Building the perfect NHL forward: Best skills, attributes

Today’s NHL is loaded with skill and talent up and down the ice. But what would the perfect player look like? Using the attributes of current NHL stars, we set out to create the perfect forward, defenseman and goaltender.

We start the series here by building the ultimate forward from 19 different skills and characteristics of players around the league. (Check back later this week for our iteration of the perfect blueliner and goalie).

Jump to:
Skating | Shot | Passing
Awareness | Physicality

Kids today want to shoot like Alex Ovechkin but skate like Connor McDavid. There’s nobody in the league with better skating technique than McJesus. Put it this way: Skating is the best skill for the best player in the league.

Obviously, a nod here should go to the New York IslandersMathew Barzal, the reigning champ of the fastest-skater competition at the NHL All-Star Skills Competition. But when you think of speed in today’s NHL, you always think of McDavid, who won the title for three consecutive years before Barzal took it home in January. He has the ability to go right by everyone on the ice.

The Avalanche’s superstar is a terrific stick handler and has a great shot. But one of the things that makes him truly transcendent is his first three steps. MacKinnon can get to full speed quicker than anyone else in the league, and he’s constantly blowing past defenders.

Get used to seeing the 24-year-old Czech atop the NHL goal charts. Pastrnak, who does a ton of damage on the power play, is known for his accuracy. In fact, he won the accuracy competition at 2019 All Star Game. Pastrnak finished the regular season this year with 48 goals, tied with Ovechkin for No. 1 in the league, thanks in part to a 17.2% shooting percentage.

Nashville Predators goalie and fellow Finn Pekka Rinne has called the 22-year-old Laine one of the most gifted shooters he has ever seen. We tend to agree. This is a guy who can rip a wrister deep from the right corner of the ice and somehow hit the top left corner of the net.

Pastrnak led the NHL with 15 slap shot goals this season, but the nod here goes to Ovechkin (who had 12). Over the past three seasons, no player has more goals on slappers than Ovi’s 50. Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning is next-closest … with 35.

There’s a reason they call it Ovi’s Office. He stands in the same position — right at the top of the left face-off circle — collects the puck and scores. He does it time and time again. Everyone knows about it, no one can stop it.

Few forwards are as deceptive as Kucherov, who won the Art Ross Trophy in 2018-19. One of the tools in his arsenal is the backhander, which he has perfected over the past few seasons. He makes it look a lot easier than it is. Since 2017-18, he has 15 goals off the back of his stick blade (tied for second-most) on an incredible 33.3% shooting percentage.

“Hidden camera” video of Patrick Kane stickhandling — released by his equipment sponsor, Bauer — has nearly 4.5 million views on YouTube. Then there’s the GoPro video, in which you can catch a glimpse from Kane’s perspective. Hockey nerds can’t get enough of this content from the guy with the best mitts in the game.

This season, Draisaitl became the first German-born player to win the Art Ross Trophy, bolstered by his 67 assists in 71 games. Draisaitl is a precise passer — backhands, saucers, you name it — and could be setting up McDavid for years in Edmonton.

One of the reasons Panarin has been so successful in the NHL is that he’s playing chess; the Russian forward has an uncanny ability to anticipate where plays might develop and find the perfect play for his teammates.

Even though Thornton’s production has dipped at age 40, he’s still valuable anytime he’s on the ice. That’s because few players comprehend and can analyze the ice quite like Jumbo Joe.

This is a skill set that’s very hard to quantify, but it’s what makes Kucherov a star. It’s a blend of creativity, vision, stickhandling and shooting ability, and it leads to some gaudy production.

Stone’s profile has risen significantly over the past two seasons, and he’s now the highest-paid player on the Golden Knights. He plays hard every night and is especially disruptive defensively. Stone might have a Selke Trophy or two in his future.

In one of the NHL-arranged Zoom video calls during the coronavirus pandemic, billed as the “hockey obsessives,” players were asked who the best net-front presence was in the league. Barzal and Kane both agreed: It’s Anders Lee. His 20 tip-in goals over the past three seasons is tied with John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the most in the league.

Reaves has led the NHL in hits for each of the past two seasons. He is 6-foot-1, 225 pounds and never shies away from contact. In fact, he’s usually instigating it.

Matthews is perhaps the next face of American hockey. And one thing he takes pride in is a good example for a lot American kids: his discipline. Through the first 282 games of his career, Matthews has taken just 22 penalties (and drawn 67).

Marchand has the dubious honor of being named both the best and worst trash talker in the league by his peers, according to the annual NHL Players’ Association poll. The Little Ball of Hate doesn’t discriminate — he irritates everyone.

Since the 2014-15 season, no player in the NHL has won more faceoffs than O’Reilly, with 6,016. For context of how dominant O’Reilly has been: Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins is second on the list, and he has nearly 300 fewer wins. O’Reilly has a 55.5% win rate over his 11-season career.