When it comes to forward prospects, what a player can do away from the puck is often overshadowed by what he can do with a puck. You’re more likely to see a highlight of a beautiful goal than a well timed takeaway; it’s the nature of the beast in a sport that values goals.
And yet, more and more teams are looking for that complete player who can skate a full 200-foot game and can play in all situations. Patrice Bergeron, Pavel Datsyuk, and Jonathan Toews are some of the league’s best two-way forwards, and seem to be perpetual Frank J. Selke Trophy candidates – and it’s because they dedicate themselves to every facet of the game, not just the glamorous stuff. But who’s next? This week, the Hockey’s Future Top 5 takes a look at the five best two-way forward prospects in the world.
5. Scott Laughton (PHI), Philadelphia Flyers (NHL)
Not quite known for his offensive talents, Scott Laughton has shown his hard work and intelligence have been enough to make up for it – at least at the AHL level. In the 2014-15 season, Laughton has scored 11 points in 13 games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms but hasn’t quite established a scoring touch for the Philadelphia Flyers. What the 20-year-old has established, though, is an incredible ability to handle the defensive rigors of the professional game. He plays a very mature and physical style, and he’s already showing shutdown potential. All that remains to be seen is if he’ll blossom into a productive NHL scorer.
4. Miikka Salomäki (NSH), Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Miikka Salomaki is known for his tenacious defensive play and excellent work ethic (a commonality among the best two-way forwards), and as he adapts to the North American style of hockey, he is showing he’s more than capable of chipping in at the professional level. He’s incredibly strong (particularly in the legs) and battles well along the boards. His puck possession statistics are intriguing, especially if he can carry it over to the NHL. The Nashville Predators have been known to produce a lot of strong two-way players, so it will be interesting to see if Salomaki can elevate his game past the Tennessee norm and into the Selke range.
3. Chris Tierney (SJS), Worcester Sharks (AHL)
Chris Tierney began his junior career as an offensive weapon, but the Hunter brothers in London saw the potential for something much greater. They molded the young center into one of the premier shutdown forwards in not just the OHL, but all of CHL hockey. In fact, the Hunter brothers insist that throughout the London Knights big Memorial Cup runs, it was Tierney that led the way with his valuable play. Considerable praise considering these London Knight teams had Maxi Domi and Bo Horvat. For his first two-and-a-half seasons, Tierney was charged with stopping the best lines in the OHL – but then one night, the monster was unleashed and the offensive reigns were no longer pulled back. Tierney has since become one of the best, young two-way forwards in hockey. Having already played respectably in the NHL for the San Jose Sharks, the young center is currently cutting his teeth for the Worcester Sharks as their most dangerous forward.
2. Christian Dvorak (ARZ), London Knights (OHL)
After an injury plagued draft year, Christian Dvorak has exploded onto the OHL scene this season with impressive offensive numbers. He is currently second in points, trailing only linemate Mitchell Marner with 87 points in 45 games. Dvorak has become an overnight sensation and one of the most intriguing NHL prospects. What isn’t so obvious about Dvorak’s game is that, like Tierney, Dale Hunter and Co. took a shining to the young American, and has molded Dvorak into a complete two-way player who excels in all situations. Because of his smooth skating and active stick, Dvorak is just as strong on the penalty kill as he is on the power play. He backchecks smartly, and because of his tenacity and high-pressure game he’s a pain to play against at even strength (where he leads the OHL in +/- with a +40 rating).
1. Sam Reinhart (BUF), Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Last year’s highest drafted forward has notable offensive elements to his game that make him a potential, big-time point-producer in the NHL, highlighted by excellent skill and a high hockey I.Q. The 19-year-old Kootenay Ice center is perhaps less known for his very solid 200-foot game. What he lacks in elite level quickness, Sam Reinhart makes up for with composure, intelligence, and work ethic. During the 2015 World Junior Championship, Reinhart’s two-way prowess was on worldwide display as he not only dominated the scoresheet but was tasked with playing some of the hardest minutes of the tournament, including in the gold medal game where he stopped the Russians from making a comeback with some key defensive zone starts. If ever there was the next Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews, Sam Reinhart looks to be it.
Who’s the best shutdown forward not playing in the NHL? Are we missing anyone in our top 5? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
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