With the NHL dog days of summer fully upon us, now is as good a time as any to start looking at the depth charts of the teams across the league.
Today I chose to look at a specific aspect of each club’s depth chart—the top six forward group from each team. Some teams’ top six have changed drastically over the summer, whereas others look to have stayed about the same.
As for figuring out who is in each top six forward group, I simply consulted Daily Faceoff. Sure, there are some instances in which I disagree with the way the good folks at Daily Faceoff have assembled the depth charts (and I note some cases), but I stick with their prognostications so as to keep my bias' to a minimal.
You might notice some of these teams are a little lower on the chart than you would have originally thought as well, and but that’s simply because of the nature of the list; you can’t have four centers in your top six, as there are only two center slots to go around—ergo, a club with great depth might end up lower on the list than a top-heavy, depth-challenged team.
That’s about enough rambling from me, hey? Let’s get right to it. Here are the NHL’s top-six forward groups, ranked from 31st (the worst) all the way down to 1st. Enjoy:
31 Arizona Coyotes
Max Domi, Derek Stepan, Anthony Duclair, Clayton Keller, Dylan Strome, Tobias Rieder
This is an incredibly dismal top-six forward group for an NHL team to throw out on the ice, but nonetheless it seems that the Arizona Coyotes are ready to do so this fall. It’s a group that features two rookies in Keller and Strome, so it’s impossible to tell what to expect from those two. Duclair is also included, and he spent the better part of 2016-17 in the AHL after a promising rookie campaign in 2015-16.
That leaves newcomer Stepan, who is actually a number two center but will be slotted into to top-line role. Rieder and Domi are decent second line players, but there really isn’t a legitimate top line player to be found here. I do think the Coyotes will be better than they were last season, on the strength of an upgrade in net and a non-distracted Oliver Ekman-Larsson (his mother was incredibly sick throughout 2016-17, and she passed near the end of the season), but this top-six forward group is a wasteland.
30 Vegas Golden Knights
Jonathan Marchessault, Vadim Shipachyov, James Neal, David Perron, Cody Eakin, Reilly Smith
Not surprisingly, the Vegas Golden Knights have the second-worst top six forward group in the league. They would have had the worst if not for the wily Coyotes, but here we are. Their top line looks a lot more like a second line, with Marchessault, Shipachyov, and Neal lining up. Perron, Eakin, and Smith are slotted in as the second line in Sin City.
The good thing is that second line actually sort of looks like a second line. Sure, on a good team they would probably be better suited for third line duty, but we’re talking about an expansion team here; what more could they have hoped to get? Overall Vegas’ forward depth is comparable to an average NHL teams’, so Vegas could surprise some people this season.
29 Vancouver Canucks
Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Loui Eriksson, Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser
It seems like it wasn’t too long ago that the Canucks were perennial contenders, putting up back-to-back Presidents' Trophy-winning seasons. The problem is that was over five years ago, and that's a long time in NHL years. When you take a look at their top six forwards slotted in for next season, you realize that this is a team far removed from the NHL’s elite.
The Sedin twins are all class, but they’re more like 45-55 point players now, so not real first line caliber. Eriksson had an abysmal first season with the Canucks in 2016-17 (24 points). Horvat might be ready for a top six role, but the same can’t be said of Boeser and Baertschi. Really, the only reason the Canucks aren’t 31st is because I’m expecting some growth from Horvat and a bounce back from Eriksson.
28 Colorado Avalanche
Sven Andrighetto, Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Jost, Colin Wilson
It’s pretty sad that a forward group once considered to be the most promising in the league has sunk to this. 2016-17 was a disaster in Mile High City, and three of the six above listed players had the worst seasons of their careers. The new top-six addition is Wilson, but his career numbers suggest he’s a second-liner only in a pinch.
Can MacKinnon, Landeskog, and Duchene bounce back in 2017-18? GM Joe Sakic hasn’t done a whole lot to aid them in this pursuit, unless you consider Nail Yakupov and Jonathan Bernier key additions. Andrighetto showed some late season promise, but it’s too early to say he’s ready for top six duty; ditto Tyson Jost, an NHL rookie whose NHLE numbers from last season at University of North Dakota leave much to be desired.
27 Carolina Hurricanes
Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm
I actually expect the Carolina Hurricanes to compete for a playoff spot next season, but that has more to do with their stellar defense corps and less to do with their relatively weak top six forwards. Skinner had a good season in 2016-17, and I’m comfortable calling him a top-line forward for the upcoming season. The other five, though? They’re bona fide second-liners, but really shouldn’t be in any NHL team’s top-line.
Aho is the only possible exception to this, but that’s banking on him not only avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump, but also taking a sizable step forward. He’s the only other skater here (Skinner aside) who’s the most likely to, maybe one day, become a top-line player in the NHL. I think what you see is what you get from Lindholm and Rask, and that’s second line production on a good day.
26 Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Evgeny Dadonov, Henrik Haapala, Vincent Trochek, Radim Vrbata
What in the heck happened to the 2015-16 Atlantic Division Champion Florida Panthers? They had such promise after shocking the NHL and winning their division that season, but they followed it up by missing the postseason all together. Looking at their top six on Daily Faceoff, I can’t see how they’ve improved for the upcoming season.
First off, I’d probably find room in the top six for Nick Bjugstad, even if that meant shifting him to his off-side and bumping Haapala (a Finnish League ex-pat) a little lower so he has time to get used to the North American game. I’m interested to see how Evgeny Dadonov does in his return to the NHL after a five year stint in the KHL (I’m far from sold on him, but his numbers in Russia have steadily progressed). Vrbata is getting a little old for top six duty. Barkov-Huberdeau-Trochek really need to stay healthy or this top six gets even uglier.
25 Detroit Red Wings
Tomas Tatar, Henrik Zetterberg, Anthony Mantha, Gustav Nyquist, Frans Nielsen, Dylan Larkin
For my entire youth, the Red Wings were the gold standard of how a hockey club should be run. With the club missing the postseason in 2016-17 for the first time since 1989-90, it’s safe to say those days are behind us. The top six for Detroit today looks like a mix of unproven youngsters (Larkin and Mantha), expensive veterans who are getting darn near over the hill (Zetterberg and Nielsen), and middling wingers who’ve struggled to take that next step after promising starts to their NHL careers (Tatar and Nyquist).
It’s not all doom and gloom for the Red Wings. If Mantha/Larkin take a step forward, Zetterberg/Nielsen don’t regress, and Tatar/Nyquist become the players we all thought they would about three years ago, then everything in Detroit should be just fine. Thing is, that’s a lot of “ifs”.
24 New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, Marcus Johansson
If we mocked this list up before the draft in June, the Devils would probably find themselves in the 29-31 range. However, with the additions of first overall pick Nico Hischier and Marcus Johansson to the top-six, they’re all of a sudden not looking too shallow. Still bottom-third in the league, but this is an important baby step no doubt.
Palmieri can put up CLOSE to first-line numbers in a good season, and out of Henrique, Zajac, and Johansson, I can’t find anyone slotted in for second line duty who will be in over his head. Don’t kid yourselves, though; the Devils will still be one of the worst teams in the league come 2017-18, but that has little to do with their top six and much to do with their D corps and lack of forward depth.
23 Columbus Blue Jackets
Artemi Panarin, Alexander Wennberg, Josh Anderson, Nick Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson
The Columbus Blue Jackets had no trouble scoring in 2016-17, potting 247 goals, good for sixth overall in the league. They lost a few bodies, yet added a great player in Artemi Panarin for 2017-18. With all that said, the Jackets’ scoring prowess came more by committee, rather than primarily from the top two lines in Ohio.
It’s no secret Wennberg is a star in the making, and Foligno and Atkinson have also proven capable of top-six duty (definitely first-line caliber on a good day). Yet I would argue that Dubinsky is a little bit in over his head at this point in his career, and unless we see a major offensive step forward from the 23-year-old Anderson (he notched just 29 points last season), he won’t stick in CBJ’s top six for long.
22 Buffalo Sabres
Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo, Benoit Pouliot, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart
The Buffalo Sabres certainly have a ton of promise in their top-six, but as of today we have to rank it in the bottom-third in the league. This isn’t as young a group as you’d expect from the up-and-coming Sabres, as only Reinhart and Eichel can fairly be called youthful in the realm of the NHL, as the others range from 26 to 30.
Okposo has grown into a solid first line player (on a mediocre team), but he missed the last chunk of 2016-17 with what was only later diagnosed as a severe concussion (he spent a few weeks in the hospital). That could make him a wild card for 2017-18. O’Reilly is a great all-around player, mind you, so perhaps he can help prop up a top-six that features Pouliot—a 2017 Oilers offseason buyout—on the left wing.
21 Los Angeles Kings
Tanner Pearson, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar, Mike Cammalleri
Even when the Kings were perennially competing for Stanley Cups (just a few years ago), they were never too adept at putting the puck in the net. They played more of a defensive, stifling brand of hockey, but that could change now that the Darryl Sutter era has passed and John Stevens will get a crack at things.
Look, Kopitar is an all-world talent, and despite an offensively ineffective 2016-17 by Anze’s standards, he should bounce back. Carter is always good for 25-30 goals, so he’s not out of place. I also have little trouble calling Toffoli and Pearson top-six forwards. It’s the other two players in this equation that bring me my greatest concerns: Cammalleri is coming off a terrible season in Jersey that led to a buyout. As far as Gaborik goes… well, what's the Vegas over/under on his GP in 2017-18? 22.5?
20 Montreal Canadiens
Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Artturi Lehkonen, Phillip Danault, Jonathan Drouin
The addition of Jonathan Drouin bumped the Habs up a few slots in this list, but this top six still looks relatively shallow. Four of the six players are certainly proven top-six guys, but penciling in Lehkonen and Danault for top-six duty already is maybe a bit overzealous. Lehkonen only scored 28 points, so the step he takes in 2017-18 better be a big one.
Danault is getting a little closer to top-six distinction, but with just 40 points in 2016-17, they’ll need another 10 or so from him if they don’t want offense to be a problem again in 2017-18. As I mentioned before, the other four guys are bona-fide, although Gallagher and Galchenyuk have had issues with injuries in the recent past, and the Habs will need them healthy if they want to score on the reg.
19 New York Rangers
Jimmy Vesey, Mika Zibanejad, Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello
You can always count on the Rangers being solid these days, but a quick look at their top-six forward group isn’t too impressive, really. We are getting into the part of the list in which very few players are being miscast in top-six roles, though, and I’d feel somewhat comfortable heading into 2017-18 with this group of players if I were a Rangers fan.
The forward depth is really the safety net in New York, as their bottom six features players of a fairly high caliber. Their third line is made of Michael Grabner, J.T. Miller, and Pavel Buchnevich, and I would feel comfortable playing all three of those in a top-six role (well, maybe not Buchnevich quite yet, but the other two for sure). The Rangers lack an elite top-six, but this shouldn’t cause huge concern for fans of the Blueshirts.
18 Ottawa Senators
Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, Ryan Dzingel, Derick Brassard, Bobby Ryan
The Ottawa Senators are fresh off of a pretty heroic run to the Eastern Conference Finals, and although it was mostly on the backs of Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson, their top-six did an admirable job. No names feature on the top-six that that weren’t on the club for that run, and it should be a capable group of players—provided a few things go their way.
Most importantly, they need 2017 playoff Bobby Ryan to show up, and not 2016-17 regular season Ryan. He managed just 25 points during the regular season, but played a starring role in the playoffs, putting up 15 points in 19 games of work. Dzingel is probably the one name out of this group that may not belong, but hey, he outscored Ryan in 2016-17, and he’s younger, so it could work.
17 Philadelphia Flyers
Travis Konecny, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Valtteri Filppula, Nolan Patrick, Wayne Simmonds
I think it might be a case of Daily Faceoff getting a little too excited about 2nd overall pick Nolan Patrick, but nonetheless they have him slotted into the top six. Nonetheless, this is a fairly impressive group and should be able to score regularly this season. We all know what Giroux and Voracek are capable of, and Simmonds is a beast in front of the net and will pot 28-32 goals like clockwork.
Konecny had a solid rookie campaign in 2016-17, and there’s no reason to expect him to regress and every reason to expect another step forward in development. That brings us to Patrick and Filppula, no doubt the top-six weak links of the equation. Patrick is obviously a complete wild card, so we’ll see. Filppula’s best days are behind him, but he's still a player on a good day.
16 San Jose Sharks
Mikkel Boedker, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Melker Karlsson, Logan Couture, Jannik Hansen
The San Jose Sharks have been an offensively dynamic team for a decade now, pretty much ever since the arrival of Joe Thornton. Look, I expect the Sharks to be good again in 2017-18, but I also expect a regression. Looking at their top-six today, they have some pretty massive holes on both wings—especially on the left side, where the departure of Patrick Marleau has bumped Boedker into the top spot. That’s an issue.
They of course have Pavelski playing the right side with Thornton, but Hansen as your second line right winger? That’s an issue. I don’t even think he was in Vancouver’s top-six by the time he left that franchise, and it was in shambles. The only reason these holes aren’t dragging the Sharks further down this list is because Thornton could still notch 45-50 assists, Pavelski will surpass 30 goals and maybe even approach 40, and Couture is also good for 30 goals or so.
15 Calgary Flames
Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Micheal Ferland, Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik
The Calgary Flames squeak into the better half of our list here at number 15, and they could be a lot higher with a few notable changes to their top six. Namely, Micheal Ferland in an NHL top-six role just doesn’t work for me. Why not slide Troy Brouwer or Sam Bennett in there? Anyway, Frolik is the only other borderline top-six guy here—the others have already proven capable of the load.
Gaudreau is an elite winger in this league, and good old Monahan will get you around 30 goals and 60 points every year it seems. Tkachuk is a bit of a wild card given he’s heading into just his second pro season, but he showed no reason to doubt him during his rookie campaign. Backlund was by all accounts the most consistent forward for the Flames last year, and has been a steady two-way center for many years now. Overall, it's a solid top-six in Cowtown.
14 New York Islanders
Anders Lee, John Tavares, Jordan Eberle, Anthony Beauvillier, Matthew Barzal, Josh Bailey
In one of the stranger decisions made by the folks over at Daily Faceoff, they left Andrew Ladd out of the top-six in favor of Anthony Beauvillier. Nonetheless, I said I’d stick with their prognostications, so Beauvillier stays. He’s the obvious weak link out of these six, and Jordan Eberle is an excellent addition to this group of forwards.
One player who I could see making some serious noise in his rookie campaign is Barzal. He’s fresh off a WHL Championship with the Seattle Thunderbirds, and he notched 25 points in 16 playoff games on his way to earning the playoff MVP honors. John Tavares is John Tavares, and Bailey and Lee have been staples in the Islanders’ top six for years. The offense should be there on the Island for 2017-18.
13 Toronto Maple Leafs
Patrick Marleau, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Mitchell Marner
If this were a list highlighting the most promising top-six forward groups, the Maple Leafs would be right among the best in the league. However, this list is prognosticating for the 2017-18 season, and that puts them right around here at number 13.
It’s well-documented that the trio of Matthews/Marner/Nylander are expected to carry the offensive load for the next decade and beyond. But the other three names in this top-six group are no slouches either. Bozak has hit his stride and scored a career-high 55 points in 2016-17. JVR also had a tremendous season, eclipsing his previous career high of 61 points by one. The addition of Patrick Marleau definitely helps for the upcoming season, although don’t get me started on that three year term…
12 Edmonton Oilers
Patrick Maroon, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puljujarvi
When you have Connor McDavid on your team, your top six is automatically very good. McDavid is in a league of his own in the NHL, and to be honest if Jordan Eberle wasn’t traded earlier this summer, this top six would have cracked the top 10. However, as of right now, it consists of a rookie in Puljujarvi, and a defensive specialist in Nugent-Hopkins (I would move Draisaitl to 2nd line C and bump Nuge down—perhaps move Jussi Jokinen into the available slot).
Lucic had an abysmal season at 5-on-5, putting up fourth line numbers at evens. That should bounce back a bit in 2017-18, as he’s had strong 5-on-5 numbers throughout his career prior to coming to Edmonton. As long as Maroon can keep putting the puck in the net at the rate he has since arriving in Edmonton, he can fit there. And of course we all know of Draisaitl’s coming out party in 2016-17, and we can expect the guy to finish top-10 in scoring again if he spends enough time alongside McDavid.
11 Minnesota Wild
Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker
If this were a list ranking forward depth, Minnesota would have been a top-five team. However, we’re only looking at the top-six, so they stumble to 11th. It’s still a formidable six players though, and Minnesota should be able to score with regularity during the upcoming season.
Parise and Staal are the veterans of the group, and Staal had an excellent 2016-17 campaign, posting 65 points in a full 82 game season. Coyle has established himself as a reliable top-six option, scoring 56 points last season. The trio of Niederreiter/Granlund/Zucker is what really intrigues me here though. All three players are already solid contributors, and, conceivably, they could all be even better in 2017-18. That’s bad news for the rest of the league, because the Wild already scored the second most goals in the NHL last season.
10 Winnipeg Jets
Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler
The Winnipeg Jets should maybe be even higher on this list than 10th. This is a great mix of veterans, journeymen, and up-and-comers. Little and Wheeler are slotted in together on the second line, and they’ve been productive for nearly a decade now, and they’re not showing signs of slowing—especially Wheeler, who’s scored the 12th most points out of any skater since the 2013-14 season.
It’s that young crop of players that should have Jets fans stoked, though. Ehlers, Scheifele, and Laine terrorized teams last season, and two of them were rookies. Connor might be a name that not many have heard, but he did burn his rookie season as well last year, notching five points in 20 games. He’s a highly touted prospect who could break out in any given year. Why not in 2017-18?
9 Nashville Predators
Kevin Fiala, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Nick Bonino, Craig Smith
The reigning Western Conference champions boast the 9th best top-six crop in the league (according to me). They did lose a body in James Neal to the expansion Golden Knights, but they brought in Nick Bonino, and I actually consider that a slight upgrade at this point in their careers. The first line of Fiala, Johansen, and Arvidsson is sneaky good, and if you saw any Predators playoff games before Fiala went down with an injury early in the second round, you know he won’t have an issue keeping up.
Forsberg is gaining the reputation of being a sure 30-goal, 60-point guy, and Bonino—although streaky—has put up lower-tier second line numbers pretty consistently. Smith often gets overlooked (perhaps because he owns one of the world’s most generic names), but he shouldn’t. He had an off-year in 2016-17 (offensively), but notched 20+ in each of the previous three seasons.
8 Anaheim Ducks
Rickard Rakell, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Kesler, Jakob Silfverberg
The team that lost to the Preds in the third round actually ends up one slot above them here at number 8. The Ducks have a real solid top-six, and the only player who may sort of be fighting above his weight class is Cogliano. Perry is actually all of a sudden a bit of a wild card as well, as the burly winger failed to register 20 goals last season for the first time since 2006-07 (excluding the lockout-shortened campaign). That said, he had an abnormally low shooting percentage in 2016-17 and should be able to return to his 30-goal form.
Can Rakell repeat his 33-goal performance next season? If he plays with Getzlaf for the bulk of the season again, that seems doable. Silfverberg had the best season of his young career in 2016-17, registering 49 points, which is about right for a solid second-line producer.
7 Dallas Stars
Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Mattias Janmark, Martin Hanzal, Jason Spezza
Although the Stars missed the postseason, they still have one of the league’s best top-six forward groups. No, their troubles have come primarily from porous goaltending. Benn and Seguin have been the most consistently lethal scoring duo since Seguin arrived in the Lone Star State in 2013, and although they may not hold that crown still, they’re definitely in the conversation.
Adding Radulov into the equation only strengthens what was already one of the better top-six groups in the NHL. His power play abilities should help a power play that, surprisingly, finished 20th in the league. Another newcomer is Martin Hanzal, and although I feel he’s best suited to a 3rd line C role, he can slot in on the second line rather comfortably. Spezza is Spezza and will get 60 points or so again, and Janmark will look to improve on his 29 point rookie campaign.
6 Boston Bruins
Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano, David Krejci, David Backes
When you look at the Bruins top-six forwards, it’s actually very impressive. They have good depth up front, too, so as long as their D corps can keep it together (which they not be able to), the Bruins could be a team to watch in 2017-18. For starters, that top-line really is probably a top-3 line in the league.
The second line of Vatrano-Krejci-Backes isn’t quite as strong, but both Krejci and Backes have been top-line players in the past, and are very well-suited for a second line role at this stage of their careers. The 23-year-old Vatrano could possibly break out any time now, as he registered a respectable 18 points in just 44 games in 2016-17, his sophomore year. Scoring shouldn’t be a huge problem for the B’s in 2017-18.
5 St. Louis Blues
Jaden Schwartz, Paul Stastny, Vladimir Tarasenko, Robby Fabbri, Alex Steen, Brayden Schenn
The Blues already had an elite top-six group, but the addition of Brayden Schenn (at the expense of Jori Lehtera) makes it even better. In fact, five of these guys could play on the top line of a decent team (Fabbri might not yet be ready for such a role, but could be soon). The top trio of Schwartz-Stastny-Tarasenko is obviously elite—especially Tarasenko, who is behind only Alex Ovechkin in goals over the past three seasons with 116 (Ovie has potted 136 over the same span).
Fabbri turned a lot of heads in his first two pro seasons, and he looks like he’s ready to take that next step to top-six status. He’s slotted to skate alongside Steen and Schenn, which should help make the transition that much smoother for the young Canadian.
4 Tampa Bay Lightning
Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point
They did not make the 2016-17 postseason, but the Lightning still boast a top-tier top-six forward group. Heck, Stamkos missed almost the entire season due to injury, and it still came down to the wire. Kucherov gave them everything he had, and actually finished sixth in league scoring despite missing eight games. Including Stamkos’ 17 games, Tampa had two players in the league’s top-five points/game.
Kucherov will be joined by Johnson and Palat, as late last season they reunited the famous “triplets” line that was first formed and enjoyed great success in 2014-15. Stamkos will pivot a second line that features Alex Killorn on his left side and sophomore Brayden Point on his right. Point quietly put up 40 points in 68 games as a rookie in 2016-17, and in a full season skating with Stamkos, we could see that number seriously balloon.
3 Chicago Blackhawks
Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, Richard Panik, Patrick Sharp, Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane
There’s no doubt that Toews had a bit of an off year offensively, registering just 58 points. He’s still Toews, meaning he does many things at an elite level aside from producing points (he’s still overrated IMO, but that’s for another article). Kane is a top-five forward in the league, sometimes a top-three (despite his off-ice buffoonery).
The 2017-18 top-six features a few new-but-familiar faces in Saad and Sharp. Saad—a slight downgrade from Panarin, yes— is still in his prime, but the same can’t be said for Sharp. Fortunately, he’s primed for a bounce back after struggling with injuries in 2016-17 (18 points in 40 games). Anisimov and Panik—although not household names like the other four—notched 45 and 44 points, respectively, last season, and Anisimov only played 64 games.
2 Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky
The Washington Capitals’ top-six actually got slightly worse this offseason, but it’s still good enough for second best in the NHL. They will surely begin a descent in these ranks soon, but they belong here for at least one more year. The top line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie can play with the best of them. Simply put, Backstrom is probably the best passer in the East and Ovechkin is still one of the league’s best goal scorers—a lethal combination. Throw in recent 33-goal guy Oshie and we have an incredibly potent trio.
Vrana is really the only guy here who is playing above his head, but it could be argued that Kuznetsov is playing below his weight class. Vrana of course has been promoted thanks to the departures of wingers Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams. Burakovsky is a stellar second line winger at this stage of his career and is only expected to get better.
1 Pittsburgh Penguins
Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby, Conor Sheary, Patric Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel
As you’ve probably already deduced, the Pittsburgh Penguins hold top spot on our list of the NHL’s best top-six forward groups. It’s almost a given that if you have both Crosby and Malkin on your team, you’re going to have the best top-six in the league, regardless of who else is there. They’re two of the top three centers in the league (along with McDavid), and being able to deploy them on separate lines is deadly. How do you defend that?
Then there’s the much-maligned but oh-so-productive Kessel, who is easily of first-line caliber and has the benefit of lining up with Malkin. Hornqvist has been a staple in the Pens’ top-six since his arrival, and he’s more than capable of the role. As for Guentzel and Sheary? Sheary has proven to have great chemistry with Crosby, and we all saw what Guentzel is capable of by watching him pot 13 goals in the 2017 postseason.