There are several different ways to try to quantify an individual player's contributions to his respective team's overall results. From an offensive perspective, one way to do so is to look at what percentage of the goals being generated by the team are the result of the specific player's creation.
So in an attempt to sort through which players have been carrying the heaviest offensive loads this season, we'll strip second assists from the equation and adjust for strength of team. The reason for looking at primary points is because they've been shown to be more reflective of true talent, with secondary helpers being subject to more random noise and good fortune.
Let's unpack some of the notable names that appear among the league leaders (the full list is available at the end of this column). Because we've adjusted for strength of team, it's important to keep contextual considerations in mind. While a player's appearance on this list speaks highly of his own individual greatness, it can also speak volumes of the cast that has been assembled around him.
Connor McDavid's place in the pantheon
Whoever says hockey is a team game clearly hasn't seen what's going on in Edmonton, where it has been a one-man show of epic proportions for some time now. Since McDavid is running away with the title of most crucial offensive driver for the second straight season, let's instead put what he has done in that time into historical perspective.
Here's a list of the most dominant individual seasons that we've seen in the NHL since 2007 and the percentage of the team's offense for which these players were responsible:
With McDavid on the ice, the Oilers are outscoring opponents 25-16 in roughly 500 5-on-5 minutes. In the 950 or so minutes that he hasn't been out there in those situations, the Oilers are being outscored 24-36. Those numbers are staggering, but they reaffirm the sad reality that the Oilers are one of the best teams in the league with McDavid on the ice. Without him, there's a viable argument to be made that they're the worst team in the league.
As encouraging as the early returns are with Ken Hitchcock behind the bench, for the Oilers to be considered more than just an underwhelming playoff bubble team, they'll ultimately need to find some form of secondary scoring that doesn't involve McDavid solo rushes. The most logical candidate to do so would be Leon Draisaitl, but he hasn't really shown the ability to carry his own line for any sustained period of time, and the new coach seems understandably hesitant to even give it a shot at this point.
Regardless of rooting allegiances, it's disappointing to see this type of greatness continue to be squandered to this degree, because it doesn't come around very often.
Ol' reliable: Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby
It's important to appreciate the achievements of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, and to relish these moments of sustained greatness we still have with them after all of this time. It's rather remarkable to consider that they appear on both the chart of historically great individual seasons above -- for what they did a decade ago -- and among this season's league leaders.
We keep hearing all about this new wave of talent that's entering the league, and how the next generation of players are more skilled and capable with the puck than ever before. And yet here's Ovechkin, once again leading the league in goals, with 22 of them in just 29 games. With six other players already north of the 20-goal plateau, the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy should be a tremendously competitive one. But at this point, Ovechkin has proven that we'll need to see someone definitively dethrone him for the honor before we can bet against him with any modicum of confidence.
The 62-goal full-season pace he's currently on likely isn't sustainable, considering that 60 has only been reached twice this century, with Ovechkin's 65 in the 2007-08 season being the high-water mark. But if he can once again top 50 goals, that would be another feather in his cap as the best goal scorer ever. It would be the eighth time he has hit that mark, bringing him within one season of tying Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky for the most all time. One key to his success has been the volume of attempts he generates, and this season is no different. He's on pace to shatter the 300 shots-on-goal mark yet again, which would make for a record 13th time he has done so, with Bobby Hull's 12 and Ray Bourque's 10 being the only others in double digits.
Everything he's doing this season is impressive in its own right, but even more so when you account for the fact that he's coming off a Stanley Cup run in which he played 106 grueling games. We really might never see another player like Alex Ovechkin.
As for Crosby, he's likewise having a sneaky-great season himself. He's "only" 28th overall in total points, but he's actually 11th in all-situations primary points, fifth in 5-on-5 primary points, and 12th in total 5-on-5 points. It's somewhat scary to think that he's on pace for north of 100 points despite the fact that he hasn't really gotten going on the power play yet.
The Penguins, perennially a dominant group with the man advantage, have been 10th in raw conversion rate, but only the Leafs have seen fewer opportunities so far. Even if part of that is a byproduct of teams making a point to actively avoid taking penalties against them because of how potent they've been known to be on the power play over the years, that rate should come up some. When it does, and Crosby resumes gobbling up his customary special-teams production, his name could resurface in the thick of the points race.
Elias Pettersson: The alien has arrived
Pettersson's talents surely must be of the extraterrestrial sort, because he's running away with this season's Calder Trophy (as rookie of the year) seemingly without breaking a sweat. He's already so far ahead of his peers in terms of offensive production that it's almost not even fair to compare him to the other players trying to navigate their first full seasons in the league. Instead, let's compare his achievements thus far to the full pool of players.
If you only include the games in which he has played and remove the offense, limited as it might be, that the Canucks were able to muster while he was injured for two weeks in October, his offensive contribution percentage jumps all the way up to 31.3. That'd be good for sixth place, vaulting him into a cushy spot between Draisaitl and Patrick Kane.
He's 18th overall in 5-on-5 scoring, tied with Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. That feat is even more impressive when you consider that 19 of those 20 points he has generated have been primary, bumping him all the way up to seventh overall. And that's before you adjust for usage, which is important considering he doesn't get to play nearly as much as most other stars do. On a per-minute basis, only Auston Matthews, Brayden Point, Max Domi and Matt Duchene have generated points more frequently than Pettersson has, and only Point churns out primary points more efficiently than him. That's only at 5-on-5, but he's top-10 in both metrics in all situations too.
There's undoubtedly a bit of shooting luck involved in Pettersson's early success. He won't continue converting more than a quarter of the shots he puts onto net into goals, and once that rate steadies, his production figures to dip some. He also won't be compiling ridiculous five-point performances, as he has already managed to do on two occasions.
That said, he has afforded himself plenty of wiggle room to regress and still wind up reaching ridiculous heights in his first season in the league. More importantly, he has provided some tangible hope to a Canucks franchise that was desperately grasping at straws before he touched down on North American soil.
Show me the money: Pending free agents
We're entering a potentially fascinating time for player emboldenment following the fallout of the William Nylander contract holdout. It remains to be seen if (and how) his decision to skip the first two months of the regular season before ultimately cashing in anyway will affect future cases, but what we do know for certain is that there's a number of current restricted free agents having absolutely monstrous seasons at just the right time.
On the list of the top-20 offensive catalysts this season, four of them will be looking for new contracts this summer, and that doesn't even include the likes of Matthews, Patrik Laine, Timo Meier, Matthew Tkachuk, Brock Boeser and others.
Among the four, the numbers being put up early on are staggering. Mikko Rantanen has proven that he's holding up his end of the bargain as a vital part of the league's most dominant offensive trio, stunningly continuing to lead the league with a 130-plus-points pace. With Matthews on the shelf and Nylander sitting out, Mitch Marner carried a substantial portion of the Leafs' scoring burden alongside John Tavares, leading the league in primary assists at 5-on-5 (18, ahead of Artemi Panarin's 14) and all situations (27, ahead of Blake Wheeler's 23). Sebastian Aho has miraculously managed to hover around a point-per-game pace despite his team being mired in a historically poor shooting-percentage season.
For a variety of reasons, the most fascinating of the group might be Point. After bursting onto the scene as a dominant 5-on-5 player who many thought deserved love in the Selke Trophy discussion for his defensive exploits, he has taken his game to an entirely different stratosphere this season. Having forced his way onto the top power-play unit and an even-strength gig centering Nikita Kucherov, the sky is the limit for him offensively. He now leads the league in primary points at both 5-on-5 and all situations and is behind only Ovechkin for most goals scored. If you go back to last season, the only players to have created more 5-on-5 goals than Point have been McDavid, MacKinnon and Kucherov.
If the way the league operates has taught us anything over the years, it's that we shouldn't hold our breath waiting for a team to make waves by trying to poach one of these names with an offer sheet. That said, it'll be rather curious to see how these players and their teams choose to approach the looming financial tugs of war. There could be cap casualties and many openings for creative teams to pounce.