Ranking the Best Two-Way Forwards in the NHL

Tom Urtz Jr.@@TomUrtzJrContributor IAugust 14, 2013

Ranking the Best Two-Way Forwards in the NHL

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    Two-way play is an important skill, and players such as Pavel Datsyuk, Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews can adequately balance offense and defense.

    It is easy to appreciate Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin for their prolific scoring abilities, but the aforementioned players don't always get the credit they deserve.

    There are multiple players who play a solid offensive and defensive game, and here are the best two-way forwards in the NHL.

Honorable Mentions

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    Pascal Dupuis, Pittsburgh Penguins: Dupuis is a solid two-way winger, who plays an important role for the Penguins. He is a defensive stalwart on the Sidney Crosby line, and he is tasked with being keenly aware defensively.

    He blocks shots, forechecks, kills penalties and does whatever is asked of him. Dupuis was always known for his defensive play, and he is an underrated player on the Penguins' roster.

    Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings: Richards is a skilled two-way center that has been a great addition for the Los Angeles Kings. Although his numbers have been slightly lower than what he contributed with the Philadelphia Flyers, Richards has added defensive depth to the roster.

    Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers: Callahan is known for his black and blue demeanor, and he leads by example for the Rangers. He led forwards with 66 blocked shots, he registered 154 hits and he recorded 23 takeaways. Callahan also was a decent offensive contributor, and he was a stalwart of the Blueshirts' penalty kill unit.

    Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars: Benn is a two-way player who could have a dynamite 2013-14 campaign. Last season the physical scoring-winger registered 71 hits, he had 41 takeaways and tallied 33 points. He is going to have to elevate his game this season, but he is definitely an underrated player.

10. Loui Eriksson, Boston Bruins

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    Key Stats: 29 Points, 29 Takeaways

    Loui Eriksson has been one of the NHL's most underrated players for years and, with the Boston Bruins, he will have an opportunity to shine. The 28-year-old winger plays a skilled two-way game, and he is known for his skating ability and positional play.

    Because he is a strong skater, Eriksson is seldom out of position when he is on the ice. Eriksson uses his speed to his advantage, and there are a plethora of highlights in which the former Stars' forward scored a goal after disrupting a play.

    The Bruins needed a top-line winger in the worst way, and Eriksson will be a perfect fit for the Bruins' system.

9. Jordan Staal, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Key Stats: 31 Takeaways, 105 Hits, 50.1 Percent Faceoff Efficiency

    The Carolina Hurricanes acquired Jordan Staal last summer, and he was given an enhanced role with his new team. During his first season in Raleigh, Staal got to showcase his talents as a scoring two-way center.

    In 48 games, Staal tallied 31 points and, on the defensive side of the puck, he was a top-notch penalty killer. The Hurricanes' second-line center ranked 10th in hits amongst pivots, and he was tied for13th in takeaways.

    Staal may not be an elite two-way center like Jonathan Toews or Patrice Bergeron, but he is still a vital asset most teams would love to add to their roster.

8. Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche

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    Key Stats: 44 Takeaways, 48 Hits, 54.6 Percent Faceoff Efficiency, 43 Points

    Matt Duchene had a great offensive year with the Colorado Avalanche, but he took his defensive play to the next level. The Avs' first-line center was fourth among centers in takeaways, he won 54.6 percent of his faceoffs, blocked 47 shots and registered 48 hits.

    Duchene is a skilled two-way center on the rise. His role with the Avs will only expand as he gets older, and he could form a great two-way tandem with Ryan O'Reilly.

7. Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings

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    Key Stats: 29 Takeaways, 20 Hits, Two Shorthanded Goals, 48 Points

    Henrik Zetterberg is a versatile two-way forward who can play center or wing. As team captain, Zetterberg's two-way play has become contagious because he leads by example for the Detroit Red Wings.

    The soon to be 33-year-old is an elite player and was a great draft steal by the Detroit Red Wings back in 1999. Zetterberg's skating ability allows him break up plays as they are created, and he is a skilled faceoff man when he has to line up at center.

    There are not many players like Zetterberg in the NHL and, given his age and conditioning, he could be around for many years to come.

6. David Backes, St. Louis Blues

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    Key Stats: 158 Hits, 31 Giveaways, 52.3 Percent Faceoff Efficiency

    David Backes is an elite shutdown-center with size and physicality. He has never won a Selke Trophy, but he should have some hardware on his mantle by the end of his career.

    The Blues' captain is a physical bruiser, skilled faceoff man and great forechecker who kills tons of penalties for the Blues. These accolades are not treated with the same reverance as goals, but they are still very important.

    Backes also has a decent offensive game, and can play both center and wing. The American born forward is the heart and soul of the Blues, and he is a prototypical two-way power forward.

5. Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Key Stats: 48 Takeaways, Plus 20 Rating, 31 Points

    Marian Hossa (when healthy) is one of the league's premier two-way forwards. Since entering the league as an 18-year-old, Hossa has made a concerted effort to play a strong offensive and defensive game.

    In 2012-13 alone, Hossa had 48 takeaways, which was good enough for third best in the entire NHL.

    The root of Hossa's success as an NHLer lies in his skating ability and hands, and both help him excel in all three zones. Whether it is disrupting a play in the neutral zone with a poke check, or deking a goalie out of his pads on a breakaway, Hossa uses his two-way arsenal like an elite player.

4. Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado Avalanche

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    Key Stats: 34 Takeaways, 52.8 Percent Faceoff Efficiency, 21 Points

    For a 22-year-old, Ryan O'Reilly is a darn good two-way player. The Colorado Avalanche's newest left winger entered the league as an 18-year-old and has slowly but surely developed into a good all-around player.

    At first glance this may seem like an odd pick but if you look at ROR's career splits, you will see why he is a top five two-way forward. For example, here are his points-per-game averages from his entire career.

      Points Per Game By Season

    2009-10 | 0.32

    2010-11 | 0.35

    2011-12 | 0.68

    2012-13 | 0.69

     Takeaways By Season

    2009-10 | 69 (5th)

    2010-11 | 72 (7th)

    2011-12 | 101 (1st)

    2012-13 | 34 (9th)

    As you can see O'Reilly has been continually developing as a player, and he is only 22. The best is yet to come, and he could really thrive on the wing this year with less responsibilities 

3. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

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    Key Stats: 62.1 Percent Faceoff Efficiency, Plus 24 Rating, 2012 Selke Trophy

    Patrice Bergeron displayed a ton of strength and perseverance during the Stanley Cup Playoffs this past season. He also reinforced why he is one of the NHL's better two-way forwards.

    In due time, Bergeron will take his rightful place as the league's best two-way forward, but currently a top three spot is where he sits.

    During the regular season, Bergeron led the league in faceoff efficiency. He also was a solid penalty killer and forechecker who played in multiple situations.

    One of the man reasons why Bergeron is a great two-way forward is because he is just a great positional player. The 28-year-old forward also possesses great vision and that helps him create offense while making routine defensive plays.

    Bergeron also is willing to sacrifice his body if necessary, and he is just a great old school hockey player.

2. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings

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    Key Stats: 55 Percent Faceoff Efficiency, Three-Time Selke Winner, 38 Takeaways

    Pavel Datsyuk almost captured the top spot on this list, but second place is nothing to sneer about. At age 35, the Red Wings' top center is still one of the best forwards in the NHL. This past season Datsyuk finished 10th in scoring, ninth in plus minus and tied for first in takeaways.

    His defensive stats are truly impressive, and it is no wonder that the 35-year-old pivot is a three-time Frank J. Selke Trophy winner.

    Throughout his career, Datsyuk has always been a threat when he is on the ice, and that is because he is a great three-zone player.

1. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Key Stats: 59.9 Percent Faceoff Efficiency, 2013 Selke Trophy, 56 Takeaways, Plus 28 Rating

    When trying to pencil in a No. 1 candidate, there were many deserving candidates. No disrespect to Patrice Bergeron or Pavel Datsyuk, but Jonathan Toews is the NHL's top two-way forward by the slimmest of margins. 

    Toews was a league leader in 2012-13 in takeaways; he finished second in faceoff efficiency, third overall in plus minus and was a point-per-game player. 

    This dominance in defensive categories all while being a top offensive center is mighty impressive. Captain Serious has long been known for his defensive prowess, but he has become a top scorer over his last few seasons.

    For his efforts this season Toews was awarded the Frank J. Selke Trophy, and it was a well-deserved honor for the league's top two-way forward.

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