40. Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Calgary Flames
Tkachuk led the Flames with 61 points (23 goals, 38 assists) in 69 games last season. He scored four game-winning goals (two in overtime) and was second on Calgary with 122 hits and tied for third with 40 takeaways. He scored an NHL career-high 77 points (34 goals, 43 assists) in 80 games in 2018-19 and has increased his average ice time in each of the past three seasons (18:18 per game in 2019-20) after playing 14:40 per game as a rookie in 2016-17.
“That mentality that he goes to where the action is always, with the puck, without the puck, offensive zone, defensive zone,” NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson said. “He’s willing to battle to get there, to pay the price to get there. We just don’t have a lot of guys in the game today that play as physically as he does and can produce the points.”
39. Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
Since Stamkos entered the NHL in 2008-09, only Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has scored more goals (543) than the Lightning captain (422), who scored 29 in 57 games last season. In 2018-19, Stamkos scored 45 goals and an NHL career-high 98 points, ninth in the NHL. He’s scored the most goals in Lightning history and is third in assists (410) and points (832). Stamkos has scored 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists) in 71 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He helped the Lightning win the Stanley Cup last season, scoring a goal in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Dallas Stars, his only goal in his only game of the postseason.
“One of the best shooters the game has ever seen, that’s why he might go to the Hall of Fame,” Johnson said. “His numbers are good enough if he can just stay healthy for another couple hundred games … Offensively, with the puck on his stick, he is gifted. He is one of the best we’ve ever seen.”
38. Elias Pettersson, C, Vancouver Canucks
In his second NHL season, Pettersson scored 66 points to match his total from 2018-19, when he won the Calder Trophy voted as NHL rookie of the year after leading first-year players in goals (28), assists (38) and points. His 27 goals in 68 games last season tied J.T. Miller for most on the Canucks, and he tied Miller for the Vancouver lead with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 17 postseason games. He led the Canucks in rating (plus-16) and was third with 24 power-play points (eight goals, 16 assists). Pettersson scored five game-winning goals and had a shooting percentage of 16.7 percent, 10th in the NHL among players who had at least 25 goals and 150 shots on goal.
“He plays fast, but he’s never in a rush,” Johnson said. “His mind and his patience and his poise lets him make decisions and plays in tight spaces. … Once the pucks on his stick, this does really separate him from the second he got in the NHL, is his ability to shoot it.”
37. Dougie Hamilton, D, Carolina Hurricanes
Hamilton ranked fourth among NHL defensemen with 40 points and was tied for second with 14 goals, and his plus-30 rating was second in the NHL when he broke his fibula Jan. 16, causing him to miss the remainder of the regular season. Hamilton, who is first among NHL defensemen with 49 goals over the past three seasons, returned for the Eastern Conference First Round against the Boston Bruins and scored two points (one goal, one assist) in a five-game loss.
“If you want a defenseman that can impact the game in all areas of the ice — defensively, offensively — that’s what Dougie Hamilton can do,” Johnson said. “I think before he was injured last season, he absolutely would have been a Norris Trophy finalist.”
36. Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets
Hellebuyck went 31-21-5 with a 2.57 goals-against average, a .922 save percentage and an NHL-leading six shutouts to win the Vezina Trophy voted as the best goalie in the NHL last season. He was tied for first with Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens among NHL goalies in games (58), faced the most shots (1,796) and made the most saves (1,656). Hellebuyck, who allowed two goals or fewer in 30 of his 56 starts, has made the most starts (182) and is second in wins (109) behind Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Lightning (118) during the past three seasons.
“He had to play so well every night to give the Jets a chance to gain points, and that kind of pressure, that kind of load that he had to carry, and he was willing to do it, capable of doing it, he absolutely deserved the Vezina,” Johnson said.
35. Kyle Connor, LW, Winnipeg Jets
Connor led NHL rookies with 31 goals and was fourth with 57 points in 2017-18, and he has increased those numbers in each of the past two seasons. He scored 66 points (34 goals, 32 assists) in 82 games in 2018-19 and 73 points (38 goals, 35 assists) in 71 games last season to help the Jets earn a berth in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. He also averaged an NHL career-high 21:05 of ice time and was tied for fifth in the NHL with seven game-winning goals.
“When you’re going to score at a 45, close to 50-goal pace, I don’t care who you’re playing with, you’re doing something right,” Johnson said. “He just has that knack, those skills and playing along with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele for much of the year really showed how good offensively he could be.”
34. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche
Makar, who won the Calder Trophy last season, led rookie defensemen in goals (12), power-play goals (four) and even-strength goals (eight), and he was second to Quinn Hughes of the Canucks among rookies in assists (38), points (50) and power-play points (19; four goals, 15 assists). He scored four game-winning goals, was plus-12 and averaged 21:01 of ice time in 57 games, third among rookies. Makar, who set the Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques record for points by a rookie defenseman in one season, scored 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 15 postseason games.
“His skating ability, to me, is something that’s incredible, and then that goes along with his offensive skills,” Johnson said. “… You got one timers, you got wristers, you got snap shots, and he can do them all effectively.”
33. Blake Wheeler, RW, Winnipeg Jets
Wheeler scored 65 points (22 goals, 43 assists) in 71 games last season, the fifth straight he’s scored at least 61 points and seventh straight with at least 20 goals. He had back-to-back 91-point seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19, tying Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers for the NHL lead in assists in 2017-18 (68) and finishing third in 2018-19 (71). He has ranked first or second on the Jets in scoring in eight of the past nine seasons, missing six games in that span.
“He’s a really, really good passer, an underrated skater,” Johnson said. “I have a lot of respect for Blake Wheeler and how he’s grown as a leader, on the ice, off the ice. … he really has embraced being the leader of that team, that city in Winnipeg and representing them.”
32. Seth Jones, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
In 2019-20, Jones led Columbus in average ice time (25:17 per game) for the fifth straight season and in shorthanded ice time per game (2:25). Jones, who scored 30 points (six goals, 24 assists) and was plus-10 in 56 games, was a big reason the Blue Jackets were tied with the Arizona Coyotes for third in the NHL in goals-against average (2.61 per game). He scored at least 42 points each of the previous three seasons, including an NHL career-high 57 (16 goals, 41 assists) in 2017-18. Jones set an NHL record for ice time in one game (65:06) in a 3-2 five-overtime loss to the Lightning in Game 1 of the 2020 Eastern Conference First Round.
“I think for him to get to that next level, I still think his defensive zone game can get better,” Johnson said. “He has all the tools. You don’t play 65 minutes in a game unless you can skate, and he can certainly do that.”
31. Ryan O’Reilly, C, St. Louis Blues
O’Reilly matched his NHL career high by scoring 28 goals (2013-14) and set highs with 49 assists, 77 points and a plus-22 rating in 2018-19, his first season with the Blues. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy voted as 2019 playoff MVP after leading the NHL with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 26 games to help St. Louis to its first Stanley Cup championship. Last season, he led the Blues with 61 points (12 goals, 49 assists) in 71 games and ranked first in the NHL in face-offs taken (1,556), winning 56.6 percent.
“He has become a picture of consistency in how he plays the game, what he does for his team and how effective he is at shutting down other players,” Johnson said. “… It’s amazing that a guy who does as much winning and is as good as he is and can produce points, he’s so focused on just taking care of the team.”