Ranking the top 10 NHL forwards entering the 2021-22 season

It’s getting chillier out, which can only mean one thing: The NHL season is right around the corner. 

After two wonky seasons, 2021-22 is shaping up to be a full 82-game slate (knock wood, please) chock full of the slickest goals, the flashiest saves and countless big-time moments. But, before things get underway, and as the league hits the reset button, it’s the perfect time to sort through the rosters and select the top goaltenders, defensemen and forwards. 

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Taking into account recent numbers and who could be primed for a star-making season, Sporting News breaks down the top 10 forwards in 2021-22.

Honorable mention: Brad Marchand (Boston Bruins), Mikko Rantanen (Colorado Avalanche), Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders), Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals), Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings), Mark Stone (Vegas Golden Knights), Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg Jets)

Top 10 forwards in 2021-22

10. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers

How Panarin goes, the Rangers go. A finalist for the Hart Trophy in 2020, Panarin has scored 1.38 points per game since joining New York in the summer of 2019 via free agency, which is third behind two other guys on this list: McDavid and Draisaitl. His first year on Broadway he scored 95 points in 69 games and 58 in 42 last season. Over the course of those years, the Rangers scored 197 goals and allowed just 82.

9. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Crosby is expected to miss a few games to start the season after undergoing wrist surgery in September. But Crosby is Crosby. There’s a reason he was already named to Canada’s squad for the Olympics in February. Last season he scored 62 points in 55 games and finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting. 

8. Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs

Yes, Marner struggled massively in the postseason series against the Canadiens, but that doesn’t take away from his skill. Marner scored 67 points in 55 games, has 358 in 355 career games and is a dynamic force on the ice. He scored 3.3 point-per-60 minutes in all situations in 2021 and a Corsi For per 60 minutes of 58.0 (per Hockey Reference). That’s a pretty good number considering the opposition was at 47.9.

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7. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Kane scored 66 points (44 at even strength) in 56 games last season. Despite playing on a team that has struggled in the standings, Kane continues to put up points. He oozes skill, and in training camp he’s been skating with ex-Bolts center Tyler Johnson and winger Alex DeBrincat — two top-notch guys in their own rights. There is no reason to think he won’t be putting up big-time points. (Reminder: He had 110 in the last full season and 106 in 2015-16.)

6. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

There’s a reason the trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Pastrnak is so good. Not only do they connect well on the ice but all three are dominating players — none more so than Pastrnak, who scored a co-Rocket Richard-worthy 48 goals in 2019-20. He’s got a wicked shot and, sure, his numbers dropped last season to 48 points in 48 games, but there’s no reason to think “Pasta” won’t be twirling big numbers this season.

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5. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov scored 85 points in 74 games in 2016-17. He scored 100 points in 80 games in 2017-18. A year later it was an NHL-best, Art Ross Trophy-winning 128 points in 82 games and in 2019-20 it was 85 in 68. Yep, Kucherov is really good and, after missing all of the 2021 regular season, it’s no bulls— that he should be really good this season.  

4. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

Scoring 84 points in 56 games would be the cat’s pajamas, but not when you’re teammates with Connor McDavid. Regardless, Draisaitl, who won the Art Ross Trophy and Hart Trophy in 2019-20, is as dynamic as they come. He may not have the off-the-charts speed of McDavid, but he sure knows how to bury the puck. Last season, the Oilers had a 58.2 Corsi For percentage when he was on the ice. In 2021-22, Draisaitl needs just one goal for career marker No. 200.

3. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

The American forward continues to get better and better. After scoring 47 goals in 70 games in 2019-20, he potted 41 in 52 last season. Translation: He almost scored a goal per game (0.79, to be exact). Oh, and he had a bad wrist for pretty much the entire season. The Leafs will rely heavily on Matthews’ offensive punch in 2021-22, and he’s expected to deliver; that said, most Leafs fans will be focused on one thing — the postseason.

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2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

MacKinnon is a driver. He is a puck mover and he’s got two pretty good guys — Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen — surrounding him. (He also has SN’s No. 1 defensemen, Cale Makar, too.) In 2021 he collected 65 points in 48 games and was a finalist for the Hart Trophy for the second consecutive season. But it was a disappointing finish to the season as the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Avalanche lost to the Golden Knights in the second round despite being up 2-0. 

“I’m going on my ninth year next year and haven’t won sh—, so I’m definitely motivated and it just sucks losing four in a row to a team, and it felt like last year was our first real chance to win, and this year I felt we were the best team in the league,” he said after being eliminated. “For whatever reason, we just couldn’t get it together.”

Make fun of his eating habits all you want but it’s working. MacKinnon is motivated and aiming for a big year in the Mile High City. 

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

He’s the best in the game — regardless of position — plain and simple. In 2021 he won his third career Art Ross Trophy (105 points in 56 games) and second Hart Trophy — this one, as expected, unanimously. He’s just 24 too. McDavid is a dynamic force who creates offense at a moment’s notice. His speed is in another world and is powered by his quick feet. How the Oilers go is how McDavid goes. According to Hockey Reference, he led the NHL in goals created per game (0.66), offensive point share (10.7) and point share (13.0) in 2021. There’s no stopping McDavid.

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