As much as the operation of the NHL is defined by the sport of hockey, its athletes create intrigue in a variety of ways, on and off the ice. Unsurprisingly, fans love to stay connected and up-to-date with the players who make watching the games so exciting. However, certain figureheads can create discussion and debate without stepping foot in the rink and excel at keeping their names in the news for one reason or another.
In the age of the Internet, the NHL and its players are only a search-engine query away, and search metrics can provide an estimate of the most significant players in the league today. So without further ado, here are the NHL players who were searched for most often in 2022, courtesy of Betway.
NHL Stars Dominate the Top-10 List
Unsurprisingly, the group of the most searched-for NHL players in 2022 primarily consists of the most recognizable superstars, including those who have recently set records, claimed major individual awards, or won the Stanley Cup. Although the list includes one or two unexpected names, the rest should not be much of a surprise.
10. Claude Giroux, Ottawa Senators
As a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) heading into the 2022 offseason, Claude Giroux was sure to draw a ton of attention in the rumour mill. As his Philadelphia Flyers crashed out of playoff contention, several of the top Stanley Cup contenders were connected to the veteran forward still looking for his first championship.
After a successful post-trade deadline stint with the Florida Panthers (31 points in 28 regular season and playoff games), the Hearst, Ontario native signed with the up-and-coming Ottawa Senators in free agency. Along with potent scorer Alex DeBrincat, Giroux represents a big part of the Senators’ frenzied offseason. He’s under contract through the 2024-25 season, so his place among the top trending names will be in jeopardy for 2023.
9. Joe Thornton, Free Agent
Joe Thornton, the NHL’s resident greybeard at age 43, currently sits sixth all-time in career games played (1,714) but is currently without a contract at the start of the 2022-23 season. Given how slow he’s looked over the past few years, it’s unlikely he gets the opportunity to add to his sparkling career scoring totals. Regardless, his ranking on this list is a testament to his longevity and his status as one of the best quotes during his time in the NHL. Suiting up this season would also bring him into a tie with Mark Messier for third all-time in career NHL seasons.
He’s recently hopped between the Toronto Maple Leafs (2020-21) and the Panthers (2021-22) in his chase for an elusive Stanley Cup, but it looks like he may end his career as one of the best players ever without winning a championship. It’s an unfortunate reality for the 12th-highest points producer in NHL history, but that shouldn’t take away from his Hall-of-Fame-worthy career.
8. Alexander Ovechkin, Washinton Capitals
Since making his NHL debut during the 2005-06 season, arguably no other player has been as entertaining on or off the ice as the Washington Capitals Alexander Ovechkin. He is currently tied for the all-time lead for career 50-goal seasons (nine) and owns the post-lockout single-season goals record (65). He reached the 50-goal mark for the first time since 2018-19 last season and remains in the hunt for his second Stanley Cup title.
Ovechkin is sure to stay relevant as he inches closer to Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record (894). If we assume the Russian winger retires after his current contract expires, he needs 115 goals over his final four seasons for an average of just under 29 per year. Since he’s never dipped below that mark in a full season, the odds are firmly in his favour to set a new NHL record.
7. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
After an offseason in which the Chicago Blackhawks stripped the roster down to the studs, the once-proud organization is initiating a full-throttle rebuild. In order to recoup the assets required to kickstart said rebuild, the possibility of trading franchise icons in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews has been floated on more than one occasion. The 33-year-old American winger is the prime trade candidate given his offensive production remains elite (10th in points since 2020-21). As blossoming Stanley Cup contenders, the New York Rangers have been suggested as a leading suitor for Kane’s services and his presence in one of the NHL’s biggest media markets is sure to keep him within the public eye.
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An additional factor likely amplifying his searches is the uncovering of the Blackhawks’ scandal involving Kyle Beach during their 2010 Stanley Cup run. That matter is now settled, but his potential involvement contributed to his place among the most-searched NHL players this year.
6. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
As the star player on the eventual 2022 Stanley Cup champions in the Colorado Avalanche, center Nathan MacKinnon reaped the rewards of being the team’s leading man. He ranked seventh in points-per-game (P/G) last season and tallied 24 points in 20 games during the Avalanche’s Cup run, including a highlight-reel goal against the St. Louis Blues. The Avalanche look to repeat as champions in 2022-23 and he should figure heavily into the Hart Trophy conversation as a result.
Given his perpetual status as the NHL’s most underpaid player, MacKinnon’s pending contract extension was a topic of conversation all season. The news that his new deal replaced Connor McDavid’s contract in carrying the highest average annual value (AAV) stirred up heated discussions about his value and who might set the next benchmark. For now, the Avalanche superstar is the league’s kingmaker when it comes to contract negotiations.
5. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
Although Leon Draisaitl enjoyed what has become a typical regular season for the German center by scoring 55 goals and accruing 110 points, he drew attention for his outstanding postseason exploits. Despite essentially playing on one good leg, the 26-year-old posted 32 points in 16 playoff games, the seventh-highest total of the salary cap era as well as the third-highest P/G postseason pace. The Edmonton Oilers fell short of the Stanley Cup Final by losing to the Avalanche in the Western Conference Final, but they look as close to winning a title as they ever have since the pair were drafted.
The nine-year veteran has evolved into a perennial Hart Trophy and Art Ross candidate, giving the Oilers a truly formidable offensive punch alongside his superstar running mate in McDavid. Assuming he stays healthy, Draisaitl should continue his assault on the record books, cementing his place among the all-time greats.
4. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
It’s one thing for a player to be supremely skilled and generate discussion with his play, but another for debates to rage on because of his contentious behaviour. It’s even rarer for a player to do both, and it’s a big reason why the Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand is arguably the NHL’s most controversial player.
Ever the ageless wonder, the 34-year-old Marchand tallied 80 points in 70 games last season while compiling nearly 100 penalty minutes and two separate suspensions. From his on-ice antics to colourful off-ice quips, few players in the league can get opposing fans as riled up as the Bruins’ winger.
Marchand is set to miss most of the 2022-23 regular season while recovering from surgery, but he is sure to make the league remember his antics upon his highly-anticipated return. If the Bruins hold their heads above water before Marchand and Charlie McAvoy return to the lineup, expect the Original Six club to make a final attempt for the Stanley Cup on the backs of their band of aging, but esteemed veterans. As a result, Marchand should be appointment viewing for the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of his game.
3. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
We enter the top three with Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the marquee star of one of the NHL’s most-storied franchises who is on his way to becoming the poster boy of hockey in the United States, if he isn’t already.
Although the Maple Leafs have yet to advance past the first round of the playoffs during his tenure, Matthews’ individual achievements position him among the NHL’s elite. He’s overtaken Ovechkin as the league’s top goalscorer (leads the league in goals and goals-per-game since his debut in 2016-17) and collected the Maurice “Rocket” Richard (2020-21 and 2021-22) and Hart Trophy (2021-22) in recent seasons. He became the first player to score 60 goals in a season since Steven Stamkos in 2011-12 and could have his sights set on 65 or 70 in 2022-23.
The American superstar has also made waves off the ice, often seen sporting interesting outfits and promoting several commercial endorsements. His uncertain contract status (he’s a UFA in the 2024 offseason) and the Maple Leafs’ frustrating postseason exploits combine to attract a ton of media discourse and league-wide attention, so expect Matthews to remain atop this type of list for the foreseeable future.
2. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
As the NHL moves into the back half of the 2020s, McDavid should continue to forge a rivalry with Matthews, his American counterpart in both position and status as the leading man for prominent Canadian franchises.
Since making his debut in 2015-16, the Oilers’ superstar leads the NHL in scoring (702 points in 489 games) and owns the two highest-scoring playoff seasons by P/G of the salary cap era. Heading into his eighth NHL season, McDavid has already won the Art Ross Trophy four times, owns two Hart Trophy wins, and also claimed the Ted Lindsay Award three times. He’s not the most vocal off of the ice and lacks the flash of some of his colleagues, but his offensive numbers and mesmerizing highlight-reel skill compilations speak for themselves.
The Oilers are hoping to go one round further in 2023, with a berth in the Stanley Cup Final as the goal after coming up short against the eventual champions in the Avalanche last season. He’s on track to climb the NHL’s scoring leaderboard (he ranks fourth all-time in regular-season P/G since 1926-27) but team success has eluded him so far in his already illustrious career.
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Much traffic was likely generated by the updates regarding Sidney Crosby‘s health as he recovered from offseason surgery, but the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar center remains the sport’s most recognizable household name. He’s won two Stanley Cups since the start of the 2015-16 season and continues to rise up the NHL’s career regular-season scoring leaderboard, currently 53 points away from eclipsing Stan Mikita for 15th all-time. Crosby is also the active leader (sixth all-time) in playoff scoring (201 points in 180 games) and will leap over Jaromir Jagr and into the top five with a single point.
Even with the Penguins’ lack of postseason success since rattling off two-consecutive Stanley Cup wins in 2016 and 2017, Crosby remains one of the most prominent players in the eyes of the general public. His status as the NHL’s golden goose has stayed intact despite challenges from the likes of Matthews and McDavid, but it will be interesting to see if either supplant the NHL’s pre-eminent star of the salary cap era while he’s still active.
Surprising Names Round Out the NHL’s Top 50
It’s not much of a surprise that the NHL’s brightest stars make up the vast majority of searches. What does raise some eyebrows is the presence of several figures who haven’t been star players at the NHL level for a significant period of time. Still, for one reason or another, they feature within the top 50 and outrank some of the league’s most prominent names.
Corey Perry, Tampa Bay Lightning – 13th
Although Corey Perry’s presence generally shouldn’t come as a surprise, his high placement isn’t as straightforward. The feisty 37-year-old winger is no longer the same player who won the Hart Trophy (2010-11), but he’s featured in three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals (Dallas Stars in 2020; Montreal Canadiens in 2021; Tampa Bay Lightning in 2022). Playing on the league’s biggest stage keeps him in the public consciousness and his occasionally unsavoury on-ice behaviour continues to make him one of the NHL’s most polarizing figures.
Still, a player who has cracked 40 points once since the 2018-19 campaign is an unlikely name to see rank within the top 15 of the top searches. He sits above the likes of John Tavares (14th), Johnny Gaudreau (15th), and Steven Stamkos (19th), all three of which have occupied relatively high positions on the NHL’s scoring leaderboards in recent seasons. The Lightning should be in Stanley Cup contention again this season, so expect Perry to extend his run of NHL relevancy.
Eric Staal, Florida Panthers – 21st
Given that Eric Staal did not play in the NHL last season, seeing his name just outside the top 20 is unexpected. After the NHL pulled out of the 2022 Winter Olympics, players outside of the NHL were used to construct the rosters. Staal was the most-recognizable name on the Canadian roster and was also named captain, scoring four points in five games.
Staal’s efforts did not go unnoticed by NHL executives as he, along with his brother Marc Staal, earned professional tryout agreements (PTOs) with the Panthers. Contract requirements meant that the elder Staal remains on a PTO, but should feature in the NHL at some point this season. With 1,034 points in 1,293 career games entering the 2022-23 season, Staal ranks 78th all-time in scoring and is within striking distance of the top 70 (32 points away).
Loui Eriksson, Free Agent – 46th
Considering Loui Eriksson was sent to the Arizona Coyotes as part of the newsworthy Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade, seeing his name grace the top 50 makes sense. It doesn’t exactly hurt his stock to have been arguably one of the biggest free-agent busts in NHL history, giving fans plenty of reason to assess his performance and contract status.
As of the start of the 2022-23 season, Eriksson remains unsigned and could turn to Europe to extend his professional career. Given his age (37) and lack of production (33 points in his last 129 games), that likely spells the end of his time in the NHL and the minds of the general public as a result.
NHL’s Most-Searched-For List a Mixed Bag
As the top 10 suggests, the general public remains the most interested in the best players on the best teams, as well as those ranking atop the various statistical leaderboards and trophy races. Outside of that group is where the surprises crop up, with the rest of the top 50 consisting almost exclusively of veterans over the age of 30. It’s somewhat intuitive, but being an established player with years of service looks to be more important to a search total than being an up-and-coming star prospect.
Do any of the names in the top 10 surprise you? Is there anyone else who should be in that space? Let me know in the comments down below.
Data courtesy of Elite Prospects, Hockey Reference and the NHL.