The forward core of an NHL franchise is one of the most interesting collections of players in all of sports. From high-octane first-line scorers who light up an arena with their playmaking and goalscoring acumen to fourth-line grinders who take on a limited role to wear their opponents down with their size and bruising ability, each forward line represents a different aspect of what makes hockey such a great sport.
When it comes to ranking a forward corps, there’s more to consider than just points scored. Sure, ultimately the goal of a forward is to put up points, but you also need players who can take on defensive roles, lay down hits, draw penalties, kill penalties, and when called upon, drop the gloves against an opponent. The best corps in the league features all of these elements, along with leadership qualities to help push the team through tough patches. So, which teams feature the Top-5 forward corps in the NHL heading into the 2022-23 season?
This top-five is a breakout from the recently published Ranking NHL Teams By Forwards article. If you would like to see THW’s full ranking covering all 32 NHL teams by forwards, please click here to give that article a read.
5) Carolina Hurricanes
Teuvo Teravainen – Sebastian Aho – Seth Jarvis
Andrei Svechnikov – Paul Stastny – Martin Necas
Jesper Fast – Jordan Staal – Ondrej Kase
Jordan Martinook – Jesperi Kotkaniemi – Lane Pederson
IR: Max Pacioretty
ANALYSIS: When you think of the Carolina Hurricanes, defense will likely jump to mind. However, they are far more than their blue line, as their underappreciated forward corps was one of the best in the NHL last season.
When healthy, this is a deep group of forwards, with top-end scoring talents like Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Seth Jarvis who can score goals at will along with veteran players like Jordan Stall and Paul Statsny to help round out a fantastic core. This group features an incredibly balanced lineup, and they will only get better when the newly acquired Max Pacioretty returns from IR later this season.
4) Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Anthony Cirelli – Brandon Hagel
Vladislav Namestnikov – Nick Paul – Ross Colton
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Patrick Maroon – Corey Perry
ANALYSIS: It should come as no surprise to see the Tampa Bay Lightning still near the top of the forward rankings. Despite time and the salary cap taking its toll on this unit, they are absolutely loaded from top to bottom with offensive talent and defensive responsibility. Steven Stamkos is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, and the additions of Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel during the season reshaped this core with younger talent to compliment players like Pat Maroon, Corey Perry, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.
There’s a reason why the Lightning almost won three-straight Stanley Cups. This forward corps is elite and it’s still one of the best in the NHL despite their losses. Sure, they have to regress at some point in the future, but given how much of this core is returning, it appears that they will still be a threat for the Cup in 2023.
3) Colorado Avalanche
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Valeri Nichushkin – J.T. Compher – Arturri Lehkonen
Andrew Cogliano – Alex Newhook – Logan O’Connor
Darren Helm – Ben Meyers – Jayson Megna
ANALYSIS: After winning the 2022 Stanley Cup, the Colorado Avalanche experienced an expected championship talent bleed that saw a number of important players leave the franchise to find greener pastures. This makes them a little bit difficult to rank, because the talent they lost all played a significant role in their championship, but much of the core still remains in place.
Honestly, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and I’m believing in Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen when I rank the Avalanche so highly. As the new players find their place with the franchise, these superstars will carry the team forward and help them push for a second-straight Stanley Cup.
2) Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
Alex Kerfoot – John Tavares – William Nylander
Pierre Engvall – David Kampf – Calle Jarnkrok
Wayne Simmonds – Adam Gaudette – Nicolas Aube-Kubel
ANALYSIS: In terms of high-end offensive talent, few teams can match the Toronto Maple Leafs. Between Auston Matthews scoring 60 goals in 2021-22, Mitch Marner taking that next step as a playmaker, and Michael Bunting finding a surprisingly perfect fit alongside them, Toronto’s top-line is one of the best in the league. Their depth is also excellent, with all four lines featuring a balance of offensive and defensive capabilities.
When you get this far in a ranking, the difference between the first place team and the fifth is small and can change daily. I believe that the losses they suffered during the offseason have been adequately addressed and that the Maple Leafs have enough talent ready to take that next step into the NHL that they won’t miss a beat throughout the 2022-23 season.
Also, to put it simply, I’m betting on the team with the 60-goal scorer to continue scoring at a league-leading pace.
1) Florida Panthers
Carter Verhaeghe – Aleksander Barkov – Matthew Tkachuk
Anthony Duclair – Sam Bennett – Sam Reinhart
Nick Cousins – Anton Lundell – Patric Hornqvist
Ryan Lomberg – Eetu Luostarinen – Colin White
PTO: Eric Staal
ANALYSIS: The scoring pace of the Florida Panthers throughout the 2021-22 regular season looked like a video game at times, as the team paced the league by averaging 4.11 goals per game. While much of that core still remains intact, they swapped out their top point producer for Matthew Tkachuk, who is seen by many as one of the best wingers in the sport.
This is a big risk, but it is one that I believe will pay off for the Panthers. This forward core is incredible from top to bottom, as it features elite scoring and defensive responsibility with Selke Trophy winner Aleksander Barkov, a deadly second line with Anthony Duclair, Sam Bennet, and Sam Reinhart, and a veteran presence in Patric Hornqvist. This unit should continue scoring at will against most of the league, and it should help keep Florida in the President Trophy hunt.
NHL’s Top Forward Cores are Varied and Talented
As the 2022-23 regular season progresses, expect this list to change. Injuries can reshape a forward core in a heartbeat, as the loss of a top scorer can make a dominant group look far more average or an unexpected new face can come out of nowhere to score 30-plus goals. Depth will be tested, but even so, I still expect these franchises to be in the postseason hunt on the back of their forward potential alone.
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Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.