It is a rare commodity for a player to have size, skill and 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 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) Cedric Paquette – Tampa Bay Lightning
For a team traditionally built on speed and skill, Cedric Paquette has been that rare big body in the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup for years. Paquette does it all on the Lightning’s fourth line, scoring 13 goals in the 2018-19 season while registering 269 hits, good for sixth in the league.
If he can stay healthy, Paquette will continue to be a productive hitting machine in the Lightning’s lineup, especially as the team adds additional size to their lineup. He may not be the flashiest of power forwards, but he plays his role well and has enough of a scoring touch to contribute meaningful goals.
14) Wayne Simmonds – New Jersey Devils
Time slows all players, even one of the greatest power forward of this decade. While he dominated the game for years with the Philadelphia Flyers, Wayne Simmonds now finds himself toward the back half of his career, playing on a one-year ‘show me’ contract with the New Jersey Devils.
Simmonds has a lot to prove in the 2019-20 season. If he can show that he is still capable of taking on 15 minutes of ice-time each night while laying down some hits and scoring, he can bring himself back into the discussion of top power forwards.
If he continues to struggle with consistency, however, Simmonds will find that his role in the league is now a bottom-six leader who could chip on the scoresheet occasionally. While that isn’t a worst-case scenario, it’s a far cry from the player that struck fear in the hearts of his opponents.
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 followed that up with a career year in 2018-19, where he scored 9 goals and 20 points.
This is on top of the fact that he led the league in hitting in 2018-19, laying down the hurt 305 times that 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
Throughout his career, Chris Kreider has been a bit of a polarizing figure in the NHL. He possesses every tool to be one of the most dangerous players whenever he steps on the ice, but he struggles with inconsistency.
In the 2018-19 season, the Massachusetts native found more consistency in his game. He registered 28 goals and 52 points while laying down 159 hits. If he can continue providing that kind of presence with the New York Rangers, he will be a valuable commodity for the franchise for years to come.
11) 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.
10) 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 playoff series, as it was a major factor for the Capitals winning the Stanley Cup in 2018.
9) 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 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 three 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.
8) Aleksander Barkov – Florida Panthers
Certainly not your prototypical power forward, Barkov doesn’t play all that physical. However, 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 66 penalty minutes through more than 400 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.
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 who is garnered as one of the best shutdown centermen of the past decade.
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. If he can stay healthy and productive, he will be a major figure for the Kings as they rebuild their once-dominant franchise.
6) 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.
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.
Despite his scoring totals taking a hit in the 2018-19 season, 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.
5) 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 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.
4) 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.
Only Joe Thornton may be a more effective passer on his backhand than Draisaitl, who posted 105 points 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.
3) 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.
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 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.