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Top Players

Centers on the bubble

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

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL Network knows who the best players are in the League right now. They will reveal their lists in a nine-episode series that runs through the start of the regular season. The first 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 face-off are important roles of a top center, but who are the top 20 centers in the NHL today?

NHL Network will answer that question Sunday, and Mike Johnson, a forward who played 11 seasons (661 games) in the League from 1996-2008 and now is as an analyst for NHL Network, shared his thoughts on what makes a top center.

"The top guys are the guys you want out there when you are winning by a goal, losing by a goal, when you have to win face-offs late in games," Johnson said. "All those things, plus the top guys are good defensively. A full, well-rounded 200-foot player at both ends would be ideal. It's the most important forward position by a mile and the top guys are guys you would want to build your team around."

Video: A look at who just missed the list of Top 20 Centers

The top 20 centers will be revealed in the show, but Johnson discussed five on the bubble who just missed the cut with the show producers and NHL Network analysts who made up the selection panel.

 

Vincent Trocheck, Florida Panthers

Trocheck increased his scoring in each of the past four seasons, including NHL career-highs in goals (31), assists (44) and points (75) last season. The 25-year-old also led the Panthers in power-play points (27) and power-play goals (13). Trocheck had three shorthanded goals and five game-winners, and won 54.1 percent of his face-offs (853 of 1,577).

"He gets a lot of pucks on net, he generates a lot of chances and is a sneaky-good finisher," Johnson said. "He's a better skater than people probably recognize and is an underrated centerman that does a lot of things really well. The fact that he plays in Florida maybe hides him a little bit but he is a high-end talent that's around the puck and around the net all of the time."

Video: ARI@FLA: Trocheck ties the game with his second goal

 

Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

Staal has rejuvenated his career since signing a three-year contract with the Wild on July 1, 2016. He had 28 goals and 65 points in 2016-17 but increased those to 42 goals and 76 points last season. It's the most goals he's scored since he had 45 in 2005-06. Staal, 33, had four game-winning goals and led the team in shots on goal (241) and power-play goals (11) last season. 

"What you're seeing is the guy that played six-, seven-, eight years ago," Johnson said. "He plays so hard and he loves being an offensive guy and a guy that teams count on, and he has been that in Minnesota. I don't know how many centermen scored more than 42 goals last season."

Video: How Parise, Suter and Staal can help Wild next season

 

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

Couture led the Sharks in goals (34) and had 61 points in 78 games last season, including an NHL career-high shooting percentage of 16.7 percent. Signed to an eight-year extension on July 1, Couture, 29, has scored at least 20 goals in seven of the past eight seasons and led the Stanley Cup Playoffs in scoring with 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in 2016.

"He plays in every situation and [is] the go-to defensive guy," Johnson said. "When they get to the playoffs, he elevates his game even more. He's the kind of guy that a winning team would want. He's okay playing behind someone in front of him even though his game doesn't rate as second behind anyone."

Video: Couture discusses his contract extension with Sharks

 

Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames

Monahan tied his NHL career high with 31 goals and set his high in points (64) despite missing eight games last season. The 23-year-old has begun his NHL career with five straight seasons with at least 22 goals, including at least 27 in each of his past four. Monahan finished third in the NHL with 11 game-winning goals last season. Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche each had 12. 

"It's hard to find room and space in the NHL but Monahan can create and doesn't need as much space as most other guys because when the puck is on his stick, it's off his stick and in the back of the net," Johnson said. "He's got one of the best releases in the NHL and is the go-to guy in Calgary. He faces the opposing team's top competition and does very well."

Video: CGY@BUF: Monahan drills home Gaudreau's nice dish

 

Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning

The 22-year-old had a breakout season with 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists), was plus-18 and tied MacKinnon for the NHL lead with 12 game-winning goals. Point's four overtime goals were second to Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins (5), and his four game-deciding goals in shootouts tied for first (Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs). He also played in the NHL All-Star Game for the first time. 

"For a guy who is so diligent defensively and still scores at his young age is very impressive," Johnson said. "I think he's kind of the next Patrice Bergeron kind of player, a guy who does everything but still scores a lot. He is trusted by (coach) Jon Cooper already to be the defensive stopper on a Stanley Cup contending team and he's just barely into his 20s."

Video: TBL@WSH, Gm4: Point finishes pretty passing play

 

Here is the schedule (all episodes will air at 7 p.m. ET): 

Aug. 5: Top 20 centers

Aug. 12: Top 20 defensemen

Aug. 19: Top 20 wings

Aug. 26: Top 10 goalies

Sept. 2: Top 50 players (50-41)

Sept. 9: Top 50 players (40-31)

Sept. 16: Top 50 players (30-21)

Sept. 23: Top 50 players (20-11)

Sept. 30: Top 50 players (10-1) 

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