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.

The best goals of 2018 (PHT Year in Review)

PHT

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.

Hockey is a game of skill. Some have it, some don’t. In 2018, there were a number instances where hockey players all over the world showed off incredible moves before putting the puck in the back of the net.

We love hockey for so many reasons. There’s jaw-dropping saves, hilarious bloopers, incredible moments, the amazing players and much more. But there’s nothing like an incredible goal to get you out of your seat. So let’s see what some of these crazy kids did on the ice to entertain us throughout 2018.

Keep in mind that these are in no particular order. Just sit back, keep scrolling and enjoy the show!

Let’s start in Nashville, where the Predators were bounced from the Stanley Cup Playoffs a little earlier than they had hoped, but not before Filip Forsberg was able to score one of the best goals you’ll see on this list. Avs defenseman Samuel Girard is a really good player, but Forsberg went around him like he wasn’t even there on this fabulous play:

Sometimes, when you see a goal, you’re left wondering how on earth an NHLer could pull off such a spectacular move on another NHLer. Well, earlier this season, that’s exactly what Penguins captain Sidney Crosby did to Ryan Strome. Crosby’s elite, but this just isn’t fair:

William Karlsson and the Vegas Golden Knights used the 2017-18 season to put themselves on the hockey map. Karlsson scored an incredible 43 goals last year, including this between-the-legs beauty against the San Jose Sharks last March:

Are you a fan of incredible hand-eye coordination? Well, if you are, you’ll love this goal by Senators forward Matt Duchene. How on earth he was able to get a shot off and then bat the rebound out of mid-air is simply ridiculous. Many players around the league bat pucks out of mid-air, but not many can do it like this. It’s just not fair:

Duchene was able to bat the puck away from distance, but how about this double-tap from Crosby from in-close. Carey Price has absolutely no chance of keeping this puck out of the net. Also, Crosby would be a fantastic ball player:

Sorry Flyers fans, you’re on the list again for all the wrong reasons. It’s been an up and down year for Anthony Duclair, as he’s played on three teams over the last two seasons. He’s been a healthy scratch in Columbus on a few occasions this year, but he also scored a remarkable goal from his knees:

Alright, let’s get away from the NHL for a little bit. A gentleman by the name of Vincent Praplan pulled off a lacrosse-style goal during a Swiss League game this year. Yeah, this has been done before but it’ll never get old. Impressive stuff right here:

Montreal Canadiens prospect Jarret Tyszka will never be confused with Alex Ovechkin, but how about the effort and concentration it took to score this goal while falling down during WHL action last season:

Speaking of scoring while falling down, this goal by Cameron Stokes of the Paris Mounties is pretty sweet, too. Steal the puck in the corner and take care of business while going down. Not bad, not bad at all:

Another Canadiens prospect finds himself on the list. Josh Brook somehow managed to carry the puck for a while before going between the legs to beat the opposing goaltender. This one is pretty sweet:

Can we give some love to a goalie? USHL netminder Roman Durny snuck onto this list thanks to the goal he scored last week. A perfect shot from downtown:

Just in case you’re not aware, Alexis Lafreniere isn’t draft-eligible until 2020. That doesn’t stop him from doing ridiculous things like this though:

Here’s one you don’t see every day. Nic Petan with the Superman stretch to score a goal in the AHL.

Jocelyne Lamoureux helped the U.S. win gold with this shootout goal against Team Canada:

Alright, back to the NHL. Panthers defender Mike Matheson isn’t known for his silky-smooth mitts, but he scored an incredible buzzer-beater against the Detroit Red Wings earlier this season. Even he seemed to be a little surprised that he was able to pull this off:

There’s some soft defending by Noah Juulsen here, but this is still a pretty incredible goal by Neal Pionk:

Don’t forget to check out NBC Sports’ Top 18 Goals of 2018. There’s some beauties here too:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The best, most jaw-dropping saves 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.

Goalies. They’re a hockey team’s last refuge.

They’re tasked with what seems impossible at times. Saving hard, rubber pucks flying at blistering, dangerous speeds. The pads and other equipment are only getting smaller yet these brave souls choose to stand in harm’s way.

It’s admirable, above all else.

Goalies are the most important part of a hockey team. Most of the saves they make throughout the course of a season are routine. Flick the right pad out here, throw the glove the hand there.

But some… go above and beyond the call of duty. Some saves shouldn’t be saves at all. They defy logic. Sometimes physics, too. And we’re left only to watch in amazement and marvel at the replays.

And so while we approach the end of 2018, we look back at some of the most incredible saves of the past year.

There’s no particular order for these. Many of them are equally incredible in their own right and deserve to lauded as such.

The first we will see here is Marc-Andre Fleury being, well, Marc-Andre Fleury. Claude Giroux should have scored. He didn’t because of MAF.

Some saves are not only incredible but should be given a primary assist because, without them, the chance to score would simply vanish.

Colorado Avalanche goalie Jonathan Bernier‘s paddle save on Ryan Kesler was tremendous in and of itself, and then it led to a goal by Nathan MacKinnon.

Goalies often have to make quick saves in succession.

A couple of quick shots or perhaps a shot and a save off the ensuing rebound.

Things like that.

In November, Carolina Hurricanes puck stopper Scott Darling robbed Anthony Mantha of a hat trick and then Mike Green of a game winner back to back in overtime.

November was a good month for saves that can’t be explained.

Calvin Peterson isn’t a household name (probably not even to Los Angeles Kings fans), but his save on Loui Eriksson was so dirty that he changed all that with one twist of his body and flash of his glove.

The two-pad stack is a thing of beauty.

Throughout the history of the NHL, there have been some insane variations of it all with the same ending: a jaw-dropping save and a dejected shooter.

Henrik Lundqvist appears here as the perpetrator. Evan Rodrigues is the poor victim.

David Pastrnak has a knack (get it?) for scoring goals.

He’s carving out a nice career doing so thus far.

But in the Stanley Cup Playoffs he had a sure goal snatched off the goal line by the paddle of Freddie Andersen.

Highway robbery in the worst degree.

Braden Holtby produced some magic last season, but arguably his best save of his career came in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

With the Caps down one game in the series and leading 3-2 in the game, Holtby came to the rescue after a bad bounce of the stanchion at T-Mobile Arena.

Alex Tuch‘s look of horror said it all.

Alex Ovechkin‘s relief did, too.

Of all the best saves this season, none was more important — and arguably better looking — than the one Holtby delivered in Game 2.

* * * * *

Of course, the NHL is only one breeding ground for great saves. There are leagues across the world that produce the same quality.

The first save was good. The second was stellar. The third was just embarrassing for the team on offense:

I’ve said it before (probably above) and I’ll say it again, paddle saves are the best saves.

Here’s a beauty from the BCHL:

Some goalies don’t get a save-of-the-year candidate in their career.

Kyle Keyser of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals got two in four days.

Paddles, man.

Paddles.

PHT’s Sean Leahy did a whole post on this save.

Again with the paddle. But holy moly, this is bananas.

No Russian translation required.

And don’t forget to watch the Top 18 saves of the season from NBC Sports.

More PHT Year in Review:
• Bloopers
Moments

Goals
Players

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

Looking back at 2018’s top hockey moments (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.

It was an eventful year across the hockey world with several memorable moments that stood out.

Some of them were amazing and improbable. Some of them were sad and devastating. Some of them were just plain weird.

Here we take a look at some of the ones that stood out the most.

Capitals Stanley Cup and summer of celebration

After years of tremendous regular season success and eventual playoff heartbreak, the Washington Capitals finally broke through their second round glass ceiling, exorcised all of their postseason demons, beat their arch-rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins, and then went on to win their first ever Stanley Cup. By doing so they shook their postseason choker label and Alex Ovechkin picked up the one piece of hardware his Hall of Fame career was missing. Then the Capitals partied like wild throughout the entire summer and lived up their championship season publicly in a way few other teams have in recent years.

Then they came back at the start of the 2018-19 season as good as they were a year ago, with Ovechkin performing at an even higher level.

[Related: Alex Ovechkin is not slowing down]

U.S. Women’s Olympic hockey team wins gold

The United States women won gold for the second time at the Olympics, and the first time since 1998, with a thrilling gold medal game victory against Canada that needed a shootout to determine a winner.

It was there that Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored the winner on an incredible move, with Maddie Rooney making the big save to clinch it.

You can watch the entire shootout again.

Scott Foster plays for the Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks have fallen off from their championship dynasty days and are on track to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. The highlight of their 2017-18 season was the performance of emergency backup goalie Scott Foster who was called on to play 14 minutes in a game against the Winnipeg Jets. He not only played, he stopped all seven shots he faced against one of the best teams in the league.

Foster, 36, spends his days as an accountant and was called on to suit up when Blackhawks goalie Anton Forsberg suffered an injury in warmups.

The emergency backup goalie is something you see on occasion throughout an NHL season but they almost never have to play. When Collin Delia, who was making his first NHL start for the Blackhawks that night, exited the game with an injury … Foster had to play. He was incredible.

[Related: Scott Foster, accountant by day makes saves with Blackhawks]

Roberto Luongo‘s speech

Not all of the top moments from 2018 were the result of something happy. Following another school shooting, this time in Parkland, Florida, Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, a resident of Parkland, gave an emotional pre-game speech before their Feb. 22 game against the Capitals.

The Humboldt Broncos first game back on the ice

The hockey world was rocked by tragedy on April 6 when a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team crashed, killing 16 people (including 10 players) and seriously injuring 13 more. In the weeks after the accident there were countless memorials and tributes, including people across Canada and the United States leaving hockey sticks out on their front porch. Five months after the crash the Broncos returned to the ice, with two surviving players from the accident (Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter). The game was televised nationally throughout Canada on TSN and in the United States on the NHL Network without commercials. The Broncos ended up losing their first game, 2-1, on their way to a 21-13-2 record in 37 games.

The team officially retired the numbers of every player that was involved in the bus crash.

[Related: Humboldt Broncos return to ice five months after bus crash]

Sedins’ last game in Vancouver

After 17 glorious seasons Henrik and Daniel Sedin retired at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season. They went out in an incredible way by teaming up, as they did so many times throughout their careers, for the game-winning goal in overtime of their final game in Vancouver.

It was Daniel getting the goal, his second of the game.

They played one more game after that, a road game in Edmonton, that they dropped in a shootout.

Willie O’Ree finally gets his Hall of Fame call

It was long overdue, but the Hockey Hall of Fame finally did the right thing by inducting Willie O’Ree into the builders category.

O’Ree, who is legally blind in his right eye, broke the NHL’s color barrier during the 1957-58 season as a member of the Boston Bruins. His playing career at the NHL level consisted of just four goals and 10 assists over 45 games, but he was still one of the game’s most influential figures and a legend for the Los Angeles Blades and San Diego Gulls of the Western Hockey League.

[What Willie O’Ree’s Hall of Fame induction means to me]

All Gritty, all the time

Some of the hockey moments from 2018 were also … bizarre. Like the introduction of Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers’ new mascot who has already become one of the most notable and recognizable mascots in the league. Whether you love or hate Gritty (and if you hate Gritty, it will probably hunt you down and tackle you) you have to admit that his introduction created quite a buzz around the sports world.

[Related: Meet Gritty, the Flyers’ horrifyingly delightful new mascot]

The NHL had to tell Brad Marchand to stop licking people

Speaking of bizarre moments, Boston Bruins star forward and Hall of Fame agitator Brad Marchand had to be reprimanded by the NHL for licking opponents during the playoffs. After licking Toronto’s Leo Komarov in the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (the second time during the season that he did that to Komarov) he did the same thing to Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Callahan in the second round. The NHL had to tell him to stop, threatening supplemental discipline if he did not.

Germany’s silver medal at the Olympics

The 2018 men’s Olympic hockey tournament did not feature NHL players for the first time since the 1994 games, but that did not mean the tournament was without its excitement. It gave a bunch of players that wouldn’t have ordinarily had a chance to play on such a stage an opportunity to make a name for themselves, and no team took advantage of that more than the German team that went on an incredible run to the Gold medal game. And for a while, it looked like they were actually going to pull it off until a late goal from Russia sent the game to overtime, where the Russians would end up winning on a power play goal from Kirill Kaprizov.

What was your top hockey moment from the past year?

More PHT Year in Review:
Bloopers

Saves
Goals
Players

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.

Laugh and cringe at best bloopers of 2018 (PHT Year in Review)

PHT

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.

Hockey players can make the amazing look mundane, to the point that you sometimes forget that they’re doing it all on ice, wearing razor-sharp blades. It can be downright overwhelming for us mere mortals.

With all of that in mind, bloopers provide comic relief, and reminder that we’re watching humans, and as athletic and courageous as they are, they’re also fallible.

The NHL’s never seen more skill than what was on display in 2018, yet there were a ton of great/humiliating bloopers during this calendar year. In fact, there’s a strong chance that some memorable ones slipped under the cracks, so feel free to share any other standouts in the comments.

Masks and mascots

Can something be a blooper when it’s a resounding success, one that transcends hockey and mere sports to dominate mainstream “best of 2018” lists, such as from The New Yorker and The Onion’s AV Club?

*Nods head yes, while googly-eyes shake frantically*

Gritty owned 2018, and the mascot’s staying power only gets more profound when you realize that the odd-looking pseudo-creature debuted in September. Sure, there’s some “Gritty fatigue” setting in for many – 2019 might not be as kind to the mascot and his jiggling belly – but the hits heavily outweigh the misses.

Maybe 2019 can open the door for Jittery?

[The year in Gritty: “Tonight Show” appearance, Gritty Claus, Gritty’s grand entrance]

If you need a specific Gritty blooper, this probably captured the essence of the phenomenon more than hitting half-court basketball shots:

Back when the Predators were red-hot on the road instead of ice-cold, Peter Laviolette lost a bet, and donned the bull head:

While Gritty fits the “is this really happening or am I dreaming?” feel of the year 2018, the single most unthinkable mascot moment involved Tommy Hawk of the Blackhawks.

Maybe it’s too grim to be a true blooper, maybe not, but this bout is legitimately surreal:

Own-goals, miscues, and other flubs

The Hurricanes have been the masters of bad puck luck in recent seasons, but one of the last goals Cam Ward allowed in Carolina was one of the strangest. Alex Goligoski was credited with this one, as a puck got stuck in Ward’s skate and ended up behind the goal line, counting as a goal. Find out more about that odd moment here.

Mikhail Vorobyev of the Flyers isn’t the only person who will find his first NHL goal tough to forget. Mark Barberio and Semyon Varlamov collided, and Philly got an easy goal against Colorado early this season:

Panthers star Aleksander Barkov is one of those players who seems to do everything well, but even he has moments he’d like to forget, like this shootout mishap:

Goalies must hate long-range goals, but if it’s any comfort, they seem to happen to just about all of them. There were several funny ones in 2018, but Keith Yandle tricking Pekka Rinne was especially cheeky:

Tristan Jarry stumbling and falling on this goal pretty much never fails to make me laugh. Jarry got the last/more recent laugh, as he scored a goal in the AHL in November.

Sometimes, it’s not the players who are bloopering(?), as you can see from an official landing an errant elbow on Oliver Ekman-Larsson:

What was your favorite blooper from 2018?

More PHT Year in Review:
Moments

Saves
Goals
Players

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.