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 moves or make the best passes, but damn if they can’t put the puck in the net when given the opportunity.
These electric scorers combine speed and savvy with a lethal shot to score quality goals at pivotal times, which is why they’ve been placed on SportsBreak’s list of best snipers currently in the NHL. Now, goal scoring will never be like it was in the Wayne Gretzky era, but these guys are elite in the modern sense.
Where we’ve mined much of the data is post-lockout — just call it the Alexander Ovechkin era — so there is a good mix of veterans and not-so-long-in-tooth players in the mix.
Patrik Laine – Winnipeg Jets
Only one player scored more goals than second-year man Laine in 2017-18, and that was eminent sniper Ovechkin. Laine potted 44 in his sophomore season, giving him an astounding 80 in his first two NHL seasons. The second overall pick in the 2016 entry draft is a shoot-first, ask questions later guy who is quickly making a name for himself. Among his 44 markers in 2017-18 were a NHL high 20 powerplay goals, while he also added five more in the playoffs, of which three came with the man advantage. What is even more striking about his goal-scoring prowess is the economy of it and how much ice time he gets. He scored those 44 goals on just 241 shots (just under three a game) for a sparkling 18.3 percent efficiency rate. And, he did all that scoring averaging just 16 minutes and 29 seconds of ice time per game. We would also be remiss if we didn’t include the fact that 13 of his 80 goals have been game-winners.
Evgeni Malkin – Pittsburgh Penguins
There is no quit in Geno’s game. The author of 370 career goals is still going strong at 32, firing 42 goals this past season, good for fourth overall. He last scored over 40 six years ago, when he had a career high 50 during the 2011-12 campaign. Like Patrik Laine, he had 80 goals his first two seasons with Pittsburgh in the NHL and has since scored 30 or more four times (six total including the first two years). He’s no withering daisy in the playoffs either, having struck for 62 goals and 103 assists in 158 post-season contests. More of an elite playmaker than shooter, Malkin uses his big body and amazing hands to navigate his way around the offensive zone. While he does have 560 career assists, he has benefited from playing with gifted passer Sidney Crosby on the powerplay, accumulating 133 career man advantage snipes.
Auston Matthews – Toronto Maple Leafs
The battle, real and imagined, between 2016 no. 1 overall pick Matthews and no. 2 selection Patrik Laine is going to be a great one going forward. For his part, Matthews has nearly matched Laine’s electrifying pace, firing 74 goals in his first 144 games. The owner of a hard, accurate shot that he disguises very well, Matthews was on pace to score 45 in 2017-18. But, he missed 20 games and scored 34. His prodigious goal scoring isn’t done on the powerplay, either, since 29 of his markers were even strength. That will be a valuable commodity for a young Leafs team that is chock full of young scoring talent. And his penchant for scoring game-winners has eclipsed Laine, slightly, with 13 in six fewer games. Yes, he does get slightly more time on ice (about a minute and a half), but as a first-liner has probably drawn way tougher opposition checkers than Laine, too.
Logan Couture – San Jose Sharks
The mark of a good to great sniper is a close ratio between goals and assists. In veteran center Logan Couture’s case, it is a very tiny gap. He has scored 213 goals in 582 games, along with 224 assists. His playoff totals, too, are closely mirrored, with 34 goals and 47 assists in 96 post-season tilts. The 29-year-old native of Guelph, Ontario put together one of his finest seasons in 2017-18, his ninth in the bigs, scoring a career high 34 goals and adding 27 assists for 61 points, the third highest total since a 67-point high in 2014-15. He may not be the most efficient shooter, clicking at a 12.5 percent rate, however, he is deadly on special teams, logging 65 powerplay and eight shorthanded goals. He was also a very consistent sniper last season, with just four multi-goal games and with only one four-game goalless slump.
Eric Staal – Minnesota Wild
For the money, Eric Staal provided outstanding value to the Wild last season. The durable center played all 82 games for the seventh time in his career and fired 42 goals, while making $3.5 million. That’s just seven goals less than league leader Alex Ovechkin, who made over $6 million more than Staal. It was a renaissance year for the 33-year-old, who had 41 goals in the two previous seasons combined. It was his third season of 40 or more goals and sixth with over 30. In total he has 395 NHL tallies and 992 points in 1,093 games. He has proven to extremely difficult to handle on special teams, too, as he scored 11 of his career 120 powerplay goals and two of his career 19 shorties. The Stanley Cup champion has also notched 20 playoff goals and 46 points in 58 games. In 2006, when he won his only title with Carolina, he led the NHL with seven powerplay strikes (he had nine overall).
Nikita Kucherov – Tampa Bay Lightning
His career may be short by most standards, however, at 25 Nikita Kucherov is just getting warmed up. He may not attract as much attention as elite sniper and teammate Steven Stamkos, but the Maykop, Russia native has been scoring at a prolific rate four years running. After scoring just nine goals and nine assists in 52 games during his rookie 2013-14 season, Kucherov has sniped 138 goals in 313 games since. He was ninth in 2017-18 with 39 goals and third in points with 100. In 2016-17, he was second in goals at 40 and fifth in points with 85. To illustrate his growing legend, Kucherov has scored at a far faster clip in the playoffs, with 29 goals (59 points) in 62 post-season contests. Six of those goals were clutch game-winners, too. He’s been ultra-deadly in the regular soon as well, firing 39 powerplay goals (17 in 2016-17, tops in the NHL) and 23 game-winners.
Ilya Kovalchuk – Los Angeles Kings
He hasn’t played in the NHL in five years, however, there is evidence the ageless Kovalchuk will light it up in his much ballyhooed return with the Kings. Yes, he’s on the wrong side of 30 at 35, yet, Kovy lit up the KHL with St. Petersburg SKA to the tune of 120 goals and 165 assists in only 262 games. In his NHL career, stopped short after the lockout abbreviated 2012-13 season, Kovalchuk two seasons of 50 or more goals and fired 417 total in 816 games. He added 399 assists to give himself a point per game. Later in his NHL career, version 1.0, Kovalchuk learned to be less one-dimensional too, leading the NHL with four shorthanded goals in his last season with New Jersey, in only 37 games. Otherwise, he was top-shelf on the powerplay, scoring 138 career goals with the man advantage, including a league high 27 during the 2005-06 season with Atlanta. Welcome back, Kovalchuk.
Corey Perry – Anaheim Ducks
Not many in the NHL have run with the big dogs like Alex Ovechkin, since the big Russian joined the league post-lockout in 2005-06. In that span there have been only 20 50-goal seasons recorded, seven of them by OV. Perry, drafted 28th overall in 2003, also didn’t start his NHL career until 05-06 and he too owns one 50-goal campaign, with exactly that number in 2010-11. He won the Hart and Rocket Richard that season, too. Over his 13-year career, all with the Ducks, Perry has ripped home 366 goals in 957 games, 63 of them game-winners. His elite status is enhanced by the fact he led the NHL in game-winners in 10-11 with 11 and twice he has scored the most even strength goals, with 32 (also in 10-11) and 35 in 2013-14. A Stanley Cup winner with Anaheim in 2007, the Peterborough native has scored 36 post-season goals and added 53 assists in 118 games.
Sidney Crosby – Pittsburgh Penguins
As a goal-scorer, Sid the Kid is vastly underrated. One of the game’s all-time eminent playmakers — he has 705 assists in just 864 games — Crosby also has 411 goals, including one of the those 50-plus goal seasons we alluded to in Corey Perry’s piece above. The Cole Harbour superstar is a playoff wonder too, having tallied 66 more times in 160 games, along with 119 assists. There is barely a facet of his game worthy of criticism and as late as the 2016-17 season he was leading the NHL in goal scoring with 44 in 75 games. He has struck for 124 career powerplay goals and owns a career shot to goal conversion percentage of 14.5. During Pittsburgh’s run to a championship in 2009, Crosby ripped home a league leading 15 goals, of which a NHL high 10 were scored even strength. And, let’s not forget that “golden goal” of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Patrick Marleau – Toronto Maple Leafs
Sure, Marleau started long before the OV era in 1997-98, but it is interesting to note that the author of 535 NHL goals scored 382 of them since 2005-06. And his most prolific season was his 12th, with San Jose in 2009-10, when he recorded 44. If anything, Marleau has been one of the steadiest scorers, registering eight seasons of 20 or more goals (including the last three seasons), six seasons of 30 or more and that one 40-plus campaign. In 20 seasons then, he has failed to score 20 just four times and one of those was during the 48-game season in 2012-13. Over his lengthy and still thriving career, Marleau has proved very versatile, as consistent in powerplay scoring (165) as he was shorthanded (17). Even though he never won a Stanley Cup in 19 seasons with the Sharks, Patty was reliable in the post-season, with 72 goals in 184 games (including four in seven games with the Leafs in 2018).
Jeff Carter – Los Angeles Kings
Having missed most of the 2017-18 season, it’s interesting to note that 33-year-old center and two-time Stanley Cup champ Carter was trending to a 40-goal season. He had 13 goals and nine assists in 27 games, those 13 markers giving him 352 in 904 regular season contests. 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, Carter scored over 20 goals a year in L.A. since, with an incredible 26 in 48 games during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. The Kings seem well positioned to have a good season, with Carter making a possible return with Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson to “That 70’s Line.” As a measure of his elite scorer status, 18 of his 39 playoff goals came during the Kings two Cup runs he was involved in (he had 38 points in 46 games, too).
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. But, once traded to Pittsburgh, where he didn’t have to be “the man”, one of the NHL’s most talented natural scorers has continued to flourish. The owner of one of the league’s most devastating shots (the speed with which he gets his shot off is second to none) has been as consistent a scorer as their is in hockey, logging six seasons of 30 or more goals since 2006-07, including 34 goals (and a career high 92 points) in 2017-18 with the Penguins. Factor in top end speed and a loose approach to playing defence (which works against his team, but for Kessel as a scorer) have helped cement Kessel as one of the league’s most feared scorers, both in the regular season and the playoffs where he has 32 goals and 75 points in 83 games.
Jamie Benn – Dallas Stars
Benn is another one of those consistent guys who many don’t notice until he is dancing in the opposition zone after scoring, or setting up, another goal. He’s not a household name, not even when he won a scoring title playing with Tyler Seguin in 2014-15. A physical force on the ice, Benn and Seguin form one of the NHL’s most impressive duos, a fact not lost on us as we assembled this list of elite snipers. Benn, neither the biggest nor fastest player on the ice, has made good use of his physicality and tenacity to score goals, reaching 30 or more goals in four of the last five seasons. Even though he has scored 254 goals and 596 points in 667 games with Big D, Benn is as good a two-way threat as he is a sniper, logging a career +37. He’s also something of a penalty killer, too, tallying 12 times when down a man over nine seasons. His post-season resume is short, however, Benn does have nine goals and 20 points in 19 games with the Stars.
John Tavares – Toronto Maple Leafs
Rumor has it that Tavares left money on the table in New York to sign long term with the Leafs, mainly due to the fact the Islanders have been unable — or unwilling — to surround him with top-shelf talent. Thus, one of the best overall players in the NHL will likely only get better skating with a young gun like Mitch Marner. Tavares, who overcame the crushing expectations laid on him as an elite Canadian junior and first overall pick to further excel in the NHL, silenced most skeptics by scoring 272 goals and 621 points in 669 games as an Islander. Tavares operates with tenacity, vision and unbelievable smoothness on the ice and has been a model of consistency, scoring 20 or more goals every season since 2009-10, including 28 in 48 games during the shortened 2013-14 season. Given more time to dangle in the post-season, Tavares will only build on the 11 goals and 22 points he had with the Isles in 24 post-season tilts.
Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay Lightning
Before he went on another relative tear in 2017-18, there was some adversity for elite sniper Steven Stamkos to overcome, as he missed all but 17 games in 2016-17. Stamkos, still just 28, was better than a point-per-game for the first time since 2012-13, scoring 27 of his 348 career goals and adding 59 assists in 78 games. The owner of a 51-goal and unheard of 60-goal season, hasn’t lit the lamp like he did early on, but there is still time for the Bolts to draw up plays to accent his top level shot and vision. For much of his already storied career in Tampa, Stamkos has been an old school scorer with a propensity for posting up in the slot and either blasting one himself or setting up star teammate Nikita Kucherov. Much of Stamkos elite production has come via the powerplay, where he has scored 126 goals, but let’s not forget he also led the NHL in consecutive years in even strength goals, including an eye-popping 48 in 2011-12.
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 once pointed out in his “Elite Snipers 101” series written for The Players Tribune. Lately, though, he’s been a good player on a bad team who looks like he could use a change of scenery and will likely get one when he becomes a free agent in 2019. He was one of the most prolific goal scorers in the four seasons between 2013-14 and 2016-17, firing 141 goals in 316 games. And he is the kind of player who will score tough goals, pretty goals, power play goals, even strength goals and everything in between — including game-winners, of which he has an incredible 45 (of 226 total). The guy just produces, and it’s a testament to his abilities that he has done that without the strongest of supporting casts in Montreal the last few seasons. One of the hardest working players in the league, Pacioretty will probably benefit from playing somewhere else in 2019-20.
4. Vladimir Tarasenko – St. Louis Blues
The Tarasenk-Show just keeps on rolling in St. Louis and if the Russian sniper is paired with newcomer Ryan O’Reilly this season, look out. In the last four seasons, the Yaroslavl native has buried 149 goals in 319 games and has 178 overall in 421 contests. Not yet 27, Tarasenko oozes potential as a lightning fast winger with the moves and the shot to become the next great Russian shooter a la Alex Ovechkin. Tarasenko is dangerous on the powerplay, but it is interesting to note that he has scored the majority of his goals even strength. There are few holes in his offensive game and it seems he’s figured out two-way play as well, logging a +69 overall. Playing on a fairly loaded Blues roster has helped Tarasenko develop at a rapid rate, but one need simply look up some of his goals on YouTube to see that this human highlight reel is destined to dominate the NHL for seasons to come.
Tyler Seguin – Dallas Stars
The other half of the dynamic duo with Jamie Benn who have been super-Stars in Dallas, Tyler Seguin could be said to be more of a 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. Since heading to Dallas after maturity issues dogged him in Boston, Seguin has been among the game’s best shooters, scoring 173 of his career 229 goals in five seasons (in 387 games). He has produced at nearly a point-per-game clip in his eight-season career, with 505 points in 590 games. If the Stars can find a way to get to the playoffs consistently, Seguin has, and will score at the next level, too.
Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks
A player who is as familiar with adversity as he is with success, Patty-Cakes has certainly lead a storied life for a man who isn’t 30 until later this year. A prolific on-ice player who has at times demonstrated questionable judgement off the ice, Kane’s status as one of the most talented scorers in the league has rarely been challenged. Kane, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, has channeled those troubles into an insanely effective NHL career, and his bonkers ability to score at will demonstrated over and over and over again. A jitterbug type of winger with smooth moves, killer speed and a deceptive shot, Kane has scored an astounding 828 points in 822 games, including 312 goals. In 11 seasons, he has never failed to score more than 20 goals, which is an amazing feat. He has also parlayed all that talent into scoring 50 goals and 123 points in just 127 playoff games.
Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals
Newly crowned champion Ovechkin has been doing the goal scoring thing for a while now and he’s hands-down the best there currently is at putting pucks behind goalies. He is the most productive Russian goal scorer in NHL history, with career numbers beyond ridiculous. Like we alluded to above, he is responsible for seven of the 20 total 50-goal seasons recorded since the 2004-05 lockout and he’s showing no signs of slowing down, despite his advancing age (he will be 33 before the start of the 2018-19 season). The best sniper in the game, Ovi also guaranteed himself a spot in the Hall of Fame this spring, breaking the Sidney Crosby hex by leading the Caps to their first ever Stanley Cup triumph. He scored 15 of his career 61 post-season goals (the NHL leader in 2018) and adding 12 assists during this year’s magical run. In all, Ovechkin has 668 goals in 1,124 NHL games, playoff and regular season combined.