Ranking Every NHL Team's Top Line in 2014-15
Which team in the NHL has the best No. 1 forward line?
That's the question that inspired this slideshow. We weren't interested in hypothetical, super-powered combinations; we wanted to actually look around the league and see which players teams were actually putting together on their top units. We wanted to get a feel for what the top lines looked like (including the effects of injuries) across the NHL as the playoffs approach.
To do that, we turned to DailyFaceoff.com, which tracks NHL line combinations on a day-by-day basis. The lines in this slideshow are all based on that site's reported combinations and as a result should give us an accurate feel for what the lines look like right now.
For context, we've also included total goals scored by the three players on each top line. Goals scored doesn't provide a full picture, and in many cases, our evaluation deviates from the order suggested by raw goal totals. But it does provide an objective measure that complements our subjective ranking.
Without further ado, here are the best and worst top units from across the NHL. Thanks in advance for reading.
30. Arizona Coyotes
Top Line: Mark Arcobello, Shane Doan and Tobias Rieder
Total Goals: 38
Summary: On one wing is Doan, a 38-year-old warhorse whose scoring is half what it was even five years ago. On the other is Rieder, a 22-year-old rookie who with 19 points in 63 games still manages to qualify as a bright spot in a dismal Coyotes season. In between them is the undrafted, 5'8", 172-pound Arcobello, who is on his fourth team this season and has been claimed off the waiver wire twice this year.
On a lot of teams, this wouldn't qualify as a third line. In Arizona, it's the best the Coyotes have.
29. Buffalo Sabres
Top Line: Johan Larsson, Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis
Total Goals: 34
Summary: Larsson, with just 59 games of NHL experience, has been forced into the top job thanks to either injury or incompetence from the other candidates. He's the weak point on a line that features two legitimate NHLers. Moulson forged his reputation as John Tavares' partner in New York and is a solid player, while Ennis is one of those pint-sized dynamos that Buffalo always seems to have no matter how poor the rest of the team is.
Replace Larsson with a capable veteran, and this would be a respectable No. 2 line.
28. New Jersey Devils
Top Line: Travis Zajac, Michael Cammalleri and Jordin Tootoo
Total Goals: 44
Summary: Cammalleri remains a high-end goal scorer, even in New Jersey; he's already topped the 25-goal mark on the season, and playing in the Devils' defensive system hasn't robbed him of his ability to fire the puck.
The rest of this line is not what one would normally expect to find at the top of an NHL depth chart. Zajac has just 22 points in what has been a miserable year, and while Tootoo has enjoyed a bounce-back campaign, the truth is that he's sharply limited as an offensive player.
27. Florida Panthers
Top Line: Aleksander Barkov, Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau
Total Goals: 36
Summary: Unsurprisingly, the offensively challenged Panthers have an offensively challenged top line. Barkov is a very good young player, but he has yet to find that next gear offensively; he's also missed some time to injury.
Huberdeau is starting to find that gear; he's at a career-high 43 points this season despite a low shooting percentage. Jagr's a nice fit for the line; the one-time superstar is still a highly capable mercenary at the age of 43 and is the right kind of role model for his young linemates.
Barkov and Huberdeau are going to be a fun duo to watch over the next few years; they simply haven't reached their prime yet.
26. Nashville Predators
Top Line: Mike Ribeiro, Colin Wilson and Gabriel Bourque
Total Goals: 36
Summary: The combination of injuries and a quest for depth has Nashville's top line looking pretty anemic at the moment. Ribeiro has enjoyed a splendid bounce-back campaign in Tennessee and remains a crafty offensive player, while Wilson has already hit career highs in both goals and points this season. Bourque is suffering through a tough year, but with James Neal presently out of the lineup, he's riding shotgun on the top line.
25. Carolina Hurricanes
Top Line: Victor Rask, Eric Staal and Elias Lindholm
Total Goals: 46
Summary: Rookie pivot Victor Rask has never put up particularly gaudy point totals at the AHL level, but he now finds himself at the heart of an NHL first line. On one side is Carolina's franchise player, natural centre Eric Staal, and on the other wing is key building block Elias Lindholm, the fifth overall selection in the 2013 Draft.
Staal is legitimately a first-line player. The other two simply hope that they'll reach that level someday.
24. Winnipeg Jets
Top Line: Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Drew Stafford
Total Goals: 51
Summary: With Bryan Little on the sidelines, it's difficult to argue that Andrew Ladd's line remains Winnipeg's top unit, which means that by default this trio inherits the crown.
It's been a pretty good line for the team. Stafford has really found his offensive game since getting out of Buffalo, posting 14 points in 17 contests with the Jets. Scheifele, now 22 years of age, is posting career-best numbers. Wheeler is, as always, a reliable weapon and adds size to the mix.
23. Montreal Canadiens
Top Line: David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and P.A. Parenteau
Total Goals: 54
Summary: This isn't Montreal's highest-scoring line, but it is the one Michel Therrien leans on most at the moment. It's incredible how little respect Pacioretty gets given his bona fides, both as a scorer and as an all-round NHLer. Neither of his linemates are in his class, but Desharnais is a solid little player, and Parenteau has significant offensive ability.
Still, it's obvious that Montreal's great strength isn't its top forward line.
22. Columbus Blue Jackets
Top Line: Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner
Total Goals: 45
Summary: Johansen is, without question, the heart of this line. A big, two-way pivot who came into his own last year, he's one of the top young forwards in the game of hockey. His size helps to create room for pint-sized compatriot Atkinson, who over the last couple of season has overcome his 5'8" stature by producing offensively.
The goal totals for the unit are a little misleading because its third member, Jenner, has played only 21 games this season; in that span, the sophomore has scored six times.
All three are 25 years of age or younger, with Johansen and Jenner in particular still having plenty of room to grow.
21. Toronto Maple Leafs
Top Line: Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk
Total Goals: 67
Summary: Offensively as a trio, this group has lived up to expectations and then some, but given that the average plus/minus for this three is minus-34, it's understandable that Toronto fans expect more.
Plus/minus exaggerates the situation, but there's no denying that this line has not been nearly as good at playing a two-way game as it needs to be. Kessel is a ridiculous talent but is suffering through a tough year, while Van Riemsdyk is having his worst season as a Maple Leaf.
20. Detroit Red Wings
Top Line: Henrik Zetterberg, Justin Abdelkader and Erik Cole
Total Goals: 57
Summary: When Pavel Datsyuk is healthy, the Red Wings have the option of a supercharged top line. But even when he isn't, this group is surprisingly good given the names involved.
Zetterberg needs no introduction after a decade of brilliant two-way play; he's a known quantity. Abdelkader is often perceived as a depth forward but has taken a step forward in an elevated role; he has already doubled his previous career high in goals, in no small part thanks to his emergence as a power-play option. Cole, a trade-deadline pickup, is in his twilight years but brings a power game that Detroit's management has always valued.
19. Ottawa Senators
Top Line: Mika Zibanejad, Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman
Total Goals: 63
Summary: If I'd listed the three names above and described Hoffman as the leading goal scorer at the start of the year, people would've looked at me like I was crazy. The emergence of the 25-year-old, who was extremely close to being written off as an AHL journeyman, is one of the best stories in the NHL this season.
Ryan, of course, is a reliable star, even if his goal scoring has dropped off since leaving Anaheim, and Zibanejad is having a whale of a campaign after some difficult moments early in his young career. The 21-year-old arguably takes a back seat to his linemates at the moment, but looking at the big picture, few players are more important in Ottawa.
18. Minnesota Wild
Top Line: Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville
Total Goals: 51
Summary: The hottest team in the Western Conference has a sneaky-good top line featuring three players whose collective offensive numbers have suffered thanks to a malfunctioning power play.
Parise is the heart of the line, a crafty two-way forward who can light the lamp but has always been so much more than just the sum of his point totals. Granlund has yet to emerge as a top-flight scorer, and Pominville's best days are behind him, but both are solid citizens in the here and now.
17. Vancouver Canucks
Top Line: Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows
Total Goals: 46
Summary: Radim Vrbata has spent much of the year alongside the Sedins, and the unit is weakened substantially by the subtraction of his 27 goals from the equation. Combine that with Daniel Sedin's goal-scoring difficulties (difficulties that have now stretched into a third consecutive season), and this trio isn't as offensively potent as we might expect.
Even so, the Sedins remain masters of a cycle game and dominate possession metrics, and Burrows is a chippy winger with a defensive conscience. This is a better line than raw goal totals would otherwise seem to indicate.
16. Colorado Avalanche
Top Line: Ryan O'Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Alex Tanguay
Total Goals: 54
Summary: There's a reasonable debate as to whether this unit or one centered by Matt Duchene is in reality Colorado's best line, but this is the one coach Patrick Roy uses the most.
It's easy to see why, too. O'Reilly and Landeskog are both young but are already superb two-way players; both are big, physical and not yet 25. The third member of the line, Tanguay, brings experience, playmaking ability and a precise shot that has long led him to have one of the NHL's best shooting percentages.
15. Edmonton Oilers
Top Line: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Benoit Pouliot
Total Goals: 59
Summary: Many things have gone wrong in Edmonton this year, among them an injury to Taylor Hall. But the first line, powered by the duo of Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle, has been consistently good.
Nugent-Hopkins is an underrated two-way presence and a legitimate No. 1 pivot, while Eberle is a clever offensive weapon who would be at home on any team in the league. Pouliot, a somewhat controversial free-agent signing in the summer, has provided a power game and filled in well during Hall's absences, though he has missed time to injury himself.
14. Philadelphia Flyers
Top Line: Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Michael Raffl
Total Goals: 60
Summary: The dynamic duo at the heart of Philadelphia's top line is one of the best in the business. Giroux is an exceptional player and has been for years, but 2014-15 has seen Voracek serve notice that he's more than a sidekick. Voracek's numbers have been really solid for three seasons now, but this is the first time that he's overshadowed his more famous centre.
Raffl can't compete with the other two players in terms of ability, but the 26-year-old Austrian is a competent two-way player with some offensive touch.
13. New York Rangers
Top Line: Derek Stepan, Rick Nash and Chris Kreider
Total Goals: 70
Summary: Nash is back and as good as ever. After a much-criticized playoff performance, New York's star winger is within a whisper of his career high in goals (he has 39 so far) and deserves at least some consideration as a Hart Trophy candidate.
Nash's supporting cast is solid, too. Stepan isn't a top-flight offensive producer but is a disciplined two-way presence and is still young at the age of 24. Kreider is younger still and brings speed and a power game to the mix.
12. Washington Capitals
Top Line: Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson
Total Goals: 69
Summary: Ovechkin and Backstrom have long been the twin engine at the heart of Washington's offence, and that hasn't changed this year. The former is, of course, a legitimate superstar and an offensive weapon nearly without peer, while the latter brings a defensive conscience and playmaking ability to the top line.
The obvious weakness on this unit is the revolving door on the other wing, which right now sees 20-year-old Tom Wilson (four goals, 155 penalty minutes) as the third member of the line.
11. Tampa Bay Lightning
Top Line: Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin and Alex Killorn
Total Goals: 57
Summary: Tampa Bay boasts ridiculous depth, and one of the ways the Lightning achieve it is through spreading out the wealth. Consequently, Stamkos, one of the NHL's rare true superstars, has spent parts of the year with secondary offensive threats. That's how this line only has 57 goals despite Stamkos alone scoring 40.
While Stamkos is by far the best player on this line, the others aren't bad by any stretch. Killorn is in his third season and recording a point every other game, while the 19-year-old Drouin was the third overall pick in the 2013 draft.
10. Calgary Flames
Top Line: Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler
Total Goals: 76
Summary: Calgary's stunning resurgence this season has come in large part thanks to this trio.
Monahan has taken the next step in his NHL evolution, emerging as a high-end pivot in only his second year in the league. Gaudreau has been a revelation as a rookie winger, and while the 150-pound marvel is likely to be overlooked for the Calder Trophy, it's a shame because he's a special player. Rounding out the trio is Hudler, who ages ago seemed like a second-tier free-agent addition but is scoring at almost a point-per-game pace for the Flames this season.
It's a young, undersized group, and the two-way play of the unit is less than that of several veteran trios. But these guys are exciting and highly capable of putting points on the board.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins
Top Line: Sidney Crosby, David Perron and Blake Comeau
Total Goals: 56
Summary: With Chris Kunitz on another line and injuries to Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist hurting the Penguins' forward depth chart, Crosby's line isn't as dominant as it often is.
Still, it's not bad. Crosby is Crosby, while Perron is a legitimate top-six winger who can play on either side and contribute scoring and pugnacity. Comeau is the oddball on the line, but the well-traveled winger is enjoying a fine season, and it's worth remembering that early in his career, he was a pretty capable scorer for the New York Islanders.
8. San Jose Sharks
Top Line: Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Melker Karlsson
Total Goals: 62
Summary: Whatever else is wrong in San Jose, the top line seems to keep on keeping on. Pavelski is doing his best to show that last year's 41-goal outing was no fluke by posting a career-high 18 power-play goals on the season. Thornton remains one of the league's most bankable centres. Undrafted right wing Karlsson has come out of nowhere and been a useful auxiliary scorer to complement the other two.
7. Boston Bruins
Top Line: Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand
Total Goals: 50
Summary: With the emergence of young stars David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner, the Bruins have the luxury of moving Krejci (a natural centre) out of his position and loading up their top unit. Bergeron is one of the finest two-way centres in the game and has long had good chemistry with the agitating Marchand; the addition of Krejci simply ups the firepower of the top unit.
The goal totals would undoubtedly be higher if not for an injury, which has cost Krejci significant time this season.
6. New York Islanders
Top Line: John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey
Total Goals: 63
Summary: Tavares is the Isles' franchise player and the key piece in their offence; he'd fill the same role on pretty much any team and is legitimately in the Hart Trophy conversation. Okposo and Bailey have both missed time, but the former is putting in his customarily strong performance, while the latter is playing the best hockey of his career in 2014-15.
5. Los Angeles Kings
Top Line: Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and Justin Williams
Total Goals: 55
Summary: As always seems to be the case in Los Angeles, raw goal totals don't tell the full story. Based on goals, the Kopitar trio isn't even L.A.'s top-scoring line. Kopitar is one of the league's most impressive pivots, Gaborik is lethal when healthy and Williams is a reliable two-way player who can slot in anywhere from a top offensive unit to a defensive-zone line.
4. Dallas Stars
Top Line: Cody Eakin, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin
Total Goals: 76
Summary: Perhaps the most high-powered offensive trio in the league is doing business in Texas. Benn and Seguin were linemates last year and ran roughshod over NHL defences and are doing it once again this season. Eakin doesn't have the same reputation, but he's quite a capable even-strength scorer in his own right.
3. St. Louis Blues
Top Line: David Backes, Alex Steen and T.J. Oshie
Total Goals: 67
Summary: This line can do it all. Not only do all three members of it play heavy even-strength minutes, but each plays a leading role on both the power play and the penalty kill.
Backes is a throwback to a rougher game—a nasty two-way pivot who is always worth a lot more than his point totals suggest. Steen is a two-way winger who, along with Backes, probably deserves Selke consideration. Oshie rounds out the group; he's a clever offensive forward who has progressively evolved into a complete NHL player.
2. Anaheim Ducks
Top Line: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Patrick Maroon
Total Goals: 62
Summary: There aren't many lines around the league as good as this one. Getzlaf is the big, mean No. 1 pivot every club in the NHL wants. Perry is a former Hart Trophy winner, a high-end trigger man and, most importantly, he plays the same abrasive game as Getzlaf; he's arguably the best pest in the NHL.
The other member of the line has rotated throughout the year, but Maroon is a nice fit because he brings many of the same grinding qualities as his linemates.
1. Chicago Blackhawks
Top Line: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa
Total Goals: 57
Summary: This line has proved itself in the hottest crucible, the Stanley Cup playoffs, and been found satisfactory. Toews is an elite two-way pivot, the kind of centre franchises are built on and who makes the Canadian Olympic team by default. At age 36, Hossa is slowing down but remains one of the game's best two-way wingers. And even in an off year, Sharp is a formidable weapon.