The puck always seems to be on his tape when the game is on the line. He keeps goaltenders awake at night with his lightning-quick release, and pinpoint accuracy. He is the sniper, hockey’s most potent goal scorer. Today, we take a look at the NHL’s ten best sharpshooters.
10. Patrick Sharp – After a lowly start to his career in Philadelphia, Patrick Sharp really hit his stride in Chicago. Scoring at least 25 goals in every season since 2007-2008, Sharp has proven himself as one of the NHL’s most dynamic scorers. With help from crafty playmakers Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Sharp’s 11 goals in the 2010 playoffs helped the Blackhawks beat his former team the Flyers to win Chicago’s first Stanley Cup since 1961.
9. Tyler Seguin – At 20, Tyler Seguin is the youngest player on the list. But to say he is an inexperienced scorer is a grave mistake. Making Stanley Cupless veterans like Jeremy Roenick cringe, Seguin won a Stanley Cup two years before he could legally drink any alcohol out of it (In Boston, anyway). So far in his second NHL season, Seguin has found the back of the net 26 times, good for the first place among Bruins scorers. If he keeps on the twine-ripping pace he is on, Seguin could very well find himself in the top 3 of this list in just two or three years.
8. Michael Ryder – Since leaving Boston in the off-season following their Stanley Cup victory, Michael Ryder has fit in quite well in Dallas, becoming one of the NHL’s most underrated scorers. Finding the back of the net for the 31st and 32nd time this season in Tuesday night’s shootout loss to the Stars, Ryder has reached the 30 goal mark for the third time in his career. Ryder’s quick release helped the Bruins overpower the Canucks in last year’s finals, and has thus far proven to be just as potent as it was last spring.
7. James Neal – At 24 years-old, Pittsburgh winger James Neal is having a heck of a season with a career best 35 goals. Of course, some of Neal’s success can be attributed to his superstar linemate, and likely Hart trophy recipient Evgeni Malkin. However, Neal has repeatedly shown this season his ability to beat goalies with uncanny accuracy. Signed to a 6-year contract extension on February 19th, the Penguins will have Neal’s marksmanship in their arsenal well through his playing prime.
6. Alexander Semin – Despite his lackluster performance thus far in this season, Alexander Semin remains one of the league’s most dangerous snipers. Using a long stick that appears to be made for a 6-foot-3 defenseman, Semin whips the puck with precision few can match. Semin may have just 18 goals this season, but his 40 goals in 2009-2010 show he is capable of hitting the twine at a fervent pace. Fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, the Capitals sure could use Semin at his full sniping potential.
5. Phil Kessel – Phil Kessel has one of those shots that is easily recognizable even when you can’t make out the 81 on the back of his jersey. Kessel uses a very low (whip) flex on his stick and really leans into his snap shots, making for one of the quickest releases in the game. Kessel has been one of the hottest goal scorers in the NHL this season, racking up 36 goals. In hindsight, we can tell now that the September 2009 trade that sent Phil Kessel from Boston to Toronto for the draft pick that would later become Tyler Seguin, had a great bit of offensive firepower indeed.
4. Alexander Ovechkin – Since coming into the league at the end of the lockout, Alex Ovechkin has been one of the most dazzling players to watch. He has so many skills in his world-class repertoire: one shift he’ll put it through a defenseman’s legs for a goal, and on the next shift he’ll run that same defenseman over. But, his most lethal weapon is his shot. Like Kessel, Ovechkin’s stick has a lot of flex. That flex, paired with the big toe curve on Ovechkin’s blade, makes for a high-velocity shot, likely headed for one of the top corners. In fact, since the 2005-2006 season, no one has scored more than number 8. Despite having an “off” season, Ovechkin still has 32 goals, good for 8th in the NHL.
3. Ilya Kovalchuk – The most recent addition to the 400-goal club, Ilya Kovalchuk is one of the most feared goal-scorers in the NHL. With an immensely powerful lower-body, Kovalchuk’s one-timer from the point on the power-play is one that seems to find the back of the net with unbelievable frequency. But, this Russian sniper’s wrist shot is just as wicked as his slapper. With the exception of an injury-riddled season in 2009-2010, Kovalchuk has potted at least 30 goals every season since 2002-2003. There are few (well 2) more dangerous snipers in the NHL today than Ilya Kovalchuk.
2. Marian Gaborik – For Marian Gaborik, the secret to his knack for goal-scoring isn’t necessarily in accuracy or power (although don’t think he’s lacking in those categories), but in his quickness. Some of the greatest snipers in NHL history have admitted they don’t always aim when they shoot, they just get it off quickly. This is Gaborik’s forté. Gaborik’s release is hands-down the fastest in the NHL. A huge part of the Ranger’s high-powered offense, Gaborik has tallied 35 times this season. Look for Gaborik to be a terror to opposing goalies as the Rangers are poised to make a deep run in this year’s playoffs.
1. Steven Stamkos – Steven Stamkos’ statistics speak for themselves. With 10 games remaining in his fourth NHL season, Stamkos’ 50 goals has him at a sizable 7-goal lead over second place Evgeni Malkin. Parked in his spot at the left half-boards, Stamkos has redefined the knee-drop one timer, originally made famous by Brett Hull in the early 90s. So much so, NHL 12, the video game that features Stamkos’ face on its cover, implemented the knee-drop one timer into this year’s game. Stamkos has the uncanny ability, as many of the NHL’s greatest goal scorers have, to be just as wise with the puck as without it. He finds the open spot, and when he gets the puck, he makes no mistake. Whether with his deadly one timer, or equally potent wrist shot, Steven Stamkos is going to score…a lot.