We asked a panel of ESPN NHL experts to grade players based on how expected performance for the 2019-20 season, in comparison to their peers. Emphasis was entirely on predicting potential greatness for the upcoming season, rather than past performance. From those ratings, we were able to rank the best of the best and compile a list of the top 50 players for this season.
The loaded Tampa Bay Lightning led the way with five names on the list. And 26 teams had at least one player; only the Arizona Coyotes, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators do not boast a top-50 player.
C | Oilers
Isn’t it great when generational talents live up to the hype? McDavid’s 324 points are the most in the NHL over the past three seasons. His ability to create offense at full speed, as one of the NHL’s fastest skaters, is unparalleled. And he’s only getting better. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: McDavid is averaging 1.30 points per game since entering league in 2015-16, first in the NHL during that span.
2019-20 projection: 42 goals, 76 assists
RW | Lightning
The reigning MVP just set a record for points (128) in the salary cap era. Nothing should slow down the NHL’s top right winger on the league’s most talented roster. “He’s always, always motivated,” says teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy. “And always getting better.” Did we mention Kucherov is only 26? — Kaplan
2019-20 projection: 40 goals, 78 assists
C | Avalanche
Has any player leveled up like MacKinnon has in the past two seasons? From 2013-17, MacKinnon was tied for 65th in the NHL at 0.69 points per game. But in the past two seasons, he’s fourth at 1.26 points per game. “There were games when it almost felt like you were back in minor hockey, watching him take on two defenders,” said former teammate Tyson Barrie. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: He has 18 game-winning goals over the past two seasons. Only Brayden Point (19) has more.
2019-20 projection: 43 goals, 60 assists
C | Penguins
Ask any player in the league who they’re most in awe of, and a good chunk will respond Crosby. Many still consider him the best player in the league, too. At age 32, Crosby is coming off perhaps the best defensive season of his career — and he still put up 100 points. — Kaplan
2019-20 projection: 33 goals, 64 assists
G | Lightning
Vasilevskiy won the Vezina for the first time last season after being a finalist in the previous season. The difference? Consistency, as Vasilevskiy didn’t have a bum month in finishing with a .925 save percentage and a 2.40 goals-against average. He’s arguably the league’s best goalie, although he does have a pretty good team in front of him. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: The Russian leads the NHL in wins (83) and is tied for the lead in shutouts (14) over the past two seasons.
2019-20 projection: .923 save percentage, 2.49 goals-against average
LW | Capitals
Two years ago, there was some chatter that the fast, modern NHL may have passed by the Russian sniper. Then Ovechkin went on to win his first Stanley Cup and followed it up with a 51-goal season. Yeah, dominant Ovi isn’t going anywhere — at least for the next two years of his contract. — Kaplan
Signature stat: Ovechkin has averaged 47.8 goals per season over the past six campaigns. If he hits that mark this year, he’d join the 700-goal club (currently at 658) and vault to eighth on the all-time goal list (currently 13th).
2019-20 projection: 48 goals, 37 assists
D | Lightning
Hedman has one Norris win and three straight trips to Vegas as a finalist. He’s an offensive force, second only to Brent Burns in points (189) over the past three seasons. And he’s one of the best shutdown defensemen in the NHL, with 95 goals allowed at 5-on-5 in 2,552 minutes. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Over the past six seasons, only Brent Burns (409) and Erik Karlsson (400) have more points among defensemen than Hedman (329).
2019-20 projection: 14 goals, 45 assists
D | Sharks
More than ever, the league is favoring quicker, smaller, offensively-gifted defensemen. And Karlsson is still the gold standard for that. He is coming off an injury-plagued season, but the Sharks aren’t worried the 29-year-old is slowing down. They backed that up by shelling out an eight-year, $92-million contract this summer. — Kaplan
Signature stat: Karlsson leads all defensemen in points-per-game (0.89) since start of the 2013-14 season.
2019-20 projection: 10 goals, 49 assists
C | Maple Leafs
Matthews is a center of considerable size who can put the puck in the net (111 goals in 212 career games) as well as set up goals (94 assists). That skill set led Islanders coach Barry Trotz to once compare him to a young Mario Lemieux, which is high praise indeed. Says Trotz: “He’s (big), he can skate, he’s ultra-skilled, he’s very, very competitive, he makes plays.” — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Over his first three seasons, Matthews has an even higher points-per-game average on the road (1.02) than at home (0.92).
2019-20 projection: 41 goals, 39 assists
C | Lightning
There are so many superstars and budding superstars on the stacked Lightning roster that somehow it feels like Stamkos gets overlooked. The 29-year-old is coming off a career-high 98-point season, in which he scored 45 goals (fourth-most in the league). You probably shouldn’t overlook that. He’ll reach the 400-goal milestone this season, despite withstanding injuries in his prime. — Kaplan
2019-20 projection: 41 goals, 53 assists
RW | Blackhawks
Kane’s 356 goals since debuting in 2007 are the fifth most in the NHL. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his game is his ability to produce with a variety of teammates. He won a Hart Trophy skating with Artemi Panarin, yet he also hit a new high in points (110) skating with several different linemates last season. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Kane enters 2019 needing 62 points to become the ninth U.S.-born player to reach 1,000 in his career. If he reaches the mark this season, he’ll be only the third on that list to score at least a point per game for his career, joining Joe Mullen and Pat LaFontaine in that regard.
2019-20 projection: 37 goals, 61 assists
LW | Devils
Hall is just one season removed from winning league MVP and single-handedly willing a young Devils team to the playoffs. A knee injury sidelined him for most of 2018-19, but now in a contract year, a healthy Hall should produce big numbers yet again. And now he has more talent surrounding him. — Kaplan
Signature stat: The former No. 1 overall pick is averaging 1.01 points per game in his three seasons with the Devils, after scoring 0.87 per game in his final three seasons with the Oilers.
2019-20 projection: 31 goals, 45 assists
D | Sharks
Is Burns the best all-around defenseman in the NHL? No. But his incredible offensive output (226 points in his past 246 games) combined with an unmatched ability to generate shots — with over 200 more than any other defenseman in the past three seasons — make him a singular talent on the blueline. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Burns has scored 20-plus even-strength goals twice in his career. The only other defenseman with multiple seasons with 20-plus even-strength goals are in the Hall of Fame (Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey and Phil Housley).
2019-20 projection: 17 goals, 62 assists
C | Maple Leafs
Tavares faced tremendous scrutiny in 2018-19. After a high-profile free agency, he opted to play for his hometown Leafs. Tavares somehow over-delivered, racking up 88 points. The 28-year-old seems immune to pressure, which is good considering Toronto is under the spotlight yet again. — Kaplan
Signature stat: Toronto has not had a 50-goal scorer since Dave Andreychuk scored 53 in 1993-94, but Tavares came as close as anyone last season with 47.
2019-20 projection: 42 goals, 44 assists
LW | Bruins
Marchand is one of the toughest players in the NHL to compete against. Granted, at times that’s because he’s delivering questionable hits and even more questionable licks. But he also hit 100 points last season. As Sidney Crosby said of his World Cup teammate: “Having him on your team is going to be so much more enjoyable than having to play against him.” — Wyshynski
2019-20 projection: 35 goals, 58 assists
RW | Avalanche
A breakout star of the 2018-19 season, the 22-year-old Rantanen is on one of the most productive (and talented) lines in hockey. The big-framed Finn is an excellent complement to Nathan MacKinnon. And with 87 points in 74 games last season, Rantanen’s new contract should reflect his budding household name status. — Kaplan
Signature stat: Rantanen and teammate Nathan MacKinnon have reached at least 50 assists in each of the past two seasons. They are the first Avalanche players with 50-plus in back-to-back seasons since Joe Sakic did it in 2005-06 and 2006-07.
2019-20 projection: 34 goals, 59 assists
LW | Rangers
Panarin is an elite point-producing winger, with 243 in his past 242 games. Last season, he was seventh in expected goals for (58.61) and tied for eighth with 2.8 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. Panarin is an offensive dynamo, and now quite a wealthy one thanks to the Rangers’ $81.5 million free-agent contract. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Since entering the NHL in 2015, Panarin is one of six players with at least 100 goals and 200 assists, joining Sidney Crosby, Johnny Gaudreau, Patrick Kane, Nikita Kucherov and Connor McDavid.
2019-20 projection: 29 goals, 57 assists
LW | Flames
The legend of Johnny Hockey is still growing after the 26-year-old put up a career-high 99 points last season, thanks to a huge increase in shot volume. Gaudreau earning a reputation as a big-moment player. “He really wants to be the guy in those situations, a lot like Patrick Kane,” Mark Giordano told ESPN last season. — Kaplan
Signature stat: Since his rookie season of 2014-15, Gaudreau leads all players 5-foot-9 or shorter with 386 points. Next on the list is Brad Marchand at 373.
2019-20 projection: 32 goals, 64 assists
RW | Bruins
The man they call Pasta has been more manicotti than vermicelli during the last three seasons, ranking 12th among all skaters with a 1.04 points-per-game average. He’s also one of the league’s most lethal players on the power play, as his 40 such goals since 2016 rank him third behind Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Pastrnak has recorded four hat tricks in the past two seasons, a mark only topped by Alex Ovechkin (6).
2019-20 projection: 44 goals, 53 assists
C/RW | Oilers
Yes, Draisaitl is the second-most talented player on the Oilers, but there’s a big drop-off before No. 3. The German-born forward chased down Alex Ovechkin last season for the Maurice Rocket Trophy and finished with 50 goals. At 23, Draisaitl is just entering his hockey prime. — Kaplan
2019-20 projection: 41 goals, 52 assists
RW | Maple Leafs
Now that his contract drama is over, Marner can focus on living up to that $10.893 million cap hit. His 94 points last season were a career high, not coincidentally one set after the arrival of John Tavares as his center. But Marner’s speed and offensive flourish make him much more than a sidekick. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Marner had 68 assists last season, the fourth-highest total in team history and the highest since Doug Gilmour had 84 in 1993-94.
2019-20 projection: 25 goals, 64 assists
C | Panthers
For years, players lauded Barkov as the league’s most underrated player. “He’s like really, really good, but he plays in Florida, so he gets no credit,” a rival defenseman told ESPN in 2017. Known for his two-way play, Barkov is starting to gain more recognition, especially after scoring 35 goals last season. — Kaplan
Signature stat: Barkov set a franchise record with 96 points last season and didn’t miss a game for the first time since entering the NHL in 2013-14.
2019-20 projection: 38 goals, 63 assists
D | Predators
Josi is a minutes-gobbling top-pairing defenseman whose offensive skills might actually be a little underrated. Consider that he’s eighth in the NHL over the past three seasons in points (158). As new teammate Matt Duchene said, “There’s not many D in the league who are better than him, if anybody.” — Wyshynski
2019-20 projection: 14 goals, 40 assists
C | Bruins
He’s won five of the past eight Selke trophies and had a good shot to win in each of the past two years if those campaigns weren’t cut short by injuries. When healthy, the 34-year-old is still one of the premiere two-way forwards in the game and a steadying figure on Boston’s ultra-talented top line. — Kaplan
Signature stat: Bergeron had a career-high 79 points last season, as he posted a plus rating for the 12th consecutive year.
2019-20 projection: 33 goals, 42 assists
G | Stars
Known as much for his towering stature at 6-foot-7 as his prowess between the pipes, Bishop is a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist. He was second in the NHL last season in goals saved above average at 5-on-5 (18.21). — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Bishop had a 1.98 goals-against average and .934 save percentage last season. He’s the first goalie to play at least 40 games and post a save percentage of .934 or better and a sub 2.00 GAA since Dominik Hasek in 1998-99.
2019-20 projection: .922 save percentage, 2.14 goals-against average
D | Devils
No, Subban isn’t the same dominating force that won the Norris Trophy in 2013, but he is definitely not a shell of himself, either. Subban is an elite offensive defenseman who shoulders big minutes, puts up forward-level points and instantly gives credibility to New Jersey’s blueline. — Kaplan
2019-20 projection: 12 goals, 40 assists
C | Jets
Scheifele is a dynamic center who scores goals and sets them up, but the operative word with him is consistency. He’s been better than a point-per-game player (1.02) over his past three seasons (221 games), scoring as many even-strength goals as Tyler Seguin and Artemi Panarin (64) in fewer games. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Scheifele (122 goals, plus-61), Nikita Kucherov and Brad Marchand are the only players with at least 120 goals and a plus-60 rating over the past four seasons.
2019-20 projection: 34 goals, 47 assists
C | Hurricanes
There’s a reason the 22-year-old Finn was the subject of the NHL’s first offer sheet since Ryan O’Reilly in 2013. Aho has improved his goal and point totals in each of his first three seasons, and his 83 points in 82 games last season feel like just the surface of his potential. — Kaplan
Signature stat: His 83 career goals are the third-most in his 2015 draft class, trailing only Connor McDavid (128) and Jack Eichel (101). While McDavid and Eichel were the first two picks, Aho went 35th overall.
2019-20 projection: 32 goals, 56 assists
RW | Jets
Wheeler went from being a dependable forward to a 90-point winger in the past two seasons, but his greatest attribute is his ability to lead by example. When Mark Scheifele missed time two seasons ago, Wheeler stepped up to play center and posted his best offensive season. He’s physical and durable, missing one game in the past four seasons. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Only Nikita Kucherov (87) and Connor McDavid (75) had more assists last season, as Wheeler set a franchise record with 71.
2019-20 projection: 24 goals, 65 assists
C | Sabres
Things haven’t gone the Sabres’ way the past few seasons, but they have a legitimate No. 1 center build around, and that’s Eichel. He has yet to play a full season (besides his 81 games as a rookie), but still put up 82 points in 77 games last year on a pretty bad team. — Kaplan
Signature stat: Eichel took 303 shots last season, a total bettered only by Nathan MacKinnon, Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin and Tyler Seguin.
2019-20 projection: 30 goals, 58 assists
D | Blue Jackets
Jones averaged 25:49 per game for the Blue Jackets last season. He’s an offensive force whose reputation on the other end of the ice continues to grow, despite a dip statistically in 2018-19. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Jones has seven overtime goals over the past three seasons, the most among NHL defensemen.
2019-20 projection: 12 goals, 40 assists
RW | Blues
Tarasenko has long been one of the league’s most underappreciated superstars. But since he debuted in 2012-2013, he’s top 10 in goals scored with 211. Even when he endures slumps, he finishes the season with consistently strong goal totals, and he’s improved as a two-way player, which rounds out his game. — Kaplan
Signature stat: He is one of just four Blues players to record five consecutive 30-goal seasons, all-time (Brett Hull, Garry Unger and Brian Sutter).
2019-20 projection: 35 goals, 36 assists
D | Capitals
Quietly, Carlson has been one of the NHL’s premier offensive defensemen over the past three seasons with a 0.75 points-per-game average, ranking him fifth in the league. He’s less accomplished on the defensive end, but his puck-moving game has been a vital part of the Capitals’ success, especially on the power play, where he was second in points (33) last season. — Wyshynski
2019-20 projection: 14 goals, 55 assists
G | Ducks
The Ducks’ defense left Gibson high and dry often last season, and he was clearly overworked. And yet on many nights, he still looked unbeatable. At age 26, he has plenty of good years ahead of him and could see another season of big workloads on a noncompetitive team. — Kaplan
Signature stat: Gibson is tied for first among active goalies with a career .921 save percentage (min. 100 games played). And among goalies to debut since 1955-56, only Ken Dryden (.922) and Dominik Hasek (.922) have a higher career mark.
2019-20 projection: .922 save percentage, 2.52 goals-against average
G | Canadiens
Who are we to argue with Price’s peers? The Canadiens’ goalie was named best in the league by nearly 30% of respondents to last season’s NHLPA poll. The former Vezina and Hart winner is one of the NHL’s last workhorse goalies, with 66 starts last season. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: His 44 career shutouts (all with the Canadiens) are three away from passing Ken Dryden for the third-most in franchise history. Only two Canadiens goalies have reached 50 career shutouts with the team: George Hainsworth (75) and Jacques Plante (58).
2019-20 projection: .921 save percentage, 2.43 goals-against average
C | Stars
The Stars didn’t have the splashiest offense last season, but Seguin is a true offensive talent (and brings out the best in winger Alexander Radulov). Seguin shook off a tough start, and from January 1 on, he had 22 goals in 42 games and was at more than a point-per-game pace. — Kaplan
2019-20 projection: 35 goals, 48 assists
C | Penguins
Malkin admitted this offseason that he battled both teammates and his coach during last season, when he posted the worst goals-per-game total (0.31) of his career. But look no further than his 42-goal, 98-point campaign in 2017-18 as a reminder of how dominate Malkin can be. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Malkin’s 1.18 points per game is the highest mark of any Russian-born player in NHL history.
2019-20 projection: 29 goals, 53 assists
G | Panthers
The two-time Vezina winner shook off his reputation as a guy who can’t get it done in the playoffs by dazzling with a first-round sweep of the Lightning last year. Bobrovsky has $70 million in expectations with his new Panthers contract and should be extra motivated in his first post-Blue Jackets campaign. — Kaplan
Signature stat: Bobrovsky saved 37 more goals than expected against over the past three seasons, according to Natural Stat Trick, the second-most in the NHL over that span behind John Gibson.
2019-20 projection: .918 save percentage, 2.46 goals-against average
C | Lightning
Point belongs in the conversation with Patrice Bergeron, Ryan O’Reilly, Anze Kopitar and Aleksander Barkov for the best two-way centers in the NHL after his 92-point breakout last season. “He doesn’t cheat the game. He’ll take the extra step to get on top of you instead of trying to lift your stick,” said coach Jon Cooper. “Whoever raised him, raised him well.” — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Point’s 3.69 points per 60 minutes last season was seventh in the NHL, and it improved from 2.46 points per 60 in 2017-18.
2019-20 projection: 38 goals, 55 assists
D | Flames
Giordano won his first Norris Trophy at age 35. Does it make up for past oversight? Perhaps. But Giordano was worthy for spectacular all-around play. When accepting the award, the Flames captain said he still feels “young” and “fresh,” which earned some ribbing from his young teammates but should put the rest of the league on notice. — Kaplan
Signature stat: His 74 points last season were the second-most in a season by a defenseman after turning 35 years old (Nicklas Lidstrom with 80 in 2005-06).
2019-20 projection: 14 goals, 38 assists
C | Canucks
Pettersson made everyone a believer in his rookie season, as he registered 66 points in 71 games, including the greatest of them all. “His hockey sense and his playmaking ability is as good as anybody right now,” said Wayne Gretzky to Sportsnet 650, acknowledging the comparisons being made between the two slightly built forwards. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: He averaged 0.93 points per game last season as a 20-year-old rookie. Over the last 20 seasons, only four rookies age 20 or younger have had higher point-per-game averages (min. 50 games): Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Matthew Barzal.
2019-20 projection: 34 goals, 46 assists
D | Kings
The Kings have some aging, bloated contracts on the books they’d like to get rid of. But Doughty’s is not one of them. The 29-year-old is still one of the elite top-pairing defensemen in the league who can eat up monster minutes and shut down an opponent’s top scoring threat. — Kaplan
Signature stat: Doughty thrives on the man advantage. Since he entered the NHL for the 2008-09 season, only two defensemen have more power-play points than his 205 (Keith Yandle and Erik Karlsson).
2019-20 projection: 11 goals, 40 assists
C | Predators
Forsberg remains an under-the-radar talent despite five strong seasons with the Predators. He’s a possession driver (4.26% relative Corsi in the past three seasons) and a strong even-strength player. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Forsberg is one of just 10 NHL players who have scored at least 25 goals in each of the past five seasons.
2019-20 projection: 30 goals, 35 assists
LW | Flyers
Since Giroux entered the league in 2008-09, all he’s done is produce, despite being on teams of varied talent and enduring a position switch. With the Flyers expected to bounce back in 2019-20, look for a big season from him. — Kaplan
2019-20 projection: 23 goals, 65 assists
RW | Golden Knights
Stone’s offensive consistency is to be admired, with five straight seasons of 20-plus goals. But it’s the defensive part of Stone’s game that is awe-inspiring, as he is one of the NHL’s best puck thieves. He finished second for the Selke as a winger, which just doesn’t happen. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Stone put up 12 points in Vegas’ seven-game series loss to the Sharks in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That was the most by any player in a single series last postseason.
2019-20 projection: 35 goals, 42 assists
C | Capitals
Kuznetsov endured a bit of a slump last season after the Capitals won their first Stanley Cup (a playoff run in which the Russian center unequivocally took a star turn). There should be a decent amount of noise this season considering his four-year IIHF ban for testing positive for cocaine, although he will only face a three-game suspension in the NHL. — Kaplan
2019-20 projection: 25 goals, 53 assists
C | Flames
Monahan has become a human meme for his “boring” comportment. But there’s nothing tedious about the 24-year-old center’s offensive output, with 172 goals in his first 471 games in the league. Last season’s 82 points were a career high. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Monahan scored a career-high 34 goals last season and could be in for an even bigger season in 2019-20. According to Natural Stat Trick, Monahan’s expected goals per 60 minutes (1.18) last season was fourth-best among NHL centers, trailing only John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Patrice Bergeron.
2019-20 projection: 32 goals, 44 assists
D | Stars
Sure, Miro Heiskanen stole a bit of his luster last season, but make no mistake: The Stars still consider Klingberg their No. 1 defenseman. The swift-skating Swede mans the right defense spot on the Stars’ top pairing and adds an offensive dynamic, too. He’s averaged 0.71 points per game over his five-year career. — Kaplan
Signature stat: Over the past four seasons, Klingberg has racked up 219 points, tied for fourth among NHL defensemen. The only defensemen with more over that span are Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman — all Norris Trophy winners.
2019-20 projection: 11 goals, 49 assists
G | Capitals
Holtby won the Vezina in 2016, followed that with another year as a finalist and then backstopped the Capitals to the Stanley Cup. He has a .924 even-strength save percentage over the past three seasons, ranking him sixth among all goalies. And he has a .928 save percentage overall in the postseason for his career. — Wyshynski
Signature stat: Goalie wins aren’t a great way to evaluate the quality of a goaltender, but winning still counts. And over the past five seasons, Holtby has 197 wins, 19 more than any other goalie in the NHL.
2019-20 projection: .913 save percentage, 2.72 goals-against average
D | Stars
Heiskanen was snubbed in the Calder Trophy conversation last season. Anyone who watched the then-19-year-old defenseman could see his precociousness. Heiskanen makes up for years of poor drafting and development for the Stars, and he’ll assume an even larger role in 2019-20. — Kaplan
Signature stat: Heiskanen played in all 82 games as a rookie, totaling 33 points, the most points in a season by a teenage defenseman in Stars franchise history.
2019-20 projection: 15 goals, 31 assists