(Puck Daddy presents its annual look back at the year in hockey. Check back every day through the New Year for our many lists and hot takes.)
We begin our look back at 2016 with the top 10 hockey players of the year.
This list is a combination of on-ice impact and what their performances meant in context. As you’ll see, this isn’t a Top 10 NHL players list, because that’s super boring – like all rankings in our Year In Hockey, we consider every league around the world. (Although for performance-based rankings like this one, we do weight the NHL quite heavily as the sport’s top league.)
Who was the player of the year in 2016? Glad you asked ….
10 – Alexander Radulov
Radulov finished the 2015-16 KHL season in typically dominant fashion: 65 points in 53 games for CSKA Moscow for a plus-28, and helping to lead his team to Game 7 of the Gagarin Cup final before falling to Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
He then left for the NHL, signing a deal with the Montreal Canadiens. There was immediate skepticism that Radulov still lacked the maturity to play in North America – doubts that lingered from his last disastrous stint with the Nashville Predators. But he put up 23 points in his first 27 games for the first-place Habs, while making curfew and keeping his temper in order. For his performance on and off the ice, it was a memorable season for Radulov.
9 – Erik Karlsson
Alas, Drew Doughty was predestined by the Canadian media to win his first Norris Trophy last season. So Karlsson had to make due with a point-per-game season as a defenseman (82 in 82), playing brilliantly in 2015-16. He had four points in four World Cup games. And in 2016-17, Karlsson again is near a point-per-game pace while playing over 27 minutes per night for the Ottawa Senators.
It’s the kind of performance that could garner him something more than Norris consideration – like Hart Trophy talk. Well, unless the Kings make the playoffs and the Canadian media decides it’s Doughty’s turn to win that one, too.
8 – Brianna Decker
In the National Women’s Hockey League’s inaugural season, Decker scored 29 points in 17 games for the Boston Pride. That was good enough to beat out teammate Hilary Knight for the first NWHL MVP award. Decker also scored twice in the clinching game of the Isobel Cup to give the Pride the first NWHL championship. Alas, then she had to take a pay cut…
7 – Patrik Laine
Laine earned inclusion on this list well before he became a rookie goal-scoring sensation for the Winnipeg Jets.
In the Finnish Liiga, Laine set a rookie record for goals in the postseason (10, along with five assists) and won playoff MVP honors in leading Tappara to the championship. At the IIHF world championships, Laine scored seven goals in seven games to help lead Finland to the gold medal.
The kid simply can’t stop putting the puck into the net. Although, admittedly, he should probably double-check which net he’s putting it into.
6 – Braden Holtby
While the postseason ended in disappointment, as is tradition for the Washington Capitals, Holtby’s regular season was one of the best in franchise history. He equaled the single-season NHL record for wins in a season with 48, leading the Caps to the President’s Trophy. He became the seventh goalie in NHL history to have consecutive 40-win seasons. He posted a .922 save percentage and a 2.20 GAA in winning his first Vezina Trophy.
He also posted a .942 save percentage and a 1.72 GAA in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Capitals had to play the Penguins and, well, you know how that goes when you’re facing …
5 – Phil Kessel
Perhaps the greatest player story of 2016, Kessel’s journey from Toronto Maple Leafs pariah to beloved Pittsburgh Penguins playoff hero is the stuff of hockey legend. He anchored the team’s fabled HBK line, scoring 22 points in 24 playoff games, including 10 goals. Seeing this hockey cherub hoist the Stanley Cup was the most unforgettable image of the 2016 playoffs. And this was, perhaps, its most memorable video:
That’s Phil Kessel. As President Obama said, he’s a Stanley Cup champion.
4 – Brent Burns
No other player combined absolute dominance on the ice and the infectious spirit of hockey off the ice than Burns.
On the ice, he had 75 points in 82 games, including 27 goals, in leading the San Jose Sharks to their first Stanley Cup Final. His dominance continued in the 2016-17 season, nearing a point-per-game pace while landing a blockbuster new contract.
Off the ice, the Chewbacca-faced goofball was as comfortable waxing philosophical about the game as he was discussing his pet snakes. Truly a one-of-a-kind talent, and this was the year the hockey world took notice.
3 – Connor McDavid
While people should slow their roll on the “Best Player In The World” talk, McDavid did everything he could to make that case himself. His 1.07 points per game average during his truncated rookie season was nearly good enough to top Artemi Panarin for the Calder Trophy. His 1.22 points-per-game average in 2016-17 has put the Edmonton Oilers in a playoff seed well before many thought they’d arrive in one.
Repeat after us: He’s. Just. Nineteen. Years. Old.
2 – Patrick Kane
After an early season police investigation into sexual assault allegations, in which no charges were filed, Kane went on to post career highs in goals (46) and assists (60) and points (106) to win the Art Ross, the Ted Lindsay and the Hart trophies. (Thanks in no small part to the line chemistry he had with Panarin, who won the Calder). He had a 26-game point streak, the longest ever for a U.S.-born player, and was also the first U.S.-born player to ever win the League scoring title. But much like the USA at the World Cup, Kane had to bow down to a Canadian in this ranking …
1 – Sidney Crosby
After the Penguins switched coaches, Crosby switched on his offense, finishing 2015-16 with a stellar 1.06 points per game average to finish second in the Hart Trophy voting. He’s continued that roll in 2016-17 at 1.39 points per game, threatening an injury-affected 50 goals in 50 games pace. He won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, as much for his intangibles as for his point production, in leading the Penguins to their second Stanley Cup during his career.
Oh, and he had nine points in five World Cup games for champion Canada, briefly turning Brad Marchand into Teemu Selanne.
He’s the best hockey player in the world, and we’re probably going to write the same thing at the end of 2017, too.