The 2020-21 NHL season is steadily becoming one of the most exciting seasons in NHL history despite having only 56 games that began on January 13, 2021, and may end in July of the same year. The shortened season was greatly beneficial for many teams in the NHL, as they will be given a chance to reach the playoffs without playing too many games, and this also means that their bodies will be properly rested before the end of the regular season and at the beginning of the playoffs. Of course, in this season, there are many players that have emerged as the top choices for the MVP or Most Valuable Player award, and with fewer games, we should also expect that their stats won’t change much from now up to the playoffs. Here are ten of the best NHL players for 2021, according to fans and analysts.
Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers)
There is no denying that Connor McDavid’s skill when it comes to playing ice hockey is leagues above average and most players, which is why he is considered by the fans, the members of the media, his teammates, and even his rivals as one of the best players that have played in the NHL. Because McDavid is such a phenomenal player since he started playing in the league in 2015, he has already been awarded the prestigious Ted Lindsay Award (the MVP trophy for the regular season in the NHL) two times, and many sports bettors in prominent NHL betting sites are predicting that McDavid will win his third regular-season MVP award in 2021. If he wins the award this season, there is a chance that he will still win more in the future if he keeps his abilities at a top-level.
Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche)
Another outstanding player that you should watch during this season is Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche. During the past three seasons, MacKinnon has always placed at the top-eight for most scores in the NHL, but besides scoring, MacKinnon is also quite proficient in puck handling and defense. In addition, MacKinnon is the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy (award given to the MVP of the Stanley Cup) this year, as his team is expected to win it all in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Artemi Panarin (New York Rangers)
Russian player Artemi Panarin is regarded as being one of the only few that have tremendous offensive skills in the game. Despite going undrafted, Panarin has quickly climbed up to the top of the NHL rankings, thus proving doubters and draft agents wrong. In his first season in the ice hockey league in 2015-16, he won the Calder Memorial Trophy, an award given to the best rookie of the season. Many people expect that Panarin will continue to get better and better as he reaches his prime.
Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Although he is past his prime in the current season, Sidney Crosby is still an elite-level player that is better than most of those playing in the NHL. Crosby has already won the Ted Lindsay Award three times, with the first being in 2007, while the other two were given to him in 2013 and 2014. Furthermore, he has also won two Conn Smythe Trophies in 2016 and 2017. Analysts from different media outlets like NBC still regard Crosby as one of the top 15 players in the NHL, and even though his chances of winning the MVP awards this season is quite low, it still wouldn’t be surprising if he could win them this year.
Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton Oilers)
The Edmonton Oilers are stacked for this season, as they both have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in their roster, and the two would be enough for them to win plenty of games in the regular season and maybe in the playoffs as well. Similar to McDavid, German player Leon Draisaitl also possesses superior offensive skills, which allowed him to win the Ted Lindsay Award in the previous season. Even though McDavid is now the favorite to win the regular-season MVP this season, Draisatl is not really that far behind in the rankings.
David Pastrnak (Boston Bruins)
David Pastrnak may be one of the most underrated players on this list, as the Boston Bruins is not really a popular team, and his playstyle is not really considered flashy compared to some of the top-ranking players in the NHL. However, analysts and fans that have watched Pastrnak play this season consider him as one of the top choices to win the regular-season MVP award. Even if he doesn’t win the award this season, Pastrnak is still a young player, so there is a chance that he will get it in the future as he keeps getting better and better.
Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)
Arguably one of the best and leading goal scorers in NHL history, Russian player Alex Ovechkin is a favorite to win multiple awards this season. Ovechkin is quite an offensive threat, and his skills in the game usually force opposing teams to focus their defense on him. But, no matter how strong the defense is against Ovechkin, he will still find many ways to score a goal. According to NHL.com, Ovechkin has won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (award given to the leading goal scorer in the season) nine times, and if he wins another one this season, he will be the first to get ten in NHL history.
Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers)
A young player that has been on people’s radar since he started playing in the NHL in 2013 is Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers. Barkov has been improving year after year in the NHL, and it would be no surprise that he may eventually win multiple trophies in the near future. For now, Barkov has a steady rise in terms of skills and stats, which made him one of the top-ranking players in the league. With this much talent at such a young age, how much better can Barkov play in the next few seasons?
Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Another emerging star in the NHL is Auston Matthews, who is currently playing his fifth season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Matthews is already an elite-level player since he started playing in the NHL, and in his rookie season, he has won the Calder Memorial Trophy. A lot of fans expect that Matthews would eventually win many MVP trophies in the near future as his skills continue to improve as the years go by.
Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The last, but surely not the least, on this list is the popular Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning. After not playing significant minutes during the playoff run of his team last season because of his injury, Stamkos is ready to prove the doubters wrong by playing at an elite level again. He is still expected to be one of the top scorers of this season, although not a lot of people predict that he can win the Maurice “Rocket” Trophy again, an award that he has already won two times in 2010 and 2012.
As the 2020-21 season is still ongoing, there is a high chance that these rankings would change, with some players losing their spots and new players coming on the list. Because of the shorter season and fewer games, predicting the current favorite to win the regular-season MVP award can be quite difficult, but the contenders for the award are still fairly easy to guess if you have watched all the games.