Toronto Maple Leafs v New York Rangers

Certain players in the NHL have specialized abilities that you periodically see and go “oh wow, he does that at a level better than everyone else.” It could be post-to-post speed by a goalie, it could be a heavy shot, it could be shot-blocking, whatever. Maybe it’s face-mashing, ala John Scott.

Those skills are easily identifiable though, and don’t go without praise from the general public.

One thing I don’t think you get as much of a sense for on TV is the guys who make the fans get out of their seats the second they get the puck and start cruising through the neutral zone. There’s a jump to their step and an air of danger, like the fact that it’s a one-on-two is irrelevant because somebody is going to have to stop this uber-talented human going mach five through the neutral zone at some point.

I thought it was time to pay homage to those most-electric players in the league, so today we’re looking at the 10 NHL most dangerous men through the neutral zone. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments, of course.

In no particular order:

Matt Duchene

He seems like a headache because if he gets so much as a half-step on you you’re starting to lose ground. He defines the difference between quickness and raw speed (though he has the latter too) with his first couple strides. I imagine defending him is a lot like dropping a glass of red wine on a white carpet. What’s it starts to get away from you, you can feel the nightmare unfolding in slow motion.

Phil Kessel

In person, Phil Kessel’s most obvious skill is his ability to make the entire crowd go ooooOOOOAAAAHAHHHHHH the second he flips the switch. Combine that with his ability to dent the post from anywhere inside the blueline with his snapshot, and defenders need to be reeeeally certain that they maintain good gap control.

Jaromir Jagr

He may not be in his prime anymore (he isn’t), and he may not do it with speed (he doesn’t), but you do get the impression that when Jagr is the puck carrier on a rush through the neutral zone just about anything could happen…save for a dump-in.

Sidney Crosby

He’s just such a good judge of weakness you have to be perfect when he’s moving in. He’ll use space if given a gap, push d-men wide if they’re too tight, and anticipates so well (to go along with his ability to do things like pick up bad passes with his skates) that there’s no right way to play him. Just you know…don’t mess up or you’ll get burned. Good luck with that.

Ilya Kovalchuk

Kovalchuk’s shot is so heavy that the first thing on your checklist is “don’t let him shoot,” so you have to play him tight, which means you’re more susceptible to getting your doors blown off. He’s leading the NHL in short-handed goals (four), so you can also be sure he’s more than decent in transition.

Taylor Hall

People have called Taylor Hall’s style of play “reckless” (that includes me), which I don’t necessarily think is a negative. The point is, he’s pedal to the metal at all times, pushing, churning, working, and making you match his effort-level, which isn’t easy to do. Also, he’s sort of skilled, which is another issue.

Patrick Kane

Kane: not an easy dude to deal with. Nasty stick skill, tons of creativity, good wheels…he’s a handful in every aspect offensively. Also, if you give him too much room, he’s not afraid to curl and delay, meaning that second wave of players might be coming in on the attack after defenders have backed in too deep, stopped, and find themselves flat-footed.

John Tavares

One of Tavares’ strengths is just pure decision-making ability and personal drive. I know the latter doesn’t sound like much (everyone wants to score!), but with Tavares, dude is like the Energizer bunny. He just keeps going, and going, and going…he wears guys down, and always knows when to dish, when to accelerate…he’s just flat-out smart.

Jonathan Toews

Smart like Tavares with a little more length, so we occasionally get to see him do things like…

And finally…

Alex Ovechkin

He may not be as much of a threat off the rush as he was in his early years, but as much as anyone in the league, he still presents two major problems for defenders: he’ll shoot it through you and score, he’ll drive wide and score. So like a few others mentioned, he still makes d-men place a premium on their gap, and will punish those who overplay him either way.

Comments (39)

  1. sweet clips, just FYI your Kane clip is of Karlsson.

    Also, how is Malkin not on this list? Should replace Jagr (if you’re talking about speed through the neutral zone, the 40-year old isn’t gonna cut it…although obviously I have nothing against Jagr’s current skill level)

  2. Great article. This type of article is exactly why I read your site.

  3. Methinks a bit of Pavel Datsyuk might belong on here as well…I mean I know he gets a lot of love in a lot of categories, but he can be pretty terrifying coming through the neutral zone 1 vs 5…it’s kind of his thing.

  4. I don’t think Tavares is known for his speed or skating. I think that should knock him off the list. Maybe Karlsson should have been on the list. A Dman would be a nice addition.

    • Actually had Karlsson on the list, last-minute audible. Though a beef with JT on there is nonsense. Statistically proven to be great with zone entries, never said his skating was why he’s a threat.

    • skip to number one for why I would put him in this list, but the whole vid is great. #10 especially.

  5. Great list! I thought one guy you left out was marian one else can burst through the neutral zone with that kind of speed

    • Also was on my initial list. Funny, the few guys I pared off getting some love in the comments.

  6. I dont know why, but i love when guys recognize they can split the D as long as they get the puck through first. That Crosby clip has him doing just that. It’s like, he realizes both can get through, just not at the same time, so he pushes the puck forward just sort of out of reach, allowing him to shrug off the poke check, and as the defenders turn in to play the puck he slides through as well.

    It just looks so smooth.

  7. Great list – I’d throw a vote in for Byfuglien too. Guy is unstoppable once he lugs the puck out of the d-zone. Great skater, tons of moves in his bag of tricks.

  8. What about Rick Nash? you guys always go on about him and his rushes on the podcast…

  9. Then there’s also David Perron. He’ll snag the puck off an opposing player and drive into their zone. The only problem is he often gets swarmed and can’t pass to an open player.

    • Actually if you ask any of the Blues coaching staff the reason they’re powerplay has gone from 1st in the league, to almost non existant is due to the fact no TJ Oshie..

      He’s the sole person in charge of accepting the puck from his own d zone through the neutral zone, and setting the play up..

      I really hate to type this, but at the beginning of the season, Pierre on National TV raved about this very topic, of why the Blues are the best PP in the league (at the time) {yuck that hurt to type}

      I know Hitchcock wasn’t happy with Perron’s (one too many moves) on entrances to the offensive zone. As Hitch believes when there are 2-3 defenders a player should try to enter with the puck, he believe a smart chip and chase would be more effective.. Perron although like many natural talents believes if they can finish that one sick toe drag, or shoulder deke, will end up with a better chance..

      I thought Stewart mentioned something to Panger about this very topic, about not holding onto the puck as much, and giving more passes to create a better opportunity for himself.. (hence he leads the team in Cookies)

  10. 8 out of 10 in the East. Watching a bit too much Toronto don’t you think?

  11. Kessels in elite company

  12. Datsyuk and Bergeron are better than a couple people on this list for sure. Jagr is probably the best active NHL neutral zone player. I love non-dump-n-chase players.

  13. Mike Green, now that he’s actually healthy again is pretty sick. There’s not much in the way of highlight videos out there, but wow.

  14. I would throw Seguin’s name in the mix. Unbelievable burst and just so much skill. Not many guys seem to have that high end talent on top of the speed.

  15. So many grammatical errors in one article.. This website is a joke.

  16. Nice work, man. A hat trick of idiocy…

    • Not nearly as impressive as your personal shut out of all form of intelligent comments to come out of your mouth.

      • Man, these threads sure seem hostile. Settle down guys

        • We’re taking care of it. It’s one dude, different names. We’re flattered he’s so interested in us, but yeah… he’s been blocked. Apologies.

          • If the amount of effort you put towards making this a friendly site for all ages is equal to the effort you put in your articles than no wonder you are having trouble getting rid of this online shit disturber. You sir, have failed in providing a safe and friendly environment for the score community. All this talk of babalus, homophobia and autistic athletes is badly influencing my son who loves reading your blogs. Just sickening!

  17. I find your lack of Pavel disturbing…

  18. Doesn’t necessarily belong on the list of ten, but deserving of a honourable mention is Ales Hemsky. Dude makes some crazy rushes and then…passes it off.

  19. I think your Duchene video doesn’t really show why he’s so dangerous in the neutral zone.

    Take a look at this one :

    That’s really splitting the D.

    This one shows his crazy speed :

    Great list. I’m pretty sure you not putting Malkin on that list is just a brain fart because he’s definately one of the top3-5 player in the Neutral zone as his highlight reels demonstrates.

  20. Great list.
    Suffering through last night’s Flyers v Habs game, Claude Giroux really impressed me with his neutral zone skill.
    Was he on your initial list?

  21. I’d throw in Giroux as well

  22. You should look at Drew Doughty’s rush through the Blackhawks on March 25. All 5 Hawks had a shot at him. Kings scored with 0:00.5 on the second period clock. Great goal.

  23. You should look at Drew Doughty’s rush from March 25. All 5 Blackhawks had a shot at him. He eluded all of them, got a shot, and King scored the rebound. Great goal.

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