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2021 NHL Draft: ‘Best Of’ Series – Skill – Eklund, Lysell, Johnson, Strömgren, Beniers


With the 2021 NHL Entry Draft just a few weeks away, it is time to take a deep dive into the class and examine the different player archetypes that are going to hear their name selected sometime over the weekend. In this series, we are going to be analyzing five of the most vital attributes - intelligence, goal scoring, skill, skating and physicality - and acknowledging five of the highest graded players by McKeens in each trait (plus a few of my own favourites here and there).

We are at the midpoint of the series now as we hone in on the third skill to be analyzed in this piece - skill. This is an interesting one to analyze because there is a level of flashiness that is baked into the conversation by default that skews how we should be analyzing players with otherworldly levels of skill. Those who possess the stickhandling abilities required to make a crowd rise out of their seat tend to be the ones with the highlight reels that make their rounds on Twitter during the weeks leading up to the draft, building up the hype of said player’s upside. These players stand out more than the rest, and as a result they can be misconstrued as the best player on the ice due to their noticeability instead of the results they are driving. The idea of your team drafting a high skill player at the draft tends to excite fans as they picture their newly christened draft pick dangling past NHL defences five years down the line.

There exists a notion among some hockey fans that a player’s upside is directly tied into their skill level. If a player is deemed highly skilled then they are at risk of incorrectly being identified as a “high ceiling, low floor” player.” In essence possessing the potential to be a top six forward (or top pairing defenceman) but unlikely to be a meaningful NHL player if they find themselves unable to produce. The opposite stands true as well: if the player is considered of lower skill then their identification is often that they are a safer bet to make the NHL, but unlikely to be a core piece to build around. This notion is not exactly wrong, but it does not tell the full tale. Skill factors into the projectability of a player’s impact in the NHL, but it is just one part of a far larger equation.

Instead of just giving you my thoughts on skill before going into each player individually, I am going to go into detail about the purpose of skill with respect to playing winning hockey, and then apply those details to each player so you can get a better case on their projectability. This next bit is a little off-the-track but bear with me as I believe it is vital to determining which skill players make it and which ones do not.

The goal of hockey is for a five-man unit to advance play into the offensive zone and find a way to put the puck in the net while ensuring the opposing five man unit does not gain possession. To score, a player must shoot the puck on net and get it past the goalie. To shoot, that player must find a clear lane between themselves and the goalie. To find that clear lane, they need to be in open space somewhere in the offensive zone, preferably closer to the net. To get to the offensive zone, they need to move the puck up the ice from their own zone. This is defined as the macro-objective of the game. However, to complete the macro-objective, individual players will find themselves needing to overcome numerous variables that will try to take away their space and prevent them from achieving their macro goal. These are called micro-objectives. An example could be trying to break out of your own zone and gain a controlled entry the other way, or a puck carrier being pressured by two defenders coming from opposing directions. Just about any obstacle that forces a player to make a decision fits the loose description of a micro-objective. Players must find a way to solve these variables in ways that benefit macro play, meaning they are now closer to scoring a goal then they were before the micro problem came into play. The solution is considered a failure if the team is unable to at least maintain possession. How puck carriers choose to solve micro-objectives is up to them as there is no right or wrong answer, all that matters is that the problem is solved.

One of the ways a player can problem solve in a hockey game is by applying their puck skills in a practical sense. Whether it be a flashy toe-drag or a simple two-touch redirection, the purpose of these moves is to provide a player with additional means to navigate through pressure. These moves are deceptive in nature, as the player’s intentions are to lead pressure one way before creatively moving the puck the other way. This forces the defender to walk a line between patience and overcommitting until they can figure out the stick handler's intentions. If a defender makes their move too early, they will have committed their weight in one direction, leaving open space behind them. Likewise, if the defender exhibits hesitation, they are likely to just hand over the space to the stick-handler. If the puck carrier can enter these spaces without congestion from the opposition and identify the next play to maintain possession, then they have successfully solved the problem.

By understanding this, we can now examine the reasons behind why the majority of skill-dominant players outside of the NHL fail to live up to the expectations that their highlight reel provides.

The first problem is that some of these skill players are falsely dubbed macro play drivers, players who are consistently playing efficient, reliable hockey that serve the purpose of the team’s main goal to maintain possession and advance play up the ice, when they really are micro play drivers, players who are able to solve the problem in front of them. By definition, as long as they keep possession, the player has successfully solved the problem, but unless they are finding the means to actually advance play towards completing the macro-objective then they are not actually driving (or in some cases, preventing) offensive results for their team. The play may look incredible to spectators, but there is little to zero practicality to it. To be elite in the NHL, nearly every detail in your game requires, no, demands to be practical as you advance play for your team towards the macro-objective.

The second problem is that even for those that are considered good macro play drivers, they are not as deceptive as they appeared to be at a lower level. Junior defenders are not as advanced thinkers as professionals, often committing too early or waiting until it is too late when faced against a one-on-one encounter, thus handing over more space to these players than a professional player would. These flashy Junior attackers are reliant on slipping into space that simply will not be provided against the best defenders in the world and as a result, their ability to drive play diminishes. Their contributions towards the team objective drop off significantly as their once efficient plays become inefficient turnovers.

Are they able to apply their absurd levels of puck control in ways that accomplish more than just bypassing the threat in front of them? Do they have the level of deception required to manipulate NHL defenders? Are these players projectable? As always with this series, it is not just about how skilled a player is, but how well they apply those skills in a meaningful way. So, without further ado, here are five of the most skilled players in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Djurgården's William Eklund during the ice hockey match in the SHL between Djurgården and Skellefteå on 16 November 2020 in Stockholm.
Photo: Andreas L Eriksson / BILDBYRÅN /

William Eklund

It should not be a surprise that Eklund clawed his way onto another one of these lists. What makes him such a special talent goes beyond the expansive toolkit he provides; instead, it is his how he applies these tools to generate positive results all over the ice. He has fully mastered one of the most equipped arsenals the 21’ class has to offer while practically applying it to great effect. You see it in nearly every shift, as he regularly showcases not just his ridiculous level of skill, but the finer details of his game that truly drive play in a way that clearly projects to the NHL.

Every touch of the puck serves a purpose. For starters, Eklund controls the puck like there is a magnetic pull drawing it back to his stick. He sets traps, baiting players by positioning the puck relative to his body/stick in a way that makes defenders believe there is an opportunity to make a defensive stop. Once they reach out with their stick in an attempt for the steal, he has already drawn the puck back into his control. By forcing the defender to commit some sort of momentum and lead with his stick, Eklund now has an understanding as to where space is opening up and is already setting up his next move to slip into that space with control.

It is not just stickwork that makes Eklund so tricky to deal with as his deception extends far beyond that. He combines his puck control skills with a boatload of body fakes, footwork feints and misdirections with his eyes. He can be looking one way, altering his body to threaten a play towards where his eyes are leading, all while his feet have not committed his weight in any direction. When used in unison, these deceptive tendencies make Eklund nearly unreadable which provide him with the means to manipulate defenders around the ice any way he sees fit. Creating space is not an issue for the Swedish forward, nor is knowing what to do when he has space.

This one exhibits just how hard he is to read. In just one motion, Eklund feints a shot threat, forcing the defence to commit their stick towards him now that he thinks there is no passing threat, before curling it around the full reach of the defenceman and sending the puck right to his teammate’s tape with a back hand pass.

The lead up to this clip was lost, but it is still a fantastic example of Eklund’s passing accuracy. As he carries the puck behind the net, he recognizes that the opposing defenders are cluttered together, so he sends a no-look backhand pass through the opposition right onto the stick of a dangerous shot threat which results in a goal. Another hilarious display of his intellect, but the difficulty of this pass cannot be overstated.

All of this being said, William Eklund fits the description of a highly skilled player who projects well to the NHL. He approaches every variable in front of him with the intention to not just bypass this particular problem, but to overcome the challenge in a way that consistently furthers play. He has no issue handling pressure, often inviting it knowing the opportunities that can open up in the space behind the defender. His ability to exude deceptive tendencies at any pace means hesitation from the entire defence the second Eklund becomes the puck carrier. He has all the potential in the world to be more than someone who can finish off plays in the offensive zone. William Eklund can truly become an elite offensive catalyst in the NHL.

Luleå's Fabian Lysell during the ice hockey match in the SHL between Rögle and Luleå on 5 January 2021 in Ängelholm.
Photo: Petter Arvidson / BILDBYRÅN

Fabian Lysell

The Swedish Roadrunner, a nickname provided by fellow McKeen’s employee Will Scouch, aptly describes Lysell’s playstyle. This is because there is pretty much no one in this class that is as dangerous at extreme speeds as Fabian Lysell is. In fact, I’d say that Fabian Lysell is in the top one percent in terms of both skating and stick-handling abilities relative to his peers. For now, we will hone in on his puck carrying abilities as we will detail what makes his skating so lethal in a later release.

What surprises me regarding Fabian Lysell is just how much he is slipping in rankings as we inch closer to draft day. For a draft that is often labeled “weak” (whether that is true or not is beside the point) I cannot understand the discourse surrounding his future outlook. Simply put, he is the most dangerous rush attacker in this class - by far. The second the puck is on his stick, Lysell takes off like a bullet towards the offensive zone, all the while controlling the puck with near flawless levels of precision.

Like Eklund, Lysell lays traps with where he positions the puck at top speed relative to his body, providing false opportunities for defenders tempted to challenge him as he speeds up ice. It is really, really hard to defend this. If a defender commits his weight towards him in any way, Lysell is going to burn them in the opposite direction. By the time the defender’s able to regain control over the direction of his momentum, Fabian has already left him in the dust, rendering him useless as the Swede preys on the opposition’s next victim. He is as dangerous a lateral attacker as you can find in this class, providing him with a near endless number of routes as he rushes up ice.

The biggest issue limiting Lysell’s ceiling right now is that this style of attacking is his go-to move. He gets the puck, he takes off towards the offensive zone at full speed and forces the defenders to deal with him. At this level, it tends to work fairly regularly, because even though they know his intentions, they are not equipped with the tools and processing of the game required to prevent someone like Lysell from overwhelming them. Projecting that to the NHL is a different matter entirely. While his skill and skating combination is still well above NHL average, those who play at the highest level have the defensive comprehension required to keep Lysell in check. If they can see it coming, they can come up with a gameplan to stop it. So, while Lysell is extremely deceptive in terms of his micro-decision making, just about everyone knows his approach to the macro game - just zoom up the ice as fast as possible and hope no one can stop your combination of control and agility.

This does cause reasonable doubt as to the projectability of what Lysell can be in the NHL. What good are world class tools if they cannot be properly applied in ways that not only problem solve micro-objectives, but further serve the greater goal of the macro-objective? Well, by now you should be able to guess that my answer to that question is “not good”. So, to an extent, I do understand why some scouts have soured on Lysell.

I am not one of them. I believe Lysell can solve this problem by doing something he has shown in flashes: varying his paces. There is a false claim going around that he is just a low effort winger who only has two modes: one where he is gliding around aimlessly waiting for the right time to accelerate up the ice, and another where he is an explosive selfish puck handler at full speed. The reality is that Lysell supports teammates in all three zones, constantly hounds puck carriers, and anticipates how plays will unfold, correctly positioning himself to be involved in whatever comes next. He wears his heart on his sleeve every shift. All of this and more tell the tale that Lysell can follow play at a high level, regardless of pace, and that he understands the value of a small area game, even if he has yet to master his own. That is okay, as I believe it is harder to teach someone to effectively play at the highest pace there is than it is to reign in someone who goes too fast sometimes.

This one demonstrates his dynamic ability to carry the puck up ice through the middle, weaving around the first bit of pressure before the blue line like it’s nothing. After he gains the zone, he waits until the moment that the defence has committed too much to one side and explodes laterally the other way. Just one second later, Lysell is already out of reach as the defenceman extends his stick as far as he can to no avail. Fabian scores with a backhand. Just beautiful.

Just laugh with me on how ridiculous this play is and move on. As he gains the zone along the dotted line, Lysell is non-committal as to whether he wants to explode towards the middle or towards the perimeter. The defender makes the choice for him, as once again Lysell punishes someone the millisecond they commit their weight in one direction. He warps the puck around him like an NHL21 player, fakes the shot as he gets into open space to freeze both the goalie and the defender and then teleports around the net for a wrap-around.

Considering the roots of his transitional and attacking games are so strong, and that just adding some pace changes to his game opens up endless opportunities to become a significant macro play driver, I think it is a little crazy to see how far Lysell has slipped in a lot of rankings in a draft where players of this caliber are rare.

Kent Johnson; Photo courtesy of University of Michigan

Kent Johnson

 Kent Johnson is a very hard player to assess. Arguably the best stick-handler in the class, Johnson routinely pulls awe inspiring moves out of his back pocket that can make even the best defenders look foolish. Like Eklund and Lysell, every touch of the puck has purpose - constantly luring players in like a siren’s song just to unleash devastation the mere moment a dangerous opportunity has presented itself.

The most fitting description I can think of to describe Johnson’s approach to the game is that he is a mad scientist - there is no play he considers too crazy to try. Nothing is off-limits. The result of this ideology is a level of creativity that constantly leaves defenders second guessing how to approach him. It almost feels like he was born to break down defensive structures in mere seconds, as the threat of a scoring chance coming from nowhere follows him with every touch of the puck. He lays traps with his puck placement and combines them with every body fake in the book. Committing your momentum against him early is the same as handing him an open invite to wreak havoc.

As of now, Johnson’s skating appears to be his biggest weakness in one-on-one encounters. He shows off clever footwork at times but is almost entirely reliant on his work with the stick to get by defenders. That may serve him well in the NCAA but the likelihood of reaching his NHL ceiling is going to be hindered until he better combines his footwork and stickwork in deceptive ways to get by the opposition. An increase of explosivity and overall speed would not hurt either.

There is no denying that the foundation of his playstyle is built upon his wizardry with the puck. Yet, despite his otherworldly abilities and ridiculous scoring potential, I haven’t a clue what type of player Johnson will be in the NHL. There is so much flash with the way he plays, but one can question just how much substance there is if you look underneath and dig deep into the details that make up his game. In fact, part of my elongated introduction detailing macro and micro-objectives was because I could not find another way to write about Kent Johnson.

If I had to summarize it in a single sentence, it would be this: Kent Johnson is as talented in the micro portion of the game as you can find but his solutions often make little to no progress in the macro game. He appears to solve every variable that comes his way with the intent to create a dangerous chance afterwards, which sounds good in theory until you realize that you simply cannot create a dangerous chance after every problem you solve. In fact, he attempts this type of creative problem solving so frequently that it is nearly predictable. As the season progressed, I found my ability to guess whether he would over-complicate the situation in front of him with greater and greater accuracy. When it works, it looks brilliant as he basically creates a dangerous chance for himself or a teammate out of thin air, but there are a lot of times where the better play would have been more simplistic - passing to a teammate in close support, resetting play back to the point to escape pressure, identifying open space on the weak-side and trying to get the puck in play over there, etc.

This is where the projection for Johnson becomes muddied. His insistence on creating danger out of nothing results in frequent overhandling of the puck, which does nothing to serve the macro-objective of the game. There is a lot of efficiency left on the table when a player over relies on skill to drive play for their line. He would be better off involving his teammates more, playing off of their decisions and breaking down defensive structures as a unit. By playing this way, he would likely be able to create conditions that better favour his approach to finding dangerous chances after overcoming variables. Weaponizing his skill less frequently and opting for more team-oriented solutions may decrease the frequency to which Johnson can create dangerous chances by breaking down multiple defensive layers at once, but his efficiency as a play driver would increase dramatically.

An end-to-end rush resulting in a beautiful goal from Kent Johnson. Notice how he paths himself along the dotted line, never overly committing to attacking the middle of the ice or the perimeter as he bobs and weaves his way up the ice. Initially, he routes himself towards the middle of the ice as he exits his own zone, leading F1 closer to the middle and opening up space to work with along the perimeter. After beating F1, he does the same thing here again, back to angling his attack towards the middle. He positions the puck to bait the defensive stick towards the middle, opening up the outside lane once again. After slipping the puck back around, he shoots with his backhand for a gorgeous highlight reel goal.

This is a good example of something Johnson’s flashiness not turning into effectiveness. The Michigan team spreads out and spaces the ice as Johnson carries the puck back towards the blue line. He opts to circle back instead of passing to the open man on the point (or slipping it towards the middle of the OZ where a teammate is alone in space). Johnson then drives towards the net but does not have the separation speed required to beat the pressure and get a proper shooting lane on net. As a result, Johnson opts for a highly skilled shot through his legs near the goal line. It looks awesome, but the likelihood of actually scoring is low, meaning it is highly inefficient. On top of that, it ends up being a potential turnover that is only saved by his defenceman making a good play at the line. This is a great play to show Johnson not fully capitalizing on his otherworldly talent as he misses passing opportunities and holds the puck for far too long without actually advancing play himself, all for an inefficient result at the end.

Johnson’s range of outcomes regarding what he can be in the NHL is vast. There is a lot to question when it comes to his projectability; however, the sheer talent he possesses is so rare that it is a gamble worth taking. His upside is enormous, yet dependent on whether or not he can modify his game to better suit the demands of the NHL. He is as high risk, high reward as you can find in the top ten for my money.

Modos William Strömgren during the ice hockey match in the Hockeyallsvenskan between Mora and Modo on March 3, 2021 in Mora.
Photo: Daniel Eriksson / BILDBYRÅN

William Strömgren

William Strömgren is the epitome of a boom or bust player. The type of guy that comes with a very high chance of never even making it to the NHL but, on the chance, he does, is going to be so talented that hindsight artists will claim “how did he fall so far in the draft” five years down the line. At the time of release, Strömgren is ranked 41st on Bob McKenzie’s board which means he is likely viewed as an early to mid-second round pick.

He possesses the tools that certain NHL general managers salivate over - skating ability, soft hands and a sturdy frame. He also possesses numerous red flags that could scare away potential suitors, most notably disappearing for long stretches of a game or displaying next to no vision as he tries to take on the entire defence at once, missing opportunities to advance play during the process. As of now, there is little sign that Stromgren is on his way to being an effective macro player for his team; however, there is lots of hope that this can change down the line.

For starters, his talent level is criminally understated relative to the names around him on McKenzie’s list (and McKeen’s list, for that matter). He has an ability to make defenders look foolish in one-on-one encounters that very few players in this class possess. It all starts with his deception, as he often dictates how these encounters are going to go well before they even take place by combining body fakes and pace changes to lead the defender where Strömgren wants them. Then, when the defender finally engages with Strömgren, he combines his nifty bag of tricks and slippery footwork, challenging the defender to guess his intentions and rob him of the puck. This tends to work out quite well for Strömgren as he maintains possession and is ready to lead play on towards the macro-objective.

Except, he tends to struggle actually advancing play for his team. While he is one of the most dynamic attacking threats in terms of solving problems, his decision making after the fact can be extremely frustrating at times. His vision can be called into question as wide-open teammates are not identified despite a clear lane with nothing between them and Strömgren. This is concerning, especially when you see him ignore passing options while he is facing minimal pressure at best, just to carry the puck directly into pressure with hopes of winning the next one on one. That is not a projectable playstyle, especially for someone who can go multiple shifts in a row without impacting play in any meaningful way.

The question regarding Strömgren is how likely he is to adopt a more efficient playstyle that better suits the team objective of advancing play up the ice to score. I am unable to discern whether he is aware of the open lanes around him and is electing to not pass, or if he truly suffers from tunnel vision when the puck is on his stick. Only Strömgren can say which of the above statements are true, but NHL development teams are likely hoping it is the former instead of the latter. It is easier to reign in bad habits with lots of film work centered around missed opportunities and inefficient decision making than it is to teach a player how to identify open lanes all over the ice.


This is such a deceptive pass with a beautiful angle change right upon the release. He creeps up closer to the net, faking a shot the entire time causing the defence to collapse in on him. Right as he begins his release motion, he extends his reach forward and slips the puck between the gap between defenders for a wide open one-timer.

His ability to just bully through here with sheer skill is incredible. He baits in the first defensive stick, pulls the puck back just out of reach but instantly recognizes the other stick trying to make a play, so he repositions the puck once again to be just out of his reach as he goes for the shot. It is his puck placement with each touch that stands out, as both defensive sticks are just close enough to interfere with his drive to the net. A great clip to show what Strömgren can do when he has all of his tools working at their best.

There is such an abundance of potential regarding Strömgren’s ability to troubleshoot his way through differing variables as they arrive. The manner in which he sets up one on one’s and completes them is highly projectable. In fact, it is his most leverageable skill on his path towards NHL success. Yet, it is undeniable that his shift-to-shift impact level needs to increase, as he needs to insert his will into the play far more often than currently seen. This, when combined with his inefficiencies after problem solving, are Strömgren’s biggest hurdles he must overcome on the way towards NHL success. Admittedly a difficult task, one with a higher likelihood of backfiring than succeeding, but considering the success rate of players in the second round and beyond, I fully believe it is one worth taking.

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 28: Michigan's Matty Beniers in action during their loss to Notre Dame, 2-1, Saturday, November 28, 2020, at Michigan's Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, MI. (Photo by Lon Horwedel/Icon Sportswire)

Matty Beniers

 This is not a name many people expected to find on this list, myself included. When I was looking through the potential candidates for this position provided to me by McKeen’s, I initially dismissed Beniers as he lacks the flash all of the proceeding names possess. While they display their talent level on a regular basis, Beniers nearly hides his, electing only to use his elite levels of control in subtle ways. It was not until a recent film session until I realized that subtlety is the reason why Beniers is the perfect candidate to finish off this part of the series. He is the epitome of what I am looking for in using your skills in practical ways.

So, if Beniers possesses handling abilities that rank him among the draft’s finest, how is it that we never see it to the extent that we do with his teammate, Kent Johnson? Well, that is because he already knows what he is going to do with the puck before it is even on his stick. Both players attempt to enter open space, but Beniers’ method of feeding false information with his body, eyes and feet is harder for defenders to pick up on. Beniers’ scanning habits provide him with a detailed map as to where everyone is as well as the direction they are moving in, and his high-speed processing provides him with the intel as to when and where space opens up around the ice. Where Johnson receives the puck and looks for ways to manipulate the person in front of him with his hands, Beniers manipulates them with misguided intentions, luring them away from the space he wants to work with. Beniers almost never puts himself in a position where he has to rely on flashy puck skills to get the job done. He understands to great effect that over-relying on puck handling abilities to surpass micro challenges around the ice is not a way to consistently further the macro play of the team.

None of this means he is unable to do so.

The way he applies his puck control is fascinating. Outside of Eklund, I am not sure if any player in the draft makes the most out of simple one or two touch plays with his stick. Upon receiving the puck, Beniers will dash into open space and pose his body to threaten a shot, or a dangerous pass one way, before just tapping it in an entirely different direction to an open player. Even if the pass sent his way is poor, Beniers’ pass retrieval mechanics are as refined as anyone, meaning he can still redirect it towards an offensive threat. The ability to receive or retrieve a bad pass, calm it down and then find a means of attack all through one motion is an often-understated skill, but one that projects very highly to the NHL as it is extremely deceptive and hard to read even for the best defenders.

His puck protection habits should be deemed an example of elite skill as well, especially along the wall. He is constantly using his body as a shield with the puck loaded in his hip pocket, providing him with means to absorb pressure without sacrificing puck control or removing his options to advance play. This ability shines the brightest in those moments where structure has broken down and chaos has erupted all over the ice. He navigates the crowd with ease, his head up the entire time while under-handling the puck. If challenged by a defensive stick, Beniers shows zero hesitation skillfully moving the puck around his foe’s stick before slipping a pass to a scoring threat.

Above all, his skill stands out the most in transition. Beniers combines his stick and his feet to consistently feed false information to defenders, before displaying perfect timing and quickly slipping the puck around them the mere moment they commit their weight. He is truly dynamic in his ability to adjust his route on the fly. He combines his reach and his wide variety of passes to alter his release point with minimal tell, masking his target and manipulating the opposition away from his intended pass recipient. As mentioned in the intelligence piece, Beniers does not often attempt the risky play; however, on the chance he mis-reads how play develops or finds himself not receiving the support he expected from a teammate, Beniers will not hesitate to show that flashy puck skill as he attempts to bypass the threat with a drag or a curl move.

Yes, I am reusing a clip, but it is because I cannot think of any example that better suits what I am trying to say about his one-two touch ability to make productive plays all over the ice. The puck is coming around the board at a high speed, and with just one touch, just as he is approaching the boards with pressure from behind, Beniers places it in a spot where F1 cannot get it. Then, in the same motion, Beniers wraps the puck around the boards to an open teammate with another touch. Two touches, one motion, two variables solved, and possession maintained - all in one second. What more are you asking for?

When do you see awesome assists for empty net goals when both players are already in the offensive zone? As he is driving up the ice to score an empty net goal, he cannot seem to get a shooting lane as he is facing pressure from two different sides. As the puck gets played into the corner Beniers approaches with his body positioned to protect the puck, as if his intentions are to rim it around. Instead, he subtly shifts his body to face towards the center of the ice and does another single motion slip pass right through the defenders for someone to whack in the empty net goal. By the time they realized Beniers’ intentions to play the puck towards the net-front, it was too late.

All things considered, I can think of at least five players who are undeniably more flashy, as well as more who are more reliant on their puck handling abilities; however, I do not think there are many who can be considered more practical when it comes to actually applying their skill in ways that project well to the NHL. Considering the theme of this piece is to look under the surface of the skillful players and see who carries some substance behind all that flash, it felt right to conclude with the player who might have the strongest argument for applying his diverse skill set in practical ways.


Once again, we have reached the end of this installment of the “Best Of” series. It took me a long while to figure out how to approach this particular piece, as I wanted to do something more than talking about the five players with the best highlight reels. Skill is often one of the hardest things to properly project to the NHL due to the fundamental misunderstanding regarding how skill is actually applied in terms of playing winning hockey.