What is a top-six forward?

How many teams have six legit top-six forwards?

How many successful teams have six similar top-six forwards?

We can debate who qualifies as a top-six forward, but it seems few teams have six legitimate ones, and those that do rarely have all of them producing at the same time. However, the good teams don’t have six of the same type of forwards on their top two lines. Most of them have a variety of size, grit and tenacity combined with above-average skill.

Now that they are the healthy the Pens probably have the best array of top-six forwards. Superstars in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and complemented by a power forward in James Neal, an excellent two-way player in Jordan Staal and solid wingers Chris Kunitz, Steve Sullivan and Pascal Dupuis and his 51 points. They Pens have the luxury of having the two best centres in the game so they are a rarity.

The Flyers have Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Daniel Briere and Matt Read. They also have three young former top-eight picks in Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and James Van Riemsdyk scattered throughout the lineup. They have great skill in Giroux and Briere, size and skill in Jagr, skill and ruggedness in Simmonds and Hartnell. They have a great mix in their top-six.

Detroit has Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen, Jiri Hudler and Todd Bertuzzi. They have two dynamic players in Datsyuk and Zetterberg, two big bodies in and then two pretty good skilled guys in Hudler and Filppula.

Boston has Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Nathan Horton. The Bruins have loads of size and skill an agitator in Marchand and two strong power forwards in Lucic and Horton. They will be the only team in the NHL with a shot to have six players with 50+ points this year. Seguin 61, Bergeron 58, Lucic and Krejci 55, Marchand 50 and Chara 48.

All of these top teams have a nice mix of skill, size and some grit.


It seems every year the amount of players getting 50 points is dropping. I remember when 80 points seemed like a good number to shoot for, but now it seems many "top-six" forwards are in the 40-50 point range.

If a guy tallies 40-50 points, but is one-dimensional does he really help you? The game has changed. If a team has a player who is purely offensive then he needs to be a threat one-on-one and has to be a 50+ point player to help you win. Most coaches would rather have a 40-point guy who can kill penalties or brings some other intangibles to his game, than a one-dimensional forward with ten more points.


Right now I don’t think the Oilers have the right mix in their top-six to win.

They have four very skilled forwards in Eberle, Hall, RNH and Hemsky. Health would seem to be the only thing that will stop them from producing next season, however, none of them possess much size or physical attributes in their game. None of them are scared, in fact their high-end skill strikes fear in opposing D-men, but they need to have some skilled-grit to play with them. Not every player needs to be a bruiser, but the Oilers need to find some guys with a combination of skill, size and grit to mix in amongst these four.

The Oilers are lucky that they have four highly skilled forwards, because those are the hardest to find, but now they have to ensure they surround them with the proper pieces.

I asked TSN analyst Ray Ferraro his thoughts on building the top-six of the Oilers.  

"The complementary players to play with the four (Hall, Hemsky, RNH, Eberle) you are talking about, has to be someone who can get in the battle for a lose puck, stay in the battle, win the battle, make a play in tight quarters, and when he gets a pass from one of the skilled guys he doesn’t chop the puck up into 14 pieces. He’s got to be able to make a play to keep the rush, or the cycle going.

 "I believe you can find that, in fact I know you can. It may take some time, and I know everyone wants it to happen overnight, but put it this way it is way easier to pinpoint that type of player when you already have the skill guys in play. Most certainly that is something they have to attack and try to plug a hole as they move from the stage they are at now to a position of actually competing for a playoff spot. That is something they have to address." 

Which type of players are we thinking about?

Guys like Chris Stewart in St. Louis. The risk with Stewart is that he’s a bit of a partier of the ice, but he’s big, strong, mean and he’s scored 28 goals twice. He’s having an off-year with the Blues, so if they lose out early in the playoffs maybe they’d be open to moving him.

I’m thinking about guys who provide grit and skill like Nick Foligno (44 points), Steve Downie (41 points) Brandon Dubinsky (only 31 points this year, but he’s produced over 40 a few times), Steve Ott (38 points), Ryan Clowe (41 points) and David Clarkson (28 goals, 42 points).

Some of the best examples are guys who likely aren’t on the market right now: Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Scott Hartnell, James Neal, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Ryan Callahan and Curtis Glencross (I know, bad decision by the Oilers).

They will be hard to find, but the Oilers need to start looking.


Now before you go all crazy and suggest I think the Oilers need to trade Magnus Paajarvi, read what I’m saying.

In order to get something of quality you need to give up quality, and Paajarvi might be that guy. I really like his attitude, and I believe he will be a solid NHLer. However he brings essentially the same tool box as the Oilers four skilled guys, just without as much finish.

Paajarvi has incredible speed and when he learns to use his size to his advantage he might be very dangerous, however, he will never be a rugged or gritty player. That isn’t a knock, because he has great skill, but if the Oilers could acquire a Dubinksy or Clowe the asking price would be someone like Paajarvi. It would be a risk, because Paajarvi is younger, but if the Oilers are serious about finding the right pieces for a contending puzzle they might have to give up on potential skill, for a guy who has more grit, but maybe a bit less skill.

I think the same goes for Sam Gagner. I’m a huge fan of Gagner and I think he’ll keep improving because he works very hard in the off-season to improve his game. He also has shown he will stand up for his teammates when necessary, and h’ss well-respected in the room. I wouldn’t give up on Gagner, but if he could fetch a gritty forward with some skill, I’d at least be open to listening.


Do the Oilers have any players within the organization that can fill this void?

Right now it looks like Teemu Hartikainen, Ryan Jones and Tyler Pitlick would be the best options. However, none of them have shown an ability to drop the gloves and protect their more-skilled teammates on a regular basis. It might not be a necessity, but if you look at the best ones out there they are all willing to do that a few times a year.

Jones did fight in junior A, but he hasn’t done it regularly for years. Hartikainen and Pitlick have never really done it. I’m not saying they can’t slot into the equation at some point, but if the Oilers are looking for a mixture of skill and nastiness then they likely aren’t the answer. Hartikainen’s physical play will be a welcomed addition, but they will still need another nastier skilled forward.


Their best bet will be to draft a guy who plays that way.

I think Stu MacGregor has done a pretty solid job since taking over in 2008, but my one critique would be they’ve never gone after a skill guy with an edge. When they drafted Cam Abney in the 3rd round, they took him to be an enforcer, not a guy who could play in the top-six.

You don’t have to take this type of player in the first round, although guys like Hartnell, Ott, Kesler, Downie and Foligno were, but they need to start drafting guys like this in the later rounds.

Neal went 33rd, Lucic 50th, Dubinsky 60th, Marchand 71st, Callahan 127th and Clowe 175th. Excluding Lucic, most of them cut their teeth in the AHL for a few years and then debuted in the NHL. They have skill, but they also have an edge to their game. They produced points and pims in junior, and these types of players are something the Oilers need to start drafting.

In this year’s draft guys like Tom Wilson, Henrik Samuelsson, Brenden Troock and Mitch Moroz are players they should look at this year. They have skill, but they also possess an edge which the Oilers are drastically lacking. There are others of course, but those are the types of guys they need to look at.

Recently the Oilers have drafted guys with size and skill, which is a good, but they haven’t taken any players who consistently bring that vital mixture of skill, speed, grit, nastiness and toughness.

It needs to be added to their list of "Must-Haves" moving forward? Who would you add?

  • Yourmomthinksimhot

    There is a kid that plays for the Kelowna Rockets, bigger kid named Colten Scissons. He’s a tough kid that’s scored 26 goals this year and I believe he is the captain as well. “Best two way player available in the draft” and the kid fights too. Id love to take him with a second first round pick if possible.

  • John Chambers

    Re my above comments on the bottom 6 we need a shut down trio right now thats Horc ; Smyth &??? and a 4th with potentially Petrell And Hartkanianan & a center . Is the center Lander maybe . Time for Eager , Jones , Belanger , Hordichuck To take a walk or trade. Do Magnus & Gagner not fit for now on the top 6 .

  • Yourmomthinksimhot

    How about David Jones from the Avs? 27 yrs old, UFA, 6 ft 2, 210 lbs. Made 2.5 mil this year. Had 27 goals last season, 18 goals 35 pts in 69 games this year. For 2.5 to 3 mil is he worth a gamble to fit in the top six?

  • RexLibris

    @ Gregor

    Henrik Samuelsson. I have been coveting this young player since he joined the Oil Kings and would absolutely love for the Oilers to be able to draft him.

    I’m not convinced he makes it to the 36th overall pick (where the Oilers could be drafting in round 2) and worry that they may not be able to move up unless they can move Omark or Peckham at the draft table.

    Samuelsson plays the kind of game that I think the Oilers have lacked for a long time. He doesn’t reciprocate for big hits, he initiates them. Forcing the other team to man up.

    If the Oilers could finish round 3 of the draft with one of Murray, Reinhart, or even Dumba, then Samuelsson, Mitch Moroz and Cody Corbett that would be a very good day, in my opinion.

    • Jason Gregor

      Curious why you think the Oilers are going to finish with the 6th pick…?

      I like Samuelsson and if he is around near end of 1st round, they could move up a few spots to take him if they really like him.

  • shanetrain

    Lot’s of good suggestions so far.

    I will throw one more name out there.

    Jerome Iginla. Maybe not be as crazy as one may think.

    Price may be too steep for age though.


    Great read. I agree. Jason could Hamilton turn into this type of player? He seems to have played that style in junior but is not doing so well his first year pro.

    • Wax Man Riley

      Ebs is on a special edition cover for NHL12. I have it. Totally official and Eberle signed it for me:

      “To Riley,

      All the best.

      Love Jordan Eberle”

      True story. I have pictures lol

  • Detroit is an excellent team that doesn’t have anyone that will punch you in the mouth but the Oilers are in a totally different stage than them. If your going shopping for “tough to play against” you might as well have someone that would have that element to his game. I mean when I buy a car I don’t need a/c but I appreciate having it in July.

  • Not that David Musil was a bad pick (it seems like he is a solid prospect), but it’s one of the reasons I was hoping the Oilers would take Boone Jenner last June.

    Tyler Pitlick is another guy who might turn into that player, but at best he’s a few seasons away. Teemu Hartikainen? He’s an NHLer, but I’m not sure he’s a Top-6 guy.

    The thing is, in my opinion, we need someone who can play that role now, not a few years down the road. It takes a few years for most players to learn how to play at the NHL-level too… and to be successful the Oilers need to start moving forward soon. If they don’t make the playoff next year, they should at least be in the mix in April.

    I don’t see a lot I like in the free agent market for forwards this year, but like I mentioned last week, I think I would definitely consider moving Gagner or Paajarvi – maybe even some picks and non-blue chip prospects – for guys like Brandon Dubinsky or Dustin Brown.

  • John Chambers

    I’m a big fan of Dubinsky and from what I understand, Torterella hasn’t been really high on the guy. Gagner for Dubinsky? Center for center. Is this a fair trade? And who wins this trade?

    Offensively, Gagner should have more upside. But Dubinsky brings other intangibles: size, grit, PK ability and the ability to stick up for teammates better than Gags could.

  • Giant Squid Overlord

    Is Doan a free agent? If he is the Oilers should make a serious pitch to try and get him up here.

    Doan-RNH-Ebs, Hall-Gagner/Dubinsky/Grigerenko-Hemsky.

    Then they can fill their bottom 6 how they see fit, I would like to see Smyth-Belanger/Horcoff-Jones as a shutdown line.

  • Skidplate

    Isn’t it nice to be able to look at guys like Gagner and Paajarvi as trade assets? I remember a few years back when guys like Robert Nilsson and Andrew Cogliano were too valuable to move because we needed their 30-40 points every year.

    I am hoping that Tom Wilson is still available for our second round pick. I think a draft with Murray and Wilson would have to be considered a big success.

  • Giant Squid Overlord

    Is there anyone with these qualities becoming UFA this off-season? Probably not or I figure Gregor would have mentioned them.

    So does that mean adding Matt Duschene would be a bad idea (with the rumblings coming out of Colorado)?

  • John Chambers

    Nice read, Gregor.

    Yesterday Willis wrote about how ‘enforcers’ were going out of style and that ‘toughness’ was an unimportant and antiquated commodity.

    I agree that an individual’s toughness (the ability to punch someone in the face) is over-rated our downright useless in the modern NHL game, but team toughness, or even the toughness of a line is an important quantity.

    As suave as Eberle or Nugent-Hopkins are, they’re not savage on the puck and therefore “tough” to play against. Hall is tougher, but he overstretches it to make up for his softer linemates.

    Maybe Columbus would be willing to part with RJ Umberger in that deal Lowetide is working with them for Tyutin.

    • Let’s be clear – I didn’t say any of the things you say I did about toughness.

      I said there was no form of absolute protection for RNH and his ilk, and I pointed out that even without an instigator rule players elbowed each other in the face and hit each other with sticks and the like.

      I’ve never held the stance that toughness is an antiquated or unimportant commodity. Overrated at times, certainly, but never unimportant or antiquated.

      • John Chambers

        Sorry. I meant to say that you indicated that enforcers were an unnecessary entity, and therefore agreed with your column.

        I was busy squawking into my IP-based corporate communications device when I wrote that and didn’t properly edit myself.

    • Jason Gregor

      They are the lone exception, and keep in mind they had the best player in the game for two decades, Nick Lidstrom. That helps, but they are exception, not the norm. And they won’t win the Cup this year, and I won’t be surprised to see the Preds knock em out in first round.

      I also said it wasn’t mandatory, but Detroit is the rare exception. And they have huge bangers, Kronwall and Stuart on the backend that make them quite physical.

    • Banger

      Yes, because its so easy to put together a team like Detroit……….

      Good, now that the low hanging fruit exception is out of the way, back to the discussion.

  • Clarence Oveur

    Hartikainen and Jones don’t drop the gloves on a regular basis because that’s what lands them on the bench.

    Just ask Ben Eager. Playing on the edge on a Tom Renney-coached team and in this organization earns you a ride on the pine pony.

  • RyanMurray2012

    Fist of all, great article Gregor.. I think this is one of the next areas that needs to be addressed, as size in the top 6 is sorely lacking. One area that isn’t talked about is how the top 2 RW spots are locked up for the next couple years, even more than on the LW. This is one of the reasons I think Clowe is the ideal fit. He could play with 93 and 14, chip in the old goal, and fight when needed. He’s perfect.

    I will also say though that i’m against trading maggy. He’s been one of my favourite Oilers, so i’m biased, but he is the kind of guy that plays top 9 but can easily take a shift on the top 2 lines. In that sense, he’s the type of guy cup winning teams have.

    My solution is try to overpay for Clowe, while keeping 91. Maybe Curtis Hamilton, Musil and a 2nd? He’s a UFA in a year so I don’t think the price would be all that high, especially if San Jose misses the playoffs.

  • Skidplate

    Well with Samuelsson playing in Edmonton, I am sure management has taken the time to get a good read on him. Not sure where he is slotted to go in the draft, nor do I know the extra picks the Oilers have, but I think he would fit in well in the top 6.

    • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

      how on earth can you be sure about anything with regards to the oilers management group?

      tambo could be locked in his office trying to figure out how to give another “bulin is our mvp” speech for all we know…and sadly i might not be far off

      • Yourmomthinksimhot

        More like locked in his office trying to get out…its a push door but he keeps pulling, yelling “Kevin are you holding the door handle again?!?”…. “Do you work out??”….”I’m taking a nap, call me if Oil change guys are around so I can style my hair”.