It's alive! Our ultimate NHL player
There's one teeny-tiny problem in trying to select the best player among the current NHL elite. You're absolutely spoiled for choice.
You could opt, say, for Alexander Ovechkin's infectious, exuberant brilliance. Or Sidney Crosby's sublime mix of tender and tough. Vincent Lecavalier's dash. Jarome Iginla's crash. Or Evgeni Malkin's flash.
Building The Ultimate Player
Want to see all of these players in action? With some help from George Johnson, we show you how the ultimate NHL player is built ... in pictures.
But the perfect NHLer?
Create your own, definitive of the era. A mix-and-match superstar. A potent cocktail of unbeatable characteristics.
The idea is to play Mary (no relation to Jody) Shelley and stitch together your very own frozen-water Frankenstein, compiling the best bits from the most compelling players in the game today.
Hey, if sticks can be composites, why can't players? And if such a creation were possible, the assembled product could do worse than look like this:
All-around skill set
• Alexander Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals
Tough call, but Alex the Great gets the nod. Sidney Crosby competes way beyond his size, but Ovechkin is a load at 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, relishes the physical confrontations and can play the finesse or speed games, and his unbridled, unmatched enthusiasm on the job is contagious. The guy celebrates every goal the Caps score as if it were the only one he had ever seen, and not just his.
• Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins
Imagine trying to deal with the off-ice distractions Sid does at each and every whistle down the line. In Canada, he's got rock-star appeal. At only 20, he has managed the Gretzky-an feat of being the face of the league, an ambassador off the ice and an MVP on it. In a Kobe-Barry-Terrell-Roger kind of sports world, the NHL is fortunate to have its legacy in the hands of this kid for the next decade and a half.
• Zdeno Chara, D, Boston Bruins
The son of an Olympic wrestler, the 6-foot-9, 255-pound Chara can pick invading forwards up and throw them into the boards, or the eighth row of seats if he had the mind to. Chara's so strong, he could bench press linesman Mike Cvik. This is one player you do not want to get angry.
• Scott Niedermayer, D, Anaheim Ducks
Oh, there are a slew of speedsters darting around the league these days; Pavel Datsyuk, Malkin and Marian Gaborik immediately pop to mind. But we'll stick with the smoothest, most elegant player to lace a pair of skates since Paul Coffey in his heyday. Even at 34, even after missing more than half a season, his playoff beard now peppered with grey, Niedermayer carrying the puck up ice remains one of the purest joys of the game.
• Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Atlanta Thrashers
Ovechkin takes more shots than anyone. Chara wins the hardest-shot competition at the All-Star extravaganza. But we'll opt for Kovalchuk, an electrifying offensive player on all fronts. But ask those around the team and it's his shot -- sneaky-fast, released like lightning -- that continually ranks him among the top goal-poachers in the league.
• Sean Avery, LW, New York Rangers
Avery has stiff competition in this category in aging Toronto forward Darcy Tucker and up-and-coming Vancouver yap-master Alex Burrows. But the sight of Avery beaking off at anybody within earshot through his black mouth guard instantly stirs the bile in anyone's belly. Any player that can milk so much out of so little, with such self-satisfaction, and somehow wind up in the pages of Vanity Fair, deserves our scorn.
• Steve Ott, C, Dallas Stars
As warm and fuzzy as a blanket fashioned out of pink asbestos fiberglass, Ott is able to drive even the most placid of stars into a foam-at-the-mouth lather. Avery is a Gotham glamour kind of bad boy. Ott's the real deal.
• Dion Phaneuf, D, Calgary Flames
The placid assassin. Hockey's most ferocious open-ice hitter. The heir apparent to Scott Stevens. In only his third NHL season, Phaneuf doesn't pick his spots. He's an equal-opportunity hit man.
• Nicklas Lidstrom, D, Detroit Red Wings
No other player today thinks the game better than the five-time Norris Trophy recipient. Maybe no one at the position ever has. He's as close to that mythical beast, the mistake-free article, as can be found anywhere, and has no peer at reading the game, sensing danger and conserving energy. If teammate Chris Chelios can play to 46, Lidstrom could make it to the half-century mark if he wanted to.
• Mats Sundin, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
The symbol of the game's most frustrated, self-defeating franchise, Sundin cares, deeply, about the Toronto Maple Leafs (no easy thing, considering their perennial state of hysteric awfulness). He showed his unflinching loyalty to the colors by refusing to waive his no-trade clause when he could have been dealt to an actual, honest-to-goodness Stanley Cup contender (sorry, the argument that his stance was selfish doesn't wash here). Anyone who has suffered this long and given this much obviously has a pump in his chest the size of Ontario.
• Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks
Jumbo Joe has set up 514 goals in his 742 career regular-season games -- an unrivaled passer with the innate ability to find open teammates in soft spots in coverage. His 747 wingspan doesn't hurt, either. It's a pity Lecavalier, another big man with a Downy-soft touch, and Ottawa's Jason Spezza can't be included, too.
• Joe Sakic, C, Colorado Avalanche
Who says it's No Country for Old Men? Quoteless Joe just keeps Father Time at bay and his trademark wrist shot still snaps like a wet towel being whipped in a stiff wind. Don't believe it? Give him a second or two in the high slot and find out the hard way. It's all in the wrists, kids.
• Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins
Unparalleled vision on the ice, Crosby could pick out a fleck of dandruff in a snowstorm.
• Chris Pronger, D, Anaheim Ducks
The king of the treacherous two-step (is there a "Dancing on the Stars" cameo in his future? Inquiring minds want to know!) can also land a debilitating elbow when in the mood. And in hockey, that's not a bad thing at all. Just consult a certain old fella from Floral, Saskatchewan (Gordie Howe), who enjoyed a fairly long, productive career (1,850 points, 1,685 penalty minutes) for verification.
• Ryan Smyth, LW, Colorado and Tomas Holmstrom, LW, Detroit (tie)
As with any goaltender, when either of these two get set up in front, it's like the Groucho Marx line to Margaret Dumont in "Duck Soup": "I can just see you standing over a hot stove. Funny, I can't see the stove." Goalies can't see anything.
So, there it is -- the amalgamation of parts to create the Frankenstein of all hockey players.
A scary-talented item.
George Johnson, a columnist for the Calgary Herald, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
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