NHL

Ranking the Best Power Forwards in the NHL in 2016-17

Carol SchramFeatured ColumnistNovember 26, 2016

Ranking the Best Power Forwards in the NHL in 2016-17

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Simply put, a power forward is a big guy who puts up points and likes to throw his weight around. One iconic archetype is Cam Neely, now the president of the Boston Bruins. In his peak on-ice years, the late 80s and early 90s, Neely regularly scored at least 30 goals and logged a minimum of 100 penalty minutes per season.

    Nowadays, scoring and penalties have dropped throughout the league, as speed and skill have become the name of the game. Today's power forwards don't rule like their predecessors did, but the best of 'em still deliver strong skating, sharp shooting and the ability to intimidate with their physical presence. They're not afraid to drop the gloves when necessary, either.

    When talking about today's best power forwards, this list omits Evander Kane of the Buffalo Sabres, who's now five years removed from his lone 30-goal season and has struggled so far in 2016-17, with just two assists in 10 games.

    At the other end of the spectrum, we're seeing some intriguing young players who could become the elite power forwards of the future, including Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames.

    Though he's only 6'1" and 195 pounds, Tkachuk has nine points and 27 penalty minutes in the first 19 games of his NHL career. Still just 18 years old, it seems the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Tkachuk shows the soft hands and the hard edge that helped his father, Keith, enjoy a successful run as one of hockey's iconic power forwards during the 1990s.

    Other names to watch in the next wave include the heavy-hitting Lawson Crouse of the Arizona Coyotes (aged 19, 6'4" and 212 pounds) and Nick Ritchie of the Anaheim Ducks (aged 20, 6'2", 232 pounds and 5-1-6 in 19 games this season).

    As things stand, here's a look at the eight best power forwards the NHL has to offer.

8. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Tale of the Tape: 30 years old, 6'5" and 225 pounds.

        

    Career NHL Stats: 638 GP, 180-275-455, 427 penalty minutes (70th among active forwards).

        

    2016-17 NHL Stats: 23 GP, 7-8-15, 14 penalty minutes.

        

    Strengths: Coming off three straight seasons of at least 20 goals and a career-high 78 points in 2015-16, Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler has fine-tuned his ability to use his big body to generate offense at the NHL level.

    Though he is not a prolific fighter, he has been known to drop the gloves when necessary. His last tilt came against Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins in February of 2016, according to Hockey Fights.

        

    Weaknesses: With his bulky 6'5" frame, Wheeler's physical game could be more intimidating. The University of Minnesota product has never logged more than 73 penalty minutes in a season. He's willing to throw a hit and ranks fourth on the Jets in that category so far this season, but Wheeler doesn't always bring a consistent physical effort on a game-by-game basis.

         

    Summary: With good hands and good size, Wheeler can play with enough of an edge to qualify as one of the NHL's best power forwards. More grit in his game could move him up these rankings.

7. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Tale of the Tape: 37 years old, 6'4" and 220 pounds.

        

    Career NHL Stats: 1,388 GP, 379-975-1,354, 1,111 penalty minutes (ninth among active forwards).

        

    2016-17 NHL Stats: 21 GP, 2-11-13, 6 penalty minutes.

        

    Strengths: Joe Thornton has been playing in the NHL for almost as long as Connor McDavid has been alive, but he's still writing impressive new chapters in his career. In 2015-16, the then-36-year-old tied for fourth in NHL scoring before leading his San Jose Sharks to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

    The man they call Jumbo has a power forward's frame, which he uses to his advantage to knock opponents off the puck and make plays for his teammates.

        

    Weaknesses: Considering his size, Thornton doesn't play as physically as you might expect he would. He has tallied more than 100 penalty minutes in a season just three times in his career—all with the Boston Bruins before they traded him to the Sharks in November of 2005.

    Thornton has backed off from dropping the gloves as he has gotten older. According to Hockey Fights, his last two scraps came during the 2012-13 season—against two other elite forwards, Jonathan Toews and Jamie Benn.

          

    Summary: These days, Thornton prefers a more cerebral game. He can still use his physical skills when the urge strikes—and Sharks fans wish it would strike a little more often.

6. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Tale of the Tape: 31 years old, 6'4" and 221 pounds.

         

    Career NHL Stats: 805 GP, 222-535-757, 693 penalty minutes (25th among active forwards).

        

    2016-17 NHL Stats: 18 GP, 1-15-16, 12 penalty minutes.

         

    Strengths: Ryan Getzlaf boasts a big frame and a dominant personality that has made him captain of the Anaheim Ducks for the last seven seasons since taking over from Scott Niedermayer. He's also a strapping prairie boy whose tough stock is reinforced by his older brother, Chris, who plays in the Canadian Football League.

    Getzlaf and Corey Perry share the load in terms of both scoring and aggressiveness with the Anaheim Ducks. Perry has more goals; Getzlaf has more points. The former has more penalty minutes—though both players have toned down the rough stuff as they have gotten older and become more fixated on a winning a second Stanley Cup.

    The Ducks captain gets the edge as the team's consummate power forward for his leadership and his bigger, more imposing physical presence on the ice. 

           

    Weaknesses: Getzlaf was the Ducks' leading playoff scorer in his rookie season, winning a Stanley Cup on a 2006-07 team that featured star veterans such as Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Teemu Selanne. He also picked up 32 penalty minutes along the way.

    For the past decade, Getzlaf, Perry and the rest of the Ducks have been trying to recapture that magic. If Getzlaf's overall playoff history seems disappointing, it's primarily because he set the bar so high as a young player.

    He is also proving to be a streaky scorer. He peaked at 31 goals in 2013-14 after scoring only 11 times two years earlier, and he has just one goal to show for his efforts so far this season.

          

    Summary: As Getzlaf's game has matured, he seems to have learned how to pick his spots and pace himself. When he's engaged, he's still a high-energy competitor on the scoresheet and along the boards.

5. Chris Kreider, New York Rangers

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Tale of the Tape: 25 years old, 6'3" and 226 pounds.

          

    Career NHL Stats: 264 GP, 65-77-142, 237 penalty minutes (133rd among active forwards).

          

    2016-17 NHL Stats: 16 GP, 4-9-13, 13 penalty minutes.

          

    Strengths: Chris Kreider is best known for using his speed to drive to the net with reckless abandon. His playing style carries a strong degree of intimidation and has also helped him score some goals—he has broken the 20-goal mark in each of the past two NHL seasons and is on pace to eclipse his previous career high of 46 points this season.

    Kreider logged his first fight of the new season against Brandon Manning in the New York Rangers' fiery 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday.

           

    Weaknesses: Kreider's crease-crashing doesn't exactly endear him to opponents, which sometimes puts a target on his back. And though he is willing to drop the gloves when necessary, he doesn't play as much of an all-around physical game as Rangers fans might like. His career high so far is 88 penalty minutes, recorded in 2014-15.

          

    Summary: When he's on his game, Kreider's a virtually unstoppable power forward, but consistency is still an issue. In order to successfully round out his game, Kreider needs to learn to deliver in the physical aspect as well as on the scoresheet.

4. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Tale of the Tape: 31 years old, 6'3" and 239 pounds.

          

    Career NHL Stats: 859 GP, 537-446-983, 579 penalty minutes (37th among active forwards).

          

    2016-17 NHL Stats: 20 GP, 12-5-17, 12 penalty minutes.

        

    Strengths: Alex Ovechkin's a big boy and has scored goals like nobody else during the last decade in the NHL. Despite the fact he is always the No. 1 target for opposing defenses, he finds ways to get open and keep putting the puck in the net—now to the tune of six Rocket Richard Trophies.

          

    Weaknesses: Earlier in his career, Ovechkin took heat for delivering some questionable hits and was suspended twice, but he has curbed those tendencies as he has matured. He's not a fighter in the same sense as some of the others on this list, but unlike some skill players, he has the big, strong frame that allows him to hold his own in the physical side of the game.

         

    Summary: Coaches try to keep Ovechkin fresh for his goal-scoring duties, but he doesn't mind getting mixed up physically. With old-style power forwards disappearing from the NHL, Ovi's profile exemplifies the new breed.

3. Milan Lucic, Edmonton Oilers

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Tale of the Tape: 28 years old, 6'3" and 233 pounds.

           

    Career NHL Stats: 669 GP, 165-247-412, 860 penalty minutes (16th among active forwards).

          

    2016-17 NHL Stats: 22 GP, 6-9-15, 9 penalty minutes.

           

    Strengths: After developing under Cam Neely's shadow as a member of the Boston Bruins, Milan Lucic's game has the tantalizing mix of skill and snarl that earned him a $42 million contract from the Edmonton Oilers when he reached unrestricted free agency on July 1, 2016.

    Lucic has hit the 20-goal mark four times in his NHL career and has three 100-plus penalty-minute seasons, though the last one came in 2011-12. He's on track for a solid 22 goals and 55 points in his first season in Edmonton, similar to his production with the Los Angeles Kings in 2015-16.

          

    Weaknesses: Lucic can be injury-prone and has had difficulties in the past controlling his temper. 

    He isn't a great skater and, at 28, already looks like he could be starting to slow down. As the game shifts to more of a speed-and-skill style, Lucic could get left in the dust long before his seven-year contract with the Oilers expires.

           

    Summary: Early in his tenure in Edmonton, Lucic is doing a steady job of delivering the time and space needed for linemate Connor McDavid to excel. The Oilers lead the Pacific Division after Friday's games, and McDavid sits atop the NHL scoring race with 28 points in 22 games.

2. Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Tale of the Tape: 28 years old, 6'2" and 185 pounds.

         

    Career NHL Stats: 627 GP, 181-182-363, 798 penalty minutes (19th among active forwards).

          

    2016-17 NHL Stats: 20 GP, 10-9-19, 19 penalty minutes.

         

    Strengths: Though Wayne Simmonds is one of the slighter players on this list, at 185 pounds, it's easy to see how physically he plays the game by the fact he's approaching 800 penalty minutes in just his ninth NHL season. Simmonds has passed the 100-minute mark four times and hit a career-high 147 penalty minutes last season, ranking fourth in the league.

    Simmonds is willing to mix it up and to go to the net. He has also snapped the 20-goal mark four times and hit a career high in goals last season, leading the Philadelphia Flyers with 32. His 10 goals lead the Flyers again so far this year.

          

    Weaknesses: Simmonds plays bigger than he is, but his frame is not ideal for a player who's committed to the power forward style of play. Despite his rough-and-tumble approach, Simmonds has missed just 17 games in his NHL career to date, but injuries seem like they're bound to start taking a toll on his career before much more time passes.

          

    Summary: The 28-year-old is on the small side, but the mix of scoring and hitting he brings to the ice evokes memories of hockey's iconic power forwards. He's one of the truest representatives of the designation in today's game.

1. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Tale of the Tape: 27 years old, 6'2" and 210 pounds.

         

    Career NHL Stats: 530 GP, 198-267-465, 409 penalty minutes (72nd among active forwards).

        

    2016-17 NHL Stats: 22 GP, 6-10-17, 25 penalty minutes.

         

    Strengths: Though he was an unheralded junior player, drafted in the fifth round out of the BCHL's Victoria Grizzlies, Jamie Benn has developed into the NHL's top power forward. He won the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer with 35 goals and 87 points in 2014-15 and improved on that last season, finishing with 41 goals and 89 points to rank second overall.

    Benn has scored at least 20 goals in six of his seven NHL seasons to date and isn't afraid to drop the gloves. Though he has never posted more than 64 penalty minutes in a season, Hockey Fights lists him as a regular pugilist and gives him the win in his first scrap of this season, against Brandon Dubinsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 22.

         

    Weaknesses: Benn's humble beginnings and steady progression as both a scorer and a leader make it hard to find fault with any aspect of his game. At 210 pounds, he's a little smaller than some of the players on this list, and he may not have quite as much edge in his game as his peers, but those quibbles are minor. 

         

    Summary: At 27, Benn should be riding the crest into his peak hockey years, as long as he stays healthy. He's a clutch player whose next challenge is to show he can elevate his game to take his team deep into the playoffs.

         

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com, current through games completed Friday, November 25. Penalty rankings courtesy of Quant Hockey.

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