It is a rare commodity for a player to have size, skill and the intelligence to put it all together on a nightly basis. This particular combination is defined as a power forward.
Through 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. Neely helped 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.
These legends, along with Eric Lindros, Brendan Shanahan, and Keith Tkachuk among others, paved the way for big, skilled players to dominate the league.
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 saw the likes of Eric Staal, Rick Nash, and Milan Lucic follow, dominating the league for stretches of time.
While Staal, Nash, and Lucic still can play an effective game, they are by no means the players they were a few years ago. The new wave of power forwards are coming and complimenting an already commanding group.
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.
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) J.T. Miller (Tampa Bay Lightning)
When the Tampa Bay Lightning traded for J.T. Miller at the 2018 deadline, they did so to add some needed size and strength to a roster mostly comprised of speed and skill. Soon after he was acquired, Miller was added to the Lightning’s top-line alongside Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, and went on a scoring spree, posting 10 goals and 18 points in 19 games.
In the 2018-19 season, Miller has been moved up and down the Lightning’s line-up, not due to his play being bad, but in order to inject his needed size and skill into the line-up. While he may not be on pace to score 20 goals this year, he still brings an important physical edge to his game that is well worth his ice-time to Tampa Bay.
If he can get back to his breakout play in the 2018 season, Miller will continue establishing himself as one of the best power forwards in the league. Even if he’s unable to recapture that magic, he still brings a needed size and energy to the Lightning that will keep him relevant in the discussion throughout his five-year extension.
14) Matthew Tkachuk (Calgary Flames)
Throughout his relatively short NHL career, Matthew Tkachuk can be described as many things by opponents. Pesky, annoying, a nuisance, dirty, a villain. Since joining the league as a 19-year-old, he has become one of those players that will be hated by opponents and loved by fans.
Despite being so young, Tkachuk has shown that he can be both a 20-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 only two full seasons under his belt, there’s a lot of time for Tkachuk to continue 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 a little bit, 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.
13) Ryan Reaves (Vegas Golden Knights)
No, Ryan Reaves is not a goalscoring specialist. Before the 2018-19 season, his career highs were seven goals and 13 points, both underwhelming numbers to say the least.
However, after he was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights at the 2018 deadline, Reaves found a perfect home on the expansion team’s fourth line. He excelled in this role, scoring key goals in the 2018 playoffs that propelled the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final. Then, he’s following that up with a career year so far in 2018, as he is on pace to blow his previous scoring totals out of the water.
This is on top of the fact that he is averaging close to four hits a night in 2018, putting him on pace to break 300 hits this season alone. With a six-foot-one, 225 pound frame, Reaves is not afraid to act as a thorn in the side of every team that he faces. Sure, he will never be in a scoring race, but he simply doesn’t need to be. He will earn his keep each game by making the opponent regret showing up to the ice.
12) Chris Kreider (New York Rangers)
Kreider may be one of the most polarizing players in the NHL. He possesses every tool to be one of the most dangerous players whenever he steps on the ice but struggles with inconsistency. It is hard to argue that as a net-front presence on the power play he isn’t one of the best in the entire league
In the 2018-19 season, the Massachusetts native has found more consistency in his game. He is scoring and hitting at a steady pace that is helping to keep the Rangers in the playoff hunt despite being a young team. He is also on pace to break his previous scoring and hitting records, which only bodes well for his future.
11) 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, tough as nails 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 a series, as it was a major factor to the Capitals winning the Stanley Cup in 2018.
10) Mark Stone (Ottawa Senators)
Stone is one of the most intellectual players in the game. He isn’t the quickest, nor is he the most agile, yet he is unequivocally the best player in the league in takeaways, with 422 since 2014-15 — over 100 more than second best. No, you didn’t read that wrong.
Stone doesn’t play an overly assertive game, but he doesn’t need to. He positions his body effectively, meaning it is going to be a long night trying to break the cycle when he is involved.
He is one of the best two-way players in the game today which is extremely rare when the player is a winger. The Manitoban would also likely occupy a spot on the Canadian Olympic team as a reliable presence who can play in all situations.
9) Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton Oilers)
One of the biggest reasons for the Oilers’ decade of darkness was their inability to draft a big center who can compete in the Western Conference. Draisaitl fits the bill and more as an elite playmaker in the NHL.
Only Joe Thornton may be a more effective passer on his backhand than Draisaitl, who had two consecutive 70-point seasons from and is on pace for his third straight in 2018-19. With teammate Connor McDavid, they form one of the most lethal duos in recent history.
Likely to retire as the best German player in NHL history, Draisaitl doesn’t just put up points. When you find him in the offensive zone, he will be dominating board battles and shielding the puck with his tremendous physique.
8) Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers)
Certainly not your prototypical power forward, Barkov doesn’t play all that physical. His 6-foot-3 frame makes it a nightmare for centers matching up against him because it is impossible to take the puck off his stick.
Barkov plays a very disciplined game with only 50 penalty minutes through nearly 300 NHL games. 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. Who knows how good he can be? Already one of the most naturally skilled players you will find and his shootout moves only prove that.
7) Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings)
Though he has only been captain for a few seasons, Kopitar has always been the leader of this Kings club. Though fans would probably tell you that former captain Dustin Brown deserves a spot on this list due to his resurgence in recent years, they will have to settle with the Slovenian.
With two cups under his belt, Kopitar is still making adjustments to be the best player he can be.“Really, the message with Kopi was that if he can just get just a little bit quicker — even if it’s a quarter step in his game — it’s going to help him,” said head coach John Stevens.
With a career-high 92 points in the 2017-18 season, Kopitar proved that he was only getting better with age. He is garnered as one of the best shutdown centermen of the past decade. Since 2010-11, Kopitar has averaged the most time-on-ice per game for players who have played 200 or more games.
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 year.
As he grows into his 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. Even if his 2018-19 season has been a slow start by his standards, he is still on pace to score 30 goals and post 100 hits, both totals that will keep him in the conversation as one of the best power forwards in the NHL.
5) Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks)
Even when he is fighting injuries, Ryan Getzlaf finds ways to contribute to his team both physically on the score sheet. When he is on his game, he is 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.
Through their rigorous playoff run, we saw why players absolutely despise playing against Getzlaf. While the refereeing was atrocious in both series the Ducks won against the Calgary Flames and the Oilers, the big Saskatchewan boy took advantage.
With his ridiculous stick work and willingness to do absolutely anything to win, he is not only considered one of the dirtiest players currently playing but one of the hardest to play against because it doesn’t stop him from producing.
As one of the best playmakers of the past decade, Getzlaf is a consistent choice for international events with Team Canada and frankly, defined what a prototypical Western Conference center should be.
4) Wayne Simmonds (Philadelphia Flyers)
Simmonds is an absolute joy to watch play. He embodies what Don Cherry wants in a good Canadian kid and continues the tradition of a Broad Street bully ruling in Philadelphia.
As a perennial 30-goal scorer, many would believe that the offense would get to his head and he would forget the physicality that got him to the NHL. It is quite the opposite. If Simmonds isn’t scoring, look out because he will likely be leading his team in hits that night.
Simmonds is just shy of 1,000 career penalty minutes in around 800 games played and has over 1,400 career hits. If that doesn’t tell you the guy is a purebred power forward, I don’t know what will.
3) 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 2017-18, his ninth season in the NHL, he posted 68 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.
2) Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars)
Since the 2013-14 season, only Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane have more points than Jamie Benn, who is one of the hardest working players in the league. Drafted in the fifth-round in 2007, he cracked the team only two years later — an unbelievable feat from such a late round pick.
Benn determines the pace of the game using his skill level and assertiveness. Despite the 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.
1) Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)
Many would consider 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.
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.