His rookie season may not have been as dominant as the Devils were hoping for, but not every young player is going to enter the league and be a superstar from the very beginning. There is a learning curve here, especially for players this young. He still showed improvement as the year went on and along with Nico Hischier is going to be the focal point of the Devils' organization going forward.
On a team that already boasts Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser up front as building blocks, Hughes might end up being the best and most significant player of the bunch. Why? The position he plays and the impact he makes while doing so. He stepped right into the Canucks' lineup this season and immediately became their most effective defender, driving possession and making a huge impact offensively. Having a game-changing defenseman like that is a must for every Stanley Cup contending team, and the Canucks look like they have a great one emerging. Hughes, Dallas' Miro Heiskanen, and Colorado's Cale Makar are the next wave of defense superstars in the league and going to be contending for the Norris Trophy for years.
During his rookie season Stars goalie Ben Bishop proclaimed that Heiskanen already looked like a hall of fame talent and was already one of the best defensemen that he had been teammates with. Considering some of the defensemen that Bishop has called teammates over the years (Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, John Klingberg) that is extremely high praise. It is all warranted. All Heiskanen has done in year two is get even better. When the Stars reportedly tried to trade for Karlsson last year it was rumored that they made Heiskanen an untouchable in those trade talks. It was a smart move, because he is their franchise player going forward.
You love him if he plays for your team. You love to hate him if he plays against your team. Tkachuk is like a younger, Western Conference version of Brad Marchand for his ability to play right on the line between aggressive and dirty, his ability to make you mad, and his ability to dominate you on the scoreboard. He is the total package as a pest and first-line scorer.
Forget age 23, McDavid is probably the best player in the world. At any age. A breathtaking skater, sublime passer, and just downright dominant offensive force. He is going to be a lock to finish somewhere in the top-three of the scoring race every season as long as he stays healthy and plays enough games. The hype surrounding him when he entered the league was massive. He is met it as a player. Maybe even exceeded it.
He proved this season that he does not need McDavid as his center to put up huge numbers. He ran away with the scoring title this season not only by centering his own line at times, but by also helping to carry the Oilers when McDavid was out of the lineup due to injury. He topped his assist and total point numbers from last year despite playing in 11 fewer games, and had the regular season been a full 82-game season he was on pace for a second straight 50-goal, 100-point season. He and McDavid give the Oilers to MVP level talents at forward.
I am not prepared to say that MacKinnon is on the McDavid-Sidney Crosby level of superstars, but he is on the tier immediately below them. He is, at this point, the third-best player in hockey. It took him a few years to develop into a truly dominant player, but now that he has he is a force to be reckoned with on every single shift. Along with Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen he helps make up one of the league's most dominant lines.
The Lightning have superstars at every level of their team, with a couple of first-line forwards and a Norris Trophy defenseman (Victor Hedman). As if that is not enough, they add to their embarrassment of riches with a Vezina Trophy caliber goalie. Vasilevskiy has become a mainstay in that yearly award race having been a finalist three years in a row.
Kucherov is one of the league's most productive forwards, and along with Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos (when he is healthy) gives the Lightning a dominant trio of forwards. He has scored at a 100-point pace (per 82 games) three years in a row and has not finished a season with less than 85 points in over four years.
An impact player from the moment he arrived in the NHL. During his first two years in Chicago there was some thought that he was benefitting from playing alongside Patrick Kane, but he has only managed to get better in the years since leaving Chicago. Panarin signed a massive free agent contract with the Rangers before the 2019-20 season and went on to have an MVP-level performance and one of the most productive offensive seasons in Rangers franchise history.
With all apologies and all due respect to Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, and Andrei Vasilevskiy, this is the best and most important player on the Lightning roster. When you think of elite, Norris Trophy level, No. 1 defenseman this is the player you should be thinking about. He is a shutdown defender, he has great size, he is a smooth skater, he is a force offensively, and he literally controls every aspect of the game when he is on the ice. He is as good as it gets in the NHL on defense.
Stamkos is one of the great "what ifs" in the NHL right now, because it is worth wondering what his career totals would look like with better health luck. Significant injuries (as well as a half season lockout) have robbed him of significant chunks of his prime years in the league, and maybe even a potential championship (though the Lightning still have a chance at one this season). Had he not missed so many games throughout his career he would almost certainly already be well over the 500-goal mark for his career, and maybe even closing in on 600 very shortly. The second-best goal scorer of this era after Alex Ovechkin.
The talent around him has regressed significantly in recent years, but Kane is still one of the league's best and most elite offensive players. He has scored at a 90-point pace in four of the past five seasons and still drives the Blackhawks' offense. He is the reason they have remained even remotely competitive in recent years.
All of the sideshow antics that he brings to the table take away from the fact that he is an outstanding hockey player that all 31 general managers would crawl over broken glass to have on their team. You know at this point he is going to score at a 35-goal, 90-point pace (at a minimum) and even exceed it in some seasons. Add in his defensive play and ability to play all phases of the game (power play, penalty kill, protect leads) and you have a force of a two-way player on your hands.
It is crazy to think that Crosby is already 33 years old, but here we are. Even so, there is not much slowing down going on here. Maybe he is not the 115-120 point player he was earlier in his career offensively, but he remains one of the most productive offensive players in the league and is still one of the most dominant all-around players going. He is not only a Hall of Famer, he is one of the NHL's legends.
The 2019-20 season was a huge bounce back year for Malkin. When he is going at his absolute best there are not many players in the league that can keep up with him or stop him, and there have been various points throughout his career where there has been a legitimate argument to be made that he has been the best player in the world. He may not be quite at that level anymore, but even at 34 he is a complete force with the puck.
The greatest goal scorer in the history of the NHL. That is true today, and it will be true in the future even if he never actually breaks Wayne Gretzky's record (though I am not betting against that happening). Even as he sets to begin his age 35 season during the 2020-21 campaign he remains the NHL's goal-scoring king and is still a yearly threat for 50 goals and the clear-cut favorite to win the Rocket Richard award (league's leading goal scorer). He still has it.
One of the NHL's all-time great undrafted success stories. Giordano worked his way up from the bottom to become one of the league's best all-around defenseman, even winning the Norris Trophy during the 2018-19 season. His career really started to take off around the 2013-14 season, and he has only managed to get better every year since then.
Keith was not only one of the best defensemen of his era, but he has put together a Hall of Fame resume when you add up all of the personal hardware he has collected throughout his career. Three Stanley Cups, two Norris Trophies, a Conn Smythe Trophy. He has done it all for the Blackhawks and been one of the all-time greats in franchise history.
The best goalie of his era and a Rangers legend. The only downside to his career with the Rangers is that he never got that Stanley Cup with the team, and it is looking unlikely that he will unless something drastic changes in the team's plans this offseason. Whether he is in New York or another city next season, he still has some productive hockey to offer somebody.
He never received enough credit for how good he was during his career, mostly because he played on some truly bad hockey teams over the years. But he has carved out a tremendous career for himself that has spanned 17 seasons. During that time he was one of the most efficient goalies in the league and at his peak was consistently one of the league's save percentage leaders.
He may not be a goalie you count on to carry your team as a starter anymore, but he is still an excellent backup or platoon option. Even at age 40 he can give you league average (and maybe even above league average) play. Unfortunately for him and John Gibson (the Ducks' other goalie) they are stuck on a rebuilding Ducks team that is years away from Stanley Cup contention.
Thornton is one of the best playmakers and pure passers to ever play in the NHL. His resume is one of a Hall of Famer. Even though he is no longer a top-line center and 90-assist man, he remains a strong two-way presence that can impact a game defensively and still make some plays with the puck. Will he stay in San Jose? Or will he move on to a contender in a quest to finally get his Stanley Cup?
The oldest player in the NHL at the moment. Chara's offensive game has rapidly declined, and he may not be the Bruins' No. 1 defender anymore (Charlie McAvoy takes that role), but he can still play at a relatively high level. Throughout his career he was one of the most dominant all-around defenders to play in the NHL.