It’s no secret that playmakers come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s a special breed of playmaker in the National Hockey League that generates more discussion and invokes more adoration than any other: the sniper. A hockey staple, the sniper is a player who isn’t always the fastest, and may not possess the fanciest dekes or make the best passes, but damn if they can’t put the puck in the net when given the opportunity. These electric scorers, some of whom make plays based on shot alone, some of whom use a strong overall game to ensure the puck tickles the twine, and some of whom combine speed and savvy to overpower defenders, are all terrific hockey players with an affinity for sniping quality goals when it matters most, which is why they’ve been placed on Goliath’s list of the 10 best snipers currently in the NHL (spoiler alert, we’ve left Sid the Kid off this list based on the fact that his goal scoring game is currently lacking, and his play this season has left so much to be desired).
10. Jeff Carter – Los Angeles Kings
With his goal scoring having declined somewhat since joining the Los Angeles Kings in 2012, it’d be easy to forget that Jeff Carter was once a static figure among the NHL’s elite snipers, having registered consecutive seasons of 29, 46, 33 and 36 goals during his time with the Philadelphia Flyers. However, while his goal totals have dropped during his time in LA, he still registers as one of the most intimidating goal scorers in the NHL, with a devastating shot that goalies not only respect, but actively fear. Carter, who currently plays on a line with breakout star Tyler Toffoli, seems poised to regain some of his early career form this season, as he’s scoring at a near point per game clip and doing so with his usual mix of strength along the boards and absurd scoring prowess. While he’s certainly had some quality line mates, there’s no doubting that this underrated hockey player remains one of the most decorated snipers currently playing in the NHL.
9. Phil Kessel – Pittsburgh Penguins
In the appropriate light, Phil Kessel can be viewed as an almost sympathetic figure, a kind of tragic hero whose time in Toronto was marred by unrealistic expectations and incredible media scrutiny. Kessel, who remains one of the NHL’s most talented natural scorers, was never a good fit for the Maple Leaf culture, which requires an active personality that doesn’t bristle at the thought of broadcasters and interviewers poking holes in your game. For his part, Kessel was an effective (if not consistent) force on the ice, where he has parlayed one of the league’s most devastating shots (the speed with which he gets his shot off is second to none) into consistent 30+ goal production. Factoring in top end speed and a loose approach to playing defense (which works against his team, but for Kessel as a scorer) help cement Kessel as one of the league’s most feared scorers, even if his production in Pittsburgh hasn’t quite been up to snuff.
8. Jamie Benn – Dallas Stars
There’s a good chance that once the 2015-2016 NHL season is through, Jamie Benn will not only rank significantly higher on this list, but he’ll be a household name, as he appears on track to repeat as the league’s leading scorer. A physical force on the ice, Benn teams with Tyler Seguin (who we’ll have more on later) to form one of the NHL’s most impressive duos, a fact not lost on our staff as we assembled our list of elite snipers. Benn, who isn’t the biggest or fastest player on the ice, makes use of his physicality and tenacity to score goals, and the fact that he sees the ice well and uses positioning accordingly helps him to consistently pot goals that other players might not be able to put in the net. A young player who is only getting better, Jamie Benn should compete annually for the title of best overall player in the NHL moving forward.
7. John Tavares – New York Islanders
Speaking of the best overall players in the NHL, it’s looking more and more like John Tavares, the star center for the New York Islanders, will compete with Benn for that title as the years progress. Tavares, who has overcome the crushing expectations laid on him as a Canadian junior to further excel in the NHL, remains one of the league’s premier scorers, and his strong overall game in many ways resembles the one discussed when speaking of Benn. Tavares, who operates with tenacity, vision and unbelievable smoothness on the ice, is a model of consistency who finds a way to get the puck in the net when it matters most (he’s been beyond clutch since joining the Islanders). A true leader who has taken a once-downtrodden franchise on his back and helped elevate to playoff status, Tavares would undoubtedly be higher on a list of best players in the NHL, but not of the best snipers in the NHL (as would Benn, now that we think on it).
6. Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay Lightning
It’s been a down year for Steven Stamkos, but short memories don’t make for educated hockey fans. Stamkos, who is only 25 years old, despite the fact that he has three 40+ goal seasons to his name (and one 60 goal season, an unbelievable feat), is still maturing as a player, an exciting thought considering the significant success he’s already had scoring goals in the NHL. An old school scorer with a propensity for posting up in the slot and firing passes top shelf, Stamkos plays the game with a physicality not often seen in the contemporary NHL, and he’s been all the more successful for it. While the Lightning have dealt with significant injuries in the early going of this year (a fact that’s no doubt hampered Stamkos’s production in some ways), we’ve little doubt that this ultra talented center will get back on track in the very near future.
5. Max Pacioretty – Montreal Canadiens
We’re quite positive that Max Pacioretty is the most underrated player in the NHL, as Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathon Quick recently pointed out in his “Elite Snipers 101” series written for The Players Tribune. One of the most prolific goal scorers in the NHL over the past several seasons (his goal totals from the last four seasons as 37, 39, 15, and 33, with the 15 goal season being an injury shortened anomaly), Pacioretty is a player who will score tough goals, pretty goals, power play goals, even strength goals and everything in between. The guy just produces, and it’s a testament to his abilities on the ice that we can’t identify something he does particularly well; rather, Pacioretty just has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, an invaluable skill in and of itself. One of the hardest working players in the league, Pacioretty has picked up right where he left off last season and is currently doing his best to keep the Canadiens atop the standings.
4. Vladimir Tarasenko – St. Louis Blues
If you talk to us in two years when given the ability to revisit a list like this, we’re fairly confident that Vladimir Tarasenko will be at the top of it. A breakout player whose immense success last season seemed to only scratch the surface of his potential (and that’s saying something, as he scored 37 goals and 73 points overall), Tarasenko oozes potential as a lightning fast winger with the moves and the shot to become one of the most prolific scorers in the entire league. While we’ve no doubt that playing on a loaded Blues roster has helped Tarasenko develop at a rapid rate (playing with good line mates will do that for you), simply looking up some of his goals on YouTube ought to help convince you that this human highlight reel is destined to dominate the NHL for seasons to come.
3. Tyler Seguin – Dallas Stars
The other half of the dynamic duo currently emerging as stars in Dallas (see what we did there?), Tyler Seguin is a more traditional sniper than his on-ice counterpart. While Jamie Benn makes a living hustling in corners and setting up his shots effectively, Seguin is more of a “shoot it and see” type of scorer, and to his credit that approach works when you have one of the league’s fastest and most precise shots. A talented youngster who has overcome the maturity issues that plagued him in Boston to ascend to the ranks of the NHL’s scoring elite, Seguin seems primed to compete annually for the most goals scored (and in some seasons, could be competing with his own teammate for that accolade).
2. Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks
A player who is as familiar with adversity as he is with success, Patrick Kane has certainly lead a storied life for a man who just recently turned twenty-seven. A prolific on-ice player who has repeatedly demonstrated questionable judgement off the ice, Kane’s status as one of the most talented scorers in the league was jeopardized this past summer as he went through an array of legal troubles stemming from an alleged rape. With those charges gone (the case has since been dropped), Kane has channelled those troubles into an insanely effective start to the 2015-2016 NHL season, and his bonkers ability to score at will has been demonstrated over and over. A jitterbug type of winger with smooth moves, killer speed and a deceptive shot, Kane provides one half of Chicago’s star power (the other half being Jonathon Toews, his equally impressive teammate) and a good chunk of their consistency.
1. Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals
Could anyone else really have topped this list? Ovechkin has been doing this goal scoring thing for a while now, and we’re convinced that he’s the best there currently is at putting pucks behind goalies. A man who recently passed the decorated Sergei Fedorov as the most productive Russian goal scorer in NHL history, Ovechkin’s career numbers are beyond ridiculous (to put things in perspective, he’s never had a season where he scored less than 30 goals, and he has a mind-boggling five 50+ goal seasons) and he’s showing no signs of slowing down, despite his advancing age (even with all his experience, he’s only 30 years old). The best sniper in the game, Ovi has earned this spot by nature of his tenacity, speed, and by having the best shot the NHL’s seen in years.