By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns
Here’s a look at the top 25 forwards in the NHL entering the 2016-17 season.
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Crosby got back to his all-world best at the halfway point after Mike Sullivan took over as head coach. Following the All-Star break, No. 87 collected 44 points in 33 games. The 29-year-old captured the Conn Smythe Award for the Stanley Cup-winning Pens. He is the ultimate franchise player – a flawless two-way center who possesses unteachable playmaking skills and competes with an unquenchable fire.
2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Lock him in for 50-plus goals. He’s done it seven times and could eclipse Wayne Gretzky’s and Mike Bossy’s record of nine 50-goal seasons before he calls it a career. Ovechkin scores from anywhere and has grown into playing a 200-foot game. The three-time Hart Trophy winner accelerates rapidly, and the puck jumps off his stick with blistering venom. His 19 power play goals led the league.
3. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Does anyone have better hands than No. 88? Kane’s 106-point campaign landed him the Art Ross and Hart trophies. He’s the total offensive package – deadly scorer, elite playmaker, scary one-on-one moves. His 37 power play points led the league.
4. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars
Benn’s power-skill combination ignites the Stars every night. The 27-year-old plays a real power forward’s game and scores goals in a variety of ways. That’s why he’s so difficult to stop.
5. John Tavares, New York Islanders
Tavares carries the Isles on his back every night, displays top-level hockey sense and gets loads of goals in the dirty areas. He possesses a desire to be the best, similar to Crosby, and could one day capture the Hart Trophy.
6. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
The new Kings captain excels in all areas of the ice and owns a terrific pair of hands. He is a true three-zone monster and earned the 2015-16 Selke Trophy and Lady Byng Award.
7. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
Pavelski is a valuable all-situation player and a consistent 70-point-getter. He’s always hovering in smart areas on both ends of the rink. His 11 game-winning goals topped the NHL leaderboard.
8. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
Malkin has remarkably scored higher than a point-per-game in nine of 10 NHL seasons. He has off-the-charts ability and thrives under pressure, collecting 129 points in 124 career playoff games.
9. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Renowned for his clutch tendencies, this two-way ace led the NHL with five overtime goals. Toews plays bigger than his 6-foot-2, 201-pound frame and is a beast in high traffic areas. He is always a threat to score shorthanded, collecting seven short-handed points last season.
10. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
A two-time 50-goal scorer, Stamkos possesses a unique combination of energy and skill. He’s absolutely deadly when firing from the high slot.
11. Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
Still just 24, Seguin has finished higher than a point-per-game in each of his three seasons in Dallas. His high-end acceleration and array of one-on-one moves strikes fear in any goalie.
12. Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks
The 2015-16 Calder Trophy winner recorded a 77-point rookie season and possesses off-the-charts skill. His natural creativity is a joy to behold. Panarin is tremendously shifty and is already an elite playmaker. His ceiling is limitless.
13. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
Tarasenko gets goals. Period. The 24-year-old’s numbers have improved with each passing year. Try getting the puck away from him. He’s a wizard with the biscuit on his stick and owns a terrific shot.
14. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Giroux is an outstanding creator and a special teams beast. He has collected the most points of any NHLer over the last five seasons with 367 points in 366 games.
15. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
McDavid only trailed Kane and Benn in points per game, finishing his rookie season with 1.07. The mature 19-year-old is an excellent skater and is blessed with unbelievable awareness.
16. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
Age hasn’t stopped “Jumbo Joe” from being one of the league’s premier creators. The 37-year-old led NHL forwards with 63 assists last season. His tremendous reach and composure on the puck separate him from many forwards and he is an underrated defensive center.
17. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
The diminutive winger is an offensive powerhouse. Gaudreau is an excellent skater and tremendously creative. The 22-year-old recorded 78 points in 79 games last season and chipped in 21 power play points.
18. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Bergeron plays a highly effective two-way game and drives possession for the B’s. His three Selke trophies stand as a testament of his defensive zone excellence.
19. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals
Backstrom has recorded 50 assists in six of nine NHL seasons and is a 0.98 career point-per-game player. The 28-year-old is very patient with the puck and constantly gets into the right areas on both ends of the ice.
20. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
Recently named captain of the Jets, Wheeler is a true power forward at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds. Somewhat of a late bloomer, he recorded 78 points in 82 games last season.
21. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
There is no weakness in Getzlaf’s game. The 31-year-old plays physically and creatively. He tends to get his share of clutch goals and has collected 99 points in 104 career postseason games.
22. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals
Kuznetsov’s stock is on the rise. The 24-year-old finished his second full NHL season with 77 points in 82 games. His grit level matches his talent.
23. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
Barkov plays an impressive 200-foot game. His levels of competitiveness and poise are impressive for a 21-year-old. He had more power plays goals (nine) than penalty minutes (eight).
24. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Kucherov’s game is explosive. The 23-year-old is a deadly sniper with rocket skates. He collected 19 points in 17 playoff games last season.
25. Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
Hall put up huge numbers over the years on some mediocre Edmonton teams. Expect the speedy 24-year-old to thrive in New Jersey. An 80-point season is possible.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey