Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Five New Faces of the NHL

Credit: Geoff Burke - USA Today Sports
Sidney Crosby. Alex Ovechkin.

These two players have been at or near the forefront of every hockey fan's mind almost constantly since they both broke into the NHL in 2005-06. Since their rookie seasons, these two have been the undisputed faces of the NHL - used for marketing, rivalries, and national television broadcasts. Whenever they play against each other, something special seems to happen, and whenever these meetings occur, the age-old question always comes up: "who is better?"

They've battled against each other for the Calder Trophy (which went to Ovechkin), for playoff superiority (once: Pittsburgh emerged victorious in 2009 from a series most remembered for Crosby's and Ovechkin's hat-tricks in the same game), and for other individual awards (Crosby has more Art Ross and Messier trophies, while Ovechkin has more Rocket Richard and Hart Trophies. They both have the same number of Ted Lindsay awards, and Ovechkin has more All-Star Team and All-Star Game selections).

Crosby reigns supreme when it comes to international play - he has two Olympic gold medals, while Ovechkin still sits at zero.

Now, why does this all matter? To be short, it may not. Now, there are younger stars that are gaining on these two. Last season, two of these players finished above Crosby in the scoring race. Another one of these players was right behind Ovechkin when it came to scoring goals.

Are these new(-ish) players even close to the quality that has been exemplified by Crosby and Ovechkin in the past? Maybe not.

However, they could be, some day. Read on to find out who reasonably can claim the title of the face of the NHL at some point in the future.

Credit: Eric Hartline - USA Today Sports

Claude Giroux


Claude Giroux is a monster of an NHL'er. He's not the biggest player out there at 5'11 and 183 lbs., but he can still pack a punch will his skill and exceptional speed.

Giroux's a fantastic playmaker. A wise man should and can expect another year for Giroux next season in which he hovers around 50 assists. However, don't let his playmaking proficiency fool you into believing that he's a one-trick pony - Giroux can kill you with his shot, too. It's very quick and accurate, and he occasionally does stuff like this with it.

To put it simply, Giroux is a treat to watch, and he's still only 27, so he should excel for years to come.

Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel - USA Today Sports

Steven Stamkos


Stammer the Hammer. 

That nickname, when heard, should trigger some thoughts in anyone's mind. They may include, "cool nickname!", or, "he scores lots of goals", or, "he's Tampa Bay's captain". Those are not unreasonable thoughts to think. However, say you're an defenseman pitted against Stamkos while the latter is on a one-on-one with you. He has the puck. What would your thoughts be, then?

"Uh-oh."

Steven Stamkos is an unbelievable player. He's still Tampa Bay's best player (despite the recent emergence of Tyler Johnson) and he still possesses the lethal shot and quickness that has made him such an unstoppable force for his entire career. Like the aforementioned Ovechkin, Stamkos is a multiple Rocket Richard Trophy winner, and he possesses many of the same qualities that Ovechkin does, such as tenacity, a captaincy, and a first-overall draft selection. Stamkos and Ovechkin are also two of the three active NHL players with a 60-goal season to their names (the other is Jaromir Jagr). 

With all of these achievements that he can claim, surely Stamkos must be entering the twilight of his career? Nope. He's the second-youngest player on this list at age 25, and he's still getting better. Once his playmaking game improves, Stamkos will be even more dominant than he already is.

Credit: Jerome Miron - USA Today Sports

Jamie Benn


At the tender age of 26, Jamie Benn has already done what few in the NHL have, in that he's won a scoring title: he did so last season, in which he led all NHL players in scoring with 87 (yes, 87) points. One of a dying breed of power forwards, Benn can shoot, hit, and fight, yet he is also very useful as a playmaker. 

Don't believe me? 

Well, last season, Benn eclipsed the 50-assist mark, and it was the second time in his that he's ever passed 45. 

Benn is a pretty remarkable player toiling on a less-than-remarkable team, right now. However, a team with as much talent as Dallas has should advance in the standings, and should that happen for the Stars next season, expect Benn to be a central force in the change. He really can do it all, and he should just be getting better and better as his career goes on.

Credit: Brad Penner - USA Today Sports

John Tavares 


The youngest player on this list at just 24, Tavares is already a huge player in the NHL. He lost out on a share of the Art Ross last season by eight seconds. Eight. To add to his misfortunes, he got injured at the Olympics in 2014 during the quarter-finals, forcing him to bow out of the tournament a little early. Rough life, eh?

However, there is hope for Tavares, yet: such unfavourable luck against him is so unsustainable, the Calgary Flames are shaking their heads at it in disbelief. 

Tavares probably should have won the Art Ross last year, and don't act like him winning it in 2015-16 isn't a very real possibility. He's not the fastest player there is, but Tavares is a great goal-scorer, an even better playmaker, and, to top it all off, is a very good leader. He has international experience, too - he won a gold medal with Canada in 2014, despite being sidelined with that aforementioned injury for much of the tournament.

The 2009 first-overall pick has done nothing but live up to expectations thus far. There's no reason that the Islanders' captain should regress, now. Expect big things from 'J.T.' going forward.

Credit: Marc DesRosiers - USA Today Sports

Carey Price


The only non-forward on this list, Carey Price is a ridiculously dominant force in the crease. Last year, he pulled off the first goaltending triple crown (which constitutes winning the Vezina, Hart, and Lindsay trophies, all in one year) since Dominik Hasek's in 1998. There's no other goaltender that comes close to touching his pedigree at the moment; put simply, 'he's just that good'.

Last season, Price led the NHL in both the Goals Against Average (GAA) and Save Percentage (SV%) categories, with those figures registering at 1.96 and .933, respectively. To put that into comparison, Devan Dubnyk, the next-best goalie in both categories, came in at 2.07 and .929 in those respective categories. 

Price also led the league in wins last year, with 44 coming in 66 games.

2005's 5th-overall pick played an immense part in the Canadiens' run to the playoffs, and eventually to the second round, last season - they would be a mediocre bubble team without him. He's the backbone of the franchise, and totally deserves this placement.

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