I was listening to the Ray & Dregs Hockey Podcast a couple of days ago (check it out if you haven’t already) and was happy to see they had none other than The Great One, Wayne Gretzky as a guest. Gretzky told some interesting stories but one thing he said stuck out to me because he referenced an unofficial stat I started tracking a couple of years ago, end-to-end rushes.
Gretzky, talking about potential rule changes and a desire to see more puck moving said, “I think that it’s an art to carry the puck from your own end into the offensive zone.”
When the greatest player of all-time says a particular skill is “an art”, it’s worth looking into who the best present day artists are.
Getting the puck out of the defensive zone or into the offensive zone with possession is one thing but to do both in the same sequence by navigating your way through the neutral zone requires a certain skill-set. Only players with high-end skating and puck-handling ability are able to do it at a high-rate and it might surprise you to see who’s done it the most this season at even-strength.
Nik Ehlers of the Winnipeg Jets.
Ehlers is having a brilliant season, ranking 16th in the NHL with 32 even-strength points. He exits the defensive zone at the highest rate of any player in the league (10.4 zone exits per-20 minutes) and ranks 2nd in entries per-20, trailing only Nathan MacKinnon. If transitioning the puck through the neutral zone is an art form, Ehlers is proving to be one of the most gifted artists in the NHL.
When you include special teams, Ehlers is still among the best in the league at taking the puck end-to-end, ranking 6th overall but nobody has done it more than Jack Eichel.
It’s no surprise to see these names at the top of the list in end-to-end rushes and each player has their own unique style that makes them such effective puck movers.
Eichel is as elusive a puck carrier as you’ll find, often protecting the puck on his edges as he weaves in-and-out of traffic. MacKinnon might be the best blend of speed and power in the NHL. McDavid is, well McDavid. Barzal is elusive as well and explosive out of turns and Patrick Kane can back defenders off with the best of them thanks to his elite stick-handling ability.
So, there you have it – the top players in the NHL this season in a facet of the game that, according to the greatest player to ever play it, is an art form.
(Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)