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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

NIELSON RANKINGS: Battle of Alberta

The Battle of Alberta always matters but right now it REALLY MATTERS. We’ve got the Flames fighting for top spot in the division while the Oilers are engaged in a heated battle for a playoff birth.

This weekends Battle of Alberta will feature a lot of star power on both sides of the puck surrounded by a few players having surprisingly effective seasons. Pretty much every key player in this game has either already set a career high for points or is on pace to blow away their seasonal best.

I present to you the top ten players in Alberta so far this season.

1. Connor McDavid

McDavid has once again been brilliant for the Oilers so far this season. The Oilers captain is clipping along at 1.52 points per game while playing almost 23 minutes a night.

With 29 goals already this season, McDavid is on pace to destroy his career-best total of 41. The scary thing is I’m expecting McDavid to crank it up a little bit more in the second half of the season.

2. Johnny Gaudreau

Gaudreau is putting together a Hart Trophy worthy campaign and I’m not going to argue against his case. As of Friday afternoon, Gaudreau’s 1.48 points-per-game was just shy of McDavid’s number.

Gaudreau is on pace for 265 shots on goal this year which would crush his career best of 227 from last season. Not only is he shooting more he’s also doing it more efficiently with a career-best shooting percentage of 18.1%. Last season he shot 10.6% and he was at 9.9% in 2016-17. He’s having an incredible season and remains one of the most exciting players in the league with the puck on his stick.

3. Mark Giordano

Giordano is defying the odds this season. How many players have had the best season of their career at the age of 35?

This Norris Trophy contender is already at 48 points and will most certainly blow past his career-best total of 56 at some point in early February. Two years ago Gio finished +22, he’s already at +33 this season. It has been a remarkable campaign and because of his play, the Flames are looking like a serious contender.

4. Sean Monahan

Did anyone expect Sean Monahan to score 99 points this season? I’d still expect him to finish below that total but that’s the pace he’s been producing at so far this year.

The Flames first line center has scored at least 27 goals in each of the last four seasons; he may reach that total this year by the end of the weekend.

5. Leon Draisaitl

Draisaitl does a lot of heavy lifting for the Oilers. He’s been logging a lot of time on the penalty kill this season and of course, rides shotgun with McDavid for every single second on the power-play.

He can be an absolute game changer when he is firing on all cylinders and even though at times it looks like he’s not working hard he’s climbing towards a point total in the high nineties.

6. Matthew Tkachuk

I’m putting Tkachuk just ahead of Lindholm on this list because he’s producing at the same level but he’s not hitching a ride on the top line.

Tkachuk has 24 goals and 55 points while playing less than 18 minutes a night for the Flames. He’s also a major pain in the ass for every opponent he faces.

7. Elias Lindholm

What an off-season pick up for the Flames! Lindholm has already surpassed his career-best point total by ten points. He’s been a perfect fit on the Flames top line and is finally living up to the expectations many people had for him when he was selected by the Hurricanes 5th overall in 2013.

8. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Like everyone else on this list, the Nuge is also on pace to set a career high in points but it’s a level slightly below the rest. If he had as much time with McDavid as Draisaitl has had I’m confident to say Nugent-Hopkins would be on par with everyone else.

9. David Rittich

Big Save Dave has been everything the Flames were hoping Mike Smith would be for them this season. Rittich is 17-4-4 in 25 starts with a 2.50 GAA and .917 save percentage. He’s quietly been one of the better stories.

10. Alex Chiasson

He has just 22 points but 17 of those are goals and he plays an important role on the Oilers top power play unit that has been trending in the right direction since he joined the group. Chiasson is shooting just shy of 30% so far this season and while that number will likely continue to drop he has shown a willingness to battle around the net to finish which should keep his goal total climbing.

GO TIME!

With the amount of offensive talent on the ice Saturday night I’d be shocked if we see a repeat of the Oilers 1-0 win in December. I’m not sure a Battle of Alberta has had this much skill on the ice in the past 20 years so enjoy it!

Previously by Dustin Nielson: