1 – Patrick Kane
The only winger I see as a slam dunk, no-its-not-up-for-debate top-5 player on the planet. Kane’s last two seasons have been his two best, recording 89 points last season after posting a league-high 106 in his Hart Trophy-winning campaign of 2015-16. Chicago’s top line of Kane, Artem Anisimov, and Artemi Panarin have carried the Blackhawks the last two seasons. While Panarin is gone to Columbus, I get the feeling Kane will be just fine.
2 – Jamie Benn
Benn makes up half of one of the league’s top tandems along with Tyler Seguin, whose impact on Benn’s numbers since he came to Dallas in 2013 I highlighted when I ranked the league’s best centers on Monday. Those numbers – 324 points in 322 games over the past four seasons, which ranks third in the NHL – are a combination of Seguin’s impact plus Benn coming into his own as a player through the prime years that are the mid-to-late 20s. Before dipping to 69 points last season in what was a disappointing year for just about everyone in Dallas, Benn won the Art Ross trophy in 2014-15 with 87 points before posting 89 in 2015-16, which was second in the league.
3 – Vladimir Tarasenko
Three wingers have won the Hart Trophy since the 2004-05 lockout (Kane, Alex Ovechkin, Corey Perry). Tarasenko could be the fourth. The 25-year-old has played four full seasons in the NHL and seems to get better every year, his points going on a yearly progression of 43-73-74-75 over that span. His goals over the last three seasons have gone 37-40-39. He’s due for a Rocket Richard Trophy.
4 – Nikita Kucherov
With Steven Stamkos injured last season, Kucherov carried the Lightning in the second half of the season. His usage spiked down the stretch last year, and the 24-year-old responded with as good a finishing kick as there was in the league over the final six weeks. Kucherov recorded 36 points over the final 23 games of the season.
5 – Alex Ovechkin
We’re at the stage of Ovechkin’s career where he’s beginning to knock down records and pass big names on the all-time lists. At 558 goals, he should pass Guy Lafleur (560), Mike Modano (561), Mats Sundin (564), and Joe Nieuwendyk (564) before Thanksgiving and could catch Mike Bossy (573) by Christmas. His 33 goals sent a few shockwaves after three straight seasons of 50-plus and four consecutive Richard Trophies (he has six overall in his career). Ovechkin’s offensive production at five-on-five was down, but was still one of the best in the league on the powerplay, and his shooting percentage (10.5) was the second-lowest of his career. So yes, there were drops in terms of shot volume, goals, and points, but nothing dramatic.