Let’s start with the obvious: every NHL team has a No. 1 line, a top unit charged with powering the offense. It’s just that, well, some lines are more No. 1 than others. And it should also be pointed out that lines get shaken up all the time in the NHL, whether due to injuries, coaching decisions or other factors, so take these combinations with a grain of salt.
Here’s a quick overview of the 31 NHL teams’ No. 1 lines as they appeared in the depth charts in The Hockey News’ 2018-19 NHL Season Preview issue (available on newsstands or right here.) Teams are listed alphabetically.
LW Rickard Rakell – C Ryan Getzlaf – RW Corey Perry
Rakell ranks 13th in the league with 67 goals over the past two seasons, and Getzlaf remains a prototypical top-line pivot and point-per-game playmaker. The problem is Perry, whose plummeting goal totals the past two years have basically offset Rakell’s rise.
LW Richard Panik – C Derek Stepan – RW Clayton Keller
Let’s face it, the slick Keller is the Coyotes’ lone legitimate first-line threat. Stepan is solid down the middle, to be sure, but you’d rather have him manning the second line. Panik has offensive upside – he potted 22 goals with Chicago two years ago – but he’s a first-liner by default in Arizona.
LW Brad Marchand – C Patrice Bergeron – RW David Pastrnak
Simply put, this is one of the very best lines in the league. Scoring, defense, physicality, agitation. They can play it any way you want, and they’ll play it better.
LW Jeff Skinner – C Jack Eichel – RW Sam Reinhart
Don’t look now, but there’s all the makings for a bona fide first line in Buffalo. Yes, they need to answer a couple key questions. Will newly acquired Skinner have chemistry with Eichel? Was Reinhart’s second-half breakout last season for real or merely a flash in the pan? But maybe, just maybe, the Sabres are starting to turn it around.
LW Johnny Gaudreau – C Sean Monahan – RW James Neal
Fire up the Flames, they’ve got a loaded top line that should strike fear into opponents. Gaudreau and Monahan have been great together, while newcomer Neal is a shooter who will also give the unit some edge.
LW Micheal Ferland – C Sebastian Aho – RW Teuvo Teravainen
Not a lot of name value yet, but Aho and Teravainen have synched up nicely in Carolina over the past couple of seasons. Ferland comes over from Calgary, where the physical winger fared well riding shotgun for Gaudreau and Monahan. Trending up, but maybe not quite there yet.
LW Brandon Saad – C Jonathan Toews – RW Alex DeBrincat
Saad sagged in his return to Chicago last season, while Toews doesn’t appear to be at the same level he was when the Hawks were winning Stanley Cups. DeBrincat is coming off a productive rookie campaign in which he scored 28 goals. There’s potential here – it would hardly be a surprise if Saad rebounds this season, and you’d be a fool to write off Toews – but it’s a show-me league and they’ll have to prove it on the ice. Having a player like Patrick Kane on the “second” line is a benefit of which few teams can boast.
LW Gabriel Landeskog – C Nathan MacKinnon – RW Mikko Rantanen
MacKinnon had his coming-out party last season, finishing fifth in the NHL scoring race and runner-up in MVP voting. Rantanen, likewise, is a young and sublimely talented winger who’s still on the rise, while power forward Landeskog provides the muscle.
Columbus Blue Jackets
LW Artemi Panarin – C Pierre-Luc Dubois – RW Cam Atkinson
An interesting and underrated unit. Panarin proved he was more – a lot more – than just a Patrick Kane beneficiary in Chicago after joining Columbus at the start of last season, emerging as an offensive force in his own right. Dubois managed to keep up as a rookie center, and his progression throughout the season is an encouraging sign of things to come. Atkinson isn’t big, nor is he a big name, but he’s quietly put up five straight 20-plus goal seasons, including 35 in 2016-17 and 24 in 65 games last year.
LW Jamie Benn – C Tyler Seguin – RW Alexander Radulov
The Stars’ stars. When it comes to offense, this unit is about as high-flying as they come. All three of these players could easily surpass 30 goals, with Seguin shooting for 40 or 50.
Detroit Red Wings
LW Tyler Bertuzzi – C Dylan Larkin – RW Anthony Mantha
The Wings are betting on youth and potential, and there’s a lot to like about Larkin’s all-around skill set and Mantha’s power-forward upside. Bertuzzi scored seven goals in 48 games as a rookie last season. Is this an NHL-caliber first line? Well, no, but let’s check back in a couple years.
LW Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – C Connor McDavid – RW Ty Rattie
OK, we all know McDavid is the most dominant offensive entity in the game today. And ‘The Nuge’ is a No. 1 overall draft pick who finally started producing like it after he was moved to the wing with McDavid last season. And then there’s Rattie, a veteran of 49 NHL games who’s getting a shot to show what he can do. If Rattie falters, there’s Jesse Puljujarvi and perhaps incoming rookie Kailer Yamamoto waiting in the wings.
LW Jonathan Huberdeau – C Aleksander Barkov – RW Evgenii Dadonov
An elite, two-way center, Barkov is basically Kopitar East with a pair of 30-goal wingers on either side of him.
Los Angeles Kings
LW Ilya Kovalchuk – C Anze Kopitar – RW Dustin Brown
Holy X-factor, Batman. Kovalchuk returns to the NHL as a 35-year-old after five seasons in Russia. Brown, who turns 34 in November, is coming off a surprisingly bountiful bounce-back season. What’s a realistic expectation for two wingers in their mid-30s? And then there’s Kopitar, a Hart Trophy nominee and Selke Trophy winner last season, as well as one of the game’s best all-around players.
LW Jason Zucker – C Mikko Koivu – RW Mikael Granlund
Zucker broke out for 33 goals last season and Granlund has produced nearly 70 points in back-to-back campaigns. The question mark might be Koivu, a 35-year-old warhorse who’s slowing down in a league that’s speeding up.
LW Jonathan Drouin – C Max Domi – RW Brendan Gallagher
Things are in flux in Montreal. Fluxxed up, I guess you could say. The Canadiens seem set to proceed with Domi down the middle and Drouin on the wing. Whether they’ll play together for the long term remains to be seen. Gallagher is the best option on the right side. Regardless of how Montreal’s top line shakes out, it’s not going to be one that scares too many opponents.
LW Filip Forsberg – C Ryan Johansen – RW Viktor Arvidsson
It feels like the talented Johansen has more to offer, not that he’s been a disappointment but he should be approaching 70-plus points rather than the mid-50s. Forsberg is a lethal scorer and the undersized Arvidsson remains underrated.
New Jersey Devils
LW Taylor Hall – C Nico Hischier – RW Jesper Bratt
It’s not often that the Hart Trophy goes to a guy skating with two rookies, but Hall pulled off the feat last season. There’s no reason to expect anything less from him this time around, while (especially) Hischier and Bratt should only improve as they grow their games.
New York Islanders
LW Anders Lee – C Mathew Barzal – RW Jordan Eberle
It’s difficult to envision Lee scoring 40 goals without John Tavares as his set-up man. Then again, Barzal proved his worth as a brilliant playmaker in a Calder Trophy-winning NHL debut season, and Eberle is in a contract year so he’ll be plenty motivated to put up points. Still, you can’t lose a player like Tavares and not take a step back as a team.
New York Rangers
LW Chris Kreider – C Mika Zibanejad – RW Pavel Buchnevich
It’s been a while since the Rangers went full rebuild, but they’re firmly in the process now. They’re banking on second-line types such as Kreider and Zibanejad to lead the way for a young and unproven cast of forwards up front. It’s going to be bumpy, but there’s plenty of promise in the likes of Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil & Co.
LW Ryan Dzingel – C Matt Duchene – RW Mark Stone
Duchene and Stone are eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season, and considering Ottawa’s current plight – and the way the Erik Karlsson situation was handled – it wouldn’t be a shocker if either player, or both, get moved at some point this season. Dzingel, a seventh-round draft pick in 2011, scored 23 goals last year.
LW Claude Giroux – C Sean Couturier – RW Travis Konecny
Giroux shifted to the wing and put up his first 100-point season, the two-way Couturier proved his offensive chops after a promotion to the top line and Konecny produced after replacing Jakub Voracek – who also produced – on the first line.
LW Jake Guentzel – C Sidney Crosby – RW Patric Hornqvist
They might not be the NHL’s absolute best line in the regular season, but let's check back in during the playoffs.
St. Louis Blues
LW Jaden Schwartz – C Brayden Schenn – RW Vladimir Tarasenko
This was one of the most lethal lines in hockey last season until Schwartz went down with an ankle injury, which has become a worrisome trend in recent years. If he can stay healthy, there’s no reason this unit can’t lead the Blues up the standings in the wild West.
San Jose Sharks
LW Evander Kane – C Joe Thornton – RW Joe Pavelski
Thornton’s beard is getting greyer and greyer, but he can still pass the puck and he’s flanked by a couple of proven goal-scorers. It’ll be interesting to see what Kane does in his first full season in San Jose after signing a lucrative seven-year deal.
Tampa Bay Lightning
LW J.T. Miller – C Steven Stamkos – RW Nikita Kucherov
Stamkos and Kucherov could both surpass 100 points. So, yeah, you might want to take a flyer on Miller in your hockey pool.
Toronto Maple Leafs
LW Patrick Marleau – C Auston Matthews – RW William Nylander
The Leafs’ other first line features John Tavares between Zach Hyman and Mitch Marner.
LW Sven Baertschi – C Bo Horvat – RW Brock Boeser
Like everything else in Vancouver, this is a work in progress. The good news is, the early returns have been promising.
Vegas Golden Knights
LW Jonathan Marchessault – C William Karlsson – RW Reilly Smith
It’s tempting to go with newcomers Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny as the Knights’ first line, but you’ve got to respect what this unit did last year in lifting Vegas from expansion franchise to Stanley Cup finalist.
LW Alex Ovechkin – C Evgeny Kuznetsov – RW Tom Wilson
The defending champions have the best goal-scorer of his generation in Ovechkin, a ridiculously skilled center in Kuznetsov and a one-of-a-kind power forward in Wilson. Not bad.
LW Kyle Connor – C Mark Scheifele – RW Blake Wheeler
The sky’s the limit for this trio. And when they leave the ice, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers and Bryan Little hop over the boards.