Ranking the NHL's 8 Best Lines in 2021-22

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistDecember 19, 2021

Ranking the NHL's 8 Best Lines in 2021-22

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    Most NHL teams rely upon their first line for the bulk of their production. It is usually built around the club's best scorer or playmaker.

    Some teams are fortunate to have two elite offensive forwards on the same line, usually with a two-way linemate who uses his physical style to create scoring opportunities for his linemates. In some cases, a team might be blessed with three scoring stars on the same line.

    Some of this season's top lines, such as the Boston Bruins' trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, have been together for several seasons. Others, such as the Vegas Golden Knights' line of Max Pacioretty, Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone, have been together for a short time.

    It can be difficult to determine the best lines in a season given how often coaches tend to shake them up because of injuries, illness or a need to find an offensive spark. Many never stay together for a full campaign. Nevertheless, here's our ranking of the eight best in 2021-22. Level of production, consistency, time together as linemates and talent depth factored into this compilation.

8. Vegas Golden Knights: Max Pacioretty, Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone

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    The Vegas Golden Knights are only in their fifth NHL season, but they have one of this year's top lines. Centered by leading scorer Chandler Stephenson, veteran wingers Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone have overcome early-season injuries to boost their club back into the thick of the playoff race following a slow start.

    Pacioretty missed 17 games with a lower-body injury but wasted little time regaining his scoring touch, tallying 16 of his 19 points in just 11 games since returning Nov. 24. That's not surprising for the six-time 30-goal scorer. The 33-year-old winger leads all Golden Knights scorers with 90 goals and 176 points since joining the club in 2018-19.

    A four-time Frank J. Selke Trophy finalist, Stone is among the league's elite two-way forwards. Despite missing 12 games with a lower-body injury, the 29-year-old captain has been on fire since returning Nov. 13, netting 18 of his 21 points in his last 16 games. Joining the Knights in a late-season trade from Ottawa in 2019, Stone is third on the team since then in scoring with 156 points.

    Stephenson, 27, is the least heralded of this group, growing into the first-line center position since last season. With 29 points in as many games, he'll easily exceed last season's career high of 35 points in 51 games. Recently acquired superstar Jack Eichel is expected to take over as first-line center when he returns from neck surgery in February, but Stephenson has proved he can thrive with good linemates.

7. Carolina Hurricanes: Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen

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    The combination of center Sebastian Aho flanked by wingers Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen was first formed during 2019-20. While at times Svechnikov and Teravainen have also seen second-line duty, they've been consistently the Carolina Hurricanes' best forwards in total points since then.

    The fixture on this line is Aho, who's been their leading scorer in every season since 2017-18. An accomplished two-way center with impressive offensive instincts, the 24-year-old Finn is the linchpin of the Hurricanes' top line. Despite being recently sidelined by COVID-19 protocols, he's their scoring leader with 15 goals and 32 points in 26 games.

    Svechnikov can be a streaky scorer, which sometimes results in his being shifted to the second line. Nevertheless, the 21-year-old left winger remains a talented youngster with power forward potential. When Svechnikov's on his game, he and Aho form a dangerous scoring tandem. He's also in the league's COVID protocol but sits third among Hurricanes scorers with nine goals and 21 points.

    Traded to the Hurricanes by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2016, Teravainen blossomed into one of the Hurricanes' most consistent scorers. He had three straight seasons with at least 63 points from 2017-18 to 2019-20. Sidelined for 35 games last season by a concussion, the 27-year-old winger regained his form with 22 points in 28 games to sit second in team scoring this year.

6. Edmonton Oilers: Zach Hyman, Connor McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi

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    The Edmonton Oilers have had difficulty finding reliable linemates for superstar center Connor McDavid. At times they've pulled Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins off the second line to skate alongside their captain. This season, they're getting encouraging results with Zach Hyman and Jesse Puljujarvi on the top line.

    Regardless of McDavid's wingers, the Oilers' first line will always be among the league's best as long as he's centering it. A multiple award winner, the 24-year-old is the face of his franchise and the NHL's best player. With 47 points, he's jostling with Draisaitl and Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin for the lead in this season's scoring race. Since his debut in 2015-16, he leads all skaters with 621 points.

    Signing with the Oilers last summer as a free agent, the 29-year-old Hyman spent much of the past four seasons skating alongside Toronto Maple Leafs stars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. A gritty, two-way winger with a decent scoring touch, he has two 21-goal campaigns. Despite being sidelined last week by a shoulder injury, he sits third among Oilers scorers with 11 goals.

    Chosen fourth overall in the 2016 draft by the Oilers, Puljujarvi struggled to play up to expectations. He finally showed promising signs with 15 goals and 25 points in 55 games last season. While he remains a streaky scorer, the 23-year-old right winger is already on track for his best season yet with 23 points in 28 games.

5. Calgary Flames: Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk

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    Despite three years of ups-and-downs involving two coaching changes and missing the playoffs last season, the Calgary Flames have relied on wingers Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk to power their offense. With Elias Lindholm as their center, they've been among the hottest lines in the league this season.

    The 28-year-old Gaudreau has been their top producer for years, leading all Flames in total points since his 2014-15 rookie season with 523. An unrestricted free agent next season, his future in Calgary remains uncertain, but it's not affecting his performance. He's once again the team's leading scorer with 30 points in 28 games prior to the club's recent pause in their schedule because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

    Lindholm, 27, is right behind Gaudreau this season with 27 points. He's also second in total points (206) since joining the Flames in 2018-19. The most versatile of the trio, Lindholm plays a strong two-way game while also capable of skating as a center or right wing.

    A skillful and abrasive power forward, Tkachuk drives opponents to distraction with his agitating style and his offensive skills. The 24-year-old right winger reached a career-high 77 points in 2018-19, but his production slipped to 61 points in 69 games and 43 points in 56 games during two COVID-shortened seasons. However, he's returned to form this season with 12 goals and 23 points in 28 games.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs: Michael Bunting, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs are blessed with two of the game's brightest stars in center Auston Matthews and right winger Mitch Marner. After losing left winger Zach Hyman to the Edmonton Oilers via free agency last season, they are trying Michael Bunting on left wing. They were meshing well together prior to Marner being sidelined by a shoulder injury earlier in December.

    One of the NHL's most dangerous goal scorers, Matthews has been a dominant force for the Leafs since his 40-goal debut in 2016-17. Winner of the Calder Memorial Trophy that season and the Maurice Richard Trophy in 2020-21, he has led the Leafs since his rookie campaign with 219 total goals and 384 points. The 24-year-old center sits third among all skaters this season with 20 goals in 27 games.

    Marner tends to shuffle between Matthews line and the second line alongside John Tavares. A superb playmaker and an underrated two-way forward and penalty killer, the 24-year-old fits seamlessly alongside Matthews or Tavares. He's second among all Leafs scorers with 379 total points since 2016-17.

    Bunting is the least known of the trio but could soon garner more attention as the season progresses. After spending parts of two seasons with the Arizona Coyotes, the 26-year-old left winger is fourth among this season's rookie scorers with 19 points in 30 games. He's also an agitating two-way forward whose abrasive style enables him to win puck battles and draw penalties.

3. Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson

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    The Washington Capitals offense has long been powered by the goal-scoring exploits of Alex Ovechkin. Since 2017-18, the high-scoring left winger has often been centered by Evgeny Kuznetsov. The addition of rugged Tom Wilson provides the Capitals with one of the most formidable first lines in the NHL.

    Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer of his generation and among the all-time greats with 752 career goals. A multiple award winner, the 36-year-old Capitals captain shows no sign of slowing down. With a team-leading 22 goals and 47 points, Ovechkin is also chasing his 10th Maurice Richard Trophy and his first Art Ross Trophy since 2007-08.

    Kuznetsov struggled through a COVID-shortened campaign last season and was at times taken off the top line. He's rebounded well this season, sitting second in team scoring with 30 points in 28 games before being sidelined by COVID-19 again. The 29-year-old center is also third among the Capitals in total points with 402 since his 77-point breakout performance in 2015-16.

    The 6'4", 220-pound Wilson joins the 6'3", 238-pound Ovechkin in providing this line with a hard-hitting edge. He's also proven a solid two-way player, seeing time on the penalty kill. The 27-year-old right winger netted 21-or more goals and 40-plus points in 2018-19 and 2019-20 and sits third this season among Capitals scorers with 24 points in 27 games.

2. Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen

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    The rise of the Colorado Avalanche from a wild-card club in 2017-18 into a Presidents' Trophy winner last season was powered by their first line of left wing Gabriel Landeskog, center Nathan MacKinnon and right wing Mikko Rantanen. They've been the Avs' top-three scorers since their wild-card campaign with MacKinnon at 378 points, Rantanen with 308 and Landeskog with 260.

    MacKinnon, 26, is the superstar of this group. Winner of the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2013-14 and the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in 2018-19, he's third in total points among all NHL skaters since 2017-18 and was the Avalanche's leading scorer in three straight seasons between 2017-18 and 2019-20.

    Rantanen has emerged from MacKinnon's shadow as a star in his own right. A talented playmaker, the 25-year-old right winger was the Avalanche's leading scorer last season with 66 points in 52 games. He finished with 84 points in 2017-18 and a career-high 87 the following season.

    A physical power forward, Landeskog provides grit, leadership and goal-scoring punch to this line. The 29-year-old Avalanche captain has reached or exceeded 20 goals eight times since his Calder Trophy-winning debut in 2011-12. His style of play sometimes takes a toll on his own body, as he's currently sidelined by a lower-body injury. Nevertheless, he's an invaluable part of the Avalanche's top offensive trio.

1. Boston Bruins: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak

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    One of this season's longest-serving lines belongs to the Boston Bruins. Together since 2017-18, the trio of center Patrice Bergeron flanked by left winger Brad Marchand and right wing David Pastrnak has carried the bulk of their club's scoring. Over that period, Marchand leads all Bruins with 368 total points, with Pastrnak second at 325 and Bergeron third with 269 points.

    Marchand, 33, is a talented winger who also drives opponents to distraction with his abrasive physical style. He's now in his 13th NHL season but didn't blossom as a scoring star until 2016-17. Since then, he's third among all NHL scorers in total points with 453. He also led the Bruins in scoring during that period in every season except for 2019-20.

    That season saw Pastrnak finish as the Bruins' leading scorer with a career-high 48 goals and 95 points in 70 games. He also won the Maurice Richard Trophy for the first time, sharing the honor with Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. The 25-year-old right winger is a gifted goal scorer. Since his 34-goal breakout performance in 2016-17, he's fifth in total goals among NHL scorers with 183.

    Bergeron is one of the greatest two-way players in NHL history. A finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 10 consecutive seasons since 2011-12, the 36-year-old Bruins captain won it four times. He's also been among the league's best faceoff men, leading all skaters this season with a 63.1 faceoff win percentage. His strong all-around play makes him an invaluable part of this line.