Ranking the NHL’s top 50 players for the 2023-24 season from Connor McDavid to William Nylander

Who’s ready for hockey?

With the air getting cooler and crisper, things are just starting to heat up on the ice. The NHL regular season begins this week, as the 32 teams start their quest for the Stanley Cup. 

Last year was an historic one in the NHL. Not only did fans see a first-time champion crowned in Vegas, but records were broken, careers were revitalized and breakout stars were born. Matthew Tkachuk, Jack Hughes and Jason Robertson continue to lead a youth movement in the league, while superstar Connor McDavid continues to wow audiences with his video game-like production. 

There has been plenty of shuffling among the NHL’s elite heading into this season, in comparison to how the player rankings unfolded last year. Where does your favorite star rank this season?

MORE: NHL predictions for the 2023-24 season, including playoff projections, Stanley Cup pick

The Sporting News gives out its rankings of the top 50 players in the league heading into the 2023-24 season. 

Ranking NHL’s Top 50 players for 2023-24 season

1. Connor McDavid, C, Oilers

McDavid is the best player in the world, and it’s not particularly close. That’s not a knock on the rest of the league’s superstars, but no one is sniffing the Oilers captain’s production. McDavid hit 60 goals last year and became the first player in 27 years to secure 150 points. The crazy thing is not many people would bat an eye if he a has better year in 2023-24. 

2. Nathan MacKinnon, C, Avalanche

No one has that dawg in them like Nate Dogg. MacKinnon has the speed, the shot, the hands and an undeniable passion for the game. He’s one of the most exciting players to watch and is coming off a career-high 111 points in 2022-23. We haven’t seen a fully healthy MacKinnon in quite some time, but he has delivered a point-per-game season each year for the last six seasons. 

3. Cale Makar, D, Avalanche

Had Makar played a full season last year, there’s a chance he would be entering this year as a back-to-back Norris Trophy winner. Nonetheless, Makar enters this season as the league’s best defenseman and a top-three player in the league. He missed 22 games last year with injury, but still managed to finish top-10 in defensemen scoring (66 points) and one of only two blue liners to put up a point-per-game (1.10). 

4. Leon Draisaitl, C, Oilers

The Robin to McDavid’s Batman, Draisaitl is a world-class talent who would be the best player on 30 other teams. The German center finished with 52 goals and a career-high 128 points last season, giving him now three years with at least 50 goals and four seasons with at least 100 points. Draisaitl is regarded as the best passer in the league, and rightfully so with his slick dishing ability. 

5. Auston Matthews, C, Maple Leafs

We go from the best passer to the best pure goal-scorer. Matthews regressed a tad last season, going from 60 goals to 40 and 106 points to 85. But the Maple Leafs superstar still has the best release in the league, making him dangerous at all angles in the offensive zone. Matthews has also greatly improved defensively and in the faceoff dot, forming into an all-around star for Toronto. 

6. David Pastrnak, RW, Bruins

If we’re talking about players who can contend with Matthews and McDavid for the Rocket Richard, Pastrnak tops the list. The Bruins sniper is coming off a 61-goal, 113-point campaign in 2022-23 — and you can’t point to his linemates anymore, as he spent a majority of the season away from Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Pasta is one of the best goal scorers in the league, with his patented one-timer from the dot among his favorite weapons. 

7. Nikita Kucherov, RW, Lightning

It had been a few years since Kucherov dominated a regular season, but he got back to his ways last year, putting up 113 points and 83 assists. He was one of only two players to hit at least 80 helpers on the year, (McDavid was the other), en route to his third triple-digit points campaign. The Lightning winger is an elite playmaker who always finds himself among the league leaders in assists. 

8. Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Panthers

Tkachuk is a unicorn in today’s NHL. He combines size and aggression with slick skill, showcasing some of the best hands in the league while not being afraid to muck things up. After he was acquired by the Panthers last summer, he emerged as the face of the franchise, posting his second consecutive 100-point season. Tkachuk’s clutch run in the playoffs was the cherry on top of a sensational first season in Florida. 

9. Sidney Crosby, C, Penguins

Have we reached the point where Crosby is somehow underrated? In the age of up-and-coming stars taking over the league, the 36-year-old Penguins captain remains one of the most consistent performers at both ends of the ice. Fans were treated to a fully healthy Crosby last year, and he posted 93 points. After missing the playoffs for his first time since his rookie season, expect a motivated Pittsburgh star center this year.  

10. Mikko Rantanen, RW, Avalanche

In a year where seemingly every star for the Avalanche was hurt at some point, Rantanen played a major role in keeping the team afloat. The Finnish power forward had his first 50-goal, 100-point season, leading Colorado with 55 goals and 105 points. Rantanen finished sixth in MVP voting — and I don’t think that did his performance enough justice. 

11. Jack Hughes, C, Devils

Hughes is the league’s next superstar. He may very well already be there. The No. 1 pick from 2019 is living up to expectations in New Jersey, finishing a point shy of 100 last season to lead the Devils to a surprise second-place finish in the Metro. His poise, hands and superb skating ability make him an offensive dynamo, and he’s only 22 years old. 

12. Jason Robertson, LW, Stars

Robertson still does not get enough credit for what he has done with the Stars. The 24-year-old is coming off a second consecutive 40-goal campaign, finishing with over 100 points for the first time in his career. Along with Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski, the smooth-skating winger forms the most dominant forward trio in hockey. 

13. Adam Fox, D, Rangers

Fox does everything well on the New York blue line. He’s a shutdown defender, a superb passer and plays with a high hockey IQ. The 2021 Norris Trophy winner finished second in Norris voting in 2023, losing to Erik Karlsson for the honor. I’d expect Fox gets at least one more nod for defenseman of the year before his career is over. 

14. Mitch Marner, RW, Maple Leafs

Marner has always been dynamic on offense, but over the last couple of seasons, the winger has developed into a legitimate defensive threat. For the first time in his career, the Maple Leafs star was a finalist for the Selke, finishing third in voting behind Patrice Bergeron and Nico Hischier. He led Toronto in scoring last season with 99 points. 

15. Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Lightning

Vasilevskiy wasn’t in his dominant form last year. His 2.65 GAA and .915 SV% were his worst numbers since 2015-16, but even on his B-game, the Lightning goaltender is one of the best in the world. He has long been regarded as the top goaltender in the NHL, with his sensational playoff performances helping his case. He’ll begin this year sidelined after undergoing back surgery, so we’ll see what a fully healthy Vasilevskiy looks like later this winter. 

16. Igor Shesterkin, G, Rangers

Shesterkin came back to Earth a bit after winning the Vezina in 2022, but the Rangers goaltender is one of the best in the crease. The Russian netminder posted a 2.48 GAA, a .916 SV% and 28.1 goals saved above expected. The Rangers rely probably too much on Shesterkin at times, but he has been a reliant backbone for their franchise since coming over from the KHL five years ago. 

17. Ilya Sorokin, G, Islanders

It’s no coincidence that Sorokin follows right after Shesterkin and Vasilesvkiy. There is very little that separates the three, so Isles fans, don’t read into it too much. Some will argue that Sorokin deserved the Vezina last year over Linus Ullmark, but it’s only a matter of when, not if, the New York goaltender earns the honor. He’s a top-three goaltender in the league, coming off a season where he posted a 2.34 GAA, .934 SV% and a 38.7 goals saved above expected. 

18. Brayden Point, C, Lightning

Did Point have the least talked-about 50-goal season last year? It sure feels like it. The Lightning center lit the lamp 51 times in 2022-23, adding 44 assists to post a career-high 95 points. Point has become the Lightning’s top center, mixing a knack of goal scoring with exceptional playmaking. 

19. Kirill Kaprizov, LW, Wild

There is no denying that the Wild have become immensely more fun to watch since Kaprizov came over from Russia. The slippery winger dealt with injuries last year that kept him out of 15 games, but he still managed to record 40 goals and 75 points. Kaprizov has incredible vision and hands, and he has been the engine behind the Wild offense. 

20. Miro Heiskanen, D, Stars

It was only a matter of time before Heiskanen broke out offensively. The defenseman has been a steady member of the Dallas blue line for years, but it wasn’t until last season that Heiskanen significantly produced on the score sheet. He smashed his previous career high of 36 with a 73-point campaign. The two-way sensation is among the league’s best defenders at 24 years old, he’s only getting better. 

Charlie McAvoy

21. Charlie McAvoy, D, Bruins

Similar to Heiskanen, McAvoy has always provided the Bruins with strong, two-way play on the blue line. Unlike the Stars defender, we are still waiting to see McAvoy break out offensively. Don’t get me wrong, 52 points in 67 games is nothing to sneeze at, but if the Boston defender wants to shake his underrated status, he’ll have to put up more on the score sheet. 

22. Roman Josi, D, Predators

Josi remains the Predators’ most important skater and the key cog on their blue line. His production dipped after a career year in 2021-22, going from 96 points to 59 last year in 11 less games. Still, there are very few defenders who love the puck on their stick more than the Nashville captain, who is excellent at gaining offensive zone entries by himself. 

23. Jack Eichel, C, Golden Knights

Eichel’s first full season with Vegas could not have gone better. He posted 66 points in 67 games in the regular season before contributing 26 points in 20 games in his first playoff run, culminating in a Stanley Cup win. He looked like the franchise star the Golden Knights were expecting him to be when they traded for him two years ago. 

24. Aleksander Barkov, C, Panthers

Every contending team needs a dominant, two-way center at the helm. The Panthers have long had that in Barkov. The Finnish center played an integral part in Florida’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, leading all players in faceoff wins. His 78 points in 68 games in the regular season marked the third consecutive point-per-game season and fourth in the last five. 

25. Victor Hedman, D, Lightning

Hedman’s play is on the decline, but the 32-year-old is still among the NHL’s elite defenders. Last year, the Lightning blue-liner had 49 points in 76 games, with his 0.64 points per game rate marking his lowest since 2015-16. Still, the towering defender is a threat on offensive, as he has a great shot, paired with a strong passing ability. 

Tage Thompson

26. Tage Thompson, C, Sabres

Speaking of towering NHLers, the 6-6 Thompson is an absolute freak. You won’t find many forwards at his height who have hands as soft as the Sabres star’s. He proved the 2021-22 breakout was no fluke, building off that season by posting 47 goals and 47 assists, good for a career-high 94 points to lead Buffalo. He’s a legitimate star who is going to pave the way for the Sabres coming out of the rebuild. 

27. Elias Pettersson, C, Canucks

The Canucks knew they had a lethal shooter on their hands in Pettersson, but Vancouver’s face of the franchise has flourished into one of the best two-way centers in the league. Not only has the Swede improved immensely on defense, but he hit 100 points last year, potting 39 goals and adding 63 assists. 

28. Brad Marchand, LW, Bruins

We live in a world where Marchand wears a “C” on his jersey. Imagine telling NHL fans that even five years ago? Marchand is still a pesky winger, but he’s more notably known for his ability to drive offense and be a sensational defender. After a 67-point campaign last year, it will be intriguing to see how Marchand produces without his longtime center, Patrice Bergeron. 

29. Sebastian Aho, C, Hurricanes

Aho’s rise among the NHL elite took a bit of a bump last year, as he regressed from 81 points to 67. However, he potted 36 goals yet again, marking the fourth time in the last five years the Hurricanes center posted at least 30 goals. His knack for finding the back of the net is paired with a solid defensive presence, making the Finn one of the league’s top centers. 

30. Rasmus Dahlin, D, Sabres

Buffalo has never had a defenseman that won a Norris Trophy. It feels like Dahlin is the guy that will break that trend. The No. 1 pick from 2018 had his breakout campaign, putting up 73 points in 78 games. The 23-year-old earned his first All-Star nod and finished eighth in Norris voting. Dahlin is only going to get better, and as he improves, so will the Sabres’ success. 

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31. Mika Zibanejad, C, Rangers

The Rangers’ acquisition of Zibanejad a few years ago from the Senators continues to age like fine wine. The New York center is an elite driver on offense and has a wicked shot that helps put pucks in the back of the net. He exploded for 39 goals and 91 points last year, both career highs for the Swedish center. 

32. Erik Karlsson, D, Penguins

When was the last time a player enjoyed as much of a career resurgence as Karlsson did last year with the Sharks? Karlsson hadn’t hit 50 points the last four years before erupting for 101 in 2022-23, earning his third Norris Trophy as a result. The 33-year-old was traded to the Penguins this offseason, but Pittsburgh fans should certainly temper their expectations. 

33. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals

Ovechkin remains one of the most lethal goal scorers in the league. The days of being a perennial MVP candidate may be in the rearview mirror, but the Great 8 is still as entertaining as ever at age 38. He lit the lamp 42 times last season, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most 40-goal season in NHL history with 13. After moving into second on the all-time goal list last year, Ovechkin remains on the hunt for Gretzky’s record. 

34. Tim Stutzle, C, Senators

The star of the 2020 draft isn’t either of the first two picks. It’s Stutzle, the No. 3 pick, who has blossomed into a star in Ottawa. The German center put up 90 points last year, his third in the league, as he found the back of the net 39 times for the Senators. Ottawa is looking to take that next step out of its rebuild, and if Stutzle can continue to progress like he has, he is going to make the Sens a real threat. 

35. Steven Stamkos, C, Lightning

After a 100-point campaign in 2021-22, Stamkos took a step back last season, ending the year with 34 goals and 84 points. The Lightning captain still owns one of the most lethal one-timers in the league, but his days in Tampa Bay could be numbered. He is a 2024 free agent and did not work out an extension with the team this summer. 

36. Connor Hellebuyck, G, Jets

Hellebuyck remains a Jet … for now. The Winnipeg goaltender was in trade rumors this offseason after the two sides could not come together to a contract extension, but he’s still their starting goaltender entering this year. The tall UMass Lowell product has been a workhorse for years, and it was no different last year, leading the league in starts while finishing third in Vezina voting. 

37. Artemi Panarin, LW, Rangers

Panarin hasn’t completely lived up to his monster contract, but that says more about his mega-deal rather than his production. He has flirted with a 100-point season in three out of the last four years, securing 92 last year. The Rangers winger is a superb playmaker who has made a career setting up his teammates. 

38. Juuse Saros, G, Predators

Like Hellebuyck, Saros had been the Predators’ backbone for a number of years. He tied Hellebuyck for the league lead in games played last year, making over 60 starts for a second consecutive season. The Nashville goaltender led the league in goals saved above expected, finishing with a rate of 46.7. 

39. William Nylander, RW, Maple Leafs

There’s been plenty of discourse surrounding the Maple Leafs’ “Core Four.” Over the last two seasons, including playoffs, you can certainly argue Nylander has been the most consistent out of the quartet. The Swedish winger produced a career-high 40 goals and 87 points last year. He enters this season with one year left on his contract with the Leafs, and it could be Nylander’s final season in Toronto. 

40. Roope Hintz, C, Stars

Hintz has long been considered underrated. The Stars center can flat-out fly up and down the ice, making him one of the most exciting players to watch. He potted exactly 37 goals for the second consecutive season, and followed up a 78-point regular season with 24 playoff points in 19 contests. Don’t let his elite wingers fool you, Hintz is one of the top centers in the league. 

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41. Jaccob Slavin, D, Hurricanes

If there was an award for the best defensive defenseman, Slavin would likely take the cake. The Hurricanes defender is an elite shutdown option on the Carolina blue line, anchoring one of the best defensive units in the league. Don’t expect Slavin to score many points, as he’s too busy keeping the puck out of his own net. 

42. Quinn Hughes, D, Canucks

Hughes is an assist machine. The older brother of Jack has yet to hit double digits in goals, but he has back-to-back, 60-assist seasons, dishing out 69 helpers in 2022-23. The newly-named Canucks captain is a superb skater and distributor, and his defense has come a long way since he was a rookie. 

43. Jake Oettinger, G, Stars

Part of the reason the Stars have materialized into legitimate Stanley Cup contenders in the Western Conference is due to Oettinger. The Dallas goaltender wasted no time adjusting to the NHL level when he made the jump from the NCAA in 2020. The 24-year-old is one of the most promising young goaltenders, coming off a season where he posted a 2.42 GAA and a .916 SV%. 

44. Nico Hischier, C, Devils

Hischier has never been a flashy guy. The No. 1 pick from 2017 has always been touted as a responsible, two-way center that excels in the faceoff dot. However, last season, the Devils captain proved he can get it done at both ends of the ice, hitting 31 goals and 80 points. The duo of Hischier and Hughes down the middle for New Jersey is flat-out terrifying. 

45. Kyle Connor, LW, Jets

Connor remains criminally underappreciated. His goals and points dipped ever so slightly last year, as the Winnipeg winger posted 31 goals and 80 points in the 2022-23 campaign. Still, the Jets have one of the best pure goal scorers in the game, as Connor is expected to be one of the team’s main catalysts on offense yet again. 

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46. Brady Tkachuk RW, Senators

Tkachuk plays a similar style to his brother, but with a lot more snarl. While Matthew has more skill, Brady has more physicality to his game. That’s not to knock his offensive skillset at all, as the Senators captain exploded for 35 goals and 83 points last season. He’s a pain to play against, which is what makes the big-bodied Tkachuk so effective. 

47. Alex Pietrangelo, D, Golden Knights

One Stanley Cup wasn’t enough for Pietrangelo. After winning it all with St. Louis in 2019, the defenseman brought Vegas its first championship in hockey. Pietrangelo is as consistent as they come. He’s a minute muncher who can provide 50 points from the back end while being a leader off the ice as well. 

48. Adrian Kempe, LW, Kings

Kempe is the most underrated player in the NHL at the moment, in my opinion. After potting 35 goals in 2021-22, the Kings winger improved by posting his first 40-goal season, finding the back of the net 41 times for Los Angeles. He’s a certified sniper who has been a late bloomer in the league, much to the pleasant surprise of the Kings. 

49. Dougie Hamilton, D, Devils

Last year, Hamilton proved to the Devils he was well worth the investment from the 2022 offseason. The New Jersey defenseman recorded 52 assists and 74 points during the Devils’ breakout season. He’s the No. 1 defenseman any contender needs, providing an offensive option as a right-handed blue liner.  

50. Linus Ullmark, G, Bruins

Ullmark’s play was a big reason the Bruins broke the regular-season records for most points and wins last year. The Boston goaltender was sensational in net, leading the league in wins (48), GAA (1.89) and SV% (.938) en route to his first Vezina win. Considering how off the map his numbers were compared to previous years, Ullmark is a prime candidate for regression, but he’s still a solid option in the crease. 

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