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Centers on the bubble

Five who fell short of making NHL Network's Top 20 list

NHL.com @NHL

NHL Network knows who the best players are in the League right now. They will reveal their version in a nine-episode summer series, airing weekends. The third episode is Sunday at 7 p.m ET and focuses on the Top 20 centers.

Did your favorite center make the list? Tune in Sunday to find out and join the conversation with the #NHLTopPlayers hashtag. Here is a preview of the series and a look at five centers on the bubble, who just missed the top 20.

Leading the rush up the ice, having the ability to make a play in a split second, and winning a key faceoff are important roles of a top center, but who are the top 20 centers in the NHL today?

 

[RELATED: #NHLTopPlayers Right Now | Wings on the bubble | Goalies on the bubble]

 

NHL Network will answer that question on Sunday, and Mike Rupp, a forward who spent 11 seasons in the League from 2003-14 and now serves as an analyst, shared his input with what makes a top center.

"When we are talking about the top centers, you have to be able to drive offense, that's the No. 1 thing," Rupp said. "Where you start to see greatness is what they can do on the other side of the puck as well. Not all top centers have to be good defensively but the great ones generally are."

The Top 20 centers will be revealed in the show, but Rupp discussed some on the bubble who just missed the cut among the show producers and NHL Network analysts who made up the selection panel.

Video: NHL Network to rank the Top 20 Centers Right Now

 

21. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Despite having one of the worst offensive seasons of his NHL career (14 goals, 44 assists), Giroux, 29, is fourth in points since 2010-11 with 501 trailing forwards Alex Ovechkin (506), Sidney Crosby (521) and Patrick Kane (522). He's been the catalyst for the Flyers for the past decade and has been a power-play specialist with at least 27 points with the man-advantage in each of the past four seasons. Giroux also has won 54.3 percent of his career faceoffs.

"With this list being right now, it's understandable why he's not on the list, but he's one that I think has a great chance of being on the list next year," Rupp said. "I've had the opportunity to play against him and he's a gamer and he works hard. He's been banged up and he has that fiery personality and is going to come back with a vengeance."

Video: WSH@PHI: Giroux snipes a top-shelf wrist shot

 

22. Ryan O'Reilly, Buffalo Sabres

The 26-year-old has scored at least 20 goals in three of the past four seasons, and finished first on the Sabres in points in 2015-16 with 60, and second last season with 55. O'Reilly is a big part of the offense for Buffalo (24 PPP last season, 189 SOG) and won a career-high 58.01 percent of faceoffs.

"This is my biggest surprise of not being on the list," Rupp said. "If it was my list, I'd have to find a way to get him on it. When you talk to any of the players in the League that have played with him, everyone I've talked to has said he's so good. He is great offensively but might even be more talented defensively. The responsibility he has as the No. 1 faceoff guy, No. 1 penalty killer, he does everything."

Video: TOR@BUF: O'Reilly nets SHG with beautiful wrist shot

 

23. Ryan Kesler, Anaheim Ducks

One of the best two-way centers in the game, Kesler, 32, has finished in the top three in voting for the Selke Trophy as the League's best defensive forward in five of the past nine seasons, including winning it in 2011 with the Vancouver Canucks. In each of the past nine full seasons, he's scored at least 20 goals, and he hasn't had a faceoff winning percentage lower than 56 in each of his past three seasons.

"With the upcoming centers list, most of those guys see him on a nightly basis and he's a shutdown guy," Rupp said. "He makes life miserable for his opponent. He's always up for the Selke but puts up pretty good numbers, too. When you have to start almost every defensive zone faceoff and can put up 50-60 points, that is impressive."

Video: PHI@ANA: Kesler records hat trick for Ducks

 

24. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

Couture, 28, has scored at least 21 goals in six of the past seven seasons and has only been a minus player once. He had 11 power-play goals last season, tying his NHL career high and ranked third on the Sharks in points with 52 (25 goals, 27 assists). Couture was a big reason San Jose advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016; he led all scorers in the postseason with 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists).

"I think he sneaks under the radar out there in San Jose because of some of the bigger personalities they have, but he is so good." Rupp said. "I think we've seen how good he is on an international level, but he is so good defensively, offensively. He's a little bit of a throwback player and old school in the way he plays. He took a puck to the face in March and missed seven games, but returned for the Stanley Cup Playoffs Couture isn't afraid to block shots and do all the intangibles."

Video: EDM@SJS, Gm4: Couture sweeps PPG past Talbot in 1st

 

25. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

Thornton took a step back last season with 50 points (seven goals, 43 assists) in 79 games following 82 points (19 goals, 63 assists) in 82 games in 2015-16. However, he showed his courage by playing in the playoffs last season with a torn ACL and MCL. The 38-year-old future Hockey Hall of Famer got his 1,000th NHL assist (13th all time) in 2016-17, and his 1,391 points rank 22nd all-time and second among active players behind Jagr (1,914).

"He's still getting it done, you still have to game plan against him," Rupp said. "Most guys his age, No. 1 aren't in the League, and No. 2, they've kind of moved into a different role where you aren't game planning against them, you are game-planning against somebody else."

Video: WSH@SJS: Thornton picks the corner with one-timer

 

Here is the remaining schedule
Aug. 20: Top 20 centers
Aug. 26: Top 20 defensemen
Sept. 3: Top 50 players (50-41)
Sept. 10: Top 50 players (40-31)
Sept. 17: Top 50 players (30-21)
Sept. 24: Top 50 players (20-11)
Oct. 1: Top 50 players (10-1)

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