In the dog days of summer, it is tough to get your much-needed hockey fix. The NHL Network has attempted to satisfy your craving for hockey with a new series titled The Best Right Now.
The series will be profiling the top players position by position in the NHL as of today. In the spirit of the NHL Network’s Top 20 Forwards Right Now, here’s part one of Overtime’s list of the top forwards, starting with numbers 20-11.
20. Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
Starting off the list is a player that was snubbed by the NHL Network countdown in Taylor Hall. Recently acquired by the New Jersey Devils, the rugged left winger is a perfect fit for the Devils.
Hall can do it all. He’s big enough (6’1″, 205 lbs) to win tight corner battles and he’s got enough skill (former first overall draft pick) to tickle the twine with the best of them. In fact, over the last 4 seasons, the only players with more even strength points than Hall are Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn, and Sidney Crosby.
Hall was a cheap add for the Devils, and he should be their best player for years to come.
19. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
“And though (he) be little, (he) is fierce”. This Shakespeare quote perfectly describes Calgary Flames left winger Johnny Gaudreau. The 5’9″, 157-lb. winger is undersized, but he more than makes up for it with his dirty dangles and highlight-reel panache.
Gaudreau broke out in a big way last year, totaling 30 goals and 78 points, which was good for 6th in the league in scoring. The diminutive dynamo really excelled in 3-on-3 overtime, where he scored 3 game-winning goals.
The future is bright for Gaudreau, who is still just 22 years old.
18. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
“Jumbo” Joe Thornton still cracks this list at 37 years of age thanks to a remarkable second-half run last year. Only Sidney Crosby scored more points than Thornton after Christmas, and naturally the duo faced off in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Despite losing on the game’s grandest stage, Thornton showed that he isn’t done yet. He put up 21 points in 24 playoff games and shook off his reputation as a playoff bust.
Thornton’s age suggests that he may not have much left in the tank, but his performance says otherwise. Look for Jumbo Joe to have another near-point-per-game season.
17. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Kucherov burst out in 2015 with a 29-goal, 65-point regular season and a mammoth playoff run. What did Kucherov do for an encore last year? He bettered his production.
At the age of 23, Kucherov put up 30 goals and 66 points in the regular season (25 of which came on the power play) before lighting up the playoffs with an incredible 11 goals and 19 points in 17 games.
Kucherov’s trademark consistency will serve him well as he reaches free agency for the first time after this season. The Lightning will be forced to pay up for their star.
16. Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks
Quick: out of the last 6 seasons, can you name the two players who have scored 30 goals in at least 5 of them? The answer is Alex Ovechkin and Corey Perry. In fact, Perry’s one season without netting 30 goals saw him pot 15 in only 44 games, meaning he would have had a shot at reaching 30.
Perry is getting older, but that doesn’t slow down the 31-year-old right winger at doing what he does best: agitating the opposition. Perry is at his best when he is getting under the skin of his opponents, and Perry is still one of the league’s top pests.
The former NHL MVP will look for some playoff success under new head coach Randy Carlyle this season.
15. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
For years, it seemed as if Bergeron was the player who did all the little things right, but never received recognition for the overall player he was. It’s true that Bergeron is a defensive wizard and a faceoff specialist, but he is also a top-line caliber scorer.
Bergeron totaled 32 goals and 68 points last year, a big boost over the previous year’s totals (23 and 55, respectively). And when you combine that with all of the other things that he does, Bergeron is arguably the league’s best 200-foot player.
With captain Zdeno Chara’s career winding down, Bergeron could be a natural fit for the Bruins’ captaincy down the road.
14. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
The man they call “Geno” just keeps on keeping on, at least when he’s in the lineup. Malkin hasn’t played a full season since his MVP-winning 2012 season, but he has churned out over a point per game in all 4 seasons since then.
The knocks on Malkin usually consist of the fact that he can’t stay healthy, isn’t defensively responsible, isn’t clutch, and takes bad penalties. While some of that was true earlier in his career, Malkin has improved his defense drastically over the years, has cut down on his penalties, and was there for Pittsburgh for all 23 of their playoff games, scoring 18 points in the process.
He takes a lot of heat, but Malkin is an elite point-producing forward for sure.
13. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
It’s time for another pop quiz. Can you name the player who leads all of the NHL in both total points and power play points since the 2011-2012 season? It is in fact the captain of the Flyers, center Claude Giroux.
It has been observed that the Flyers go as Giroux goes, and that is principally why the Flyers have been a playoff team for 7 of his 9 seasons. He is capable of putting an entire team on his back, and plays an entire 200-foot game just as well as Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews.
Giroux never gets his due, but his steady offensive production, world-class defense, faceoff prowess, and leadership put him at number 13 on this list.
12. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
It was very difficult to pinpoint where exactly teenage prodigy Connor McDavid fits among the top 20 forwards due to his only playing in 45 NHL games, but those games were so electric that we feel comfortable slotting him at the 12th spot.
McDavid simply takes over games. He can go end-to-end and score a beautiful game-tying goal like it’s nobody’s business, or just as easily can set up a crucial goal with a super saucer pass.
McDavid could very well be the “Next One”. Fans are looking forward to seeing a full season of Connor McDavid for the first time in 2016.
11. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
The most highly sought-after free agent in hockey history, Stamkos shocked the hockey world when he elected to re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning. A sniper’s sniper, Stamkos had a “down year” last year, but still accumulated 36 goals and 64 points.
Stamkos can score from anywhere in a variety of ways, but his favorite spot is on the half wall on the power play, where he has scored over a third of his career goals.
Stamkos’s battles with blood clots scare some, but Stamkos and his doctors insist that he will be healthy for the length of his contract. The Lightning better hope that that’s true, as they are on board with Stamkos for 8 years at $8.5 million per season.
*Stay tuned for Part 2: Numbers 10-1, coming soon!*