Welcome to a new feature here at ESPN: the best player in the world of the week. Each Tuesday, we’ll honor the skater or goalie from around the hockey world — every league, every level, every player — who had the best previous week, Monday through Sunday. If there’s a player you’d like to nominate, from your local team to a high school team to your beer league, email us here. And remember: Stats only tell part of the story, so tell us why he or she deserves this honor.
Best player in the world of the week (for the week ending Nov. 12)
Chris Allen (Raleigh, North Carolina)
As you know, the Best Player In The World Of The Week relies partly on reader submissions, so we that can search every nook and cranny of the hockey world. Chris Allen, an EA Sports NHL 18 player, submitted this incredible exploit:
“This weekend my wife and son were out of town, [so] a ton of Xbox was played. Posted a 12-1 record as the Hurricanes without upgrading the roster. [Jeff] Skinner, [Sebastian] Aho and [Victor] Rask all had hat tricks, while Jaccob Slavin posted two Gordie Howe hat tricks.
Clearly you know who the greatest player in the world was.”
I mean, two Gordies for Slavin. What an athlete. Chris Allen, we mean.
Nicolas Beaudin, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
The defenseman tallied six points in two games over the last week, putting him atop the scoring race among blueliners with six goals and 15 assists in 21 games. He also has a plus-17, which is second in the league. Is that sound you heard the 18-year-old from Chateauguay moving up the 2018 NHL draft board?
Hannah Brandt, U.S. Women’s National Team
After 35 tense scoreless minutes, Brandt scored twice in a 1:43 span to give Team USA a lead it would never relinquish against archrival Canada in the Four Nations Cup championship game in Tampa on Sunday. A forward, Brandt was cut from the 2014 Sochi Games team but is making her case for the 2018 Olympic squad. Oh, and the U.S. is now 3-1 in its games against Canada in this Olympic run-up. Just an FYI.
Zach Driscoll, Omaha Lancers (USHL)
The Omaha goalie was 2-0-0 last week, stopping all 29 shots he faced in the Lancers’ win over Green Bay on Friday and then coming on in relief to turn aside 15 of 16 shots against the Gamblers in Saturday for a 5-2 win. He has three shutouts among his five wins this season, the most of any USHL goalie. He also once referred to himself as “just a chubby little kid who played goalie and kept working on it,” so we are all Zach Driscoll.
Darius Kasparaitis, Lithuanian National Team
Please do not adjust your screen. You are, in fact, reading a hockey story in 2017 featuring Darius Kasparaitis.
The 45-year-old former NHL defenseman, who last played in the League in 2006-07 with the New York Rangers, suited up for the Lithuanian national team on Friday in a game against Estonia and tallied a goal and two assists. He’s fulfilling a career-long dream to represent his country in an international tournament, having played for Russia in previous international appearances. His goal is to play in the IIHF World Championship Division I-B tournament, which will be held in Kaunas, Lithuania, in April 2018.
45-year-old Darius Kasparaitis is back on the international stage! After four seasons in the Lithuanian league he for the first time played for the national team of his native country in an exhibition game against Estonia. Read more about it here: https://t.co/nvV35XzZra pic.twitter.com/zHy6WIoSJv
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) November 11, 2017
And look at him! Scoring three points in Lithuania’s 7-2 win against Estonia. Said Kaspararitis after the game: “I’m not here to score goals, I’m here to play defense … I feel great. I haven’t played for a long time. First of all, the team won. It is good for me to see where I am at and that I can still compete at this level and that if I’m at good health and have passion for the game I can still do it.”
Cole Kehler, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Kehler, 19, had another great weekend for the Winterhawks, stopping 39 of 41 shots and then 28 of 29 shots in winning back-to-back games.
But we wanted to give him a nod for the totality of his accomplishments so far as well: He leads the Western Hockey League in both goals-against average (2.00) and save percentage (.938) and is tied for the lead in victories (12). He’s on track to shatter some franchise single-season records for a goaltender.
The remarkable thing is that Kehler looked like he might be at his career’s end in 2015, when he was demoted from Kamloops to the Merritt Centennials of the BCHL and was mediocre (.898 save percentage). Portland sent a seventh-round pick to pluck him off the scrap heap, believing it saw something in him. That confidence has been rewarded with the best performance by a goalie so far in the WHL this season.
Spencer Martin, San Antonio Rampage (AHL)
Martin stopped 73 of 74 shots he faced in going 2-0-0 for the Rampage, and continued a stellar season for the AHL team. He has a 6-1-1 record and is fourth in the league in goals-against average (1.93) and save percentage (.934). He’s a 2013 third-round pick for the Colorado Avalanche. With Jonathan Bernier in his walk year, and Martin in his RFA year, this requires some watching.
Ryan Merkley, Guelph Storm (OHL)
Merkley, a defenseman, had six points in two games for his squad, becoming the first blueliner to win player of the week honors in the OHL this season. Merkley, 17, was the OHL rookie of the year last season and is currently second among OHL defensemen with 24 points in 19 games, including six goals and 18 assists.
He also seems to have a handle on this whole “playing defense” thing, as he told Guelph Today: “It goes hand-in-hand right? Better defense means less time in your zone and more on offense. Nobody likes to get scored on, and I was a minus-41 last year. I don’t want to be looking at that again.”
Peter Thome, University of North Dakota (NCAA)
A freshman goalie, Thome backstopped UND to lead his team to two victories over the weekend against Miami (OH). He stopped 28 shots for a 4-1 win, and then was a perfect 4-for-4 in the shootout the next day for a 4-3 comeback win. He’s 2-0-2 on the season with a 1.92 GAA and a .929 save percentage.
Oh, did we mention that he was thrust into the starting role after senior Cam Johnson, UND’s No. 1 goalie, was injured in warmups on Nov. 3? Not bad for a frosh who was shoved into the spotlight early.
The left wing had seven points, including six goals, in a four-game span. That included his first career hat trick, which provided all the offense for the Wild in a 3-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens. In fact, Zucker became the first player since Glen Murray of the Boston Bruins in 2003-04 to score six consecutive team goals, which probably speaks more to the middling offense of the Wild than his own prowess, but we digress.
It’s been a fantastic week for the 25-year-old Las Vegas native, who somehow didn’t end up with the Vegas Golden Knights this offseason.
And the best player in the world of the week is …
Darius Kasparaitis, Lithuanian National Team. C’mon, the guy is 45 years old and still living the dream with his national team … even if he’s still 243 days younger than Jaromir Jagr But give credit where it’s due: It does appear that he got through an entire international friendly without concussing anyone. So if he can change, we can all change.
Congratulations, Darius Kasparaitis: You are the best hockey player in the world, at least for this week.