Sunday Speculation: Who is the 2nd Best Player in the Southeast Division?

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 03: Steven Stamkos #91 celebrates with teammate Teddy Purcell #16 of the Tampa Bay Lightning after scoring the game-winning goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during overtime at the RBC Center on March 3, 2012 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Lightning won 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

I think most people in the hockey world would say that Steven Stamkos is one of the top 5 players in the NHL and would also say with confidence that he is the top player in the Southeast Division. But after him, who is the 2nd best player in the Southeast Division? While each of us judges who is the "better" player differently, I believe that we all can take the information we see and come up with some reasonable answers. I have come up with 6 players that I believe could make a case for being the 2nd best player in the Southeast Division. This doesn't mean there aren't other very good players, but at this time I would say these 7 (including Stamkos) are the "cream of the crop". Maybe I am a little biased, putting 3 Hurricanes in the top 7, but I truly believe these are best players this division has to offer. I ask you to determine which one has the best argument for #2. After the jump I will give a little blurb on each player, including some of last season's stats, their pros, and their cons. I hope you enjoy.

Nicklas Backstrom - Washington Capitals - C


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2011 - Nicklas Backstrom 42 14 30 44 -4 24 3 0 4 95

There is no denying Backstrom's abilities. He is one of the better puck distributors in the game and is a good all-around player. While his point production has dropped since a 101 point season in 09/10, he is still better than a PPG over his NHL career. He's pretty good in the faceoff circle and has the ability to be a 30 goal guy, but he not very physical and definitely focuses more on passing than scoring. He can play in all situations, contributing about a minute per game to the PK, but his primary focus is offense. He is a great center to have if you have a big-time scorer on his wing.

Alex Ovechkin - Washington Capitals - LW


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2011 - Alex Ovechkin 78 38 27 65 -8 26 13 0 3 303

If this question was raised 2 seasons ago, Ovechkin would probably have been #1 hands down, but his "stock" has dropped over the past couple of years. While he is still a great player, his goal & point production has dropped significantly over the past 2 seasons. While 38 goals is a career season for most players, it raises questions for a player of AO's goal scoring ability. He also wouldn't be considered the most complete player on this list. While he puts up points and can lay some monstrous hits, he does not focus on defense and contributes next to nothing on the PK. He is still an unbelievable player and an offensively elite winger, but do you consider him the 2nd best player in this division?

Jeff Skinner - Carolina Hurricanes - LW/C


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2011 - Jeff Skinner 64 20 24 44 -8 56 4 0 5 210

To even list Skinner with this group is an accomplishment in itself, being that he just completed his 2nd pro season. But Skinner has all the makings of being a once-in-a-lifetime player, but will he live up to his potential? Skinner is a terrific offensive player and uses an unorthodox style of skating to get himself in the best position to score. He's not a great distributor, but he possesses the skills to be. He also isn't a very good defender at this time, but he still can learn. Skinner is absolutely exciting to watch and we all know that he can be a difference-maker every time he touches the puck.

Martin St. Louis - Tampa Bay Lightning - RW


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2011 - Martin St. Louis 77 25 49 74 -3 16 4 0 3 185

The old man of the group still appears to have plenty of gas in the tank. He has put up 173 points over the past 2 seasons and doesn't seem to be slowing down. He has great speed and vision, but he can also put the puck in the net. His biggest weakness is his size. He is tiny and that results in him being almost unable to play a physical game. And while he plays over 22 minutes a game, he really plays very little on the PK. Not trying to take anything away from him, he seems to have benefitted even more by playing with a sniper like Stamkos. If you go by sheer numbers alone, St. Louis would make an extremely strong case for being the 2nd best player.

Eric Staal - Carolina Hurricanes - C


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2011 - Eric Staal 82 24 46 70 -20 48 7 3 3 262

Please excuse my obvious bias here, I will try to be fair. While Staal continues to have problems getting his season started, he has shown a good consistency from year to year. He is one of only 7 players in the league that has scored at least 70 points in each of the past 3 seasons and actually has 7 straight seasons of at least 70 points. He had some troubles putting the puck in the net this season, but he usually does score around 30 goals a year. The worst thing for Staal last season was his +/-; a -20 is absolutely horrible. However he is probably the best two-way player of this group and plays the most in all situations. He improved his faceoff percentage a lot this past year and he also showed some very good playmaking abilities. He can completely take over a game and carry the Canes on his back, but we don't consistently see that from him.

Cam Ward - Carolina Hurricanes - G


GP MIN W L EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2011 - Cam Ward 68 3988 30 23 182 2.74 2143 1961 .915 5

The only goalie of the group and for good reason. I think it could be easily said that Cam is the best goaltender in the Southeast Division. He generally plays in a large number of games and with the Canes defense, he has been seeing a ton of shots. Cam has his weaknesses (glove-side high) and does have his occasional bad games. His stats don't look great compared to some other goalies in the league. But often times, Cam is Carolina's defense and will win games we have shouldn't even be in. He is our workhorse, but is he even the best player on our team? Is being the best goalie in the division enough to consider him the 2nd best player?

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