- Kristen Shilton is a national NHL reporter for ESPN.
Every NHL team has one — the player it can’t win without.
With the league on pause until at least Tuesday, we’ve combed through each roster to find the player having the biggest impact. Sometimes it was easy to spot that player, in other instances, a closer look was required.
The bottom line is that an indispensable player is greater than the sum of his stats. He’s the player a team can’t afford to lose, the true backbone of its success — often both on and off the ice.
Some clubs have a few good candidates who fit the bill. On this list though, there can be only one who makes the cut.
Most indispensable: Troy Terry
I know what you’re thinking. John Gibson. Trevor Zegras. Ryan Getzlaf! All of them are pretty integral to Anaheim’s success too. The tie here goes to Terry for his consistency. When you have a player producing like he does (Terry has 10 more goals than anyone else on the Ducks and a gaudy 24.3 shooting percentage), it’s hard to imagine rolling along without that talent in your lineup.
Most indispensable: Shayne Gostisbehere
It matters a ton that Gostisbehere keeps showing up for the Coyotes, even in a difficult season. He’s still a playmaker (and second on the team in points, with 18), still offers solid defending and moves the puck well. That’s a lot to work with, and Arizona depends on that consistency.
Most indispensable: Brad Marchand
Probably no one likes playing against Marchand. Guys sure do like playing with him, though. Marchand has scored at a nice clip all year (27 points in 21 games) and he’s one of the Bruins’ key leaders, setting a tone that means even more when Boston’s struggling for consistency as it has. Marchand’s voice is valued as much as his contributions, and that’s difficult to replace.
Most indispensable: Tage Thompson
Don Granato moved Thompson to center this season, and boy, has that worked out well. Thompson has 10 goals and 18 points through 30 games and a knack for coming through in big moments. That’s the kind of positive energy the Sabres need in another season that’s not trending in the way they had hoped.
Most indispensable: Elias Lindholm
Could you go with Jacob Markstrom here? Absolutely. But Lindholm is a top-end, 200-foot center who does it all for the Flames, and that makes him incredibly tough to replace. Through 28 games, Lindholm has 11 goals and 27 points, is plus-20, sits at 52.5 percent in the face-off dot and is playing over 20 minutes per game. On top of that, Lindholm also makes players around him — like Johnny Gaudreau — better.
Most indispensable: Frederik Andersen
Great goaltending goes a long way, and Carolina has been getting some of Andersen’s best hockey this season. Andersen’s numbers have been great (.930 save percentage, 1.93 goals-against over 21 starts) and Carolina has given up the fewest goals on average in the league (2.14). Andersen has been the Hurricanes’ backbone, and they’ll need that to continue when he returns from COVID-19 protocols.
Most indispensable: Seth Jones
The thing about Jones is that Chicago doesn’t have another player like him. The Blackhawks have scorers (Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane), they have a solid goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury and good, young depth players. But a defenseman like Jones, who can play over 25 minutes per night, in every situation, at an elite level and be the team’s third-highest scorer with 23 points in 30 games? As Beyonce would say, he’s irreplaceable.
Most indispensable: Cale Makar
Colorado can (and does) score more goals than any team in the NHL. The Avs also give up a lot of goals, though, and it’s Makar who helps keep Colorado on the right side of its goal differential. Makar is an elite blueliner already and has 13 goals and 26 points through 23 games. He does it all for the Avs.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Most indispensable: Zach Werenski
Losing a defenseman of Seth Jones’ caliber hurt Columbus. Still, having Werenski helps make up for it. The Blue Jackets would be adrift without their top-pairing defenseman, from the minutes he eats up (26:29 per night) to his five-on-five contributions to his work on special teams. He’s simply the best Columbus has.
Most indispensable: Miro Heiskanen
If you’d like to see an example of Heiskanen’s value to Dallas, go watch his matchup against Connor McDavid in November. Heiskanen used his incomparable skill set to hold McDavid off the score sheet for the first time all season. Everyone says it’s critical to take time and space away from the NHL’s best players, and Heiskanen can consistently do that.
Detroit Red Wings
Most indispensable: Moritz Seider
Detroit has scorers this season (see: Tyler Bertuzzi, Lucas Raymond and Dylan Larkin). The Red Wings’ stable of top-quality defensemen is thinner, and that’s what makes the rookie Seider so invaluable. He’s chewing up over 22 minutes a game, has 21 points on the season and isn’t intimidated by the opposition. That’s a potential star in the making.
Most indispensable: Connor McDavid
I know, Leon Draisaitl. But McDavid is arguably the best hockey player in the world. Good luck finding anyone who can do all that he does, as well as he does it.
Most indispensable: Jonathan Huberdeau
In a season in which the Panthers have consistently been atop the NHL standings and at the same time dealt with injuries to Aleksander Barkov, Anthony Duclair, Sergei Bobrovsky and others, Huberdeau has been a constant. Huberdeau’s 33 points in 29 games not only illustrates the production he provides — it also proves that the best ability is availability.
Los Angeles Kings
Most indispensable: Jonathan Quick
Plenty of clubs have great goaltenders (just look at the ones on this list), but the Kings have a 35-year-old Quick carrying the team. Quick has kept Los Angeles in the playoff mix even when the team in front of him has faltered. While others may have better individual stats than Quick (who is still rocking a .930 save percentage and 2.19 GAA), there’s no question the Kings would be lost without him.
Most indispensable: Jonas Brodin
This one is tough because Minnesota really does have so many key cogs in the machine. But Brodin still stands out. The defenseman’s versatility is such an asset — he can play on any defensive pairing, and across special teams — and you notice when he’s not available. Minnesota survived losing Jared Spurgeon for eight games just fine, going 7-0-1. When Brodin got hurt earlier this month, the Wild had their eight-game winning streak busted with a pair of losses. Coincidence? I think not.
Most indispensable: Nick Suzuki
Suzuki is one of just two Montreal forwards who has played all 31 games this season, and his 18 points leads the team. On a seven-win club, Suzuki has been a small beacon of light.
Most indispensable: Juuse Saros
Saros has been something special for the Predators. Nashville owns the league’s best winning percentage in one-goal games (.786), a sign of just how valuable Saros’ clutch goaltending has been to his team’s push up the standings. And Saros is no slouch in the stats department, with a .924 save percentage and 2.22 GAA.
New Jersey Devils
Most indispensable: Dougie Hamilton
Hamilton is a true difference-maker, and New Jersey doesn’t have enough of those. Whether it’s tackling top-pairing minutes, contributing offensively (17 points in 27 games), trying to elevate a terrible power play or providing some consistency from the blue line, Hamilton’s skills can’t be easily replicated.
New York Islanders
Most indispensable: Adam Pelech
Given all the injuries and COVID-related problems the Islanders have dealt with, it’s tough to really get a beat on what makes them tick. The one thing we do know is that Pelech’s contributions on the blue line are tough to replicate. He has produced only four assists in 22 games, but what he offers in pure defensive weight can’t be measured. He is consistently at the top of the heap on Long Island.
New York Rangers
Most indispensable: Igor Shesterkin
It’s a trend among good teams: often their can’t-live-without-him player is a goalie. And that’s most definitely true for the Rangers. Shesterkin has been the catalyst to New York’s good start, and since he was injured, that value has only become more apparent. The Rangers were 4-3-1 without Shesterkin since Dec. 3 — but the wins were over Chicago (twice), Buffalo and Arizona. The losses? Colorado (twice), Nashville and Vegas. New York needs Shesterkin to beat the best teams.
Most indispensable: Drake Batherson
It’s mid-December, and Batherson is 13th in points per game (1.22), right behind Auston Matthews. The Senators don’t have many like Batherson, whose 28 points in 23 games far outpaces anyone else in Ottawa.
Most indispensable: Carter Hart
It’s no easy task for Hart to backstop a Philadelphia team that doesn’t score a lot (2.66 goals per game) and allows the second-most shots against (34.6). But he’s been hanging tough all season and gives the Flyers a good chance to win every night. Hart is fortunate to have a solid partner in Martin Jones as well, and that tandem has been the best thing for Philly.
Most indispensable: Tristan Jarry
It’s likely we haven’t talked enough about how good Jarry is for the Penguins. He’s got a 15-5-4 record with a .932 save percentage and 1.93 GAA on a team that has missed most of its top players somewhere along the way this season. Jarry has come into his own through that, and when you can count on your goaltending, it goes a long way in creating confidence no matter the circumstances.
San Jose Sharks
Most indispensable: Timo Meier
San Jose has some players scoring at a decent rate. And while Meier leads the way in that department with 12 goals and 29 points, he’s more than just offense. Meier also brings a gritty presence up front, recording the second-most hits on the team and blocking 19 shots all while providing good overall puck management. Meier is the total package in San Jose.
Most indispensable: Jordan Eberle
Eberle has brought some scoring punch to a Kraken club that struggles to generate offense. He has a team-leading 21 points in 28 games and is tied for the most goals (12). Plus, he has been one of their most important contributors on the power play with a team-leading six points.
St. Louis Blues
Most indispensable: Pavel Buchnevich
The Blues have seemingly lost, at one point or another, just about every important person on their team. Buchnevich has missed only a pair of games — and St. Louis must be grateful. It’s not just that Buchnevich is a dynamic, point-per-game player, but he’s solid defensively and the team can use his versatility throughout the lineup. It’s usually the players doing the most who are hardest to do without.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Most indispensable: Andrei Vasilevskiy
Steven Stamkos is having a great year. Victor Hedman is finding his form. Tampa has overcome a plethora of injuries to still be one of the NHL’s best teams. Why? Vasilevskiy. He has recorded the fewest losses this season (four) among goalies with at least 20 starts and weathered the upheaval in front of him with a .927 save percentage. The Lightning are a deep club, but no one can do what Vasilevskiy can.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Most indispensable: Jack Campbell
No disrespect to Petr Mrazek, who has been dealt a tough hand with injuries this season, but there is no one in Toronto who can truly replace what Campbell brings to the Leafs’ crease. The netminder has seen his team through the ups and downs so far, while producing some elite numbers (.937 save percentage, 1.94 GAA). Toronto wouldn’t be where it is without Campbell, whom the Leafs hope won’t be hampered by his COVID-19 layoff.
Most indispensable: Quinn Hughes
I wanted to put Bruce Boudreau here, but that’s against the rules. So we’ll go with Hughes, who has quietly been putting together a good season while everyone has been distracted by Vancouver’s general disarray (pre-Bruce, at least). Hughes has had many of his best assets on display lately, from strong skating to high-end playmaking to solid defending. And Boudreau clearly trusts Hughes, reflected in heavy ice time north of 26 minutes per game.
Vegas Golden Knights
Most indispensable: Chandler Stephenson
We may not have pegged Stephenson as the Golden Knights’ top-line center or leading goal scorer when the season started. But here he is, having a terrific year. He’s averaging a point per game and the most ice time of any Vegas forward. On a team that stumbled out of the gate, Stephenson has been an irreplaceable player helping to keep the Golden Knights afloat.
Most indispensable: Alex Ovechkin
There’s no question Ovechkin has been the Capitals’ best player (47 points in 31 games; ’nuff said). But in the bigger picture, Ovechkin needs to stay healthy to continue chasing Wayne Gretzky’s 894-goal mark. Through 31 games this season, Ovechkin is at 752 career goals. Gretzky said last week he thinks Ovechkin will top him eventually. There’s nothing the Capitals can appreciate like top-end talent on a mission.
Most indispensable: Kyle Connor
No one does it all in Winnipeg like Connor. His 18 goals and 32 points in 30 games leads all Jets, and he has kept them competitive amid myriad issues from injuries to illness. As the Jets face more turmoil now — coach Paul Maurice resigned and Blake Wheeler is on IR — Connor’s presence is more important than ever.
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