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The best forwards in women’s hockey (Part 1)

Brianna Decker watches the play advance at NWHL Boston Pride at Connecticut Whale Jan 31 2016. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini
Kaitlin S. Cimini/Today's Slapshot

Last week the NWHL, CWHL and most of the European leagues put their seasons on pause for the annual Four Nations Cup. In addition to seeing the United States winning gold, fans also got to see some of the biggest names in women’s hockey competing against one another.

The tournament also gave us an opportunity to see most of the best post-graduate forwards in women’s hockey. These are the women who have excelled after their college careers playing for both their national and club teams. Here, in no particular order, are four of the very best forwards in the game today.

Brianna Decker

Early this season Decker has spearheaded the Boston Pride’s offense with Hilary Knight out of the lineup. She has three goals and three assists (all at even strength) in four games this season. Decker also currently leads the Pride in both shots and primary points.

Decker is as good as it gets when it comes to generating offense. She has proven this over the years in international play, in NCAA Division I hockey, in the CWHL and in the NWHL.

When Decker is on the ice her team seems to control the puck for her entire shift and they almost always get scoring chances. To put it simply: she’s a 5’4″ possession-driving monster.

decker

The competitive, undersized center just might be the best playmaker in women’s hockey. Decker led all players in scoring at the Four Nations tournament with seven points in four games. Five of those points were assists and they all came at even strength. She sees the passing lanes that other players don’t notice and her hands are quick enough to move the puck exactly where it needs to be.

Decker’s quickness and underrated shot make her dangerous in all situations. Last season she led the Pride in power play goals and led the NWHL in shorthanded goals. When you’re defending, you can’t afford to lose track of her or give her too much space. If you do, the puck will be in the back of your net before you even realize your mistake.

Hilary Knight

Knight is the other half of the Boston Pride’s dynamic duo. She has yet to make her NWHL debut this season, but there is just no keeping her name off this list. She made her return to hockey this season at the Four Nations Cup with the United States Women’s National Team and, in typical Knight fashion, she was absolutely dominant.

It was impossible to tell that she has been battling a lower-body injury this year.

knight-usa-goals

Knight always plays her best in big games. The best power forward scored three goals and two assists (all at even strength) in three games in Finland. It was a convincing but familiar performance after her seven goals and two assists in five games at the 2016 Women’s World Championships.

The combination of Knight’s long reach, powerful stride and finishing touch makes her a nightmare match-up for any defender. She expertly uses her 5’11” frame to protect the puck and wreak havoc around the net. When she’s rolling there is just no stopping her.

Knight led the NWHL in goals, assists, points and shots last season. But she’s isn’t all offense. She relishes the opportunity to kill penalties and win pucks in the defensive zone. She’s the complete package.

Marie-Philip Poulin

Poulin’s elite speed and stickhandling makes her one of the game’s most enchanting players to watch. There is a strong case to be made for her having the best hands in hockey. She does some things with the puck that are hard to believe.

pou-hands

Regardless of the jersey she’s wearing, Poulin always seems to make things happen. She led Canada in scoring at the Four Nations tournament last week and was tied for the lead in goals with Knight.

Poulin has scored 12 points in her last 10 Women’s World Championship games. She also led the gold medal-winning Canada in scoring at the 2014 Olympic Games.

Poulin led the CWHL last season with an amazing 46 points in 22 games. She led the league in goals and assists and was tied for the league lead in power play points with her linemate Ann-Sophie Bettez. Last season Poulin averaged more than a goal per game. The last time that happened in the CWHL (among players appearing in at least 20 games) was the 2011-12 season.

This season, Poulin was tied for the league lead in points before the Four Nations Cup break. She had seven points in her first four games as Montreal’s newest captain. She looks ready to defend the scoring title she’s owned since in her first season back in the CWHL when she first played in the league as a 16-year-old.

Natalie Spooner

In 2014 Spooner was the first woman ever to win the Clarkson Cup and Olympic gold in the same year. That kind of thing doesn’t happen by accident.

Spooner is one of the best wingers in women’s hockey. She possesses a combination of speed and strength that makes her as dangerous in front of the net as she is with open ice. And it’s a very bad idea to give her open ice to work with.

spooner

The big winger was a force of nature for the Furies last season. She scored 30 points (17 G, 13 A) which was good for fifth in the league. Spooner is the player that stirs the pot for Toronto. There was a 12 point gap between her and the Furies’ next two highest scorers last season.

Spooner currently leads the Furies and the CWHL in primary points with the seven she scored in her first four games. A big part of her scoring prowess comes from her knack for making things happen on special teams. Spooner is the only player in the CWHL or NWHL to have a goal at even strength, on the power play and on the penalty kill this season.

Mike is an editor and writer at Blueshirt Banter and The Ice Garden where he covers the New York Rangers and women's hockey. There are some things that Mike is relatively good at in life, writing a bio about himself is not one of them. You can follow him at @digdeepbsb on twitter.

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