Projecting Every NHL Team's Top 6 Forwards in 2017

James OnuskoContributor IIIAugust 27, 2013

Projecting Every NHL Team's Top 6 Forwards in 2017

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    Every successful NHL team has a strong group of top-six forwards. With scoring at a premium in today’s game, a good team has to have a blend of speed, skill and size on the top two lines.

    These players also form the core of every team’s power play. Usually, at least five of these players will be on the two power play units, with more versatile forwards even manning the point on occasion.

    Looking ahead four years means that players now entering their prime in 2013, should be in top form, while some of today’s aging stars are likely to be retired. The speed of today’s game means that only the rare forward over the age of 35 can be a top-six player.

    On a handful of teams, some of the projected top draft prospects for 2014 and 2015 are included. Enjoy the gaze into the crystal ball as we look at every team’s impact forwards in the fall of 2017.

    All statistics found here will be on nhl.com in four more years.

Anaheim Ducks

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Devante Smith-Pelly, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry

    (L2) Max Friberg, Kyle Palmieri, Jakob Silfverberg

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Ducks have been able to stay at or near the top of the Pacific Division since the league adopted new divisions in 2013-14. While Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are no longer the forces they once were, they continue to be one of the more productive duos in the Western Conference.

    Devante Smith-Pelly is one of the better power forwards in the league, and expect him to top the 25-goal mark again this year. While there are larger players in the game, Smith-Pelly is one of the best hitters around.

    The Ducks’ second line rarely gets outplayed. There are nights where they see as much ice time as the Getzlaf line. Jakob Silfverberg is a threat to score every time he is on the ice.

Boston Bruins

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Milan Lucic, Ryan Spooner, Alex Khokhlachev

    (L2) Matt Fraser, Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Boston Bruins have a great mix of size and skill in their top six. They also feature a very good blend of young players with savvy veterans. Milan Lucic continues to be a dominant winger and a great example for second-line left winger Matt Fraser.

    Ryan Spooner has established himself as the top center in Boston. He’s not a physical player, but his great passing skills are used fully with Lucic and Khokhlachev. The latter is a formidable sniper on the right side.

    Loui Eriksson was a key addition back in the summer of 2013. He, along with Patrice Bergeron, is a fan favorite in Beantown. 

Buffalo Sabres

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Marcus Foligno, Mikhail Grigorenko, Joel Armia

    (L2) Jake Virtanen, Cody Hodgson, Justin Bailey

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    With one of the best defensive groups in the NHL, the Sabres can now also boast a solid top six at the forward position. With the third overall pick in 2014, they selected Jake Virtanen, and the second-year winger should have a great year in 2017-18.

    Unquestionably, this group is led by All-Star center, Mikhail Grigorenko. While some fans wanted to give up on him in his earliest years in the league, as with so many other big, talented forwards, once he understood the pace of the NHL, his game rounded into form. He and Marcus Foligno are almost impossible to move off the puck when they cycle it down low.

    Right wing Justin Bailey provides some much needed grit on the second line. Cody Hodgson has found a home in Buffalo. He is one of the headier players in the game today.

Calgary Flames

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Sven Baertschi, Max Reinhart, Sam Reinhart

    (L2) Morgan Klimchuk, Sean Monahan, Roman Horak

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Flames have been able to develop some great young talent, especially over the past two seasons. There were some lean seasons for the organization before the team began its rise toward the top of the Pacific Division.

    The club’s top line has been nearly unstoppable with the Reinhart brothers complemented nicely by the always elusive Sven Baertschi. Sean Monahan has become one of the best two-way centers in the entire league and should continue to improve as his game matures.

    The Flames and Oilers rivalry is back to where it was in the mid-1980s and features some of the better young players in the NHL.

Carolina Hurricanes

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Jiri Tlusty, Eric Staal, Alexander Semin

    (L2) Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, Brendan Woods

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Carolina Hurricanes remain a middle-of-the-pack team heading into this season. They have some talented defensemen, but their aging forward corps will be in need of an overhaul in the next few seasons.

    Elias Lindholm is ready to assume the role of first-line center and should do that either later this season or next. Eric Staal has been in the top 30 in scoring for the past three seasons. While his foot speed isn’t what it once was, when he’s healthy, he’s still an impact player.

    Along with Tlusty and Semin, this line has been one of the league’s most consistent scoring lines in the Eastern Conference for several years.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane

    (L2) Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri, Jimmy Hayes

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Blackhawks will once again be one of the better teams in the Western Conference. While there have been some cap concerns in the past season or two, and despite Patrick Sharp’s retirement, the Blackhawks still have the most complete player in the game in Jonathan Toews.

    Patrick Kane continues to score at both even strength and on the power play, while hulking second-line winger Jimmy Hayes is a force in front of the net. The two Brandons, Saad and Pirri, continue to refine their offensive games.

    Expect the Blackhawks to take a step or two back in the future, but for now, they are a contender, along with St. Louis and Winnipeg, to top the Central Division.

Colorado Avalanche

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Ryan O’Reilly, Nathan MacKinnon, P.A. Parenteau

    (L2) Gabriel Landeskog, Joey Hishon, Spencer Watson

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Colorado Avalanche are one of the more exciting teams to watch in the NHL. While they continue to struggle to keep the puck out of their own net, they are one of the top attacking teams in the game.

    Nathan MacKinnon was once again in the top 10 in league scoring in 2016-17, and observers expect him to be a go-to player for Canada at the 2018 Olympics. When the first line isn’t rolling, the second line, led by Joey Hishon and 2014 fifth overall pick Spencer Watson, should be just as effective as it was last season.

    Captain Gabriel Landeskog is a force in all three zones. He is the unquestioned leader on this Avalanche team for all the right reasons. If the entire team had his commitment to all phases of the game, the Avalanche would be much higher in the standings.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Kerby Rychel, Ryan Johansen, Alexander Wennberg

    (L2) R.J. Umberger, Boone Jenner, Nathan Horton

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Columbus Blue Jackets are entering their fifth season in the Eastern Conference. While things have not gone as smoothly as had been hoped, their trip to the conference finals in 2015 has been a highlight since the move.

    The Blue Jackets have a great blend of size, speed and youth in their top-six forward group. The Jackets can beat you by grinding you down or outscoring you.

    Depth remains an issue in their bottom six, but Ryan Johansen and Boone Jenner are one of the better one-two punches at center in the Eastern Conference. Jenner has become one of the league's best second-line centers.

     

Dallas Stars

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Brett Ritchie

    (L2) Valeri Nichushkin, Cody Eakin, Alex Chiasson

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Dallas Stars have one of the best first lines in the NHL.

    In particular, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are one of the most dominant duos in the entire league, and the youngster, Brett Ritchie, adds a physical element to this imposing line.

    The versatile second line can play in all game situations. Winger Valeri Nichushkin is a handful for opposing defensemen. Cody Eakin is not the scoring threat that Tyler Seguin is, but his two-way game is valuable against high-flying Western Conference opponents like the Colorado Avalanche and the Edmonton Oilers.

     

Detroit Red Wings

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Tomas Tatar, Calle Jarnkrok, Martin Frk  

    (L2) Anthony Mantha, Stephen Weiss, Justin Abdelkader

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Detroit Red Wings have slipped in the difficult Eastern Conference in the past two seasons, but expect them to challenge for a playoff spot in 2017-18 once again. The team’s puck possession style of play confounds many opponents, but the Red Wings no longer have the high-end skill they once had prior to both Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk retiring.

    Expect winger Anthony Mantha to have a breakout season this year after leading the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins in goal scoring last year with 35 goals.

    Tomas Tatar and Martin Frk should also put up higher numbers with opponents likely having to key on Mantha in 2017. Tatar should be good for at least 60 points this season.

Edmonton Oilers

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov

    (L2) Daniil Zharkov, Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Oilers have had a great run over the past two years. With their Stanley Cup triumph in 2016 and reaching the finals against the New York Islanders this past season, the Oilers are poised to have another great year in 2017.

    The Art Ross Trophy winner and Oilers captain Taylor Hall has become the top scoring threat in the NHL. Hall will be challenged for the league scoring title, once again, by John Tavares during the 2017-18 season.

    Forty-four-goal scorer Nail Yakupov continues to be the Oilers' biggest threat on the power play. The Oilers second line remains as one of the better ones in the league with Jordan Eberle once again in the top 10 in NHL scoring in 2016-17.

Florida Panthers

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Zach Hyman

    (L2) Quinton Howden, Nick Bjugstad, Rocco Grimaldi

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Florida Panthers are certainly better than they once were. With three playoff appearances in the last four years, the Panthers continue to improve each year.

    With a solid netminding duo, and several young defensemen entering their prime, the Panthers need some of their young forwards to take the next step this season.

    Aleksander Barkov is a monster in the middle. It is difficult to believe that he is already entering his fifth year in the league. He has developed into one of the top forwards in the Eastern Conference over that period. With the talented Jonathan Huberdeau on the wing, these two are nearly impossible to contain for a full 60 minutes.

    Converted center Rocco Grimaldi brings a lot of energy to the second line, and Nick Bjugstad is another beast in the middle. Expect the Panthers to make the playoffs this season.

Los Angeles Kings

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Tanner Pearson, Anze Kopitar, Tyler Toffoli

    (L2) Dustin Brown, Linden Vey, Valentin Zykov

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Los Angeles Kings have not been able to duplicate their only Stanley Cup championship from 2012, but they have been a very good team in the Pacific Division since the re-alignment in 2013.

    They have missed the playoffs just once in that time frame, although they haven’t been to the Stanley Cup Finals in the interim. Anze Kopitar still presents huge matchup issues for opposing checking lines, and winger Tyler Toffoli can be dominant on many nights with his puck-handling abilities.

    Expect both he and Valentin Zykov to top the 30-goal mark in the 2017-18 season.

    Veteran Dustin Brown provides much needed sandpaper on the second line. He leads by example on every shift. 

Minnesota Wild

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Brett Bulmer

    (L2) Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Jason Pominville

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Minnesota Wild have been a Central Division powerhouse for the past three seasons. While they have failed to win the Stanley Cup, they have been to the finals once and have made the playoffs in every year that they have been in the Central.

    Zach Parise continues to be one of the top left wingers in the game. Brett Bulmer has exceeded earlier projections and has unseated Jason Pominville as the team’s top right winger.

    Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter have been a constant force for three seasons now. They form the nucleus of the Wild’s vaunted power play.

    The Wild are a quick transition team that has a mobile defense to begin the charge in the defensive end of the ice.

     

Montreal Canadiens

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Charles Hudon, Alex Galchenyuk, Sebastian Collberg

    (L2) Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Brendan Gallagher

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Montreal Canadiens have been in one of the toughest divisions in the league since re-alignment but have managed to make the playoffs in two of the four seasons since making the move.

    They have a group of young forwards that is enjoying its best hockey years. Alex Galchenyuk is a great center who makes everyone around him that much better. Another 70-point season should not be a stretch for the American standout.

    Charles Hudon has become a very good scoring winger who can dominate with his great creativity. Brendan Gallagher is a great two-way forward who can make life miserable for his opponents. Fans can expect more of the same from him this season.

Nashville Predators

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1): Viktor Stalberg, Colin Wilson, Zach Budish

    (L2) Austin Watson, Zach Stepan, Filip Forsberg

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Nashville Predators remain one of the better defensive teams in the NHL. Led by Norris Trophy winner from last season Seth Jones, the Predators snuck into the playoffs after a three-year absence.

    Scoring remains an issue for the Predators. The club has a number of effective two-way players that can play in all game situations, but outside of two-time 20-goal scorer Filip Forsberg, no Predator has scored more than 18 goals in the past four seasons.

    Don’t expect that to change much unless some forwards find a scoring touch that has eluded them until now.

New Jersey Devils

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Nick Ritchie, Adam Henrique, Blake Coleman

    (L2) Stefan Matteau, Travis Zajac, Ryan Clowe

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The New Jersey Devils have been led by coach Martin Brodeur for two seasons now, and while fans have been patient, it remains to be seen if they will continue to support him if the club misses the playoffs again.

    The Devils are one of the better defensive teams in the league, but scoring, after the top line, remains thin.

    Nick Ritchie has become a very good left winger, and his chemistry with center Adam Henrique has been even better than hoped for. The second line is versatile, but scoring consistently is an ongoing issue. Travis Zajac and Ryan Clowe will need to have a quick start if they hope to retain their second-line statuses.

New York Islanders

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Michael Grabner, John Tavares, Kirill Kabanov

    (L2) Josh Bailey, Ryan Strome, Kyle Okposo

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The New York Islanders really turned a corner during the shortened 2013 season. Winning the Stanley Cup in 2016-17 was fitting for one of the best players in the game, perennial All-Star John Tavares.

    The Islanders defense has developed into one of the best in the league. Tavares leads this versatile group that has seen players that were once centers playing comfortably on the wing.

    Ryan Strome, Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo would be the first line on many teams. When the first line isn’t going as well, Strome seems to elevate his game to another level.

    The Islanders should challenge for the Eastern Conference title again in the 2017-18 season.

New York Rangers

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Rick Nash

    (L2) Carl Hagelin, Steven Fogarty, Danny Kristo

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The New York Rangers are one of the hardest working groups in the NHL. Backstopped by Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers are always near the top of the Atlantic Division.

    First-line winger Chris Kreider is a great blend of size and speed. With Rick Nash still able to snipe consistently, the Rangers are dangerous off the rush.

    The Rangers second line doesn’t offer nearly the scoring punch that the first does, but they are an effective group at creating chances, if not always burying them.

    The second line creates issues for line matching when they are producing offensively. Steven Fogarty and Carl Hagelin have developed some very good chemistry.

Ottawa Senators

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Cory Conacher, Jason Spezza, Bobby Ryan

    (L2) Matt Puempel, Kyle Turris, Curtis Lazar

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Ottawa Senators are one of the most disciplined teams in the NHL. Led by one of the top coaches in the NHL, Paul MacLean, the Senators play a puck-possession game that not many teams can match.

    While the Senators are always in the playoff mix, they have not won the Stanley Cup since re-entering the league in 1992. The Senators' attack is balanced with the two top lines being almost interchangeable.

    Converted center Curtis Lazar has great vision on the wing when setting up both Kyle Turris and former OHL star Matt Puempel.

    The Senators will make the playoffs comfortably in 2018, and they should be considered as a real threat to end their Stanley Cup drought.

     

Philadelphia Flyers

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Brayden Schenn, Claude Giroux, Jason Akeson

    (L2)  Scott Laughton, Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Philadelphia Flyers are a very good offensive team, but with their greenhorn defense, there are a lot of growing pains in their defensive zone. Because of the glut at the center ice position, former centers, Brayden Schenn and Scott Laughton have moved to the wing.

    Claude Giroux has produced at nearly a point-per-game rate for years, and he shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. The Flyers second line features both size and skill.

    Sean Couturier has finally realized his great promise, and his size and skill make him one of the better Eastern Conference centers under the age of 25. 

     

Phoenix Coyotes

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Max Domi, Martin Hanzal, Mikkel Boedker

    (L2) Lucas Lessio, Henrik Samuelsson, Mathew Barzal

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Phoenix Coyotes have had some tough years of late, but things are looking up for this talented squad. The Coyotes are in the tough Pacific Division, but expect them to engineer some upsets over the course of the 2017-18 season.

    The Coyotes will give up a lot of goals, but they will also score in bunches with the talent they can now boast on their top two lines. Max Domi has some of the best hands in the game and should lead the Desert Dogs in scoring again.

    Expect Mathew Barzal to avoid the sophomore jinx this year following his excellent 50-point effort in 2016-17. Lucas Lessio and Henrik Samuelsson will ensure that Barzal gets the space he needs in the offensive zone.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Beau Bennett, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal

    (L2) Jussi Jokinen, Sidney Crosby, Teddy Blueger

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Pittsburgh Penguins always challenge for the Eastern Conference title. While they have not captured the Stanley Cup since 2014, they remain one of the best teams in the East. Sidney Crosby is no longer the dominant center in the league, but he still produces better than a point per game when healthy.

    Evgeni Malkin is one of the most dynamic players in the game, and the Penguins first line is rivaled by only the Edmonton Oilers top line. They wreak havoc in the offensive zone, particularly against a smaller defensive pairing, or one that is not particularly mobile.

    Teddy Blueger is an adaptable forward who has the kind of smarts that make him a great complement to Crosby.

San Jose Sharks

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Brent Burns

    (L2) Blake Clark, Joe Pavelski, Sebastian Stalberg

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    San Jose has one of the NHL’s best duos at the center ice position. Joe Pavelski continues to excel during his peak years, and he is an exceptional second-line pivot.

    Logan Couture has finished in the top 20 in scoring for four consecutive years. As Couture goes, so go the Sharks. Veteran winger Brent Burns provides a great physical presence, and Tomas Hertl can play any of the forward positions when required.

    Former first-round pick Blake Clark has continued his scoring ways at the pro level. Expect him to have a breakout season alongside Pavelski on the second-line unit.

St. Louis Blues

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Jaden Schwartz, T.J. Oshie, Vladimir Tarasenko

    (L2) Magnus Paajarvi, David Backes, Chris Stewart

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The St. Louis Blues should challenge for the Central Division title once again this season. David Backes is the unquestioned leader for the Blues, while the majority of the Blues are at the height of their careers.

    Norris Trophy winner Alex Pietrangelo has a highly talented forward group to complement his all-around game. Vladimir Tarasenko should lead the team in scoring this season.

    T.J. Oshie blends puck skills with a physical brand of hockey that is difficult to contain for an entire game. This could be the year that the Blues challenge for their first Stanley Cup.

     

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Jonathan Drouin, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov

    (L2) Richard Panik, Connor McDavid, Teddy Purcell 

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Tampa Bay Lightning continue to frustrate their loyal fans. Steven Stamkos will go down in NHL history as one of the better pure goal scorers the league has ever seen, but playoff appearances have been scarce.

    Jonathan Drouin might not score at the same rate as Stamkos, but his playmaking ability and vision, make him a threat to win his first Art Ross Trophy in 2017-18. Former first overall pick Connor McDavid struggled in his first two years in the league. Expect that to change this year with the Lightning being somewhat improved with the significant upgrades to their defense via offseason trades.

    The Lightning just might sneak into the playoffs this year with their potentially explosive offensive capabilities.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Carter Ashton, Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel

    (L2) Daniel Audette, Joe Colborne, Tyler Biggs

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Toronto Maple Leafs compete in one of the two toughest divisions in the NHL, but with their offensive talent, they are not an easy club to shut down.

    Nazem Kadri has had two 70-point seasons in the past three years, and he may even crack the 80-point barrier in 2017-18. Because the Leafs second line garners a lot of attention, the first line is able to get more favorable matchups versus some lesser teams.

    While Phil Kessel doesn’t possess the same speed he once had, his exemplary play on the power play makes him an important part of the Leafs offense. Joe Colborne has finally figured out what it takes to be a top-six NHL forward, and his 60-point effort in 2016-17 was no fluke.

    Look for the Leafs to potentially regain their Atlantic Division crown this season.

Vancouver Canucks

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Hunter Shinkaruk, Brandon Gaunce, Zack Kassian

    (L2) Bo Horvat, Ryan Kesler, Nicklas Jensen  

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    With Sedins’ retirement in the offseason, a new era has begun in Vancouver.

    The Canucks have not been able to bring the Stanley Cup to Vancouver, but the pieces are in place to do that, potentially, in the next few seasons. Ryan Kesler has stated that this will be his final year of play.

    New Canuck stars Hunter Shinkaruk and Bo Horvat should learn a lot from the veteran this season. Zack Kassian should deliver another 50-point season in 2017-18, and with his 100-plus penalty minutes, he is one of the Western Conference’s best power forwards.

    The Canucks could surprise a lot of teams this year by being stronger than expected.

Washington Capitals

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin

    (L2) Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Washington Capitals have performed well for Adam Oates since he took over as head coach in 2013.

    The Capitals top line has been one of the best in the game since Evgeny Kuznetsov was finally lured to Washington by Alex Ovechkin in 2014. While the defensive zone is not often a priority for the first line, the second is defensively responsible. Brooks Laich’s best seasons are behind him now, but he is a good leader.

    Andre Burakovsky has great speed on the wing and is a constant threat with his ability to drive the net. The Caps are not likely to challenge for the division title this year, but it would be very surprising if they don’t make the playoffs next spring.

Winnipeg Jets

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    Top Six Forwards

    (L1) Evander Kane, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler

    (L2) Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Jimmy Lodge

     

    How the Group Shapes Up

    The Winnipeg Jets should challenge for the Western Conference title in 2017-18. They have not been able to parade the Stanley Cup through the Manitoba capital yet, but that opportunity may be just around the corner.

    The Jets have one of the best defense corps in the league, led by 2017 Norris Trophy finalist Zach Bogosian. Mark Scheifele is always improving elements of his game, and the Jets top line is a wonderful blend of size, speed, skill and physicality.

    Captain Andrew Ladd is one of the game’s most effective leaders. Converted center Jimmy Lodge has a chance to be an impact forward for many years. Winnipeg’s second line will once again be a key to the success they should enjoy this season.