Crosby, Datsyuk, Tarasenko among the NHL's most entertaining players
With Vladimir Tarasenko's goal-scoring flash lighting up the NHL and inspiring a flip-book treatment, we were moved to pick the players we believe are the league's 10 most entertaining. We also ran our list by some NHL scouts and asked for their opinions. At the very least, these are guys you don't mind paying to see because they can make your jaw drop at any given moment.
10. Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Flames
It's taken less than a quarter of an NHL season for Gaudreau to establish himself as someone worth the price of admission. "He's fun to watch even from the bench,” said coach Bob Hartley. “At some points I [find myself] watching him and feeling like a fan. He is so good at creating room.” Not that he needs much of it. His size (5'-9". 150 pounds) is viewed by most as a disadvantage but it allows him to exploit smaller gaps than other players can. From there, his quick feet and magic hands conspire to create magic. “Watching him is like watching that old video game, Frogger." a scout told SI.com. "You watch him dart around and you're waiting for him to get smushed, but he just keeps finding lanes. You just shake your head sometimes.”
9. Brent Burns, D, Sharks
He was a wrecking ball as a forward last season for San Jose, an agent of chaos whose unpredictability left opponents (and sometimes teammates) guessing about what he'd do next. Now that's he's back on defense, Burns is still a freewheeler who plays the game his way -- for better or worse. “You gotta be aware when he's on the ice, no matter which team you're on,” a scout said. “He puts some pressure on his partner [when he pushes the offense], but he's such a unique weapon. He's like a power forward on defense. When he attacks, he still thinks like a forward. There's really no one else like him.”
8. Erik Karlsson, D, Senators
While P.K. Subban's game has grown a bit more regimented this season, Karlsson is riffing like Robin Williams in his prime. He's always been high risk/high reward, but he's now taking it to another level, constantly pushing the boundaries as he looks to make the extraordinary play. Sometimes the results are maddening (as hinted at by his -7 rating), but then there are those moments when he dashes up the ice on an end-to-end rush or destroys a defense with thread-the-needle pass. “Who else moves the puck like he does?” a scout said. “He opens up the game in ways that no other defenseman can [with his passing.] He has that knack for finding and exploiting any break in coverage.” Said another: “There's no fear in his game. [Ottawa's fans] may wish there was a little more, but that consistent faith in his abilities makes him what he is.”
7. P.K. Subban, D, Canadiens
If we're being honest here, we have to admit that there's something off about Subban's game this season. Maybe it's the pressure of his new contract or wearing the A for the first time. Whatever, it's not quite there ... at least, not yet. But when he's on, he's a marvel, the game's most instinctual player. Those instincts will betray him on occasion -- his blind passes might be the leading cause of coronary issues in La Belle Province -- but his ability to read and react at high speed is unmatched. “There's not a better defenseman in the league with the puck one-on-one,” said a scout. “There aren't many guys who can keep up with him.”
6. Shea Weber, D, Predators
It's one thing to have a heavy shot. There are plenty of those in this league. What Weber brings is something else entirely. Pure intimidation. Every time the Predators enter the offensive zone it's like Big Papi stepping up to the plate. You hold your breath and wait for Weber to just mash it. He's not going to put it through the net -- or bury it into the endboards -- every time, but the anticipation that he might means you can't take your eyes off him.
5. Sidney Crosby, C, Penguins
Sid isn't what you'd call a classic thriller. He won't pull you out of your seat with a burst of speed or a jaw-dropping display of manual dexterity. No, what earns him a spot on this list is the biggest tool kit in the game, the ability to exploit the briefest hint of weakness in orde to create something out of nothing. It's the no-look pass, the bullish drive to the net, the laser-accurate release, the strength on his skates. And maybe more than anything, it's the uncanny knack for finding a dead zone in defensive coverage. “He can do more things better than anybody,” a scout said. “And if he doesn't now just give him a year and check back. Just a remarkable player.”
4. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, Blues
It starts with the feet. The biting edge work that leaves defenders leaning one way before he breaks their ankles with that shockingly explosive acceleration. Then he hits that open space and enters a moment when anything can happen. “Everything's sort of come together for him this year,” a scout told SI.com. “He's stronger ... he's shooting the puck more when he might have looked to pass [in the past]. And he's playing with confidence. He's having fun with it and that makes him as fun to watch as any player in the game right now.” Adds teammate Jake Allen, “He's got some magic hands. You never know what he's going to do next.”
3. Tyler Seguin, C, Stars
Where to start with Seguin? His shot, maybe? “His release is as good as anyone’s in the game,” Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill recently told the Dallas Morning News. “On his one-timers, the puck is almost away before it even gets there.” His speed? “Just blazing fast,” a scout offered. “There's some Mike Modano in him, the way he just winds it up and dares everyone to keep up with him.” Or maybe it's that unique ability to seize a moment and make it his own. “He's someone you want on the ice when you're down,” said Stars teammate Jordie Benn. “All he needs is a split second and the puck's in the back of the net.”
2. Patrick Kane, RW, Blackhawks
Count Alex Ovechkin among Kane's admirers. “Not many guys can do what he can do out there,” Ovi told CSN Chicago. “He’s probably one of the best I’ve ever seen.” No kidding. When the biscuit is on his blade, Kane is the Kim Jung-Un of stickhandling: ruthless and in total control, the game's ultimate master of deceit. “There isn't a defenseman in this league that he hasn't juked out of his jock,” said broadcaster Darryl Reaugh. “He has moves that haven't even been invented yet.”
1. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Red Wings
OK, so he's not really magic, but he's the closest thing to it. No one in the league now -- or maybe ever -- plays with the puck on a string the way Datsyuk does. “We just look at each other and laugh sometimes,” teammate Henrik Zetterberg said. “We see him do these things all the time and still we can't believe it.” Datsyuk has no panic point. Where others would bail on a play he just lets it unfold. Take that amazing behind-the-back and through-the-legs move he made against Boston last spring. “You see that happen and you think, 'Who even thinks like that?'” a scout told SI.com. “Anybody else pulls the chute to avoid getting plowed. He stays calm and focused and makes one of the best plays I've ever seen.” Huh ... maybe he is magic after all.