Poulin versus Daoust.

Decker versus Knight.

Hiirikoski versus Karvinen.

On the international stage of women’s hockey, these players fight side-by-side for their country, but now they’ll face off (metaphorically) to determine who is best in the game.

With the women’s hockey tournament beginning at the Beijing Olympics on Wednesday, TSN asked a panel of 21 experts to vote on the 25 best players in the sport right now.

While Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin was the definitive choice as No. 1, separating herself from the pack with all-around excellence and the golden goal in the 2021 IIHF Women's World Championship – the first of three overtime goals vs. the U.S. since Aug. 31 – she was not the only player to get a vote as the premier player.  

Canadian sniper Mélodie Daoust, legendary Finnish blueliner Jenni Hiirikoski, and American icon Hilary Knight also earned No. 1 votes.

TSN’s panel of voters included Olympic gold medalists, former players, current and ex-coaches and prominent members of the media. There were representatives of seven different countries, including head coaches for Finland, Czechia and Sweden.

Voters were asked to rank the top 25 players in the game right now, regardless of position. Consensus results were determined by assigning points for each vote.

The final list of 25 players is comprised of nine Canadians, seven Americans, six Finns, two Swiss players and one from Czechia. By position, there were 15 forwards, seven defencemen and three goaltenders.

Statistics from the 2021 world championship are listed in order of games, goals, assists and points. Goaltender stats are win-loss-overtime loss records, goals-against average and save percentage.

 

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1. MARIE-PHILIP POULIN

Centre, Canada

Age: 30

2021 Worlds: 6-3-6-9

With 18 of 21 first-place votes, there is no question that Poulin remains the top player in women’s hockey. She is the definition of clutch, scoring gold medal-winning goals at the 2021 worlds, 2010 Olympics and 2014 Olympics. But it’s not only her goal-scoring ability; she also gets into dirty areas, kills penalties (even when maybe she shouldn’t), and isn’t afraid to put her body on the line. Simply put, Poulin does it all.

 

TSN Rewind: Poulin snipes bardown in OT to win gold for Canada

Marie-Philip Poulin streaks in on the breakaway and snipes bardown on the American goaltender to win it for the Canadians and put an end to their gold medal drought.

 

T2 MELODIE DAOUST

Left Wing, Canada

Age: 30

2021 Worlds: 7-6-6-12

In a tie for second is another French-Canadian sniper. Daoust has dominated at some recent major tournaments, earning MVP honours at both the 2018 Olympics and last year’s world championship, where she was also the tournament’s leading scorer and named Top Forward. Although she had a relatively quiet Rivalry Series with two assists in six games, she remains one of the most dynamic and skillful forwards in the game.

 

TSN Rewind: Daoust redirects one home to extend Canada's lead

Just under two minutes after Canada's opening goal, Melodie Daoust redirects Renata Fast's point shot into the net to give the Canadians a 2-0 lead against Switzerland.

 

T2 JENNI HIIRIKOSKI

Left Defence, Finland

Age: 34

2021 Worlds: 7-0-3-3

Hiirikoski, a veteran of 13 world championships and three Olympics (soon to be four), has shown no signs of slowing down. Although this past world championship was the first time since 2011 that she was not named the tournament’s Top Defenceman, she still led all skaters with an average ice time of 26:21, including more than 30 minutes in the bronze-medal game against Switzerland. She is currently the top-scoring defenceman in the Swedish Women’s Hockey League (SDHL) with 41 points in 28 games.

 

4. BRIANNA DECKER

Centre, USA

Age: 30

2021 Worlds: 7-2-3-5

Decker is one of the most decorated U.S. hockey players in recent history, taking home a combined seven gold medals at the world championships and Olympics. She has 40 assists at the worlds, nine back of Hayley Wickenheiser for most all-time. While a subtle player in terms of her skill set, she is the connective tissue on the American top line with Knight and Kendal Coyne Schofield, and recorded eight points in six games during last year’s PWHPA Dream Gap Tour.

 

5. HILARY KNIGHT

Right Wing, USA

Age: 32

2021 Worlds: 7-4-2-6

The oldest player on the American Olympic roster but still one of the most impactful, Knight finished with four goals at last year’s worlds, and broke Cammi Granato’s record for most goals all-time at the tournament (47). She led the Americans in scoring during the Rivalry Series with five points in six games, including the overtime winner in Game 3.

 

TSN Rewind: Dominant Knight sets Women's World Hockey scoring record as USA remains unbeaten

Hilary Knight made history on Tuesday, passing Cammi Granato to become the all-time scoring leader in Women's World Hockey Championship history with her 45th goal as the United States dominated Russia. Carla MacLeod and Cheryl Pounder join Tessa Bonhomme to discuss the historic achievement.

 

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6. ALINA Müller

Centre, Switzerland

Age: 23

2021 Worlds: 2-1-0-1

Her 2021 world championship was cut short due to an ankle injury, but Müller remains one of the top forwards in the world and is the youngest player ranked in the top 10. She is a two-time Patty Kazmaier Award finalist and has 29 points in 16 games since returning to play for Northeastern this season.

 

7. BRIANNE JENNER

Right Wing, Canada

Age: 30

2021 Worlds: 6-3-8-11

Despite a change from her natural position at centre to the wing, Jenner has thrived on Canada’s top line with Poulin, finishing second in overall scoring at last year’s worlds, including a tournament-best eight assists, and her 17:45 TOI led all Canadian forwards. She is a strong two-way player, a key figure on special teams, and is a leader for Canada on and off the ice. 

 

8. MICHELLE KARVINEN

Left Wing, Finland

Age: 31

2021 Worlds: 7-0-6-6

One of the most technically gifted forwards in the game, she is a pivotal figure on Finland’s top line. Although she finished without a goal at the 2021 world championship, her six assists were tied for the second-most in the tournament. Last season she led the Swiss Women’s Hockey League (SWHL) in scoring with 49 points in just 16 games and was league MVP.

 

9. KENDALL COYNE SCHOFIELD

Left Wing, USA

Age: 29

2021 Worlds: 7-2-3-5

Coyne Schofield remains one of the most recognizable names in the game, and her speed continues to be one of her top attributes. While Coyne Schofield is capable of contributing on the scoresheet (she had six points in six games in last year’s Dream Gap Tour), she also raises the game of her teammates and is a proven leader.

 

TSN Rewind: Coyne-Schofield broke barriers in only14 seconds

On the big stage at the 2019 NHL Skills Competition, Kendall Coyne-Schofield was given an opportunity to compete in the fastest skater competition and she certainly turned heads, completing the lap in one of the fastest times of the evening at 14 seconds. As Laura Diakun explains, in only 14 seconds Coyne-Schofield broke barriers.

 

10. LEE STECKLEIN

Left Defence, USA

Age: 27

2021 Worlds: 7-2-5-7

Stecklein was arguably the United States’ best player at last year’s world championship, leading the team in scoring with seven points and earning the tournament’s Best Defenceman honours. Head coach Joel Johnson has described her as “an absolute shutdown defender,” and her size and strength is virtually irreplaceable on the American blueline. She also features a strong shot and ability to find the back of the net from the blue line.

 

TSN Rewind: Stecklein puts USA on the board

Lee Stecklein unleashes a seeing-eye wrister from the point that finds its way through traffic into the back of the Canadian net, as the Americans finally get on the board.

 

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11. PETRA NIEMINEN

Right Wing, Finland

Age: 22

2021 Worlds: 7-6-1-7

Nieminen has quickly risen in the ranks as one of the best forwards in the world. She led Finland in scoring at last year’s worlds with seven points and was named to the all-star team. In this season with Luleå HF in the SDHL, she is second in league scoring with 52 points in 30 games – a 1.73 points per game average.

 

12. NOORA RÄTY

Goaltender, Finland

Age: 32

2021 Worlds: Did not play

Räty, the top-rated goaltender on the list, is an intriguing entry, as she was controversially left off Finland’s Olympic roster (voters submitted their ballots before all rosters were announced). After missing the 2021 world championship due to personal reasons, Räty returned to the Finnish national team and posted a shutout in a game against Czechia, but ultimately head coach Pasi Mustonen and the staff decided to go in a different direction. When asked about the decision, Finland’s general manager Tuula Puputti told TSN that it was “a difficult choice,” but that the team decided to anoint Anni Keisala as the starter after her strong performance at the worlds, and they believed in keeping consistency with Meeri Räisänen and Eveliina Mäkinen as backups. Despite the decision, Räty remains on top of her game. She has a 1.75 goals-against average in 14 games with HPK in Finland’s Naisten Liiga this season, and her .954 save percentage leads the league.

 

13. SARAH FILLIER

Centre, Canada

Age: 21

2021 Worlds: 7-3-3-6

The youngest player on the list, Fillier has been highly touted as “the next one” for Canadian hockey. She finished in the top 10 in scoring at last year’s worlds with six points, and she continued that momentum into the Rivalry Series with five goals. Fillier is a proven finisher with quick hands and processes the game at a high speed.

 

TSN Rewind: Fillier opens the scoring with her second of the tournament

Young Canadian phenom Sarah Fillier scores her second goal of the tournament to put Canada in front of the Russian Olympic Committee midway through the second period.

 

14. NATALIE SPOONER

Right Wing, Canada

Age: 31

2021 Worlds: 7-4-5-9

Fillier’s linemate, Spooner is coming off another standout world championship, finishing in a tie with Poulin for third-most points in the tournament (9) while also being named an all-star. Spooner uses her size to establish a net-front presence, does a lot of down-low work and plays a big role in puck retrieval for her linemates.

 

15. MEGAN KELLER

Left Defence, USA

Age: 25

2021 Worlds: 7-1-4-5

Keller has been a mainstay on the U.S. blueline for years, and she led the Americans in ice time at last year’s world championship (21:23). She excels at both ends of the ice, using her 5-foot-11 frame to shut down opposition while also showing offensive prowess, especially on the power play.

 

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16. RENATA FAST

Right Defence, Canada

Age: 27

2021 Worlds: 7-2-3-5

Part of Canada’s top pairing on defence, Fast posted the second most TOI among Canadians (20:04) at the 2021 worlds, behind only her defensive partner, Jocelyne Larocque, and finished with a plus-12 rating, tied for the third-best mark in the tournament. She plays heavy minutes against the top forwards in the world, and as her name suggests, her speed is one of her best attributes.

 

17. JOCELYNE LAROCQUE

Left Defence, Canada

Age: 33

2021 Worlds: 7-0-4-4

The other half of Canada’s shutdown pair, Larocque isn’t known for her ability to put up points, but she is coming off one of her most productive tournaments on offence with four points at last year’s worlds. Her defensive game can be easy to overlook, but her physicality and ability to play tough minutes against the best opposition in the world can’t be ignored.

 

18. LARA STALDER

Right Wing, Switzerland

Age: 27

2021 Worlds: 7-1-1-2

Although Stalder had a relatively quiet world championship with two points, she remains an elite forward in the game. She is the leading scorer in the SDHL with a staggering 77 points in 27 games (2.85 points per game). This comes a year after she set a league record with 82 points in a season, also earning MVP honours.

 

19. ALEX CARPENTER

Right Wing, USA

Age: 27

2021 Worlds: 7-5-0-5

After being among the final cuts to the U.S. Olympic roster in 2018, Carpenter has shown she’s a force to be reckoned with. Her five goals at last year’s worlds were second only to Daoust and Karvinen, and two of those markers came against Canada in the gold medal game (which the U.S. would lose 3-2). Last year she led Russia’s Zhenskaya Hockey League (ZhHL) with 55 points in 28 games.

 

20. CAYLA BARNES

Right Defence, USA

Age: 23

2021 Worlds: 7-0-3-3

After making her Olympic debut as a 19-year-old at the 2018 Games, Barnes has cemented herself on the American blueline. Despite her 5-foot-2 stature, she brings a physicality to her game and has a strong shot and playmaking ability.

 

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21. SUSANNA TAPANI

Centre, Finland

Age: 28

2021 Worlds: 7-3-2-5

Tapani, a four-time world champion in ringette, finished with 10 points in 15 games for Finland in all competitions last year. Her commitment to ringette means she’s often out of sight, out of mind in the women’s hockey realm compared to some of her Finnish teammates, but she remains one of the team’s most skilled forwards.

 

22. ANN-RENEE DESBIENS

Goaltender, Canada

Age: 27

2021 Worlds: 5-0-0, 1.37, .908

Desbiens took the reins as Canada’s No. 1 goaltender at last year’s worlds, finishing with a 1.37 goals-against average, including a shutout against Switzerland in the semifinal. She featured in three Rivalry Series games, posting a 2-1 record and 1.63 goals against average. Hockey Canada goaltending coach Brad Kirkwood lists Desbiens’s size, power and puck play as some of her key attributes.

 

TSN Rewind: Desbiens stonewalls USA, makes two huge saves

Hayley Scamurra turned the jets on in a breakaway and had the game on her stick, but Ann-Renee Desbiens stopped the USA player dead in her tracks and recovered just in time to stop another goal attempt by Abbey Murphy.

 

23. ALENA MILLS

Centre, Czechia

Age: 31

2021 Worlds: 6-5-2-7

The lone representative of Czechia on the list, Mills led her country with seven points at the 2021 worlds, including a hat trick against Denmark and three of Czechia’s five power-play goals. She also won a tournament-best 71.21 per cent of her faceoffs. Last year she led the ZhHL playoffs with six points (five goals) in five games.

 

24. ERIN AMBROSE

Right Defence, Canada

Age: 27

2021 Worlds: 7-2-3-5

After being cut from centralization before the 2018 Olympics, Ambrose has made herself irreplaceable on Canada’s blueline. She finished tied with Fast as Canada’s top-scoring defencemen in last year’s worlds and earned all-star honours. Ambrose has a keen eye and ability to read the game and can also quarterback Canada’s power play.

 

25. ANNI KEISALA

Goaltender, Finland

Age: 24

2021 Worlds: 3-2-0, 1.43, .949

Named the Best Goaltender at the 2021 world championship, Keisala proved she is more than capable of stepping up as Finland’s No.1 netminder. Her .949 save percentage was behind only Germany’s Jennifer Harß, who played in four fewer games. Playing for Ilves in Finland’s Naisten Liiga, Keisala has posted a 1.82 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in 15 games this season.

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Anna Shokhina (Forward, Russia)

Kateřina Mrázová (Forward, Czechia)

Grace Zumwinkle, (Forward, USA)

Mikyla-Grant Mentis (Forward, Canada)

Maja Nylén Persson (Defence, Sweden)

Anna Shibanova (Defence, Russia)

Nicole Hensley (Goaltender, USA)

 

PANEL OF VOTERS (listed alphabetically)

Erica L. Ayala - PHF broadcaster and writer

Tessa Bonhomme - Olympic gold medallist, TSN commentator

Craig Button - TSN Director of Scouting

Melody Davidson - Former head coach and GM, Hockey Canada/IIHF Women’s Committee member

Peter Elander - Head coach, Denmark women’s hockey team

Cammi Granato - Olympic gold medallist, pro scout for Seattle Kraken

Nicole Haase - Freelance hockey journalist

Lisa Haley - PHF Senior VP of Hockey Operations/Head coach, Ryerson University women’s hockey team

Jayna Hefford - Four-time Olympic gold medallist, PWHPA operations consultant

Meaghen Johnson - TSN producer/writer

Ulf Lundberg - Head coach, Sweden women’s hockey team

Carla MacLeod - Two-time Olympic gold medallist/TSN hockey analyst

Mike Murphy - Deputy managing editor, The Ice Garden, and creator of Their Hockey Counts

Pasi Mustonen - Head coach, Finland women’s hockey team

Tomas Pacina - Head coach, Czechia women’s hockey team

Andrew Podnieks - Historian, member of IIHF Hall of Fame Selection Committee

Cheryl Pounder - Two-time Olympic gold medallist, TSN hockey analyst

Hailey Salvian - Staff writer, The Athletic

Donna Spencer - Reporter, The Canadian Press

Juuso Toivola - Assistant coach, Finland women’s hockey team

Anne Tokarski - Writer and digital content contributor, The Ice Garden