One of the favourite buzzwords for media, general managers, coaches and fans alike in the NHL is "top-six forward". Every general manager is looking for another one, coaches try to figure out the best configuration for their top six, and fans hope and pray that some of their teams prospects will turn into top six forwards one day.
What is a top six forward though? The easy answer someone who plays on one of the top two lines for a hockey team, but its much harder to quantify the difference between and third line player and a second line player. How many points should a top six forward get? 40? 50? 60? Someone like Martin Erat, who is considered to be a good core player in Nashville, has consistently scored 50 points as a top line player the last three seasons, playing between 65-75 games in each of those seasons. While no one will mistake him for a premier player, Martin Erat is for sure a top six player, well worth his 4.5 million dollar contract (the going rate for a top six forward). However, in 2009, Alex Kovalev scored only one less point than Martin Erat in a similar number of games (49 points in 77 games) and was considered a huge bust by Senator fans and media alike.
So it would appear that Senator fans are looking for more than 50 points out of their top six forwards. Considering Philadelphia and San Jose are the only teams in the entire NHL with 6 forwards at 50 points or better last year, this is unrealistic. After the jump I will take a look at each of the players expected to fill in Ottawa's top six and whether they can hit the much more modest goal of 40 points. In particular, I will talk about the very interesting three-way battle for what I see as the two open spots.
#11 / Right Wing / Ottawa Senators
Dec 11, 1972
|2010 - Daniel Alfredsson||54||14||17||31||-19||18||7||0||1||96|
In only 54 games last year, many played in pain due to a pinched nerve in the back (for a full description of the injury, click here for an unreal article by Jonana), Alfie managed to still score 31 points. Assuming his surgery was successful and he can play about 60-70 games this season, there is no reason Alfredsson shouldn't hit at least 40 points, but I don't see him getting more than 55 or so, especially now that he will probably be replaced on the top line by Bobby Butler. Regardless, he is quite obviously a lock for the top 6.
#19 / Center / Ottawa Senators
Jun 13, 1983
|2010 - Jason Spezza||62||21||36||57||-7||28||7||0||2||188|
Not much to be said about Jason. He is our premier offensive talent, and even with injuries last year, he nearly managed another point per game season. So, assuming he plays more than 40 games, he will without question hit 40 points, and my prediction is somewhere in the 70-80 point range. Will be cemented in Ottawa's top six for years, so again, no question about this.
#9 / Left Wing / Ottawa Senators
Dec 07, 1984
|2010 - Milan Michalek||66||18||15||33||-12||49||1||4||0||167|
It took him a while but Milan Michalek finally started to play the way he can in the second half of the year before falling to another injury. The big thing about Milan however is that his knee appears to have healed and his blazing speed has returned to him. He is not naturally gifted with the puck in the same ilk as most top-six forwards but he can still be an effective player who will certainly get first crack at the top line left winger spot with Spezza, and there is no reason he cannot put up 40 points as he has put up over 50 three times in his career.
The most intriguing option for Ottawa's top six this season is definitely Nikita Filatov. Otherworldly skill with the puck makes him ideal for a scoring line role, but he is far from a proven commodity. Luckily for Nikita, there is no pressure to win now in Ottawa. So hopefully, he will be given some leeway and some time to find his game, as there is no other offensive prospect in the organization with his explosive potential. Will likely find himself either on a line with Spezza or on a line with Alfredsson and he would do well to learn things from both of them. Can he reach 40 points? With his skill, it's certainly not out of the question, but I would suggest 35 is more likely this year. Fact is though, the sky is the limit, and he is skilled and thirsting to prove himself, and thats a dangerous combination.
#71 / Left Wing / Ottawa Senators
Oct 31, 1987
|2010 - Nick Foligno||82||14||20||34||-19||43||5||0||3||149|
Nick Foligno had an incredible training camp that left many thinking that last year would be his breakout year, and then he proceeded to start the regular season in a terrible slump. While he did put up career highs in assists, points and shots, many were disappointed in the 23 year old, because many are still hoping Nick can become a top-six forward. In the past, there has been very little in the way of competition on the left side for Nick, so he has played on primarily the second line. This year with a healthy Michalek and a hungry Filatov both in the hunt for the top two spots on the left side, Foligno must prove he can be a consistent contributor that has the skill to reach that 40 point benchmark, or else he may find himself in a bottom six role moving forward.
#16 / Left Wing / Ottawa Senators
Apr 26, 1987
|2010 - Bobby Butler||36||10||11||21||-16||10||1||0||3||73|
Bobby Butler is making Bryan Murray look like a very smart man for picking up the UNH standout when he became a free agent at the end of the 2009 season. In a year that saw him score consistently at the pro level for the Binghamton Senators, he also was the MVP of the AHL all star game, scored 13 goals en route to an AHL championship and made a huge impression playing down the stretch at the NHL level once being teamed up with Jason Spezza. He appears to have the makings of a great wingman for Spezza and has the inside track on the first line right winger spot, and he deserves it. I would not be surprised to see him score 20-25 goals this season and he should be able to put up at least 40 points playing with Spezza. Interestingly enough, he scored 3 goals and added 4 assists in his last 4 games of the NHL regular season. Here's hoping he picks up where he left off!
#13 / Center / Ottawa Senators
Apr 16, 1986
|2010 - Peter Regin||55||3||14||17||-4||12||0||0||1||87|
Just looking at Peter Regin's 2010 stats are enough to make any Senators fan cry. While he played nearly 20 more games than Bobby Butler, he still scored 4 less points (though he was not always playing top six minutes). For some reason, the skilled Dane just couldn't get the job done last year, but due to the hole in the Sens depth chart at the second line centre spot, Regin has his chance to prove last year was a fluke, and to redeem himself this coming season. Barring incredible camps from either Stephane Da Costa or Mika Zibanejad, or a shift back to centre for Nick Foligno, Peter Regin will likely centre Daniel Alfredsson's second line. I have faith in the Prince of Denmark, but something tells me this is a make or break year for the Regin. 40 points isn't out of the question, but he'll have to play significantly better than last season.
So there you have it, 7 players (with mentions to Da Costa and Zibanejad) fighting for 6 spots. Spezza, Alfie, Michalek and Butler are locks in my opinion, so that leaves Filatov, Foligno and Regin for the remaining two spots.
Who is the odd man out?