To earn big-time minutes as a forward, you need to be a threat to score every time you step on the ice while also playing a responsible game in your own end, good enough to be one of your team’s top penalty killers.
Very few do it better than the five Central Division forwards listed below. Had Marian Hossa been in the division last season, the following list would have been the division’s top five forwards when it came to ice time per game:
1. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings: No forward in the Central Division played more minutes on a nightly basis last season than Zetterberg, and not surprisingly no forward in the Central Division scored more goals or took more shots than him, either.
Zetterberg played an average of 22:04 per game, which was eighth in the League among forwards, and scored 43 goals, the fifth-best amount in the NHL. He probably would have done more damage had he not missed seven games.
Since 2005, Zetterberg has led Wings forwards in ice time per game, but the 22:04 was a career high by more than a minute.
2. Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings: While Zetterberg led Central Division forwards in minutes per game last season, Datsyuk led them in total minutes played and also led the division’s forwards with 97 points. For the second straight season, he had only 20 penalty minutes.
Datsyuk averaged 21:23 per game, second behind Zetterberg in the division. He played in all 82 games and totaled 1,753:26 of ice time. The 21:23 per game also was a career high for him by well over a minute.
3. Marian Hossa, Red Wings: He split 72 games between Atlanta and Pittsburgh last season, but in each place was a top-line forward. He averaged 21:21 per game, which was No. 16 best in the League and would have put him third among the Central’s forwards, and still scored 66 points.
It will be interesting to see if Hossa’s ice time decreases now that he’s in Detroit and playing in a top six that includes Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom, all of whom are power-play threats, to boot.
4. Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets: Nash had the most productive season of his career in 2007-08 with 69 points (38 goals), while also playing a career-best 20:29 per night, third among forwards who spent all season in the Central.
As long as Nash stays out of the penalty box – and he has yet to have 100 penalty minutes in a season – expect his time on the ice to be similar this season as he’s now the captain of the team and its bona fide star.
5. Jason Arnott, Nashville Predators: Arnott played 18:59 per night, which was fifth among Central Division forwards, and had 72 points in 79 games. The 18:59 per night was a full minute more than he played in 2006-07, his first season in Nashville.
As long as Nashville again finds itself on the power play more times then it’s shorthanded – last season it was a 358-335 advantage – Arnott’s time on ice should again hover around the 19-minute mark.