The NHL is in an unprecedented era of skill and speed. The best players are so much better than they’ve ever been and have forced the game to evolve to their high standards. It’s making for a more entertaining product.
Let’s take a look at some of those skills central to playing in the modern NHL. And evaluating the top players’ games, consulting with scouts and looking into the numbers, we named the best in every skill area.
Some are pretty obvious; you’ve seen Connor McDavid skate, right? But others might not be, and there’s bound to be a host of other players who deserve recognition. The fun thing about the NHL right now? Lists like these will change every year as younger generations continue to push the envelope and our expectations. But for now, here are the best of the best at 18 individual skills.
Few players make skating look easier or better than McDavid. His exceptional speed is trumped only by the ease with which he moves around the ice. He’s as unstoppable as any other player because of his ability to weave in and out of defenders without losing pace. No one skates as well north and south as they do east and west quite like McDavid.
That has a lot to do with McDavid’s superior edgework, which is the elite of the elite among all players. It has allowed McDavid to become one of the best NHL players at entering the zone. According to data compiled by game analyst Corey Sznajder, McDavid leads the NHL by a wide margin in gaining the offensive zone with control: Nearly 80% of his zone entries come with control as opposed to dumping the puck in. Sometimes he looks as if he’s playing a different sport than everyone else.
Runners-up: Mathew Barzal, Nathan MacKinnon
The first three steps are viewed as integral to one’s speed, and no one gets off the line better than MacKinnon. While McDavid’s glide is graceful, MacKinnon’s has an almost violent power behind his stride. He can go from a standstill to top speed in just a few steps, which is a quality unique to MacKinnon. He can beat players wide, but then he also has the physical strength to power through defenders who try to slow him down — which also has led to the most penalties drawn in the league over the past two seasons by a significant margin.
Runners-up: Connor McDavid, Dylan Larkin