We continue our look around the Metropolitan Division today by looking at the top-15 forwards in the division going into the start of the 2023-24 season.
We already ranked the top head coaches in the division, and now we are going to take a look at the skaters.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have three players make the cut this season, while the New Jersey Devils lead the way in the division with four players. The only team that did not have a forward make the top-15 was the Philadelphia Flyers, but had a near-miss in Travis Konecny.
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. He might be getting into his mid-late 30s, he might be nearing the end of his career, but he is still one of the absolute best players in hockey. Over the past three years he has averaged 1.16 points per game between his age 33 and 35 seasons. Just for some perspective on that number, in the history of the league only five players have averaged more points per game during the same age range: Wayne Gretzky, Marcel Dionne, Daniel Alfredsson, Mark Messier and Jaromir Jagr. The offense is still there at an elite level, he still plays a great two-way game, and he still makes every player around him better. Still one of the best in the game.
2. Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils. Hughes has arrived and become the franchise-changing player the Devils hoped he would be when they picked him No. 1 overall a few years ago. The only thing that has held him back the past couple of years is avoiding the one big injury that knocks him out of the lineup for extended periods of time. But when he is on the ice few players are more electrifying than him.
3. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. I love everything about Aho’s game and the way he plays. The only thing he does not have is a truly dominant season offensively on the stat sheet. I wonder how much of that is a result of the way Carolina players, and if his goal and point totals would increase in a different system? Even if they didn’t, he is still a sensational all-around player. He is the engine that drives one of the NHL’s best teams.
4. Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils. I do not think this is too high for him. He has always had the all-around game and defensive presence to make himself a true No. 1 center, and this past season the offense arrived for him to make him the total package.
5. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins. He showed during the 2022-23 season that he can still be a dominant offensive player. I do not expect him to play in all 82 games again (mostly because he has rarely ever done so in his NHL career) but I do expect him to continue to be a game-changing offensive player.
6. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He might have lost a step overall and he might not be the most well-rounded player, but he continues to defy everything we know about aging curves and goal-scorers. A true legend of the game, and still one of the best goal-scorers going.
7. Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers. Ever since joining the Rangers he has been one of the best offensive players in the league, and he is still going strong after a 39-goal, 91-point season in 2022-23. The Rangers tend to be a very top-heavy team offensively, and Zibanejad is one of the players that helps carry the top-six.
8. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers. He may not help you much when the puck is not on his stick, but when it is on his stick he can be one of the most productive and most skilled players in the league. His game started to show a few cracks this past season, but like Zibanejad he is still a 90-point scorer that can change a game on one shift.
9. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins. There were times during the 2022-23 season that I did not think Guentzel’s play matched his production (he feasted on the power play and empty net goals), but he still had 36 goals in 78 games and was close to a point-per-game player. He has been one of the best goal-scorers in the league on a per-game basis, is fearless around the net, and is typically a very smart player.
10. Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes. Svechnikov is a player I have been waiting to break out offensively for a couple of years now. All of the skill, all of the underlying numbers, and all of the foundations are there for him to be a consistent 40-45 goal scorer. He just needs to actually do it.
11. Timo Meier, New Jersey Devils. Meier has all of the tools to be one of the NHL’s best power forwards, and he already has had back-to-back major goal-scoring performances that saw him score 75 goals over the past two seasons. The Devils having him for a full season only makes one of the league’s most exciting teams even better offensively. When did we ever imagine saying something like that about the Devils?
12. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders. His overall offensive numbers might be a little underwhelming, but he is one of the only potential game-changing and top-line talents the Islanders actually have. His biggest assets are his speed and playmaking, and the Islanders simply do not have enough high-end talent around him to capitalize on those skills. That is not his fault.
13. Johnny Gaudreau, Columbus Blue Jackets. I like Gaudreau a lot, but that 115-point season two years ago is probably going to end up being a significant outlier at this point in his career, especially as he enters his age 30 season. Great playmaker. Great skill. Probably more of a 75-80 point player than a 100 point player at this point.
14. Jesper Bratt, New Jersey Devils. Bratt does not have a ton of defensive value, but he is another top-line scorer on a New Jersey team that is suddenly full of them. He is just now entering his age 25 season which is usually around the time scorers tend to reach their peak level of production. He has already been a 73-point player the past two seasons, and given the talent New Jersey has around him I could see him topping the 80-or 85-point mark this season.
15. Patrik Laine, Columbus Blue Jackets. Laine has missed a lot of games the past few years and he is not great away from the puck, but few players in the NHL can shoot the puck or score goals like him when he is fully healthy and really going well. The Blue Jackets could use some excitement in their lineup and with him and Gaudreau they certainly have the potential for a couple of legitimate top-line offensive players.
Just missing the cut: Martin Necas (Carolina Hurricane), Chris Kreider (New York Rangers), Brock Nelson (New York Islanders), Travis Konecny (Philadelphia Flyers)