A look at the top lines around the NHL

NHLHS NHL writers Anthony Curatolo and Brandon Macdonald take a look at the potential top lines from around the NHL. Taking it one step deeper, they give their projected outlook from a fantasy perspective on how each line could potentially produce this upcoming NHL season.

As we’ve skated through the NHL preseason and have witnessed our first glances at most teams around the league to start the actual year, we will take a look at the potential top lines around the league that are likely to be the mainstay top line for their respective clubs.

There has been a decent amount of change around the league this off-season and here at NHLHS, we will break down how each lines production could pan out around the league.

Keep in mind that there will be line juggling to start the season as coaches will attempt to find the proper chemistry amongst the forward units to provide a competitive game scenario.  What we present to you below are projected lines to start the year.  Whether they were the way the lines finished the season last year, or what has come from initial reports out of training camps.

Anaheim Ducks:

Bobby Ryan – Ryan Getzlaf – Corey Perry

The boys are back in town.  After a summer long battle in Bobby Ryan camp, the youngster from Cherry Hill, NJ has finally agreed to a new contract extension with the club which will see him remain a Duck for the next five years.  The returns of Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne help the veteran presence and the second line situation, and allows for the top line to stick together and produce for another season, to say the least.  With Joffrey Lupul finally cleared to being training from his injuries, there is good news all around.  Surprising seasons from Dan Sexton and the trade that brought in Jason Blake will be hopeful helping additions to the top nine.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Ryan Getzlaf – GP G 28 A 43 PTS 71
Corey Perry – GP 80 G 32 A 27 PTS 59
Bobby Ryan – GP 78 G 31 A 34 PTS 65

Atlanta Thrashers:

Niclas Bergfors – Nik Antropov – Evander Kane

It will depend on chemistry, but this could be a deadly top line for the Thrashers this season. The second full season for Evander Kane will see him continue to grow in to a power forward and having Dustin Byfuglien to learn the ropes from will undoubtedly help him. Without the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk and Max Afinogenov, the Thrashers will lean heavily on Niclas Bergfors and Kane for goal production. It could really go either way in Atlanta, but the future is bright.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Nik Antropov – GP 80 G 24 A 49 PTS 73
Niclas Bergfors – GP 79 G 28 A 33 PTS 61
Evander Kane – GP80 G 24 A 27 PTS 51

Boston Bruins:

Milan Lucic – David Krejci – Nathan Horton

Injuries put a damper on the offensive production for Boston last season – both during the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs. This year, it seems as if there is a lot carrying over from last year.  Top line Center Marc Savard, who is still battling through post concussion symptoms and it is anyone’s guess at this point if he will start the season healthy with Boston, will be missed to say the least. The lack of production from Michael Ryder and company added to the issues for the Bruins.  This year, with a few newcomers on board and some new situations to attack since Dennis Wideman has been shipped out in favor of Nathan Horton, the Bruins will hope to be back among the eight teams heading into the playoffs in 2011.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

David Krejci – GP 75 G 26 A 35 PTS 61
Nathan Horton – GP 80 G 35 A 28 PTS 63
Milan Lucic – GP 74 G 23 A 35 PTS 58

Buffalo Sabres:

Jason Pominville – Derek Roy – Thomas Vanek

It’s not a secret that the Buffalo Sabres are a team that rely heavily on the netminding of Ryan Miller, but they do boast a few offensive weapons. The 2009-10 season saw a 12 goal drop for winger Thomas Vanek, who scored 28, and the Sabres need Vanek to return to form this year. The team did little update their roster in the offseason, which shows that management has faith in their squad. Derek Roy is once again going to once again be leaned on for steady offensive production. Jason Pominville did suffer an injury early in the season, but that shouldn’t stop him from reaching the 60 point plateau this year.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Derek Roy – GP 82 G 26 A 60 PTS 86
Thomas Vanek – GP 76 G 29 A 33 PTS 62
Jason Pominville – GP 75 G 27 A 40 PTS 67

Calgary Flames:

Alex Tanguay – Olli Jokinen – Jarome Iginla

After last seasons debacle out of Calgary, and the trades that called for GM Darryl Sutters head, the off-season signings of Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay can truly only make one person happy: Jarome Iginla.  To be fair, the chemistry between the group when they were once Flames players was fantastic however, Jokinen and Tanguay have since fallen off the map of talented skaters within the NHL.  This will be their year to bounce back.  If they can find what was once a dominant line within the league, it could provide to be one of the better top lines.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Olli Jokinen – GP 70 G 25 A 25 PTS 50
Alex Tanguay – GP 76 G 16 A 40 PTS 56
Jerome Iginla – GP 77 G 34 A 33 PTS 67

Carolina Hurricanes:

Jussi Jokinen – Eric Staal – Tuomo Ruutu

In hopes to forget the season that was 2009-10 and embark on 2010-11 in proper fashion, the Hurricanes were sent overseas for the NHL Premier games and Cam Ward put on quite a show in front of the crowd oversees.  In order for this Hurricanes team to make any noise this year, Ward will need to provide consistent goaltending and stay healthy. Though injuries have arrived in Carolina, and who is to place a time table on anyone’s return, you will likely see plenty of line juggling over the course of the first two weeks.  Eric Staal will continue to lead the way, and offensive production must be at a premium this year out of him.

Jussi Jokinen – GP 76 G 31 A 28 PTS 59
Eric Staal – GP 80 G 34 A 37 PTS 71
Tuomo Ruutu – GP 72 G 21 A 22 PTS 43

Chicago Blackhawks:

Marian Hossa – Jonathan Toews – Patrick Kane

What can be said about the talent that was kept on board by the 2009-10 Stanley Cup Champions other than adjectives that would all equal one simple word: Wow. Cap casualties Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Laad, Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager and a few other role players have all been sent packing from the Chicago organization.  However, when Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland remain in tact good things will remain within Chicago.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Jonathan Toews – GP 82 G 30 A 55 PTS 85
Marian Hossa – GP 70 G 44 A 49 PTS 93
Patrick Kane – GP 82 G 34 A 50 PTS 84

Colorado Avalanche:

Chris Stewart – Paul Stastny – Milan Hejduk

The Colorado Avalanche surprised the hockey world in 2009-10 moving from the basement in to the eight playoff spot in the Western Conference. Led by Paul Stastny, who had his best statistical season, and youngsters like Matt Duchene and Chris Stewart leaves little to the pondering mind, outside of a sophomore slump, to say they can not achieve last years production.  Trade deadline acquisition Peter Mueller will start off the season on the injured list with a concussion, but his return will only add more offense to this team. Expect Stewart to play a bigger role, as well as veteran Milan Hejduk to be his consistent self. Youth is definitely served on this team with T.J. Galliardi and Ryan O’Reilly, who will have bigger seasons and the opportunity to move up the depth chart.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Paul Stastny – GP 75 G 29 A 54 PTS 83
Chris Stewart – GP 80 G 32 A 39 PTS 71
Milan Hejdux – GP 70 G 26 A 35 PTS 61

Columbus Blue Jackets:

Rick Nash – Antoine Vermette – Kristian Huselieus

When Rick Nash compliments your play you know you are doing something right. In an article posted this off-season on NHL.com, Nash was on record stating how good the chemistry between he and fellow line mate Antoine Vermette is. If this line can stay healthy and Huselieus can squeeze past his streaks, there could be potential for a very good year from them.  There could also be a disaster.  This is a washy situation in Columbus and we will have to hope for the best.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Rick Nash – GP 78 G 31  A 30 PTS 61
Antoine Vermette – GP 73 G 22 A 40 PTS 66
Kristian Huselieus – GP 68 G 25 A 30 PTS 55

Dallas Stars:

Loui Eriksson – Brad Richards – James Neal

The Mike Modano era is now over in Dallas, but let’s face it, that happened when Brenden Morrow took over as team captain in 2006. Brad Richards returned to form in 2009-10 with 67 assists which he added on top of scoring 24 goals to total 91 points. Wingers Loui Eriksson and James Neal both benefited from playing with Richards and another season will prove it was no fluke. Expect big things in big D from this trio as they will be relied on to carry the offense. The second line of Mike Ribeiro, Jamie Benn and Morrow should take some of the pressure off as well and could provide quite the top six for production out of Dallas this year.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Brad Richards – GP 79 G 23 A 58 PTS 81
James Neal – GP 82 G 31 A 30 PTS 61
Loui Eriksson – GP 76 G 27 A 34 PTS 61

Detroit Red Wings:

Pavel Datsyuk – Henrik Zetterberg – Johan Franzen

The timeless franchise may just be coming to an end. Boasting on of the oldest teams in the NHL, the Red Wings also have the most experience. Pavel Datsyuk is the best two-way forward in the league and after a statistically disappointing season last year, Datsyuk will look to capitalize on his scoring chances this year. A seasoned Jimmy Howard should allow the Wings to take a few more chances offensively and the scoring in Mo-Town should be that much better this season.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Henrik Zetterberg – GP 75 G 25 A 48 PTS 73
Pavel Datsyuk – GP 82 G 32 A 66 PTS 98
Johan Franzen – GP 70 G 28 A 30 PTS 58

Edmonton Oilers:

Dustin Penner – Sam Gagner – Ales Hemsky

Despite all the young and exciting talent that the Oilers boast, it is the veterans that will lead the way. Dustin Penner is out to prove that last year was, once again, not a fluke. While Oiler nation will finally see if Ales Hemsky is truly for real. Sam Gagner, as we all know, has all the talents to be a great center in the NHL and with two shifty wingers on his side, the time is now for the young man to break out.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Dustin Penner – GP 82 G 34 A 30 PTS 64
Sam Gagner – GP 70 G 18 A 38 PTS 56
Ales Hemsky – GP 74 G 23 A 28 PTS 51

Florida Panthers:

David Booth – Stephen Weiss – Michael Frolik

The young, rebuilding Florida Panthers will have a lot of adjusting to do this season.  When Nathan Horton was shipped to Boston in favor of Dennis Wideman and the 15th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, it left a glaring hole on the top line.  This hole has yet to be filled, and with a void this big, it leaves little to help the rest of the line up. Expect a long, possible painful season from the Cats in South Florida.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Stephen Weiss – GP 82 G 25 A 35 PTS 60
David Booth – GP 77 G 26 A 33 PTS 59
Michael Frolik  – GP 80 G 21 A 19 PTS 40

Los Angeles Kings:

Ryan Smyth – Anze Kopitar – Wayne Simmonds

The team who have been compared to the Chicago Blackhawks of last year most frequently are the Kings.  With Anze Kopitar getting better and better each year, youngster Wayne Simmonds proving his talent and Ryan Smyth being in the best shape of his entire playing career, there is potential to have one of the most dominant and productive top lines in all of the NHL. Of course, things will mix and match to start the season, as we have witnessed already from head coach Terry Murray but before you know it, all signs point to the creating of a very balanced top nine with a comfortable top six.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Anze Kopitar – GP 82 G 31 A 73 PTS 104
Wayne Simmonds – GP 80 G 22 A 29 PTS 51
Ryan Smyth – GP 79 G 34 A 32 PTS 66

Minnesota Wild:

Andrew Brunette – Mikko Koivu – Martin Havlat

Trouble in paradise. Unable to find a solution to the offensive production, considering Martin Havlat has yet to live up to his contract and no one else on the team has been able to find their scoring touch, the Minnesota Wild find themselves in a position to be one of the bottom teams in the Western Conference this year.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Mikko Koivu – GP 80 G 30 A 36 PTS 66
Antti Miettenen – GP 77 G 22 A 30 PTS 52
Martin Havlat – GP 72 G 20 A 28 PTS 48

Montreal Canadiens:

Brian Gionta – Scott Gomez – Michael Cammalleri

La belle province. The Habs are always an NHL team under the national spotlight and this season will be no different. Although the spotlight will not be on the offense. Carey Price is now the man in Montreal, but the likes of Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez and captain Brian Gionta will have to carry the offensive load for the team. Gionta is going to face the pressures of being the second American-born captain for the Habs, but that shouldn’t affect his offensive output, while Cammalleri will likely be depended on for scoring the majority of goals for the Canadiens.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Scott Gomez – GP 80 G 23 A 45 PTS 68
Brian Gionta – GP 82 G 27 A 49 PTS 76
Mike Cammalleri – GP 81 G 38 A 36 PTS 74

Nashville Predators:

Steve Sullivan – Matthew Lombardi – Patric Hornqvist

If history can repeat itself, Matthew Lombardi and Patric Hornqvist are setting themselves up to have quite the season in Nashville.  Though, chemistry and learning to play together will be the number one key to developing that chemistry during the first two weeks of play.  Barring health issues, and any other concerns from the black and white product, this top line does have what it takes to put up quite the points this year.  Nashville will rely heavily on secondary scoring, but with J.P. Dumont, Martin Erat, and the hopes that Colin Wilson will finally develop into a top six talent on board, it should be yet another fun seasons for Preds fans.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Steve Sullivan – GP 70 G 22 A 27 PTS 49
Matthew Lombardi – GP 80 G 27 A 44 PTS 71
Patric Horqvist – GP 82 G 32 A 36 PTS 68

New Jersey Devils:

Ilya Kovalchuk – Travis Zajac – Zach Parise

Also know as the “ZIP” line, this trio has the potential to earn themselves quite the surplus in points totals come seasons end. There is nobody that will benefit more from the addition of Ilya Kovalchuk than Travis Zajac. Look for the young centre to have a career season with not only assists, but also goals. Zach Parise is already in a league of his own, and being a part of this trio will continue to help him excel within his position with ease.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Zajac – GP 82 G 29 A 45 PTS 74
Parise – GP 80 G 34 A 43 PTS 77
Kovalchuk – GP 79 G 43 A 30 PTS 73

New York Islanders:

Matt Moulson – John Tavares – Nino Niederreiter

When John Tavares suffered a concussion to start the year, not only did it totally destroy the hopes of Isles fans across the hockey nation, it puts a damper on the development that everyone within the hockey community was looking forward to witnessing.  With Kyle Okposo, Rob Schremp and Mark Streit already on the shelf to start the year, doom and gloom awaits. Unless potential stud prospect Nino Niederreiter can step up and fill in on the top line upon Tavares’ return, it’s slim pickings at the Old Barn in Nassau County.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

John Tavares – GP 70 G 26 A 44 PTS 70
Matt Moulson – GP 80 G 27 A 22 PTS 49
Nino Niederreiter – GP 78 G 24 A 27 PTS 51

New York Rangers:

Marian Gaborik – Derek Stepan – Alex Frolov

For the first time in a few years the Rangers were not one of the most active teams on the free agent market. They did, however, land coveted free agent Alex Frolov from the LA Kings. Frolov will join Marian Gaborik on the top line, which should make for some flashy goals this season in the Big Apple. In his first season with the Rangers Gaborik played in 76 games (second highest total of career) and matched his career high with 42 goals. If the preseason was any indication, Gaborik and Frolov have found the chemistry and Derek Stepan could turn into the teams number one center in no time.  Brandon Dubinsky has found the perfect slot on the second line with Ryan Callahan and Artem Anisimov and with the chemistry they have, do not expect that line to be broken up any time soon.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Derek Stepan – GP 73 G 21 A 25 PTS 46
Marian Gaborik – GP 78 G 41 A 40 PTS 81
Alex Frolov – GP 79 G 22 A 42 PTS 64

Ottawa Senators:

Daniel Alfredsson – Jason Spezza – Alexei Kovalev

The Ottawa Sentators have a lot of work to do this season. They have some tremendous talents with Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza to go with veteran wit in Alexei Kovalev, but they are in a tough division and will need to play good team hockey if they plan on making the playoffs. Expect big numbers from the top line in Ottawa, but when it comes to offensive depth, the Sens are definitely lacking.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Jason Spezza – GP 77 G 23 A 50 PTS 83
Daniel Alfredsson – GP 60 G 20 A 30 PTS 50
Alexei Kovalev – GP 68 G 22 A 30 PTS 52

Pittsburgh Penguins:

Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Evgeni Malkin

What is there to say about the Penguins offense that hasn’t already been said. They are tremendously deep down the middle, but depend on second tier wingers to get the job done. Expect Evgeni Malkin to play the wing on the first and second line throughout the season while also dabbling as the second line centre. Big numbers will be put up by Sidney Crosby no matter who he plays with.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Sidney Crosby – GP 77 G 38 A 65 PTS 103
Chris Kunitz – GP 79 G 21 A 30 PTS 51
Evgeni Malkin – GP 79 G 33 A 68 PTS 101

Philadelphia Flyers:

Mike Richards – Jeff Carter – Dan Carcillo

The trio attempts to compliment each other.  With a surplus of Centers on the Philadelphia roster, someone will have to move to wing and it seems, at least to start the season, that Mike Richards will fill that role.  With that being said, the top line to start the season, as mentioned above, has the potential to be one of the better top lines in the NHL.

Although the acquisition of Nikolai Zherdev, even with all the knocks on Zherdev and his lack of defensive abilities, his offensive production will compliment the play of his responsible two-way teammates.  Jeff Carter, who has scored 30 or more goals in each of the previous two seasons, has two gifted line mates to play with as well.  Sitting at 99 goals in his NHL career, Zherdev will reach a milestone, barring injury, this season with Philadelphia – even as part of the 3rd line.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Carter -  GP 76 G 38 A 30 PTS 68
Richards – GP 80 G 32 A 51 PTS 83
Carcillo – GP 72 G 16 A 12 PTS 28

Phoenix Coyotes:

Lee Stempniak – Wojtek Wolski – Shane Doan

A surplus of moves out of Phoenix seem to be counteractive as they attempted to replace what they lost. Matthew Lombardi and Zybnek Michalek have since found new teams but Phoenix will look to some familiar faces as well as the addition of veteran Ray Whitney to help the offensive situations as a whole. With skaters like Wolski and Stempniak – as long as they can progress in the same instance as the season prior to this, there could be enough firepower among this Coyotes group to lead them directly into the playoffs once again this year.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Wojtek Wolski – GP 80 G 24 A 37 PTS 61
Lee Stempniak – GP 82 G 30 A 34 PTS 64
Shane Doan – GP 82 G 28 A 42 PTS 70

San Jose Sharks:

Dany Heatley – Joe Thorton – Patrick Marleau

What can truly be said about one of the top offensive units in the game today?  Outside of the playoff knocks on the Sharks cast, regular season play is dominant year in and year out.  Simply stated, when ‘Jumbo’ Joe Thorton is your top line Center and you can dish the puck off to a sniper like Dany Heatley or a very solid goal scorer like Patrick Marleau, there is no reason any of the three – slumps included – should not be able to earn at least 65 points or more this upcoming season. We know, they did not start the season together, but it is only a matter of time until things return to normal.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Joe Thorton GP 75 G 21 A 63 PTS 84
Dany Heatley GP 80 G 35 A 33 PTS 68
Patrick Marleau GP 76 G 31 A 33 PTS 64

St. Louis Blues:

David Backes – Andy MacDonald – David Perron

The Blues are one of the youngest teams in the league and this season we will really get to see what kind of talents they boast. David Perron and David Backes are big parts of the organization and they will have to produce in order for the team to win. The addition of Jaroslav Halak should allow the forwards and defenseman to have a little more freedom on the offensive side of the puck, which should lead to more goals.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Andy MacDonald – GP 77 G 25 A 25 PTS 50
David Backes – GP 80 G 30 A 36 PTS 66
David Perron – GP 81 G 23 A 45 PTS 68

Tampa Bay Lightning:

Simon Gagne – Steve Stamkos – Martin St. Louis

It’s hard to believe that Vincent Lecavalier would ever be the number two center on the Lightning, but the emergence of Steven Stamkos has moved him to that position. The Lighting are stacked on the offensive side of the puck and should have no problems scoring this season, their biggest question is between the pipes. But leaving goaltenders out of the equation, St. Louis, Stamkos and likely newcomer Simon Gagne can surely provide the offensive pop needed to make some noise within the Southwest Division.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Steven Stamkos – GP 82 G 55 A 55 PTS 110
Martin St. Louis – GP 77 G 23 A 60 PTS 83
Simon Gagne – GP 60 G 27 A 25 PTS 52

Toronto Maple Leafs:

Kris Versteeg – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel

Say what you will about Tyler Bozak being too young and too far off for a top line Center role.  Then, watch the magic that will be created between Versteeg and Kessel to help propel Bozak and his point production to match that of the weakest top line Center from around the NHL. The Leafs are looking to make a statement this year and it’s playoffs or bust at that.  In what has already started out as a surprising but promising start of the season in Toronto, one can only hope that they continue to rise and play consistent hockey all year long. Here, we aren’t hoping we are projecting this to happen.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Tyler Bozak – GP 82 G 22 A 25 PTS 47
Phil Kessel – GP 81 G 42 A 29 PTS 71
Kris Versteeg – GP 76 G 27 A 33 PTS 60

Vancouver Canucks:

Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Alex Burrows

Even without his twin, Henrik Sedin led the league in points last year proving that, as fantastic as a player combination the brothers are, Henrik can handle all situations when called upon. Yes, Alex Burrows has missed the start of the year due to the injury bug but once he returns, the Canucks truly have one of the most dominant top lines in all of the NHL. The twins and Burrows will lead this organization to the promise land sooner than one may expect.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Henrik Sedin – GP 82 G 33 A 43 PTS 76
Daniel Sedin – GP 78 G 32 A 47 PTS 79
Alexander Burrows – GP 68 G 27 A 35 PTS 62

Washington Capitals:

Alexander Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Mike Knuble

Does anyone truly expect to see a lack of production from one of the greatest Center/Winger combination’s in the entire league? Forsberg Jr., or as we know him Mr. Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin make for one of the most dangerous offensive attacks the game has ever witnessed. With young Backstrom developing with every shift in every game, and only getting better, as well as Ovechkin being the pure goal scorer he is, this lethal top line duo along with veteran Mike Knuble will be atop the statistical charts come April.  The only question that needs to be answered is if the offensive output will be enough to help the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup appearance in 13 years.

Projections for the 2010-11 season:

Nicklas Backstrom – GP 80 G 35 A 89 PTS 124*
Alexander Ovechkin – GP 78 G 86 A 53 PTS 139*
Mike Knuble – GP 80 G 22 A 28 PTS 50

Nicklas Backstrom – GP 80 G 35 A 63 PTS 98
Alexander Ovechkin – GP 78 G 52 A 45 PTS 97
Mike Knuble – GP 80 G 22 A 28 PTS 50

With those projections, and the general consensus over ruling any other ideas we had in mind, the top three to round out the league this season are:

#3 - San Jose Sharks

#2 – Vancouver Canucks

#1 – Washington Capitals

Honorable mentions:  The New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers sure have some fire power that will be tough to contain throughout the course of the season. Though not cracking the top three, we feel the would absolutely be among the top five if we had decided to go that far.

Who would be the best first line in your opinion?

*For the haters.

Anthony Curatolo
Twitter: @HockeyGuy_AC

Brandon Macdonald
NHLHS Editor
Twitter: @bMacdonald8