With the NHL’s 2023-24 common season mere days away, THN.com is evaluating the depth (or lack thereof) of staff rosters.
On Wednesday, we analyzed the NHL’s prime 5 groups when it comes to their top-six ahead teams. At the moment, we’re trying on the different finish of that spectrum, figuring out the 5 groups with the weakest top-six ahead teams.
Don’t interpret that to imply the 5 groups we choose are completely bereft of elite expertise. As an alternative, we’re labelling groups based mostly on their general assortment of their greatest six forwards. Some sturdy forwards could not cancel out others within the prime six who would not be there on different groups.
With that in thoughts, listed below are this author’s selections (in reverse order) for the 5 groups with a prime six that is not as stable as the remainder of the NHL:
5. New York Islanders
High six group: Anders Lee (LW), Bo Horvat (C), Mathew Barzal (RW), Pierre Engvall (LW), Brock Nelson (C), Julien Gauthier (RW)
The Calgary Flames had been amongst just a few groups in rivalry for this fifth-lowest spot, however in the long run, we gave it to the Islanders. Once more, this isn’t to recommend the Isles have a whole and whole lack of upper-tier expertise of their top-six ahead group. Certainly, Lee, Horvat and Barzal are superb gamers, and Nelson had a 36-goal, 75-point season in 2022-23.
Nonetheless, Engvall just isn’t a top-six participant on a great staff – in Toronto, he wasn’t all the time ok even to be a fourth-liner – and Gauthier is on his third NHL staff previously two seasons for good motive. At 25, Gauthier has the time and alternative to develop his recreation, however like Engvall, he’s merely not proven sufficient to be considered a professional top-six ahead on this league.
The Isles have higher fortune on their again finish with their defensemen and goalies, however in terms of their forwards, there’s a lot that’s missing.
4. Chicago Blackhawks
High six group: Taylor Corridor (LW), Connor Bedard (C), Ryan Donato (RW), Tyler Johnson (LW), Lukas Reichel (C), Andreas Athanasiou (RW)
Even with the addition of budding younger famous person Bedard, the Blackhawks’ depth in any respect positions is questionable at greatest. The 31-year-old Corridor has change into a journeyman of types, and first-year Hawk Donato has by no means scored greater than 16 targets in a single NHL season.
Issues worsen from there, because the 33-year-old Johnson is much previous his prime. Reichel holds some promise, however he’s bought solely 34 video games of NHL expertise, and on a professional Stanley Cup contender, he’d be nicely down the depth chart. Whereas Athanasiou had a bounce-back season in ’22-23 with 20 targets and 40 factors in 81 video games, he’d possible be a third-liner on many, if not most, Cup front-runners.
With Bedard main the way in which, the Blackhawks possible received’t make this record a season or two from now. However because it stands, Chicago clearly stays within the early phases of a prolonged and full rebuild, and their dearth of first-rate ahead expertise displays that truth.
3. Philadelphia Flyers
High six group: Joel Farabee (LW), Sean Couturier (C), Travis Konecny (RW), Owen Tippett (LW), Morgan Frost (C), Cam Atkinson (RW)
Just like the Blackhawks, the Flyers are within the midst of fully making over their roster with a watch towards the longer term – and their present combine of children and veterans makes their prime six forwards removed from playoff-caliber.
For one factor, two members of their prime six – 30-year-old Couturier and 34-year-old Atkinson – didn’t play a single recreation final season whereas they recovered from damage. For one more factor, though Farabee and Konecny are above-average performers, neither could be thought of to be among the many highest at their place.
Children Frost and Tippett are going to be Flyers for the lengthy haul, however till such time as they ascend to the highest of their occupation, Philadelphia just isn’t going to have one of many NHL’s prime 15 teams of prime six forwards, not to mention one of many prime 5 teams.
2. Nashville Predators
High six group: Filip Forsberg (LW), Ryan O’Reilly (C), Juuso Parssinen (RW), Gustav Nyquist (LW), Cody Glass (C), Denis Gurianov (RW)
Underneath first-year GM Barry Trotz, the Predators drastically re-jigged their forwards unit this summer time, and the outcomes aren’t particularly intimidating.
Although Forsberg is a stable expertise, O’Reilly is 32 and has plenty of miles on his particular person odometer. Whereas he could be a second-line heart on many groups, the actual fact O’Reilly is Nashville’s prime pivot is an indictment of their general expertise up entrance. So is the truth that Parssinen has only a half-season of NHL expertise to his credit score, and even then, he produced at roughly a 12-goal tempo. That is your top-line proper winger? Yikes.
On the second line, one other veteran – 34-year-old Nyquist – is a newcomer to the Preds, and he’s projected to be alongside Glass and Gurianov, who was solid apart by two NHL groups final season. Giving their children alternatives to leap into the highest six is Trotz’s plan and might repay in the long run, however at this second, we are able to’t faux they’re an imposing group of forwards.
1. San Jose Sharks
High six group: Alexander Barabanov (LW), Logan Couture (C), Anthony Duclair (RW), Mike Hoffman (LW), Tomas Hertl (C), Kevin Labanc (RW)
The Sharks had been one of many league’s worst groups final season, in no small half as a result of their ahead group didn’t have practically sufficient high quality depth. And after an low season of main change, they could be even worse this season, even when by design.
Couture is now 34 years outdated, and the final time he was a really elite ahead was within the 2017-18 marketing campaign. Hertl is a reliably above-average participant, however his manufacturing took a step backward final season, dipping from 30 targets in 2021-22 to 22 in 2022-23.
Apart from that, all 4 of their projected prime 4 wingers are both castoffs from a number of groups (Duclair, Hoffman) or first rate however nowhere close to spectacular gamers (Labanc and Barabanov, who mixed for 30 targets and 80 factors final 12 months).
Sharks GM Mike Grier is below no illusions as to the mountainous activity of being legitimately aggressive in 2023-24. However by the point the commerce deadline arrives, looming UFAs Barabanov, Duclair, Hoffman and Labanc all might be dealt away, that means there’s nonetheless room on the backside for San Jose’s forwards to fall even deeper. For now, although, they simply don’t have the depth to be a constant winner in hockey’s greatest league.
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