11 – Mark Scheifele
The magic date is February 18, 2016. Since that day – which lord knows in Winnipeg was probably a cold, dark, bone-chillingly frigid day – Scheifele has assembled a 49-67-116 line in 105 NHL contests. Only Connor McDavid (37-86-123) and Sidney Crosby (56-65-121) have a higher offensive output over that span. I’ll admit that putting Scheifele as the NHL’s 11th-best center feels like a low-ball ranking. This is an elite-level player.
12 – Claude Giroux
A guy who has been a workhorse and point producer over the past seven or eight years. Giroux has 548 points going back to the start of the 2009-10 season, averaging 73.4 points per 82 games. He’s missed just 10 games over that span, regularly playing in the neighborhood of 20 minutes per night. A player in the running for the second-best faceoff man in the world (yes, Patrice Bergeron is in his own class).
13 – Ryan Kesler
I liken Kesler to Boston’s Brad Marchand. You put up with the occasional dumb penalty for all the other great things he does. While the consensus sometimes seems to be that the 33-year-old is not the player he once was – from what could simply be a case of ageism – he’s still bringing it. Another guy in the running for second-best faceoff man in the world, Kesler has won a league-high 1,213 defensive zone draws since being traded to Anaheim from Vancouver in 2014. Kesler, who averaged 21:18 of ice-time last season, was the only forward in the NHL to average 2:30 of both powerplay and shorthanded time in 2016-17. Kesler is expected to be out until December as he recovers from hip surgery, and Anaheim will be worse off as a result.
14 – Ryan Johansen
Ironic that Kesler and Johansen are right next to one another after their no-love-lost battle in the Western Conference Final last season. But in all seriousness, Johansen is going to be a superstar in this league for many years to come. Over the last four seasons, the 25-year-old has posted 60 points every year while missing just two regular season games. The Predators win the Stanley Cup if he doesn’t go down with a thigh injury in the Western final.
15 – Ryan O’Reilly
If the Sabres had a better supporting cast, they’d be a slam dunk for the playoffs because there’s not many top-two center/top-defenseman/goalie tandems in the league than the one that exists in Buffalo with O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Robin Lehner. Eichel called O’Reilly Buffalo’s Bergeron over the summer, and that’s a spot-on assessment. O’Reilly – who has led all NHL forwards in time on ice per game in each of his two seasons in Buffalo – does everything for the Sabres, playing in high-leverage situations and taking virtually every key faceoff. O’Reilly was the only player besides Bergeron to finish with a faceoff win percentage above 58 percent among players that took more than 1,500 draws last season.