Ranking the Top 2-Way Forwards in the NHL

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistJanuary 28, 2015

Ranking the Top 2-Way Forwards in the NHL

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    NHL teams rely on two-way forwards in the most important moments in the game. If the team is ahead by a goal, the two-way forward is deployed in a defensive role to keep the puck far from his team's net. Down a goal, the two-way player can help chip in on offense while still being reliable defensively.

    You won't find the best two-way players at the top of the scoring charts, but they are often among the best playmakers. Reasons include opportunities off the forecheck, broken plays and their ability to transition quickly.

    Here are the best two-way forwards in the game today.

9. David Backes, C, St. Louis Blues

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The Resume: David Backes is an quality two-way forward and a major force for the St. Louis Blues. A rugged player who hurts when he hits, Backes has a positive possession number despite punishing zone starts and tough opposition.

    Secondary Numbers: He is one of several effective faceoff men on the Blues and plays a lot in all areas of the game. 

    How Good is He? Backes is a very effective two-way forward and shows up on the top 10 in valuable areas, such as power-play goals this season. St. Louis is a more physical and aggressive team with Backes healthy and playing his best hockey at both ends of the ice.

8. Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    The Resume: Joe Thornton is a good possession player, ranking inside the league's top 10 forwards. He remains an effective scorer at even strength and does it with average zone starts and while facing very tough opposition.

    Secondary Numbers: He is an quality faceoff man and still plays 18 minutes a night. 

    How Good is He? Thornton has been splendid forever and one of the game's best offensive players. Where he delivers in a two-way role is possession, and he does it against tough opposition. For a team like San Jose, looking to add youth, Thornton is a blessing. He has been especially helpful to Tomas Hertl this season, and his mentoring of the young San Jose Sharks should have far-reaching benefits.

7. Anze Kopitar, C, Los Angeles Kings

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Resume: Anze Kopitar is a dominant two-way forward in the extremely difficult Western Conference. He gives the Los Angeles Kings an effective Corsi-for percentage at five-by-five and does it while facing stifling opposition. His offensive numbers are down or he would rank higher on the list.

    Secondary Numbers: He is a horse, playing over 19 minutes a night and in all three disciplines. Kopitar is also an effective faceoff man. 

    How Good is He? Kopitar is a wonderful player and has been the most important forward in Los Angeles' success over the past few seasons. His offense has been down in 2014-15, but the team has been in a year-long slump. Expect a breakout second half for Kopitar and a strong climb up this list.

6. Ondrej Palat, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Resume: Ondrej Palat of the Tampa Bay Lightning used to be the best player no one ever heard of, but things are getting better. Another season of great possession despite the toughest opposition tells us he is a bona fide star. The fact he's flourishing offensively suggests he may be something special. 

    Secondary Numbers: He plays in all situations and keeps showing up at the good end of statistical analysis. The numbers don't lie, and in his second full season, Palat looks like a complete winger.

    How Good is He? It is very rare to find a player who does everything well out of the box. Ondrej Palat does not have a great draft pedigree and does not come from a long line of brilliant players. What he does have is exceptional talent across the board and a growing reputation as a complete player.

5. Marian Hossa, RW, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Resume: Marian Hossa is a big factor in the success of the Chicago Blackhawks. His possession numbers tell us good things are happening when he's on the ice, and he remains an effective even-strength scorer. He's still facing tough opposition and average zone starts.

    Secondary Numbers: He plays 18 minutes a night and spends significant time on both the power play and penalty kill. His wide range of skills is very valuable. 

    How Good is He? It's easy to forget just how good Hossa is and that he's been playing at a high level for a long time. He's effective in all areas and can also deliver in a lesser role as required. He is one of the most valuable wingers in the NHL.

4. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Detroit Red Wings

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Resume: Pavel Datsyuk is the top-ranked forward in the NHL in Corsi-for percentage at even strength. He faces tougher competition and gets a solid zone-start push. Given that spot in the lineup, he's able to post solid offensive numbers at even strength.

    Secondary Numbers: Detroit relies on him in the faceoff circle, and he plays over 19 quality minutes a game.

    How Good is He? Datsyuk has been one of the best in the business for many years and is still at a high level. He is the most aggressive and effective backchecker of his generation. His stealth puck-robbery skills from behind is a signature move.

3. Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Resume: Jonathan Toews is so good that he gives an enormous push to the entire team. He delivers exceptional possession numbers, as he's in the top 10 in even-strength Corsi-for percentage this year. His splendid offense is a major plus delivered with mid-level zone starts and the toughest available competition.

    Secondary Numbers: He plays well over 19 minutes a night and is a faceoff demon. The ice is tilting in the right direction when Toews is in action.

    How Good is He? Toews is one of the best players in the game today, and the numbers reflect it. Chicago is notorious for its scoring depth, but a big part of it comes from Toews' delivery against tough competition.

2. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim Ducks

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    Christine Cotter/Associated Press

    The Resume: Ryan Getzlaf is an impact player in every aspect of the game and brings it every night for the Anaheim Ducks. An effective possession player with a Corsi-for percentage over 50, he's an outstanding even-strength offensive performer. He faces tougher zone starts and the toughest available opposition and still ranks among the league's exceptional five-by-five scorers.

    Secondary Numbers: Getzlaf is a solid faceoff man and is a tireless worker who plays big minutes in all disciplines.

    How Good is He? He is one of the best two-way players in the game and delivers terrific offense without facing the soft parade. The Ducks are loaded down the middle, but part of that comes from having a top center who can do it all.

1. Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Resume: Patrice Bergeron ranks high in all of the areas you'd expect to find two-way players. He is No. 3 overall in Corsi-for percentage at even strength and plays tough competition. Bergeron faces severe zone starts and still leads the Bruins in even-strength offense.

    Secondary Numbers: He boasts a strong faceoff percentage and plays heavy minutes in all three disciplines for the Bruins.

    How Good is He? Bergeron is the definition of a complete player. The Bruins have endured all kinds of issues this season but remain a formidable team. Patrice Bergeron is a major reason Boston is a feared opponent around the NHL. 

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com, BehindTheNet.ca and Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.