Pro Hockey Talk Year In Review: Top NHL Players From 2021

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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 NHL goals, saves, stories, players and more as we remember 2021.

There have been some truly incredible individual performances over the past calendar year in the NHL, from the stunning numbers we have seen from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton, to the ageless performance of Alex Ovechkin in Washington.

They are just some of the big names that highlight the top players list from the past year.

Also on the list are an MVP candidate that has helped lead the Rangers’ rebuild, the best goalie in hockey, and a franchise-changing player in Minnesota.

The list only takes into account performances from Jan. 1 through now and separates forwards, defenders, and goalies.

To the list!


Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. The numbers are staggering. Since the start of the calendar year McDavid has played 85 regular season games and recorded 154 points. The next closest player is his teammate, Leon Draisaitl, at 133 points. No other NHL player as of Monday has more than 100 (Auston Matthews is third at 99 in 79 games). Add in the playoffs and he is at 158 points in 89 games. He makes defenders look helpless at times.

Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. There was a time when his contract was viewed as a mistake. Now it might be a bargain. He and McDavid are the best 1-2 punch in the NHL and are dragging the Oilers as far as they can by themselves. If only they had a supporting cast around them.

Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. He has scored 61 goals in only 79 games over the past year, an absolutely incredible pace. During 2021 he has led the league in total goals, even-strength goals, and is fourth in power play goals. He is going to be a yearly contender for the Rocket Richard Trophy (he has already won it one time) and will probably win it multiple times.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. He is not quite on McDavid’s level (who is right now?) but he is not far behind on the next tier. His goal scoring has been off to a slow start this season when he has been on the ice, but he is still on top of the league in points per game this season and including playoffs has 104 points in 75 games.

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. What he is doing in the first part of the 2021-22 season is just absolutely incredible. Not only is he not slowing down, he might be having one of the best offensive seasons of his career. He is doing that at age 36. It is not just the goal scoring, either, as he is in contention to potentially win another scoring title. Every year at the start we wonder if this is the year he might start to slow down. He never does. He is still scoring at a 50-goal pace over 82 games. Wayne Gretzky’s record is within sight.

Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers. Most big, long-term free agent contracts fail to match the expectations. In most cases you are getting into bidding wars with other teams to pay top dollars for players that have already played their best hockey for somebody else. It is why most of those long-term free agent contracts result in a buyout or trade. Panarin looks like he is going to be one of the exceptions to that. He has become the centerpiece to the Rangers’ rebuild and is one of the best offensive players in the league and has become a yearly regular in the MVP discussion. He averaged 1.28 points per game in 2021 and is a game-changer on nearly every shift for a Rangers team that is now one of the top teams in the league.

Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild. He is not the only reason for it, but Kaprizov’s arrival in Minnesota has completely changed the outlook of the team. He has given them the superstar player they have lacked and helped make the Wild one of the most entertaining teams in the league. He does not have the most goals or points in the league since his arrival, but few players have done more to impact their team than him.

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. You can hate him all you want, but you would love to have him on your team. So would your general manager and your head coach. He has become such a complete player these past five years, dominating possession, playing great defense, and becoming one of the absolute best offensive players in the league. There is almost no weakness to his game, and all of the numbers (traditional and underlying) confirm that. Not only is he a force at even-strength and on the power play, he has eight shorthanded points (most in the league), including five shorthanded goals over the past year. Crazy stat: When he has been on the ice in shorthanded situations this past year the Bruins have scored eight goals, and allowed only 12 goals. Not only does he help shut down opposing power plays, he helps nearly outscore them.


Adam Fox, New York Rangers. Fox is the total package. He won the Norris Trophy in just his sophomore year and has returned even better in his third season. The Rangers have a superstar level play at every position and that is what is giving them a chance to do something significant this season. Every contending team needs a top-tier blue liner that can impact the game in every phase, and the Rangers already have it in Fox.

Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. Makar is special, there is no other way to put it. He might already be the best player on the Avalanche, including MacKinnon. If he is not already the best player on the Avalanche, he is not that far from being there. He finished second to Fox in the Norris Trophy voting for the 2020-21 season but is probably going to win it at least one time in his career. He is off to an absolutely incredible start this season. Since Jan. 1, when Makar has been on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Avalanche have outscored teams 71-48, controlled 60 percent of the total shot attempts, have a commanding edge in scoring chances and expected goals, while Makar has 21 goals and 70 total points in 67 games. Those would be superstar scoring numbers for a forward. For a defenseman it is almost unbelievable.

Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning. Hedman’s 2020-21 regular season was not up to his normal level of dominance, but it was still outstanding. But then he was outstanding in the playoffs in helping the Lightning win back-to-back Stanley Cups and has been back to being his usual dominant self in the first part of the 2021-22 season.

Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins. McAvoy does not put up the points that the other players in this group do, but there are few defenders in the league that play a better all-around game than him. There is a wave of young talent at the position starting to take over with Makar, Fox, and Quinn Hughes leading the way, and McAvoy is right there at the top with them.


Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators. It is wild that he did not finish higher in the Vezina Trophy voting a year ago. Not only was he one of the best goalies in the league, he almost single-handedly dragged a mediocre Predators team to a playoff berth. He has been just as good this season. Of the 18 goalies that started at least 45 games since Jan. 1, Saros was tied for first in all situations save percentage (.926), first in even-strength save percentage (.939), and has had five shutouts.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning. If you are putting together a ranking of the best players in hockey Andrei Vasilevskiy should not appear anywhere lower than fifth. He is that good. He is on the elite tier of players in the league across all positions. There is not a better goalie in the world right now and he has been consistently dominant since becoming the Lightning’s starting goalie during the 2016-17 season. His regular season numbers are consistently among the best in the league, and for two consecutive playoff runs he has played every minute for a back-to-back champion, never getting a day off or being pulled for an off night. But we are only including the most recent playoff run for this exercise here, and all he did during that postseason was post a .937 save percentage and record five shutouts. In 24 appearances to start this season he is 17-4-3 with a .928 save percentage and two shutouts. He is as dominant as any other player in the league and plays the most important and impactful position.

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    Sharks goalie James Reimer declines to wear Pride jersey

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    San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer won’t take part in pregame warmups Saturday night, saying the team’s decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

    Reimer said in a statement Saturday that he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, adding that he “always strived to treat everyone with respect” and that members of the LGBTQ community should be welcome in hockey.

    “In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.

    Reimer is the second NHL player this season to refuse to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, with Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov declining to in January. Reimer was not slated to start in Saturday night’s home game against the New York Islanders, which is Pride night.

    Additionally, the New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

    The Sharks said in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusiveness.

    “As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said in a statement. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”

    The You Can Play Project, which works to promote inclusiveness in sports, said the organization was disappointed in Reimer’s actions.

    “Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said. “Wearing pride jerseys, like any celebration jersey worn, is not about the personal feelings of an athlete; rather the communication from the team that a community is welcome in the arena and the sport.”

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    Panarin, Shesterkin lead Rangers to 6-0 rout of Penguins

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    NEW YORK (AP) Mika Zibanejad had a goal and two assists, Artemi Panarin scored twice and Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves as the New York Rangers routed Pittsburgh 6-0 on Saturday night for their second win over the Penguins in three days.

    Vladimir Tarasenko, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba also scored for the surging Rangers, who have won nine of their last 11 home games and are 12-4-0 in their past 16 at Madison Square Garden.

    Shesterkin won his fifth straight and posted his second shutout this season. He nimbly denied Pittsburgh forward Mikael Granland with a sprawling save five minutes into the third period to preserve the shutout, the 10th of his career. His other one this season was a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

    “When you put in hard and honest work, miracles happen,” Shesterkin said through a translator. ”We played wonderfully today – scored many, many goals. Honestly, I hope the fans loved it. We’re playing for them.”

    The Penguins lost their third straight and trail the Rangers by 12 points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, still in wild-card position, is trying to reach the playoffs for the 17th straight time.

    “Tonight was a humbling experience for all of us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. ”At this time of year, you have to have a short memory. We still have control of our destiny.”

    Patrick Kane and defenseman K’Andre Miller also had two assists apiece as New York improved to 7-1-1 in its last nine home games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers are five points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils, who lost at Florida on Saturday.

    “This was a big game for our goalie and our team,” Panarin said. “If you work at playing the right way, you have opportunities for goals.”

    Since Dec. 5, when they turned around their season with a 6-4 comeback win at home over St. Louis, the Rangers are 29-9-5.

    As he did on Thursday when the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-2, Zibanejad opened the scoring. He got his team-leading 36th goal at 5:10 of the first, beating Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. Trouba and Miller assisted.

    Panarin made it 2-0 at 19:49 on the power play, whipping the puck past Jarry from the left circle off a pass from Adam Fox.

    Tarasenko increased the lead at 3:54 of the second with his fifth goal since joining the Rangers in a trade with St. Louis on Feb. 9. Tarasenko has points in 10 of his first 18 games with the Rangers.

    Kreider made it 4-0 at 6:43 with his 31st goal and third in two games against the Penguins. Kane and Vincent Trocheck assisted on Kreider’s 260th career goal, which moved the Rangers forward within two of Vic Hadfield for fifth place on the franchise list.

    New York won Thursday when Kreider scored the go-ahead goal in the third and added an empty-netter.

    After Casey DeSmith replaced Jarry in net following Kreider’s goal, Trouba beat the replacement with a sharp-angle shot at 8:39 for his eighth to increase the margin to 5-0. Trouba has points in six of his last eight games.

    Panarin scored again at 16:38 of the second – his 22nd goal of the season – to make it 6-0, with assists to Kane and Filip Chytil.

    “We’re building chemistry, building every day and every game,” Kane said.

    Panarin has points in eight of his last 10 games and leads the Rangers with 77 points overall, while Kane has seven points in his last six games.

    “It’s nice to see that many great players on your team,” added Panarin, whose first two NHL seasons were played alongside Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks. “We’re happy tonight.”

    Zibanejad assisted on goals by Tarasenko and Trouba and has 25 points – including 14 goals – over his last 20 games.

    “It was just one of those nights when the puck goes in for us,” Zibanejad said. “And obviously Igor gives us a boost making all those saves.”

    NOTES: The Penguins were missing defenseman Jeff Petry after he was hit with an unpenalized elbow from Rangers forward Tyler Motte on Thursday. … Pittsburgh also scratched defenseman Jan Rutta and forward Dalton Heinen and played defenseman Mark Friedman for the first time since Feb. 11. … The Rangers were without injured defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 10th straight game.


    Penguins: Host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

    Rangers: Host the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.

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    Coyotes sign Shane Doan’s son to entry-level contract

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    TEMPE, Ariz. — Josh Doan is following his father’s footsteps into professional hockey.

    The Arizona Coyotes signed the 21-year-old forward to a three-year entry-level contract, beginning with the 2023-24 NHL season. He will report to the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL and play his first game against the Calgary Wranglers.

    Doan’s father, Shane, played 21 seasons with the franchise, many of those as captain, and followed it from Winnipeg to the desert in 1996. Shane Doan now serves as Arizona’s chief hockey development officer.

    The Coyotes drafted Josh Doan in the second round of the 2021, but he opted to play for the hometown Arizona State Sun Devils.

    Josh Doan set school records for goals (12) and assists (25) as a freshman last season. He had 16 goals and 22 assists in 39 games with Arizona State this season.

    The 6-foot-1, 183-pounder also played two seasons for the Chicago Steel of the USHL.

    Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman has shoulder surgery

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    CHICAGO — Chicago Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman had surgery on his right shoulder.

    The team said the operation was performed in Los Angeles. Team physician Michael Terry said the 23-year-old Guttman is expected “to be out of hockey activities for approximately four months.”

    Guttman had been a pleasant surprise for rebuilding Chicago. He made his NHL debut last month and finished the season with four goals and two assists in 14 games.

    Guttman was selected by Tampa Bay in the 2017 draft. He agreed to a two-year contract with Chicago in August 2022 that had a $950,000 salary cap hit.