Honorable mention: Michael Grabner (NYR), Andrew Ladd (NYI), Rick Nash (NYR), Bryan Rust (PIT)
10. Nick Foligno (CBJ)
Last year's rank: HM
Foligno rebounded nicely from a lackluster 2015-16 season (for himself and his team) to put up the second-best offensive season of his 10-year career last year, topping 20 goals for the second time in three years and leading all Columbus forwards in ice time. The reality is that both of his previous two seasons - his off year in 2015-16 and his career year of 2014-15 - were probably outliers, and last year was probably closer to what he’s capable of (both good and bad).
9. Chris Kreider (NYR)
Last year's rank: 7
In so many ways, 2016-17 was a career year for Kreider, as he set new highwater marks in goals (a team-leading 28), points (53), even-strength goals (22), and ice time (averaging 17:00 a night). That’s pretty much exactly what you want to see from a guy after signing him to a four-year deal, which is what the Rangers did last summer. Some of that increase in scoring was likely a direct result of getting more responsibility, as Kreider earned a spot on the team’s top line for the first time and ended up with a team-high 54.5% CF. Where the Rangers’ big rig struggles, however, is in consistency, something he struggled with during the season and in a lackluster playoff run, with just four points in 12 games.
8. Anders Lee (NYI)
Last year's rank: N/A
Midseason coaching changes tend to bring out the best in teams and players alike, and the Islanders were no exception, as they replaced Jack Capuano with Doug Weight back in January and went on to play well above .500 hockey the rest of the way. Lee in particular began to shine under Weight, getting more time alongside John Tavares and turning that into a career year for himself, with a team-high 34 goals and third-best 52 points. The fact that he’s played in just three full seasons (and parts of two others) and managed to crack 20 goals in two of them is pretty impressive - the question for him, and the Islanders, is whether it’s sustainable.
7. Adam Henrique (NJD)
Last year's rank: N/A
After a strong 2015-16 in which he hit 30 goals for the first time, expectations were high - especially when the Devils brought in Taylor Hall, a former junior hockey teammate of Henrique’s. The two didn’t mesh, however, and Henrique’s slow start (and slow finish, with just two points in the final 11 games) limited his production to “just” 20 goals and 20 assists over the course of the year. Still, 20-goal scorers don’t grow on trees and Henrique has proven to be relatively consistent, outlier career year aside, putting up close to 20 goals almost every season.
6. Jake Guentzel (PIT)
Last year's rank: N/A
This time last year, Jake Guentzel was not a name many people outside of the Pittsburgh organization were familiar with. Just 65 games later and that’s all changed, as Guentzel stepped into the Penguins lineup midseason and not only never looked back but helped propel them to their second-consecutive Cup. Skating in the coveted position right next to Sidney Crosby, Guentzel came close to the 20-goal mark in just 40 regular-season games, racking up 33 points in his rookie outing. But the playoffs were where he really stood out, picking up an insane 13 goals and 21 points in 25 games, including five game-winners. So... what does he do for an encore?
5. Marcus Johansson (NJD)
Last year's rank: 8
Early in his career, Johansson was criticized at times - and often unfairly - for being too “soft” on the puck. Over the past few seasons, however, his ability to navigate through the offensive zone without having to make (or receive) big checks has made him incredibly effective, particularly on the power play. He’s coming off of a career year that saw him finish fourth in points on a high-octane offense with 58, checking in with his second 20+ goal season in three years (and he came pretty close last year, as well) - including five game-winners, second on the Caps behind only Ovechkin. He won’t have quite the same level of teammates in New Jersey as he begins his Devils career, but Johansson is capable of making something out of nothing.
4. Jeff Skinner (CAR)
Last year's rank: 5
For the first time in a long time, someone on this list finished the season with more goals than perennial Rocket Richard winner Ovechkin - and that someone was Jeff Skinner, who wrapped up an impressive 2016-17 season with 37 goals and 63 points, both career highs. Early in his career, the question mark hovering over Skinner’s head was whether he could stay healthy enough to live up to the potential and talent he had; after three straight years in which he missed no more than five games in a season, (and increasing offensive totals each year), that no longer seems to be a question. And last year? That was a statement that both he and his team are on the rise.
3. Artemi Panarin (CBJ)
Last year's rank: N/A
Panarin burst onto the scene two seasons ago, putting up huge numbers in his rookie campaign with an impressive 30-goal, 77-point season. So what did he do as a follow up? Oh, just pretty much repeated it. After two years skating alongside Patrick Kane, Panarin found himself headed east(ish), settling in Columbus as part of Chicago’s “reclaiming former glory” trade for Brandon Saad. At 25, there’s no reason to doubt Panarin’s skills - he is what he appears to be, and seemed to have no issue stepping right into the NHL world as an older rookie. What is a question with him is whether he can put up the same gaudy numbers away from Kane.
2. Taylor Hall (NJD)
Last year's rank: 2
Hall’s trade from Edmonton last summer was probably one of the more shocking moments of the 2016 offseason, as the former first-overall pick found himself heading east in exchange for Adam Larsson (...yeah). Expectations for Hall were, as a result, pretty high, and while he didn’t entirely live up to them, he had a decent season with flashes of the talent we saw in his Oilers days. He struggled at times to find a good fit with new linemates, but eventually settled in with Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, and rebounded nicely for his fifth 20-goal season. Through seven seasons, Hall has proven to be a steady, consistently good performer - but given his talent, everyone is just waiting for him to break out.
1. Alex Ovechkin
Last year's rank: 1
Alex Ovechkin isn’t like mere mortals. A “bad” year for him is a breakout year for just about everyone else - but last year, despite the overall success of his team (which likely was more important to him anyway), Ovechkin had what can only be described as a bad year, putting up his lowest goal total over a full 82-game slate since the dark days of Hunter hockey back in 2010-11. Still, it doesn’t feel like the curtain has fallen on Ovechkin’s high-flying Rocket Richard days... not just a season removed from what was his third-consecutive 50-goal season. He’s got plenty of chips on his shoulder coming into this year - if he can funnel that frustration into on-ice performance, watch out. He’s not done yet.