In hockey, the ability to score goals is integral to a team’s ability to win. The ability to stop goals from being scored — by the defensemen and the goaltender — is equally important. But one underappreciated skill that teams also need? Passing.
An enhanced ability to pass the puck helps a team move from one end of the ice to the other, navigating through enemy territory and setting up shots on goal. It’s a crucial skill that some of the NHL’s best players have mastered.
Recently, the Canadian website Sportsnet analyzed the most accurate passers among the NHL’s elite skill players. Sidney Crosby makes the list, but you might be surprised to see who else joins him. Let’s take a look at Crosby and four of the most accurate passers in the NHL. (All stats are valid as of all NHL games played through October 6, 2019.)
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
It should come as no surprise that one of the league’s best players is also one of its best passers, but Sidney Crosby definitely makes the list. He has 773 career assists, leading the league once in 2013-2014 with 68. Here’s how those break down:
- 460 even strength
- 306 power play
- Seven short-handed
In 2017, Penguins’ great Mario Lemieux said of Crosby: “His passing ability is the best in the league.”
Per the Sportsnet piece referenced above, only three players in the NHL complete more than 14 passes for every 20 minutes of ice time. That list includes Joe Thornton, Nikita Kucherov, and, of course, Crosby.
Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers
Former Blue Jacket and current New York Ranger Artemi Panarin has an offensive zone pass success rate of 5%. The breakdown of his 90 career assists is below:
- 66 even strength
- 24 power play
At one point early in the 2017 season, Panarin had more assists than any of his teammates had goals. One Blue Jackets fan site lauded him for his “exceptional passing ability.”
David Krejci, Boston Bruins
David Krejci completes nearly 12% of his offensive zone passes in five-on-five situations. Krejci has 449 assists over his 14-year career, including:
- 146 even-handed
- 44 power play
- Four short-handed
Bruins teammate David Pastrnak has called Krejci a “great playmaker.” When asked if Krejci is a “pass-first” player, Pastrnak said, “[Krejci] is a pass-first player, pass-second player, [pass] third, and then he shoots type of player.” His creativity combined with his unselfishness make him one of the most effective passers in the game.
Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals
Like Krejci, Nicklas Backstrom is one of the most accurate passers in the NHL in offensive zone five-on-five situations. Of Backstrom’s 643 career assists, here’s where they came from:
- 358 even-handed
- 285 power play
Last season, Backstrom became the first Washington Capital to tally 600 assists in his career with the team.
Alexander Wennberg, Columbus Blue Jackets
Sidney Crosby can do it all, but Alexander Wennberg is better at distributing the puck. With an offensive zone pass success rate almost 8% better than his peers, Alexander Wennberg is another one of the NHL’s most accurate passers. Over his career, the 25-year-old Swede has amassed 144 assists in only six seasons, including:
- 99 even strength
- 42 power play
- Three short-handed
Despite his capability as a passer, the knock on Wennberg may be that he passes too much. Here’s what Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen had to say to ESPN about Wennberg’s game:
“He needs to change the way he plays a little. He’s a pass-first guy. If you want to score in the NHL, you need to have a more direct line to the net to create more offense…It can’t always be a dish off. He needs to shoot the puck more. Go to the net more.”
It may sound counterintuitive, but Wennberg may improve by passing less.