New York’s Hockey Team of the Year

What does 2021’s all-New York-area team look like?

Leen Amin

Leen Amin

The New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, and New York Rangers head into 2022 in very different situations.

The Devils are the definition of a rebuilding team. They’re one of the worst in the league, but are headed in the right direction, slowly but surely.

They have a great young core including some wonderful prospects waiting in the wings and were able to acquire some real talent during the offseason.

The Islanders are the total opposite.

They aren’t in the best shape right now because of a COVID outbreak that was mishandled by the league as well as disappointing play to begin the season, but they’ve established themselves as one of the best teams in the league over the past couple of years, especially after making it to the Eastern Conference Final two years in a row.

The Rangers are at the end of a short and sweet rebuild. They’re a very young playoff team with some very elite talent that’s just a few pieces away from becoming a contender.

We’ve been blessed to watch some fantastic players on these three teams shine in the year 2021. So what does the combined team of the year for all three New York-area teams look like?

Artemiy Panarin-Mathew Barzal-Pavel Buchnevich
Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Jordan Eberle
Anthony Beauvillier-Ryan Strome-Jesper Bratt
Miles Wood-Brock Nelson-Oliver Wahlstrom

Adam Pelech-Adam Fox
Ryan Lindgren-Ryan Pulock
Ryan Graves-Damon Severson

Igor Shesterkin
Ilya Sorokin

Left Wingers:

1. Artemiy Panarin, NYR

Beginning with the left wingers, we have the most obvious player in Panarin. Panarin is currently the best LW in the world and arguably a top-five player.

Panarin’s numbers in 2021: 72 GP, 27 G, 93 PTS (2020-21: 42 GP, 17 G, 58 PTS; 2021-22: 30 GP, 10 G, 35 PTS)

As his numbers indicate, Panarin is an absolute beast and is, far and away, the best forward in the New York-area. The fact that he’s scored so beyond efficiently is even more impressive given how eventful 2021 was for him.

He missed some time due to injuries as well as sexual assault allegations dating back 10 years, the origins of which were political.

The Rangers alternate captain is the true definition of a superstar and, undoubtedly, one of the absolute best the game of hockey has to offer.

2. Chris Kreider, NYR

This team’s second-best LW is Panarin’s teammate, fellow Rangers alternate captain Kreider. Kreider had a great year in 2021: 81 GP, 39 G, 57 PTS (2020-21: 50 GP, 20 G, 30 PTS; 2021-22: 31 GP, 19 G, 27 PTS).

Kreider had a good all-around season in 2020-21, but has been even better to begin the 2021-22 season. He’s already just one goal and three points shy of tying last season’s numbers, 19 games early!

2020-21:

2021-22:

What we’re seeing from Kreider is the season that the Rangers’ fanbase has been wishing for basically since he made his debut.

Having him put up these monster numbers during those deep playoff runs in the 2010s would’ve been nice, but at least it’s happening now. This kind of play from Kreider is going to be crucial as the Rangers look to become a perennial playoff team.

3. Anthony Beauvillier, NYI

Normally we’d expect Anders Lee to be the Islanders’ top LW, but an injury that resulted in surgery and saw him miss most of the 2020-21 season allows the honors to go to the young Beauvillier.

Beauvillier’s numbers in 2021: 71 GP, 19 G, 36 PTS (2020-21: 47 GP, 15 G, 28 PTS; 2021-22: 24 GP, 4 G, 8 PTS; Playoffs: 19 GP, 5 G, 13 PTS).

Beauvillier is struggling pretty significantly this season and is currently, to make matters worse, in COVID protocol, so his presence on this list is almost entirely thanks to his performance in the 2020-21 season and subsequent playoffs.

Beauvillier established himself as one-third of the Islanders’ second-line, also known as the “Killer B’s”, and was an all-around fantastic forward.

He put up points during the most crucial moments and much of the team’s success can be attributed to him. His struggles this season aren’t too worrying because we know how great Beauvillier is capable of being.

2022 should mark the start of a new chapter for him once he’s cleared to make his return.

4. Miles Wood, NJD

The fact that Wood has yet to make his season debut but still made the list is testament to how impressive he was during the 2020-21 season. In 2021, Wood scored 17 goals and 25 points in 55 games.

This can definitely be considered Wood’s breakout season. He was all-around excellent and even came two goals short of tying his career-high in a whopping 21 fewer games.

Wood was one of the lone bright spots on a Devils team that was one of the worst in the league last season and his absence has been glaring.

Devils fans are waiting eagerly to see their blossoming LW return to the team to make his season debut and hopefully pick up right where he left off.

Honorable Mention: Andreas Johnsson, NJD

Centers:

1. Mathew Barzal, NYI

The face of the Islanders and their star player, Barzal, had another strong year in 2021: 79 GP, 23 G, 65 PTS (2020-21: 55 GP, 17 G, 45 PTS; 2021-22: 24 GP, 6 G, 20 PTS; Playoffs: 19 GP, 6 G, 14 PTS).

No skater is faster or better at entering the zone than Barzal, and he showed those aspects of his game off, along with many others like his playmaking, in 2021.

2020-21:

The Islanders aren’t nearly as dangerous of a team without Barzal. We saw that throughout most of this season. The Islanders didn’t really start winning until Barzal got going.

We see how great he is just in the way he was able to rebound after a slow start to the season. He went from really struggling to do anything in either zone to getting back to being a great two-way forward and putting up point-streaks.

Barzal is the Islanders’ best forward and few players have as wide of a skill-set as the 24-year-old.

2. Mika Zibanejad, NYR

Up next is the Rangers’ star center and alternate captain. Zibanejad had another productive year in 2021: 87 GP, 32 G, 77 PTS (2020-21: 56 GP, 24 G, 50 PTS; 31 GP, 8 G, 27 PTS).

Zibanejad did put up points and signed a huge extension to remain a Ranger, but 2021 wasn’t exactly easy for him. He didn’t get to scoring until late in the 2020-21 season after COVID hit him hard during the previous offseason.

He does have the points (mainly, the assists) this season, but he isn’t scoring goals at the rate we’re used to. Zibanejad doesn’t really look like himself, but it’s just a matter of time before he gets back to his old ways.

The fact that he’s putting up so many points and still isn’t meeting expectations is evidence of his talent.

3. Ryan Strome, NYR

Here we have another alternate captain of the Rangers. Strome wasn’t expected to pan out the way he did after being dubbed a disappointment while with the Islanders. Since joining the Rangers, the guy has become one of the team’s best and most important players.

Granted, playing alongside a top-five player in the league in Panarin helps a lot, but Strome deserves a ton of credit. Strome had a fantastic 2021: 83 GP, 20 G, 71 PTS (2020-21: 56 GP, 14 G, 49 PTS; 2021-22: 27 GP, 6 G, 22 PTS).

He’s been playing so well and just keeps getting better. The Rangers don’t have depth when it comes to the center position, so they really lucked out with Strome.

2020-21:

2021-22:

He’s a true top center, at least on this Rangers team, and must continue to play this well in all situations if the Rangers hope to win anything.

His future and a potential extension on the horizon will be intriguing to watch for.

4. Brock Nelson, NYI

Nelson was the epitome of an unsung hero for the Islanders in 2021.

“Power play Brock” was obviously excellent on the man-advantage, but was also a crucial member of that dangerous second line. He was also one of the team’s most valuable players during the playoff run.

Nelson’s 2021: 75 GP, 28 G, 46 PTS (2020-21: 56 GP, 18 G, 33 PTS; 2021-22: 19 GP, 10 G, 13 PTS).

Nelson was great in more ways than one during the 2020-21 season and has carried the team on multiple occasions during their rough start to the 2021-22 season.

For a chunk of time, especially when COVID was running rampant within the team, Nelson seemed to be the only guy who was putting up points and a long-term injury to the 30-year-old marked the beginning of an ugly stretch for the team.

We mentioned that the Islanders aren’t the same without Barzal, but the same goes for Nelson, who’s the team’s second-best center, one of their best power play players, and the number one guy on their most productive line.

Honorable Mention: Jack Hughes, NJD

Right Wingers:

1. Pavel Buchnevich, NYR

Buchnevich only played during the 2020-21 season and still was not only the Rangers’ best RW, but also the best RW in the area. Granted, none of these three teams have ideal situations in terms of the RW position, but Buchnevich still had a fantastic season.

He scored 20 goals and an impressive 48 points in 54 games for the Rangers in 2021. He was just a goal short of tying his career-high and his 28 assists were two short of tying his career-high.

He got the job done in total points, though, never having scored 48 in a season before.

Buchnevich was dealt to the St. Louis Blues this offseason and to say his absence is glaring would be the understatement of the century.

Rangers fans were devastated to see the former third-round pick depart upon finally breaking out and the team’s top line doesn’t look the same without him.

The Rangers are going to have a lot of work to do to replace Buchnevich as they hope to become a Cup contender.

2. Jordan Eberle, NYI

Here we have another player who’s no longer with his team. Like Buchnevich and the Rangers, Eberle was fantastic in all zones with the Islanders last season and the team doesn’t look the same without him.

They haven’t been able to adequately replace him and some fans are resentful towards the organization for failing to protect him during the expansion draft, allowing the newly-formed Seattle Kraken to claim him.

Eberle’s numbers in 2021: 55 GP, 16 G, 33 PTS (Playoffs: 19 GP, 4 G, 11 PTS).

Eberle was obviously phenomenal at even-strength last season and sometimes made Lee’s absence not as severe. He was instrumental during the regular season as well as the playoffs and it’s safe to say Islanders fans would do a lot to have him back.

3. Jesper Bratt, NJD

Bratt is here and he’s perfect.

After experiencing a delay to his 2020-21 season, the former sixth-round pick broke out and somehow took an even grander leap this season, so much so that he’s been the Devils’ best player since the 2021-22 season commenced.

2020-21:

Bratt in 2021: 76 GP, 16 G, 57 PTS (2020-21: 46 GP, 7 G, 30 PTS; 2021-22: 30 GP, 9 G, 27 PTS)

In 2020-21, Bratt came just five points short of tying his career-high, in 15 fewer games. Right now, he’s just eight points away from tying it in a whopping 44 (!!) fewer games.

2021-22:

No player in this lineup has experienced such a leap and few have been more fun to watch. Bratt is blossoming into a star and a top two-way forward on a young Devils team with a bright future.

4. Oliver Wahlstrom, NYI

Speaking of guys taking leap. 2021 was massive for the young Wahlstrom, who didn’t get to play his first full NHL season until this year.

It didn’t take long for the inspiring goal-scorer to get comfortable in the league and eventually become a top winger on one of the best teams in the game.

Wahlstrom wasn’t scared to score in 2021: 70 GP, 20 G, 36 PTS (2020-21: 44 GP, 12 G, 21 PTS; 2021-22: 26 GP, 8 G, 15 PTS; Playoffs: 5 GP, 1 G, 3 PTS).

2020-21:

Unfortunately, he wasn’t healthy for most of the playoffs, but did make his presence known when he was able to return to the lineup.

Wahlstrom has been especially impressive in that it didn’t take him time to become effective in both zones and on the power play, where he’s been one the team’s best during both seasons.

He’s even been a positive force this season on a struggling team, so much so that he’s become New York’s top RW. He’ll reclaim his spot on the first line when he’s cleared from COVID protocol.

Wahlstrom is the Islanders’ best youngster and one of the best in the area. The fact that he made this lineup in just his first full year in the league is testament to that.

LHD:

1. Adam Pelech, NYI

First up is one of the best defensive-defensemen and one of the most underrated blueliners in the game.

The Islanders have garnered a reputation for being a top defensive team in the league-that’s what makes them so great. Pelech is a gargantuan reason why. He won’t give you many points, but you never really need him to.

Pelech was legitimately outstanding during the 2020-21 season and then the playoffs. This season hasn’t exactly been smooth-sailing for him, but he’s still been fantastic in his own zone.

2020-21:

2021-22:

The cherry on top of Pelech’s outstanding 2021 is that he signed a bargain deal to remain on the Island, a huge benefit to a team that relies so greatly on him to lead the pack defensively.

2. Ryan Lindgren, NYR

When the Rangers acquired Lindgren from the Boston Bruins as part of the return for Rick Nash, no one expected him to become the player we’re seeing today.

Lindgren is the Rangers’ top LHD, one-half of one of the best pairs in hockey, and a top defensive-defenseman.

2020-21 was the best season of Lindgren’s short career. He was elite in his own zone, but also turned it up a notch offensively, recording career-highs in assists (15) and points (16).

Lindgren hasn’t been as great this season yet (although he he’s already set a new career-high in goals with two), but is still a formidable defensive presence.

He’s in COVID protocol and missed his first game of the season when the Rangers faced the Florida Panthers on Dec. 29th, and his absence was evident.

The outcome of the game could’ve been quite different had he played and it’s instances like that that show how vital Lindgren is to this Rangers team.

Like Pelech, Lindgren was signed to great deal during the offseason and the Rangers are lucky to have such a great player as their top LHD.

3. Ryan Graves, NJD

He hasn’t been here long at all, but Graves was one of the best LHD in the region this year. He’s the only player in this lineup to have been with his respective team just since the beginning of the 2021-22 season.

The trade that saw Graves come over from the Colorado Avalanche this offseason was great when it happened, but it’s arguably even better now.

Yes, Dougie Hamilton was New Jersey’s prized acquisition of the offseason and he’s been pretty awesome, but it’s Graves who has been the team’s best all-around defenseman this season.

Graves has been a great defenseman since joining the Avalanche, but this just might be his best overall season yet, an encouraging and exciting sign for Devils fans.

Graves’ performance over the past several seasons has Rangers fans dreaming about what could have been, especially now that he’s on a rival team, to the delight of Devils fans.

The Devils’ defense and penalty kill, which were one of the absolute worst as well as the worst in the league, respectively, last season have improved and Graves is a key guy to thank for that.

RHD:

1. Adam Fox, NYR

What is there to say about the best defenseman in the NHL? Fox was snubbed of the Calder Trophy- he wasn’t even a finalist- so he went and got himself a Norris Trophy the next season, instead.

Fox is legitimately incredible in every situation and both zones and seems to be getting better. He’s averaging a point-per-game so far in 2021-22 and really no player in the league is capable of doing what he does game in and game out.

He’ll also be sticking around for a while, to the delight of the team and the fans, while making less than $10 million a year, a bargain for the best blueliner on the planet.

2. Ryan Pulock, NYI

Pulock has earned a reputation as a fantastic defenseman, we all know that, but his 2021 was interesting.

He had an overall great 2020-21 season, but was absolutely snake-bitten, scoring just two goals in 56 games.

Pulock went on to have a solid playoff and looked great to begin the 2021-22 season, but went down with a serious injury just 12 games in.

The good news is that he’s much closer to returning to the lineup and boy do the Islanders need him. They’re still one of the best defensive teams in the league, but just aren’t the same without that lethal Pelech-Pulock top pairing.

Pulock is also celebrating a contract extension, one that’s very well-deserved.

3. Damon Severson, NJD

This might come as a surprise to several readers. Severson was much better than his numbers and possibly even the eye-test indicate, especially during the 2020-21 season.

That was, undoubtedly, the best all-around season of his career. He’s never been as offensively and defensively effective at the same time.

Severson hasn’t been as great in either zone to begin the 2021-22 season, but his play last season was enough to earn him a spot here.

It will be interesting to see if his performance in 2020-21 was a fluke or if he’s capable of getting back to that level of play.

Honorable Mentions: Scott Mayfield, NYI; Jacob Trouba, NYR

Goaltenders:

1. Igor Shesterkin, NYR

Shesterkin is the best goalie in the area and arguably the best in the world right now. He’s technically been phenomenal since making his NHL debut in 2019 and has only gotten better.

Shesterkin emerged as the true Rangers goalie of the future in 2020-21, but is now a star netminder who will at least be a Vezina Trophy finalist if he maintains this play.

2020-21:

2021-22:

Shesterkin has stolen so many wins for the Rangers this season while they were finding their footing early on and might be their most valuable player, so far.

If they make it to the playoffs, he’s the reason why. The Rangers are unbelievably lucky to have gone from the great Henrik Lundqvist to Shesterkin, who looks like a phenom already.

2. Ilya Sorokin, NYI

The Rangers-Islanders rivalry is going to be fun for the next several years if for no other reason than the goaltending. Shesterkin’s childhood friend, Sorokin, isn’t too far behind him.

Sorokin had flashes of brilliance in his rookie season, but was still in the backseat behind the veteran, Semyon Varlamov.

This season, he’s claimed the starting job for himself and won’t be looking back any time soon.

Sorokin has been one of the best goalies in the league in 2021-22 and has carried the Islanders throughout their struggles. Sorokin is definitely the Islanders’ number one goalie of the future and the team will be in great hands with him.

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