We're counting down the top 10 NHL players of the 2022 calendar year. Our list is forward-heavy, and the margins between our chosen few are slim, but we factored regular-season and playoff stats along with individual achievements into our criteria.
This ranking is separate from our preseason top 100 countdown and doesn't factor in career-long pedigree. For example, Victor Hedman, a consensus top defenseman for several years now, sat ninth on our list in October based on his sterling reputation but didn't qualify here after a pedestrian calendar year by his standards.
Let's get started.
10. Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs
2022 stats: 84 GP, 42 G, 75 A
Accolades: First-team all-star
Signature moment: Breaking Leafs' point streak record
Marner was one of the league's most productive players in 2022, ranking fourth in total and even-strength while leading all players with 3.63 points per 60. The Maple Leafs star also averaged the sixth-most ice time among forwards, as key roles on Toronto's power play and penalty kill supplemented his minutes. There's no question Marner is one of the league's most electric game-breaking talents, but his play over the past few seasons has proven he belongs in the conversation of best all-around right-wingers as well, evidenced by back-to-back first-team all-star nominations at his position. Marner is in tough to win individual awards considering his most frequent linemate hogged a good chunk of them last year - more on him later - and needs to have sustained playoff success, ideally beyond a seven-game first-round series, to ascend the ranks on this list.
9. Nikita Kucherov, Lightning
2022 stats: 78 GP, 37 G, 79 A
Signature moment: Walking Aaron Ekblad in Game 1 of second round
Kucherov missed all but three games in the 2021 portion of last season, but when the 29-year-old returned to the ice after the calendar flipped, he reminded everyone how special he is, finishing 2022 ranked second behind only Connor McDavid with 1.49 points per game across 78 contests. He's also top 10 among his peers in primary assists and points per 60 at five-on-five. But the playoffs are when Kucherov has really earned his stripes, as he led the Lightning in scoring for the third postseason in a row with 27 points in 23 games as they fell two wins short of a three-peat this past spring. A run of serious injuries since he captured the 2019 Hart Trophy and Art Ross have made some forget just how prolific Kucherov is, but he's still here and as good as he's ever been.
8. Kirill Kaprizov, Wild
2022 stats: 86 GP, 55 G, 62 A
Signature moment: Playoff hat trick
Some questioned whether Kaprizov was worth a $45-million extension after his 55-game rookie season in 2020-21, and just over a year later, it's easy to argue he's underpaid. The Wild winger has blossomed into a bona fide superstar, finishing 2022 ranked fifth in goals and third in points. He also put up a team-leading seven tallies in six games as Minnesota bowed out in the opening round of the playoffs. Kaprizov is equally capable of scoring or setting up teammates, and his underlying numbers at both ends of the ice are terrific, slotting 11th in goals above replacement (GAR) - a metric developed by Evolving-Hockey to encapsulate a player's on-ice contributions in a single number - over the past two seasons.
7. Igor Shesterkin, Rangers
2022 stats: 61 GP, 39 W, .928 SV%, 2.19 GAA
Accolades: Vezina Trophy, First-team all-star, Hart Trophy finalist
Signature moment: Stunning assist in Game 6 vs. Penguins
Shesterkin was the easy choice to represent goaltenders on our list. The reigning Vezina winner leads all at his position for the year save percentage (.929) while sitting second in goals against average (2.19) and goals saved above average (25.43), and third in shutouts (6). His 2021-22 campaign was an all-timer between the pipes, and it's no wonder he earned all but three first-place votes for goalie of the year on top of getting some love in the MVP race. Shesterkin's heroics masked the Rangers' major defensive deficiencies through the regular season and all the way to the Eastern Conference Final - an improbable playoff run featuring a .929 save percentage in 20 contests and two Game 7 victories from the Russian netminder. Shesterkin has taken a slight step back in the opening third of 2022-23, but his overall contributions for the calendar year were more than enough to make our list.
6. Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche
2022 stats: 71 GP, 37 G, 61 A
Accolades: Stanley Cup
Signature moment: Tying goal in Cup clincher
Missed time due to injuries places MacKinnon 19th in points for 2022, but the Avalanche dynamo jumps up to fifth on a per-game basis at 1.38. Although he's one of the game's top regular-season producers, 2022 was all about the playoffs for MacKinnon, and he delivered in spades. The Nova Scotia native led the postseason with 13 goals and added 11 assists to help Colorado steamroll its competition and capture its first Stanley Cup since 2001. With MacKinnon on the ice at five-on-five across 20 playoff games, the Avalanche owned 63% of shot attempts, 61% of expected goals, and a plus-10 goal differential - dominant numbers that back up the eye test on how badly he wanted to win hockey's biggest prize.
5. Matthew Tkachuk, Flames/Panthers
2022 stats: 86 GP, 46 G, 75 A
Accolades: Second-team All-Star
Signature moment: Goal in Panthers debut
Some may be surprised to see Tkachuk listed - especially in the top five - but the numbers don't lie: The 25-year-old is second to McDavid in points in 2022, sits fourth in GAR over the past two seasons, and boasts off-the-charts defensive metrics. Tkachuk also gets bonus points for being a content goldmine. Whether he's chirping opponents, dropping the gloves, or scoring between the legs, the Panthers' unicorn winger can draw attention in a wide variety of ways and is one of few players across the league with an off-ice personality to match his often brash on-ice antics. While he may have crushed the dreams of many Flames supporters when he commandeered a trade out of Calgary, that sort of player movement creates a palpable buzz for fans of other fanbases and can help the game's popularity grow.
4. Leon Draisaitl, Oilers
2022 stats: 85 GP, 52 G, 64 A
Signature moment: Four assists in Game 3 vs. Flames
If Draisaitl played anywhere but Edmonton, he'd be a short-list candidate to challenge McDavid for the notion of best player in the world. Instead, they're Oilers teammates - and often linemates - so Draisaitl is stuck playing second fiddle. We'll give him his due here, though, as he was unquestionably one of the league's best players in 2022 in any circumstance. The German playmaker has grown into a perennial 100-point lock and scored the seventh-most goals (52) from Jan. 1 onward while logging a whopping 22:06 per night. Draisaitl entered a new echelon of superstardom this past postseason, putting up Herculean numbers while battling a major ankle sprain. Even while having his injury targeted, Draisaitl managed 32 points - the sixth-highest playoff total in the post-lockout era despite not even reaching the final.
3. Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs
2022 stats: 82 GP, 57 G, 56 A
Accolades: Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, "Rocket" Richard, First-team All-Star
Signature moment: 60th goal
Matthews comes in third on our list after authoring the NHL's first 60-goal season in a decade. The Maple Leafs pivot was particularly dominant during his Hart Trophy campaign from January through April, registering 40 goals and 73 points in 46 games before putting up nine points in yet another first-round exit. But Matthews' collection of trophies from the NHL Awards makes up for the playoff disappointment in our eyes, and it's nearly impossible to argue he doesn't deserve a top-three spot on this list when he ranks first in goals, even-strength goals, and GAR in 2022 while sitting sixth in points per game and eighth in points overall.
2. Connor McDavid, Oilers
2022 stats: 85 GP, 56 G, 82 A
Accolades: Art Ross, Hart Trophy finalist, Second-team All-Star
Signature moment: Overtime series winner vs. Flames
We all know McDavid is the world's best player and a transcendent talent on a fast track to becoming one of the all-time greats. We aren't arguing any of that by placing him at No. 2 on our list - our No. 1 candidate simply accomplished more in 2022. McDavid was still sensational, capturing his fourth scoring title at the end of the regular season before racking up 33 points in the playoffs. He's carried his blistering pace into 2022-23 and is by far the leading point-getter over the past 12 months with 138 - 17 clear of second place. McDavid has reached a LeBron James or Mike Trout-esque level of excellence where he has to do something otherworldly for fans to feel like he's done something above the absurd standard he's set, but hockey lovers should rejoice in watching him try night in and night out.
1. Cale Makar, Avalanche
2022 stats: 88 GP, 24 G, 70 A
Accolades: Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe, Norris Trophy, First-team All-Star
Signature moment: Unstoppable solo effort vs. Blackhawks
No player achieved more than Makar in 2022. He's only the third defenseman in history to win a Cup, Norris, Conn Smythe, and Calder Trophy - joining legends Bobby Orr and Brian Leetch - reaching the remarkable feat at 23 years old. Makar also became the fastest blue-liner to record 200 regular-season points, besting Sergei Zubov's mark by 12 games. If those accomplishments weren't enough, Makar led all rearguards in goals, points, average ice-time, power-play points, and GAR over the past year. It's difficult to tab any player a future Hall of Famer after just four seasons, but Makar's 2022 was so impressive it may have sealed the deal.
(Stats source: Natural Stat Trick, Evolving-Hockey)