THE NHL’S TOP 5 FORWARD LINES
2023-10-10 · 3 min read · NHL/Hockey
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports | LM Otero/AP
With the season right around the corner it seemed like a good time to try and identify the top five forward lines in the NHL (I'll be back with top defensive pairing soon I promise). Without further ado let's get into it.
- This line does not yet have the brand values of the others, but it will soon. It features two of the game's brightest young stars and a player who's been lighting up the ice and night sky for a while now. This line has truly dynamic top-end talents in Tkachuk, and Stutzle, plus a proven elite contributor in senior member Giroux. Tkachuk the Senators captain is a physical threat and proven goalscorer with a nose for the net; perhaps the best part about him is he always lays it all out on the ice. Stutzle is quietly one of the most electric young players in the league. Stutzle set career highs in goals (39), assists (51) and points (90) last season. Even though he missed four games, he finished first on the Sens and 18th in league scoring, despite being just 21. Since 2010 Giroux is fifth in league-wide scoring with 975 points in the span including 417 in the last five seasons; he's still one of the league's premier playmakers. This is a line teams envy.
- What do you get when you put the NHL's best score with one of its premier playmakers; you get a top-five line. Even though we haven't seen this line in action as Tyler Bertuzzi just signed on as a free agent, we all are well aware of the damage Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner can do together. Known for his wizardry as a setup man, Marner assisted on nearly half of Matthews' 40 goals in 2022-23 and led the team with 99 points in 80 games. I think it is best surmised by the facts that since Matthews and Marner made their debuts in 2016-17, Matthews leads the NHL with 299 goals, while Marner's 386 assists are the fourth most in the league. Combining one of the NHL's top goal-scorers with one of the best playmakers just makes sense. So, does adding Bertuzzi - a physical pest with good sense and soft mitts. Bertuzzi, 28, was handcuffed by two separate hand injuries in 2022-23. In the playoffs, though he emerged as a beautiful, gritty force of nature for Boston (albeit for one round), putting up five goals and 10 points in seven games; expect a career-high number from him this year.
3. Evander Kane, Connor McDavid, Connor Brown Line (Edmonton Oilers)
- There's nothing to say about McDavid that hasn't already been said. The Edmonton Oilers superstar scored an outlandish 153 points last season, he is him, the best player on the planet; of course, his line made these rankings. Evander Kane has long been a high-quality scorer despite other issues, now in Edmonton, he seems to have put it all together. Kane and McDavid generated excellent results together in 2021-22, with the Oilers dictating 63.8% of the goals and 57% of the expected goals with the duo on the ice at five-on-five. Rounding out this trio is new addition Connor Brown, who is known for being a workhorse and has already been praised by McDavid as "perfect” for the Oilers: They were linemates with the OHL's Erie Otters and combined for 227 points in 2013-14. Brown won't blow you away with his NHL point totals, but the potential here is huge.
- Colorado Avalanche was one of two teams to boast multiple 100-point-getters in 2022-23, both of them are on this line. Nathan MacKinnon hit the century mark for the first time in his career last season despite missing 11 games, outside McDavid he may be the league's preeminent force. while Mikko Rantanen posted the first 50-goal season in franchise history since Milan Hejduk in 2002-03. The Finish winger is a true gamebreaker and one of the league's best goalscorers. Their production (alongside Cale Makar) was key for the Avalanche, who were decimated by injuries but still finished in first place in the Central Division. Any line that has both MacKinnon and Rantanen has a shot to take the No. 1 spot on this list, regardless of the last member. Artturi Lehkonen took the most reps alongside them last season, but we're giving the first crack at the 2023-24 job to new acquisition Jonathan Drouin. He and MacKinnon were teammates on the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads for two seasons, combining for 111 goals and 287 points in 184 games and winning the Memorial Cup. Drouin's NHL career hasn't panned out as well as MacKinnon's, but this situation is his best yet. There's no guarantee this reunion will work out, but can you blame me for hoping it does?
- This line drives play at a ridiculous rate and it should feel like the classic ideal line. A sniper, a playmaker, and a power forward all at the elite level, a combination as old as time, or at least it feels like it. It’s the stereotypical line combination for a reason, as the playmaker moves the puck up the ice and sets up the chances, the sniper buries the initial set-up, and the power forward is there to create chaos in front of the net and occasionally tip home or get the rebound on the shots the sniper doesn’t finish. It’s a trio of player types that work fluently together, and no line right now better captures this than Robertson, Hintz, and Pavelski. Robertson is the big name on the line, as he’s already emerged as one of the game’s elite forwards, and back-to-back 40-goal seasons have shown that he can bury the puck like the best of them. Hintz is the underrated complementary piece for Robertson, making up for the winger’s slower footspeed with excellent skating and the ability to knife through the neutral zone and set him up. And then you have Pavelski doing what Pavelski has always done, park himself in front of the net and tip home any of the shots not already going in, while also providing some elite defence for them. They’ve worked to perfection for several seasons now, and it’s a big reason why the Stars are such a threat in the West. Two members of the line enjoyed career years last season, too, with Hintz potting 75 points in 73 games and Robertson going off for 46 goals and 109 points in 82 contests; is it possible this line has another gear?
- Quinton Byfield, Anze Kopitar, Adrian Kempe (Los Angeles Kings)
- Brandon Hagel, Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, (Tampa Bay Lightning)
- Ivan Barbashev, Jack Eichel, Jonathan Marchessault line (Vegas Golden Knights)
By: Chase Howard