Eye On Hockey top 50 NHL players: 50-46

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer
Young San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture cracked our Top 50 player list. (U.S. Presswire)

Since the NHL is still shut down for at least another month due to the ongoing lockout, we're going to occupy some of your time by counting down the top 50 players in the NHL as decided by ... well ... me.

This is the first installment and will feature players 50-46.

A number of factors went into the list including overall production, advanced metrics (via BehindtheNet.ca), personal observation, all-around play and what kind of role are they asked to play by their coaches. For example: If two players are similar in their production and are comparable in their style of play, the guy who is asked to face tougher competition or tougher assignments is going to get the edge.

To make it even easier: I basically started with the question of "If I'm building a team to win the Stanley Cup this season, who would I want on my team?"

There will be disagreements, I'm sure. And as is always the case, if a player you like is too low, or excluded, that obviously means I hate him and your team.

Landeskog50. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche

2011-12 box score stats: 82 games, 22 goals, 30 assists, 52 points
2011-12 advanced stats: .911 Corsi Quality Competition, plus-15.2 Relative Corsi, 1004 PDO

The issue I had with Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog and his placement on my list (and whether I should even include him at this point in his career) is the simple fact that we have such a small sampling of games to go on since he has just completed his first season in the NHL.

But what a season it was.

His career obviously can go either way at this point, but I'm pretty confident he's going to keep going up and that when the Avalanche eventually return to the playoffs he's going to be one of the biggest reasons why.

Even though we have just the one year to look at it, it was a pretty incredible debut season for the 19-year-old forward. It not only resulted in him winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year but also in him being named the youngest captain in the NHL over the summer, taking over the role from long-time forward Milan Hejduk, ending his one season reign as captain.

Landeskog still doesn't turn 20 until Nov. 23.

In his first NHL season, after being selected No. 2 overall in the 2011 draft, Landeskog made an immediate impact and not only led the team with 22 goals (he finished just one point behind Ryan O'Reilly for the team points lead), he was also a force defensively and was consistently given the task of going up against opposing teams' top players -- and consistently outplaying them.

RickNash49. Rick Nash, New York Rangers

2011-12 box score stats: 82 games, 30 goals, 29 assists, 59 points
2011-12 advanced stats: 1.132 Corsi Quality Competition, minus-0.1 Relative Corsi, 994 PDO

If Gabriel Landeskog is a player on the rise (and he is), then Rick Nash is a pretty clearly a player on the decline. The subject of trade rumors for much of the 2011-12 season as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nash was finally dealt to the New York Rangers over the summer in a move that gave that Rangers some much-needed offensive firepower up front.

But what exactly are they getting at this point? A franchise player and a superstar who's going to be the missing piece for a Stanley Cup run? Or simply a very good player with a huge contract?

I'm thinking it's going to end up being the latter.

Since his peak season in 2008-09, when he finished with 40 goals and 39 assists for the Blue Jackets during what was their only postseason appearance in franchise history, Nash's production has steadily dropped across the board every season since. He's still a very productive player and will definitely make the Rangers a better team (though, he's making superstar money -- his cap hit of $7.8 million is the sixth-largest in the NHL and runs through the end of the 2017-18 season) but I wouldn't bet on him ever scoring 40 goals again.

JamieBenn48. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

2011-12 box score stats: 71 games, 26 goals, 37 assists, 63 points
2011-12 advanced stats: .493 Corsi Quality Competition, plus-4.5 Relative Corsi, 1013 PDO

The Dallas Stars have been pumping out quality young forwards from their farm system for a few years now (and many of them will appear on this list) and that includes Jamie Benn, who is coming off his best season in the NHL.

And he did it while making the shift from wing to center.

He has steadily improved his production each of his three years in the NHL and is just now starting to enter what should be his prime. While he has the luxury of playing with some really strong talent in Dallas -- Loui Eriksson, the Stars' best player, was one of his most common linemates this past season -- his production never took a hit when he was separated from them, which is a very encouraging sign.

He has not only become a quality all-around player who seemingly does everything well, he's also one of the most exciting young players in the game if you ever get a chance to actually see him play (and sadly, since he happens to play in Dallas, that's probably not anywhere near often enough). He's capable of scoring some absolutely beautiful goals, like this dance through the Columbus defense.

LoganCouture47. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

2011-12 box score stats: 80 games, 31 goals, 34 assists, 65 points
2011-12 advanced stats: 1.048 Corsi Quality Competition, 10.8 Relative Corsi, 988 PDO

The San Jose Sharks might be one of the deepest teams in the league at forward, and Logan Couture, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2007 draft, is in the process of becoming a star for them.

Like Benn, he's another guy who's getting ready to enter the prime of his career and has already posted back-to-back 30-goal seasons.

During the 2011-12 season, he faced by far the toughest minutes that he has ever played in the NHL. Couture not only continued to improve his overall production, but he was a machine when it came to helping the Sharks keep the play moving up the ice (as evidenced by the plus-10 Relative Corsi rating).

He has also been over 50 percent in the faceoff circle each of the past two seasons.

He spent most of last season on a line with Ryane Clowe and Martin Havlat, and both players struggled mightily when they were separated from Couture, as shown in the table below. Data via stats.hockey.analysis.com.

(Corsi % = Percentage of attempted shots taken by team; GF% = Percentage of goals scored by team)

Logan Couture: Making his linemates better
PlayerCorsi % With CoutureCorsi % W/O CoutureGF % WithGF % W/O
Ryane Clowe.550.472.565.343
Martin Havlat.573.423.625.625

Dustin Byfuglien46. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets

2011-12 box score stats: 66 games, 12 goals, 41 assists, 53 points
2011-12 advanced stats: .674 Corsi Quality Competition, plus-13.1 Relative Corsi, 981 PDO

When the Chicago Blackhawks had to dismantle their 2009-10 Stanley Cup team due to salary-cap constraints, one of the first players to go was power forward Dustin Byfuglien. Chicago sent him to Atlanta for a package of players and draft picks that included Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb, Jeremy Morin and a couple of the draft picks the Thrashers received in the previous season's Ilya Kovalchuk trade.

After acquiring him, the Thrashers had the wild idea that instead of using him as a forward, the position that he had played primarily in Chicago, they were going to move him back to his original position (the position that he played when drafted) of defense.

It was a move that was greeted with some skepticism and criticism, with former Blackhawk sforward Jeremy Roenick being the most vocal of critics. At the time, Roenick said, "It might be one of the stupidest things I've ever heard in my life."

Two years later, the move seems to have worked out.

Byfuglien is an interestng case. He has drawn criticism in recent years for his weight and because of his frame doesn't "look" like a guy who should be a dominant offensive force.

But when he's out there, he has been as productive as any defenseman in the NHL over the past two seasons and possesses one of the most vicious slap shots in the league. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, his first year as a full-time rear guard in the NHL, the only defenseman who has outscored him is Ottawa's Erik Karlsson (Karlsson has a 123-to-106 edge). He is just one of three defensemen to top 100 points over that stretch (Phoenix's Keith Yandle is the other). And he has done it while playing in just 147 of a possible 164 games.

For whatever flaws he might have, he's still a wildly productive player. And when combined with Tobias Enstrom, he gives the Winnipeg Jets a very formidable top defensive pairing.

Next up: Players 45-41.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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