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Now and Later Rankings: Best player, team today -- and for the future

From ESPN - October 19, 2017

Who is the best team in the NHL now? Who will it be four years from now? Is Sidney Crosby still the face of the league, or has 20-year-old wunderkind Connor McDavid already dethroned the Pittsburgh Penguins captain?

Speaking of the twice-defending Stanley Cup champions, are they still the team to beat? And how open will the field be four seasons from now?

ESPN.com spoke to more than 50 players, scouts, front-office executives and coaches before the season to take the pulse of how those in the league view both the current landscape -- and what it will look like in the not-so-distant horizon.

So do not worry, Winnipeg Jets fans. You might not be Stanley Cup favorites now, but at least one evaluator likes your odds in 2022! Without further ado, our inaugural Now and Later Rankings:

Best player now: Sidney Crosby

Who is the best player in the league now? Of the 53 folks who responded to the question, 33 said Crosby. McDavid earned 18 votes, while Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson earned two nods. (It should be noted that one of those votes came from a fellow blueliner.)

"I'd say Sid, just because he won the last two Conn Smythes," one veteran player said. "It's so close, though. I think this year will really tell who is the best."

"Connor is not far behind, with the way he played last year," another veteran player said. "But if you are ultimately standing on top at the end [of the season], you have done something right."

"Sidney," one coach responded. "Plain and simple, he makes everyone around him better. He's the guy hoisting the Cup at the end of the season."

A player dissected the dilemma of Crosby vs. McDavid: "You would have to go with Sidney based off the last two years; he won two Cups. He's almost like a skilled grinder, the way he plays. He works so hard. Connor is Connor. His speed is incredible. But those two right now are ahead of the game."

One Eastern Conference front-office executive opted for McDavid: "The kid is unbelievable, has an affect on the game every time he steps on the ice."

Best player in four years: Connor McDavid

You might not be surprised to hear McDavid dominated the "best player in the league four years from now" category. Forty-one of the 53 respondents picked McDavid. Crosby -- who will be 34 years old when the 2021-22 season kicks off -- picked up eight votes, while last year's Calder Trophy winner, Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, tallied four votes.

Said one scout who picked Matthews over McDavid: "It's going to be fascinating to watch these guys go head to head over the next few years. We all know what McDavid is, but I think the ceiling for Matthews is unrealized."

One veteran player who picked Crosby said of the three-time Cup winner: "His work ethic is so incredible. As long as he's healthy, he's going to be on top of this game for a very long time."

As for McDavid, well, we heard a whole bunch of gushing. Here's one coach: "He's a generational talent. He's this good now, and he's only going to get better."

Best team now: Penguins

ESPN gathered 39 responses on this topic, and the Penguins dominated, with 31 votes. "They have won the last two years," one NHL coach said simply. "So that makes them the team to beat."

"Yes, [Pittsburgh has] undergone changes," a veteran player said. "But when you have Sid, the same core, and the goaltending is strong, not much changes in my opinion."

The Chicago Blackhawks picked up three votes.

Best team in four years: Maple Leafs

Team most likely to surprise: Jets

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