It is a rare commodity for an NHL player to have the size, strength, skill, and intelligence to dominate on the ice each and every night. This particular combination is defined as a power forward.
Throughout the NHL’s history, many have excelled in this role. Cam Neely was a player that scared opponent’s going into the corner just as much as he did getting the puck in the slot, helping the Boston Bruins maintain their big and bad status.
Mark Messier was not only one of the league’s greatest leaders, but he was also one of the most feared. His skillset lent itself to his undeniable toughness. Opposing players did not want to look him in the eye and if they did, their eyes would be black from one of his patented elbows.
From here, Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan would take the reins as a couple of the best NHL power forwards for a solid decade. We also saw the likes of Eric Staal, Rick Nash, and Milan Lucic follow, dominating the league for stretches of time.
As time marches forward, however, these players start to slow down, allowing the new wave of power forwards to make their name in the league.
With the way the game is played today, speed and pace are of utmost importance. That is why the term power forward should carry a modified meaning. It isn’t just about dropping the gloves and laying board-rattling hits.
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These unique characters can possess those abilities, but it isn’t absolutely required. The modern-day power forward uses his size to the team’s greatest advantage. This can be judged by protecting the puck, driving the net or being a presence in the crease on the power play.
This list of the NHL’s best power forwards should represent this newfound definition while also maintaining the importance of their abilities to rack up points.
15) Corey Perry – Unsigned for the 2020-21 Season
When the Anaheim Ducks bought out Corey Perry during the 2019 offseason, there was a serious question as to whether he could still make an impact in the NHL. Sure, he had the legacy of an exceptional player, but the times of him dominating games seems to have passed.
Throughout the 2019-20 regular season, Perry was largely invisible on the ice, and when he was being noticed, it was due to a bad hit or taking a penalty that negatively affected his team.
However, the 2020 playoffs showcased exactly what Perry can be. Playing in 27 games for the Dallas Stars, he was an absolute thorn in the sides of every opponent. He was a nuisance, bringing a physical, net-front presence that could bowl his way over the opponent to score a game-winning goal.
So, while he may be a shadow of the player he once was, Perry still has some life left in him as a tough-as-nails forward for a playoff team needing grit in their line-up.
14) Blake Coleman – Tampa Bay Lightning
At 5-foot-11, Blake Coleman is undersized compared to a traditional power forward. However, the style of game that he plays is far bigger than his relatively small frame.
On the ice, Coleman is a wrecking ball, causing mayhem as he barrels around. Using his strength, he creates space that allows him to score incredible goals, as we saw throughout the Tampa Bay Lightning’s run to the 2020 Stanley Cup.
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In fact, Coleman led all players in hits this postseason, registering 126 in 25 games. So, not only can he chip in meaningful offense by fighting his way to a perfect scoring position, but he can provide that sandpaper edge needed to win a championship. This makes him a valuable player for the Lightning and is a reminder that it’s not just giants who can play a power forward game.
13) Ryan Getzlaf – Anaheim Ducks
Even when he is fighting injuries, Ryan Getzlaf finds a way to contribute to his team both physically and on the score sheet. In years past he was, without a doubt, a top-tier player in the league, proving it in the 2016-17 season with 73 points while carrying the Ducks to the Western Conference finals.
However, time and injuries have slowed the once-dominant Saskatchewan native. In recent years, he has played less than 70 games per season while failing to break 50 points scored.
This doesn’t mean that Getzlaf is losing his physical edge, however. He is still a menace on the ice, laying down hits while providing needed leadership to a rebuilding Anaheim franchise.
So, while his best years may be behind him, Getzlaf should always be remembered as one of the best playmakers of the past decade who defined what a prototypical Western Conference center should be.
12) Chris Kreider – New York Rangers
Throughout his career, Chris Kreider has been a bit of a polarizing figure. He possesses every tool to be one of the most dangerous players whenever he steps on the ice but struggled at times putting it all together.
In the 2018-19 season, the Massachusetts native found more consistency, registering 28 goals and 52 points while laying down 159 hits. He followed that up with a 45 point campaign in 2019-20 when the New York Rangers decided it was time to lock him down with a seven-year contract extension.
With a future playing for a young, highly-talented Rangers’ team, it is very possible that Kreider’s best years will be in front of him. For now, his size and skill will continue to be a valuable commodity for the franchise as he looks to pile up points.
11) Aleksander Barkov – Florida Panthers
Certainly not your prototypical power forward, Aleksander Barkov doesn’t play all that physical. The way that he uses his 6-foot-3 frame makes it a nightmare for any opponent matching up against him, however, so let’s call him the ‘gentleman’ power forward.
Barkov plays a very disciplined game with only 84 penalty minutes through close to 480 NHL games. This makes sense, as it is unnecessary to take penalties when he is the one with the puck the majority of his time on the ice.
As one of the newest faces of Finnish hockey, Barkov’s career trajectory is extremely exciting. He has the size, intelligence, and toolkit to be a defensive force for years to come, even if he plays the role of a ‘gentleman’ power forward.
10) Jamie Benn – Dallas Stars
Throughout his career, Jamie Benn has been one of the hardest-working players in the NHL. Drafted in the fifth-round in 2007, he cracked the team only two years later — an unbelievable feat from such a late-round pick.
For years, Benn determined the pace of the game using his skill level and assertiveness. Despite his impressive production, the former Kelowna Rocket is one of the toughest players you will ever see and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves with anyone in the league.
Even if his scoring totals took a hit over the last two seasons, Benn still has everything that it takes to dominate the league. He just has to get back to the power forward gameplan that established him as one of the greats in the NHL.
9) Tom Wilson – Washington Capitals
If you aren’t a fan of the Washington Capitals, there’s a lot to hate about Tom Wilson. His hard-nosed, consistently borderline playing style has made him one of the most difficult players to compete against in the entire NHL. When he is on the ice, his presence is well known, with a constant barrage of hits and agitation that can unhinge even the steadiest of players.
There’s a constant debate swirling around Wilson and his style. Some people love it and see him as a harbinger of old-school hockey. Others see him as a dirty player who should spend more time suspended than on the ice.
No matter what side of the debate you stand on, one can’t deny that Wilson has all the trapping of a great power forward. His physical playing style can change the course of a game and playoff series, as it was a major factor for the Capitals winning the Stanley Cup in 2018.
8) Anze Kopitar – Los Angeles Kings
As he has been captain for a few seasons, Anze Kopitar has always been the leader of this Kings’ club. Though fans will note that his production is slipping in recent years, he still is one of the best shutdown centermen of the past decade.
With two Cups under his belt, Kopitar has already proven that he can be a dominant player in the league, and with a career-high 92 points in the 2017-18 season, he showed that he was only getting better with age. If he can stay healthy and productive, he will continue to be a major figure for the Kings as they rebuild their once-dominant franchise.
7) Evander Kane – San Jose Sharks
There’s a reason why the San Jose Sharks signed Evander Kane to a seven-year, $49 million extension back in the 2018 offseason: he simply is one of the great power forwards in the game.
Kane embodies the role of the power forward, using his size and skill to dominate the ice, scoring 56 points in 2018-19, while registering 173 hits. He also set a career-high in penalty minutes, where he spent 153 minutes in the box.
This is Kane’s one great weakness. His play can put himself in a bad position, causing him to take an inopportune fighting penalty, or worse, drawing a suspension.
As long as he stays on the ice, however, he will continue to prove that he is a bastion of the power forward, with few players in the league able to replicate his playstyle.
6) Anders Lee – New York Islanders
It’s impossible to look at the rise of Anders Lee’s career and not be impressed with both his goalscoring abilities and his hitting acumen. In 2014-15, his rookie season, he posted 25 goals and 169 hits. Then in 2016-17, he increased both totals with 34 goals and 172 hits. He followed that impressive year up with a 40 goal, 102 hit season in 2017-18, breaking into the top-ten goalscorers for the season.
As he grows into his leadership role with the New York Islanders, one can only expect Lee to continue being one of the dominant names in the game. He has the size and grit to push opponents around, with the finesse to put the puck in the back of the net every time he gets the chance.
5) Matthew Tkachuk – Calgary Flames
Throughout his relatively short NHL career, Matthew Tkachuk can be described as many things by opponents. Pesky, annoying, dirty, a villain. Since joining the league as a 19-year-old, he has become one of those players that is hated by opponents and loved by fans.
Despite being so young, Tkachuk has shown that he can be both a 30-goal-scoring forward and a 100-penalty-minute-drawing pain in the neck. What makes him so frustrating for opponents is the fact that he isn’t afraid to mix it up with stars and no-names alike. When he is on the ice, no one is off-limits.
As said by Pete Blackburn of foxsports.com:
That’s not something that appears to overly concern Tkachuk, who hasn’t been hesitant to mix it up with veterans, and occasionally mess with them, too.
With four full seasons under his belt, Tkachuk is continually growing into his role as one of the top power forwards in the league. Since his rookie season, he has learned to control his playing style, keeping him out of the penalty box while giving him a greater opportunity to contribute on the score sheet. This doesn’t mean that he is any easier to play against, though, as he still holds that edge one would expect from a Tkachuk.
4) Gabriel Landeskog – Colorado Avalanche
From the moment that he entered the league, Gabriel Landeskog has been making an impact. As a 19-year-old rookie, he put together a 22 goal, 52 point Calder Trophy-winning campaign while laying down a truly bruising 219 hits.
Over the course of his nine-year playing career, he hasn’t slowed down. When healthy, Colorado’s captain is a prototypical power forward, using his size to bully opponents and his skill to post at least 20 goals and 50 points six times in his career while breaking at least 100 hits whenever a full season was played.
If not for a rash of injuries, Landeskog would easily be known as one of the most dominant players in the NHL, period. As it stands, he still is a special talent who represents what a true power forward is in the modern era.
3) Leon Draisaitl – Edmonton Oilers
One of the biggest reasons for the Oilers’ decade of darkness was their inability to draft a big center that can compete in the Western Conference. Leon Draisaitl fits the bill and more as an elite playmaker in the NHL.
Similar to Barkov, Draisaitl is not a bruising power forword. But he uses his size and strength to his advantage during each and every shift. When you find him in the offensive zone, he will be dominating board battles and shielding the puck with his tremendous physique.
Likely to retire as the best German player in NHL history, Draisaitl earned the 2019-20 Hart Trophy with 110 points in 71 games. Alongside teammate Connor McDavid, they form one of the most lethal duos in recent NHL history and should be the driving force behind Edmonton Oilers breaking out of their recent struggles as a franchise.
2) Blake Wheeler – Winnipeg Jets
When one thinks of Blake Wheeler, they think of leadership. The guy is the key cog in the machine that drives the Jets. His teammates respect everything he is about because he backs it up on the ice.
Wheeler was a late-bloomer, which often is the case with big players, and is now widely considered one of the best in the world. In 2018-19, his eleventh season in the NHL, he posted 71 assists and 91 points, both career highs. His playmaking abilities are behind only a select few and his compete level is matched by none.
Coming in at 6-foot-5, the Minnesota native must have eaten all his vegetables with dinner. Now he spends most of his time eating opponents alive with his capability of driving the net and aptness with puck control.
1) Alexander Ovechkin – Washington Capitals
Many would consider Alex Ovechkin a sniper and rightly so, he is the best goal-scorer the NHL has seen in decades and one of the best all-time. This doesn’t change the fact that he is a physical specimen and, since breaking into the league, has the fourth most hits among forwards.
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The future Hall-of-Fame winger chills opposing players to the bone when they see his body coming full speed at them to finish his check, something he always does. Something else he always does? Sets up his office on the left circle ready to blow a one-timer past the goaltender.
After finally claiming the Stanley Cup in 2018, there’s no debate to the greatness that is Ovechkin. One only needs to know his nickname, the great eight, to recognize the legacy he has left and will continue to leave on the game.
Ovechkin has already won more awards and earned more statistical achievements than the vast majority of players that have ever played the game but that isn’t enough. Number eight isn’t only great because he scores goals, as his community involvement is a hallmark all hockey players should follow.
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.