The forwards who play the most minutes are the ones who excel at every phase of the game. They're not just offensive talents, but they can kill penalties and produce at both ends of the ice in the final minutes of games.
The top five minutemen among Atlantic Division forwards certainly fit that bill.
1. Mike Richards, Philadelphia -- Richards was a major reason for the Flyers' recovery from the League's worst record in 2006-07 to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2008.
Given more responsibility by coach John Stevens, Richards played 21:30 per game. He was the team's top penalty-killing forward, playing 3:17, and he also played the point on the top power-play unit. Richards led the Flyers with 75 points and eight power-play goals, and his five shorthanded goals were tied for third in the League. He also has two 3-on-5 shorthanded goals during his short career.
2. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh -- Malkin needed to carry the load in Sidney Crosby's absence, and he came up huge for the Penguins, leading the team in most offensive categories.
Malkin played 21:19, more than 2 minutes per game more than his rookie season. More than 5 minutes of that came on the power play, where he tied for fourth in the League with 17 goals. He didn't kill many penalties, but he scored a big shorthanded goal in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Philadelphia, moments after being crushed into the end boards by Mike Richards.
3. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh -- It stands to reason that if you have a player the caliber of Sidney Crosby on your roster, you're going to send him over the boards a lot. And that's just what the Pens did when their captain was healthy.
Crosby played just 53 games, but he skated an average of 20:50 per contest, third among the club's forwards last season after the departed Marian Hossa and Evgeni Malkin. A full quarter of his ice time -- 5:12 -- came on the power play. And he made the most of those minutes, scoring 24 goals and 72 points.
Had Crosby been fully healthy last season, it's likely he would have played more per game than he did. As Crosby matures -- and if he stays healthy -- there's no reason to think he can't play more, and possibly be used to kill penalties.
4. Brian Rolston, New Jersey -- The Devils didn't just bring Rolston on board because he's coming off three straight 30-goal seasons. The center has averaged more than 20 minutes per game the last three seasons and has played at least 78 games, including all 82 last season with Minnesota.
Rolston played 20:04 per game for the Wild, including a team-best 3:47 on the power play. He also averaged 28.1 shifts per game, meaning Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire had the utmost trust in Rolston.
5. Scott Gomez, New York Rangers -- Gomez had 70 points last season, second on the Rangers. He also was second in ice time at 19:53 per game.
He trailed Jaromir Jagr in both categories, but with Jagr's departure -- along with a number of other veteran forwards -- Gomez should see his playing time rise.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org