Player Power Rankings, Week 20: Oh Joe, it’s magic!

Karlsson is back! No, the other one.

Welcome to Fear the Fin’s weekly(ish) player power rankings. Who had the biggest impact, the best goals or the prettiest smile in the week that was and who you should totally grab off of waivers in your fantasy league to stick it to Derek in accounts receivable. All rankings subject to the whims of fate and whatever we’re feeling in the moment.

While the Sharks’ 2-1-0 week means they’ve won seven of their last eight games, and sees them tied with the Calgary Flames atop the Pacific Division and one point ahead of the Winnipeg Jets atop the Western Conference, Joe Thornton continues to quietly cement his status among the league’s best ever.

With an assist on Kevin Labanc’s goal in the shoot out in Vancouver on Tuesday, Thornton hit 1050, passing Gordie Howe for ninth place all time during his 1541st regular season game, the latter passing Shane Doan and Johnny Bucyk for 15th in total games played. When asked about passing Mr. Hockey himself, Thornton said it was “very humbling, I really don’t deserve to be in the same breath as him.” Not so fast there, Joe.

Since Thornton was drafted first overall by the Boston Bruins in 1997, his 1458 points leads the league, clearing Jaromir Jagr’s second place total by a clean 180 and counting. Thornton’s 1051 assists lead second place Henrik Sedin by over 280, and the only player to have played more games in that span is fellow ‘97 top pick Patrick Marleau. There is a very good argument to be made that Joe Thornton is one of the best hockey players of the past 20 years (to my mind, only Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin compare, but I perhaps overvalue longevity), and when looking at the top ten highest point totals in a single season in that time period, Thornton is the only player other than Jagr to appear more than once.

Thornton’s absence from the NHL’s top 100 players of all time list a few years ago still seems jarring, but that list was a marketing gimmick by the league, and was transparently designed to curry favor with large market, “original” six franchises, hence the inclusion of three current Chicago Blackhawks. There is no reasonable argument to be made that Thornton does not belong on that list and, as his milestones and accolades pile up, seemingly every few games, his legend only grows.

Another assist on a Labanc goal against the Washington Capitals gave Thornton his 1458th point, passing Teemu Selanne for 15th all time. While leaders in points and goals will come and go from season to season, and letters will move from sweater to sweater, Thornton’s personality and poise define this team. Eventually, Thornton will retire, and his 19 will hang above the ice instead of skating around on its surface, but for now, retrospectives will have to wait.

Jumbo’s not done yet.

1. Joe Pavelski

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week322432952.66

Speaking of Captains Joe, the younger dominates our rankings this week, as Captain America himself led the squad in goals and in points. Joe Pavelski leads the team in the room, and on the score sheet, pacing the squad in goals and in primary points this season. The captain’s assist on Timo Meier’s goal in Vancouver on Tuesday marked the 400th apple of his career. Pavelski is bouncing back in a big way in his contract year and is doing his best to make general manager Doug Wilson’s year end decisions as difficult as possible.

What could have been a regular dump in for a line change became a flurry of scoring chances here thanks to Pavelski’s dogged forecheck. A lackadaisical John Carlson retrieving what he thought was a harmless dump in became a dangerous turnover after Pavelski pressured his fellow American behind the Caps’ net. What’s more, Carlson seemed not to notice the puck was missing, leaving Pavelski alone to take the biscuit to the basket, and only a series of strong stops by Braden Holtby on attempts by Pavelski, Meier and a charging Logan Couture kept the Sharks from knotting it up.

2. Logan Couture

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week313430556.45

If anyone on the Sharks was glad to face the Canucks twice in one week, it was Couture. With two assists in Vancouver on Tuesday and a goal and an assist against the same crew at home on Saturday, Logan made his presence known. Couture’s 53 points tie him for second on the team with Tomas Hertl and his penchant for drawing defensive responsibilities from the Sharks’ coaching staff make him all the more important. Playoff rounds are won with defense and with depth at center, Logan providing both of those things will pay off in spades this post-season — and it’s started already.

This may be my favorite goal so far this year. Not only does Couture have the inhuman patience to out wait goaltender Jacob Markstrom, but his little toe drag right above the hash marks on his way in juked the poor Swede right out of his pads. After that, Logan knew that Markstrom would have trouble keeping up his lateral movement in the butterfly position. Couture waited out the movement and put the puck upstairs. What a talent. What a goal.

3. Timo Meier

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week3213341356.3

It’s finally starting to break right for Timo Meier. Despite spending the majority of the season dominating most advanced metrics, Meier has struggled to put up a consistent stream of points, streaking hot for a few weeks and cooling off. Still, the Sharks’ coaching staff has stressed that Meier is doing all the right things and this week things are finally starting to bounce the right way for the young Swiss. With 13 shots on goal in three games this week, Meier tied Brent Burns for the team lead, while firing 16 fewer shot attempts than the defenseman. Meier’s aggression is no streak, though, as he sits third on the team in shots for the season, despite missing three games. San Jose’s coaching staff are no dummies, and as long as Meier keeps firing, he’ll keep scoring.

One way to turn shots into goals is to shoot from high percentage areas. Well, there aren’t any higher percentage areas than right in front of the net, and that’s where Meier was standing as he scored both of his goals this week. Capitalizing on a strong cycle game and a great pass from the returning Erik Karlsson, Meier had hustled back to the net after supporting Thornton on the half wall, knowing some of that sweet Swedish sauce was on offer. The hulking Erik Gudbranson made a very effective screen on Markstrom and Meier opened the scoring early against the Canucks. Again.

4. Evander Kane

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week321324960.98

Last week: 4

The Evander Kane show continues. As we talked about last week, Kane’s 26 goals are on pace for a career high for him and good enough to tie for second on the team with Hertl. Kane’s goal scoring doesn’t come from careful cherry picking, however. Kane will shoot often and from everywhere and his 223 shots are second only to Burns’ 224 on the Sharks. The aggression pays big dividends for the former Thrasher and Kane’s defensive game has improved in San Jose as well: he ranked fourth in shot attempt share for the week.

Here’s a strong example of Kane’s shot happy nature. In Tuesday’s shellacking of the Canucks in Vancouver, Kane tallied two goals on teenage goaltender Mikey DiPietro. The comedy of errors that led to DiPietro christening his NHL career against the prolific offense of the San Jose Sharks is a tale for another day, but the unfortunate series of bounces that led to this goal did not help matters. Kane dropped back to the point to cover for any Vancouver break outs and chipped the puck toward the net to get a change. The puck fortuitously bounced off of Ben Hutton and over DiPietro’s head into the net, much to the gathered fandom’s chagrin. Michael Scott famously said “Wayne Gretzky famously said ‘you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,’” and Kane seems to have taken that to heart at a young age.

5. Melker Karlsson

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week311220164.82

We don’t get a lot of opportunities to appreciate a workhorse like Melker Karlsson, but he gave us one this week. Karlsson led the sharks in on-ice shot attempt share among players who played all three games, and he did it with one of the Sharks’ lower offensive zone shares. Karlsson’s 50 percent offensive zone start rate is in the bottom five of Sharks skaters, and he and his line did an excellent job of maintaining offensive pressure and keeping the puck on the right side of the ice. While Karlsson doesn’t show up often on the box score, he brings an element of responsibility and, dare I say, grit? (ducks head under desk) to the bottom six of the Sharks’ forward corps.

This is what we’re talking about. Karlsson out-worked Bo Horvat in front of the Canucks’ net and got a Pavelski-esque tip on a Burns point shot for what would eventually hold up as the game winner in Vancouver. Combined with the screen of the two net-front players, Karlsson’s tip sends the puck past DiPietro for the third Sharks’ goal on five shots. While scoring goals isn’t exactly what Karlsson is known for, this one is pretty slick.

Hono(u)rable Mentions

Brent Burns: Burns led the week in shots and shot attempts this week (shocking), and did a lot to hold down the Sharks’ back end throughout Erik Karlsson’s absence.

Kevin Labanc: The kid stayed hot this week with two more goals to bring his total for the season up to 11. On Feb. 1, he had five.

Mikey DiPietro: Okay, the kid didn’t have a great night, and he’ll always remember his first NHL game as a pretty universally unpleasant experience, but he said all the right things in his post-game presser. Additionally, it’s not as if the Canucks exactly rallied to bail out their 19-year-old goalie. DiPietro faced countless dangerous chances, odd-man rushes and screened tips in his crease and made more than a few excellent saves. He’ll head back to junior and get a ration of good-natured flack from his teammates and be back in the NHL in a few years as a seasoned pro, able to laugh off his unfortunate debut.

Go get ‘em, kid.