably say this one was just a blip on the radar after the win. Columbus, meanwhile, will say they stuck with it and use some solace.

Both statements have some semblance of truth embedded in them, but in a race to four wins, it only matters that the Bruins found a way.

And that way was directed by Coyle.

The former Minnesota Wild forward tied the game with less than four minutes remaining to ultimately send the game to overtime, where he’d write the conclusion to the story as he tapped in a perfect pass from fellow trade deadline acquisition Marcus Johansson to seal the victory.

Boston probably deserved to win, truth be told. The possession numbers and expected goals favored them heavily and they were able to rebound from the 180 that happened. The playoffs are as much about rebounding from adversity as they are about trying to avoid it altogether.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck