Most Important Players: Western Conference Edition

We continue our Most Important Player series with the Western Conference.

In case you missed it, we compiled a list for the Eastern Conference.  You can view that here.  My colleague Andrew Bensch recently wrote an article outlining who the most “untouchable” players on each roster was.  We are taking a different approach with this.

By important, we mean which player is most instrumental to their team’s success.  This player must be the reason why a particular team is enjoying success.  Here are a couple of quick guidelines to keep in mind.  The player must currently be on the roster.  They must have also played at least 1 game with the team.  Therefore, you will not see players like Evander Kane on this list.  We will also include an “also considered” list.

Western Conference Most Important Players

Anaheim Ducks – Ryan Getzlaf

This player has done just about everything.  He is helping the Ducks make major noise in this year’s Western Conference playoffs.  He was on the team that won the Cup in 2007.  He’s been doing it for a long time, and doesn’t appear to be slowing down.  In fact, this season has been arguably his best.  He’s more disciplined than ever.  Also considered Perry, Kesler, and Andersen.

getzlaf western conference
Getzlaf has been the most important player for Anaheim for several years. (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Arizona Coyotes – Mike Smith

I know what you are thinking.  Mike Smith???  He was on a terrible team last season.  Remember that he was in the Western Conference Final just a couple of seasons back.  He also performed well in winning gold at the recent World Championships.  If the Coyotes put a team in front of him, Smith has the ability to play well.  His performance will go a long way in determining if the Coyotes have a chance in 2015-2016.  Also considered Doan and Ekman-Larsson.

Calgary Flames – Sean Monahan

Talk about coming a long way in a short amount of time.  Monahan helped lead the Flames to the 2nd round of the Western Conference playoffs.  Who saw that coming before the season?  Monahan posted 31 goals, and is poised to improve on those numbers in the coming seasons.  The Flames are primed to be good for several years.  Also considered Gaudreau, Hudler, and Giordano.

Chicago Blackhawks – Jonathan Toews

This is impressive given how many candidates the Blackhawks have.  But Jonathan Toews is the captain for a reason.  No matter what the situation is, Toews is the prototypical leader.  When the Blackhawks need a spark, Toews finds a way to give it to them.  It can be a big goal, or a big hit.  Toews and winning go hand in hand.  Also considered Kane, Keith, Crawford.

toews western conference
Jonathan Toews importance to the Blackhawks can’t be measured. [photo: Amy Irvin]

Colorado Avalanche – Semyon Varlamov

The Avalanche have a lot of talented forwards.  But every time I look up and see the Avs winning, especially last season, Varlamov was their best player.  He stood on his head at times.  He finished the season with 5 shutouts and a .921 save%.  If the Avs improve their defense, the can easily rejoin the playoffs next season.  Also considered MacKinnon, Duchene, Landeskog.

Dallas Stars – Jamie Benn

What a tandem Benn and Tyler Seguin have become in Dallas.  The injury to Seguin pretty much derailed all hopes of the playoffs this past season.  But it didn’t stop Jamie Benn from claiming a scoring title.  Who saw that coming? Assuming they stay healthy, this duo has the chance to become among the best duos in the entire league.  Also considered Seguin and Spezza.

Edmonton Oilers – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

So many 1st round picks to choose from.  I chose RNH for this because of his overall game.  The Oilers suffered through another rough year.  RNH had a nice year for himself in spite of that.  He scored 24 goals.  On a good team, one with Connor McDavid and other pieces on it, RNH has the talent to be elite.  Also considered Hall and Eberle.

Los Angeles Kings – Jonathan Quick

Here is another victim of the shootout.  Quick finished just 2-7 in shootouts.  They just missed out on the playoffs.  Quick finished with a respectable 2.24 GAA and .918 save%.  It goes to show you how important an elite Jonathan Quick is.  The Kings went stretches of the season not being able to score goals.  This past season, Quick couldn’t overcome that, or their weakened defense.  Still, the Kings go as Jonathan Quick goes.  He is still considered by many to be the best in the world.  Also considered Carter, Kopitar, Doughty.

quick western conference
Jonathan Quick backstopped the Kings to 2 Stanley Cups. (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

Minnesota Wild – Devan Dubnyk

This to me was the best story of the season.  Remember when Mike Yeo was heard screaming obscenities during practice?  The Wild acquired Devan Dubnyk shortly after that.  Everything about the Minnesota Wild changed.  This is the classic example of putting a talented player on a good team.  Dubnyk was the main reason why the Wild came all the way back and made the playoffs in the Western Conference.  The Wild will continue to make noise as long as Dubnyk continues his stellar play.  Also considered Parise and Suter.

Nashville Predators – Pekka Rinne

He started the season healthy.  That propelled the Nashville Predators straight up to the top of the Western Conference standings for much of the season.  They ended with 104 points.  There’s no reason to believe a regression is coming to Nashville.  Rinne is one of the best goalies in the league, as evidenced by his nomination for the Vezina trophy.  If he struggles, he can take the team down with him.  Also considered Neal, Weber, Fisher.

San Jose Sharks – Patrick Marleau

This was a toss-up for me.  I thought about putting Joe Thornton in this spot.  Marleau and Thornton for so many years have carried the San Jose Sharks to multiple playoff appearances.  I put Marleau here because this season was one of his worst seasons in many years.  His play was one of the main reasons the Sharks missed the playoffs.  He scored 57 points, but was -17.  When he is at his best, his teammates feel the impact.  Thornton, Pavelski, and Couture perform better as a result.  Really, you can put any of those 4 there.  Marleau’s down season stood out to me.  Also considered Thornton, Couture, and Pavelski.

Patrick Marleau western conference
Patrick Marleau had a down season. So did the Sharks in 2014-2015. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

St. Louis Blues – Vladimir Tarasenko

When Tarasenko was on, nobody was stopping him or the Blues.  He has quickly developed into one of the elite players in the entire league.  On a team starving for scoring, especially in the playoffs, Tarasenko delivered.  He energized the team.  He will need to continue this trend if the Blues want to make a deep playoff run.  Also considered Steen, Shattenkirk.

Vancouver Canucks – Either Sedin

Any Sedin can go here.  Each are equally important to the Canucks.  Henrik and Daniel for many years have led the team in every major offensive category.  Not only are they good together, they help the other lines out by playing against the opposition’s top pair on most nights.  They are the faces of the Vancouver Canucks.  I didn’t consider anyone else here.

Winnipeg Jets – Blake Wheeler

The Jets were a great story this past season.  They made it to the playoffs in spite of all the experts saying that they couldn’t make it in the dreaded Western Conference.  Wheeler is a former 5th overall pick.  He made a huge impact on this team, scoring 26 goals, and finishing with a +26 rating.  He also tallied 4 short-handed goals and 6 game winning goals.  He is clutch.  He is also in the prime of his career.  Also considered Ladd, Scheifele, and Byfuglien.

wheeler western conference
Blake Wheeler is quietly becoming one of the best right-wingers in the NHL. [photo: Amy Irvin]
There were some harder decisions to make in the Western Conference.  What are your thoughts?  Feel free to leave your comments below.  Who do you consider to be the most important player on your team?