There always has been (and always will be) an ongoing debate about who is the best player in the league. Gretzky and Lemieux battled over the title for a long time, and after them it was the likes of Jagr, Sakic, Forsberg, and Fedorov. Lately it has included Iginla, Thornton and Lecavalier, but the future is really about three players. Crosby, Ovechkin, and Malkin. This article is about my take on the battle for NHL supremacy.
Offensively, they are all superstars. Crosby’s skating and vision set him apart from anyone in the game. His game is a hybrid of many different players of the past; the best comparison that has been made is a Hawerchuk/Forsberg hybrid. His defensive game has improved leaps and bounds, and he is settling into the role as captain. He had a tough year with the ankle injury, and it seemed to push him below Ovechkin on many lists and sites. I still think Crosby is (and always will be) the best player in this debate, but his injury shed some light on the two Russian sensations. Ovechkin will go around you or through you, whatever allows him to score the most goals. He plays the game like a Russian Mark Messier, taking no prisoners along the way. He will wear the captaincy once his English improves enough. He is the most dynamic of the three, mostly due to his love of the physical side of the game. He dominates the highlight reels with both his goals and devastating hits. Malkin’s quiet persona has kept him out of the debate, but he was thrust up there after Crosby got hurt. His stellar play earned him a Hart Trophy nomination, which shows just how dominant he was. His big frame and ability to slow the game is reminiscent of the former great Montreal Canadien, Jean Beliveau. Malkin’s creativity and puck control is almost unmatched, and the consistency seems to be there.
Defensively, there is a bit of separation. Malkin is a step above either Crosby or Ovechkin in this regard. He is fantastic at creating turnovers, much like fellow countryman Pavel Datsyuk in Detroit. He plays a much more involved game at center, and Pittsburgh realized this be taking him off of the wing. Ovechkin is no slouch in his own end, but as an offensive winger, his line mates are the ones who are supposed to be more diligent in the defensive zone. Crosby has improved leaps and bounds since entering the league. His puck control and overall awareness allow him to be a step ahead of the opposition, much like Gretzky was. He is not as polished as Malkin, which shows the difference between the schools of thought in developing top prospects in Russia and Canada.
All three players possess that immeasurable “it” factor that separates them from the pack. The passion is shared, although Ovechkin is much more visibility emotional than the other two. Malkin may not show his full potential until he is on his “own” team, as he remains overshadowed by Crosby in Pittsburgh. The Penguins will not let that happen though, as the thought of having the two best centers in the game is pretty damn spectacular. Ovechkin signed a 10-year deal earlier this season, so expect to see him terrorize the Southeast Division for a long, long time.
Now this article did not really answer the debate, but it did outline some aspects of it. Since this is a fantasy site, here is something for the numbers people to enjoy.