Published On: Sat, Feb 10th, 2018

Fearlessly Independent: 3 players who walk their own path

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The NHL has never been better stocked with such a variety of different players, many of whom bring a unique skill set and disposition to the game.

In the modern era, there is a premium on speed, skill, and playmaking ability – essential qualities to keep up with the blazing pace of the professional ranks.

Although there are numerous players who have contributed to the current dynamic of the league, three stand alone, walking their own path fearlessly while leading their respective teams.

Johnny Gaudreau

There are few players who embody the trajectory of the modern era more than Johnny Hockey.

Selected 104th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft, Gaudreau was overlooked repeatedly by 29 other teams due to his physical stature, standing at 5-foot-9, 157 lbs. In the seven years that have followed, Gaudreau has made the league’s scouting personnel look silly, serving as the catalyst for the Flames’ offense.

Gaudreau has taken advantage of the NHL’s crackdown on slashing better than anyone by using his outstanding anticipatory instincts and ability to create in narrow spaces. The 24-year-old moves with a fluidity that few possess, which allows him to get his shot off from nearly all angles, and he can create scoring chances off rebounds and deflections which others simply cannot.

He may be undersized but Gaudreau can evade oncoming defenders with ease and punishes overzealous defenders with routine frequency, while inadvertently creating more room for his linemates to attack the net. Gaudreau may look like a spectator but count him out at your own peril.

Brad Marchand

If you focus merely on Marchand’s preternatural ability to annoy his opponents, you will almost certainly miss out on his immense skill set. Marchand is one of the NHL’s marquee players and if he drives the opposition crazy, it’s an added bonus.

Marchand is an elite scorer and to not treat him as such would be absurd at this juncture of his career, as he leads the NHL in points per game. Although he doesn’t seem outwardly imposing at 5-foot-9 and 182 lbs, Marchand is an outstanding forechecker and his speed, along with his fearlessness to create contact with larger defenders, makes him a threat at all times.

The 29-year-old is outstanding at creating his own chances and is quietly one of the best playmakers in the league. On pace for his third consecutive 30-plus goal season, Marchand is better than his outdated reputation would suggest.

Marchand is the definition of a clutch player and his resume speaks volumes, with a Stanley Cup – including two goals in Game 7 of the 2011 finals – two World Junior gold medals, a World Cup gold medal, and a World Championship gold. Call Marchand a pest if you’d like, but he is the focal point of one of the NHL’s best lines and can take over the game at will. You can choose to be upset but Marchand simply doesn’t care.

Erik Karlsson

In a league full of talented, robust defensemen, there simply isn’t another player like Karlsson.

Karlsson is gifted with otherworldly speed that is only matched by Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, and can veer into the offensive zone without sacrificing anything defensively. A wizard with the puck, Karlsson injects life into any powerplay and functions as a de facto fourth forward while controlling the pace of the game. In doing so, Karlsson often presents an impossible conundrum for the rest of the league: Try to pick him off on a surge up the ice or get hopelessly caught out of position while he breezes by with blazing strides and offensive awareness.

There is no defenseman with better vision or anticipatory instincts, and Karlsson appears to be playing chess while everyone else plays checkers, mapping out the game several moves ahead of the opposition. Karlsson assesses a multitude of options with unmatched decision-making and he’s rarely outsmarted, choosing to play at a pace that no one else can match. In doing so, Karlsson makes the game look effortless, an optical tactic which seems almost unfair.

There is a good reason why teams are preparing for a bidding war for Karlsson’s services, even if there’s no guarantee he’ll ever leave the only franchise he’s ever known. The NHL is full of unique talents, but none that combine every aspect of the modern game quite like Karlsson.

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