Ranking the NHL's 10 best lines
Below, we list the NHL's top 10 lines heading into the 2020-21 campaign. The rankings are based on last season's production and factor in both traditional and advanced stats.
Some sample sizes are relatively small due to the shortened 2019-20 season, but a trio needed to play a minimum of 250 minutes together at five-on-five last year to make the cut.
This exercise also omits lines that were broken up when one member changed scenery. Two prime examples are Evgenii Dadonov leaving Florida Panthers dynamos Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau to join the Ottawa Senators, and Paul Stastny heading north to the Winnipeg Jets after a dominant season centering Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone for the Vegas Golden Knights.
Advanced stats guide:
GF% = Goals for percentage
xGF% = Expected goals for percentage
SCF% = Scoring chances for percentage
10. Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Tom Wilson
Unit's leading scorer: Ovechkin (48 G, 19A)
Combined cap hit: $23.9 million
Ovechkin and Wilson spent a similar amount of time together flanking Evgeny Kuznetsov last season, but the Capitals' top unit experienced a major boost in production with Backstrom in the middle. This group features a mix of size, scoring, and skill that can often be too much for opposing defenses. If the three had better luck in 2019-20 - an .876 save percentage from Washington's netminders hampered them last year - their goal-share numbers would likely be well into the green.
9. Teuvo Teravainen-Sebastian Aho-Andrei Svechnikov
Unit's leading scorer: Aho (38 G, 28 A)
Combined cap hit: $14.78 million
Carolina experimented with many variations of its top six last season, but the club would be wise to stick with this trio going forward. Teravainen, Aho, and Svechnikov are all immensely skilled in different ways, and this dynamic collection of young Hurricanes forwards can easily become one of the league's best lines with some more time together.
8. Kailer Yamamoto-Leon Draisaitl-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Unit's leading scorer: Draisaitl (43G, 67A)
Combined cap hit: $15.39 million
The Oilers surprisingly struck gold last season after separating Draisaitl from Connor McDavid and surrounding the 2020 MVP with Nugent-Hopkins and Yamamoto. The line outscored opponents 28-8 in the regular season and produced tremendous underlying numbers despite featuring in only 27 games. Most importantly, the established presence of a capable second line in Edmonton created some attacking balance behind the captain.
7. Reilly Smith-William Karlsson-Jonathan Marchessault
Unit's leading scorer: Smith (27G, 27A)
Combined cap hit: $15.9 million
The line that carried Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final in the club's inaugural season is still getting the job done two campaigns later. None of these skaters are necessarily prolific scorers or highly publicized superstars, but Smith, Karlsson, and Marchessault are all relentless on the puck and create chances at a dominant rate. The trio gives up a few more goals than it scores, but its on-ice save percentage should improve this season with Robin Lehner expected to take over as the Golden Knights' starting netminder.
6. Brendan Gallagher-Phillip Danault-Tomas Tatar
Unit's leading scorer: Tatar (22 G, 39 A)
Combined cap hit: $11.63 million
Based on name value, including the Canadiens' top line on a list filled with superstars may be a surprise to some. But there's no denying this Habs triumvirate belongs. The group's advanced stats are off the charts, and individually, Gallagher (third), Tatar (fifth), and Danault (sixth) were all top 10 in the NHL in expected goals last season. The three sometimes struggle to convert their chances, but with an uptick in puck luck, they won't fly under the radar much longer.
5. Zach Hyman-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner
Unit's leading scorer: Matthews (47 G, 33 A)
Combined cap hit: $24.77 million
The Maple Leafs also plugged in Marner alongside Matthews and John Tavares for significant minutes last season, and while both combinations are dangerous - and extravagantly expensive - this one is especially lethal. Marner's ability to set up teammates, Matthews' goal-scoring prowess, and Hyman's everlasting persistence in puck battles combine to make this trio one of the league's most productive and entertaining.
4. J.T. Miller-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser
Unit's leading scorer: Miller (27 G, 45 A)
Combined cap hit: $12.05 million
Adding Miller to the Canucks' top six last season helped the club take serious strides, and pairing him with Pettersson and Boeser vaulted Vancouver's top line to another level in terms of actual results and some key underlying metrics. Pettersson is undoubtedly the driver of the line, and his elite two-way presence makes him the type of superstar-caliber player who can succeed with anyone beside him. His partners do their part, though; Miller's playmaking added a new layer to Vancouver's attack, and Boeser is always a threat to score.
3. Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen
Unit's leading scorer: MacKinnon (35 G, 58 A)
Combined cap hit: $21.12 million
Both Rantanen and Landeskog dealt with injuries last season, but when this group is at full strength, it's a buzzsaw. Led by MacKinnon, who ranks third among all NHL skaters in points since 2017-18, the Avalanche's top line is a nightmare for opponents. The perennial MVP candidate's blend of speed, playmaking, and scoring ability is unmatched across the league, and he gels tremendously with Rantanen - another high-skill player who can dish the puck with precision or put it in the net himself. Landeskog provides some sandpaper to create balance and complete the trifecta, but he's capable of racking up points, too.
2. Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point-Nikita Kucherov
Unit's leading scorer: Kucherov (33 G, 52 A)
Combined cap hit: $21.55 million
Steven Stamkos has featured prominently with Kucherov in recent years, but when the Lightning captain went down with injury again this past season, head coach Jon Cooper thrust Point into top-line duties. The move paid incredible dividends. The trio of Kucherov, Point, and Palat only allowed 10 goals at five-on-five in the regular season before delivering even more dominant numbers across the board in a playoff run that culminated in a Stanley Cup. This line's recent postseason success is the key reason it ranks so high on the list, even with Kucherov projected to miss the 2020-21 regular season.
1. Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak
Unit's leading scorer: Pastrnak (48 G, 47 A)
Combined cap hit: $19.66 million
The Bruins' top trio is dubbed "The Perfection Line" for a reason. No other unit has enjoyed as much consistent cohesion or success over the past few years as Boston's go-to combination. Marchand and Pastrnak are both on the short list for the best players in the world at their positions, and the 35-year-old Bergeron remains an elite center at both ends of the ice. Current injuries to Marchand and Pastrnak could see the group's claim to top-line supremacy take a hit this season, but until then, this trio deserves to be recognized as the NHL's best.
(Stats courtesy: Natural Stat Trick)
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