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#NHLTopPlayers: Top 20 Centers

NHL Network reveals best of current crop

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

Winning important face-offs, leading rushes up the ice, and setting up teammates are hallmarks of an elite center. NHL Network producers and analysts chose the top 20 centers in the League right now, and they were revealed Sunday in the third of a nine-part series. Here is the list:


[RELATED: Top center in NHL in 3 seasons debated | Full coverage of #NHLTopPlayers Right Now]


20. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Kopitar scored 62 points (21 goals, 41 assists) last season to lead the Kings for the 12th time in the past 13 seasons. He led Los Angeles forwards in average ice time (21:02), power-play ice time (2:53) and shorthanded ice time (1:47), and he was seventh in the NHL among forwards in total ice time (1,472:48). Kopitar took the fourth-most face-offs in the League (1,407), won the fourth most (776), and was tied for 10th with Boone Jenner of the Columbus Blue Jackets in face-off winning percentage at 55.2 percent (minimum 750 taken).

19. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders

Barzal has led the Islanders in scoring in each of his three full NHL seasons, with a total of 207 points (59 goals, 148 assists) in 234 games. Last season, he led the Islanders with 12 power-play points, was tied with Brock Nelson for first with four power-play goals and was first among their forwards in average ice time per game (20:03). Barzal scored 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He was voted winner of the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year in 2017-18, when he scored 85 points (22 goals, 63 assists) in 82 games.

"When you're a good player, what you want is the puck," NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson said. "He provides such a unique element to his game that the Islanders need, they don't really have … the ability to transport the puck up the ice, out of his own end into the offensive zone."

Video: Barzal places 19th on the top 20 centers list

18. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

Couturier won the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward last season, when he led the NHL in face-off winning percentage (59.6 percent). His defensive-zone face-off winning percentage of 59.5 percent was second behind teammate Claude Giroux (65.8 percent) among those to take at least 750 draws. Couturier ranked first among Flyers forwards in average ice time per game (19:50) and shorthanded ice time (140:29). He scored 59 points (22 goals, 37 assists) and was plus-21 in 69 games, helping Philadelphia (41-21-7, .645 points percentage) earn a playoff berth.

17. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

Since Stamkos entered the NHL in 2008-09, only Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has scored more goals (543) than the Lightning captain (422), who scored 29 in 57 games last season. In 2018-19, Stamkos scored 45 goals and an NHL career-high 98 points, ninth in the NHL. He's scored the most goals in Lightning history and is third in assists (410) and points (832). Stamkos has scored 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists) in 71 NHL playoff games. He helped the Lightning win the Stanley Cup last season, scoring a goal in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Dallas Stars, his only goal in his only game of the postseason. 

16. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks

In his second NHL season, Pettersson scored 66 points to match his total from 2018-19, when he won the Calder Trophy after leading NHL rookies in goals (28), assists (38) and points. His 27 goals in 68 games last season tied J.T. Miller for most on the Canucks, and he tied Miller for the Vancouver lead with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 17 playoff games. He led the Canucks in rating (plus-16) and was third with 24 power-play points. Pettersson scored five game-winning goals and had a shooting percentage of 16.7 percent, which ranked 10th in the NHL among players who had at least 25 goals and 150 shots on goal.

"He's just so shifty with the puck," Johnson said. "He's got great hand-eye, the stick skills … He is really gifted with the puck in tight spaces. Elias Pettersson is the No. 1 centermen the Canucks have been looking for for a really long time, and he's going to be really good and on this list for a really long time."

Video: Pettersson places 16th on the top 20 centers list

15. Ryan O'Reilly, St. Louis Blues

O'Reilly matched his NHL career high with 28 goals and set highs with 49 assists, 77 points and a plus-22 rating in 2018-19, his first season with the Blues. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy voted as 2019 playoff MVP after leading the NHL with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 26 games and helping St. Louis to its first Stanley Cup championship. Last season, he led the Blues with 61 points (12 goals, 49 assists) in 71 games and ranked first in the NHL in face-offs taken (1,556), winning 56.6 percent.

"When he gets there and it's a stick battle, he wins them way more often than he loses them," Johnson said. "We know the offensive game is there despite the crazy-weird curve on his stick, but it's all the other stuff that he does beyond point production that makes him so valuable."

Video: Ryan O'Reilly places 15th on the top 20 centers list

14. John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs

Tavares set NHL career highs in goals (47; third in NHL), points (88) and rating (plus-19) in 2018-19, his first season with the Maple Leafs. He scored 26 goals last season and has scored at least 24 every season since entering the NHL with the Islanders in 2009-10. Tavares scored at least 60 points for the ninth time in 10 full NHL seasons and won 55.3 percent of his face-offs, the sixth straight season he won at least 50 percent.

13. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Aho scored an NHL career-high 38 goals last season and led the Hurricanes in points for the second straight season with 66. He scored four shorthanded goals and leads the NHL with eight over the past two seasons. Aho had eight multigoal games and was one of 11 players to score at least five points in a game (three goals, two assists against the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 7). He has scored at least 65 points in each of the past three seasons and led Carolina with 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in eight playoff games last season. 

12. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Scheifele has been one of the most consistent centers in the NHL during the past five seasons. He tied Kyle Connor for the Jets lead with 73 points (29 goals, 44 assists) last season after leading them with 38 goals and scoring an NHL career-high 84 points in 2018-19. Scheifele has scored at least 29 goals in four of the past five seasons and at least 73 points in three of the five. He scored 14 goals in 17 games in the 2018 playoffs.

Video: Scheifele places 12th on the top 20 centers list

11. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

Barkov scored 62 points (20 goals, 42 assists) in 66 games last season to help the Panthers earn a berth in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers after setting NHL career highs in goals (35), assists (61) and points (96) in 2018-19. He won the Lady Byng Trophy, voted as the most gentlemanly player in the NHL (four minor penalties all season), in 2018-19, when he finished fifth in voting for the Selke Trophy. 

10. Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers

Zibanejad had the only five-goal game in the NHL last season (March 5 against the Washington Capitals) and led the NHL in goals per game (0.72; 41 in 57). Although he missed 13 games with an upper-body injury, he set NHL career highs for goals and points (75), increasing his total in each for the third straight season. Zibanejad led Rangers forwards in average ice time (21:38 per game) and average shorthanded ice time (2:37 per game), and he was tied for third in the NHL with five shorthanded points.

"He was on a great run and he has been now for a couple of years," Johnson said. "He's really just elevated and emerged as the No. 1 guy for New York. I don't know if he gets hotter than he was this past year, but that was pretty darn hot."

Video: Zibanejad places 10th on the top 20 centers list

9. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning

Point set NHL career highs in goals (41), assists (51) and points (92) in 2018-19, when he led the League with 20 power-play goals. He was third on the Lightning with 64 points (25 goals, 39 assists) in 66 games, was plus-28 and won 51.1 percent of his face-offs last season. In four NHL seasons, Point has scored 262 points (116 goals, 146 assists) in 295 games and 21.6 percent of his goals (25) have been game-winners, including four in 2019-20. He scored 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) in 23 games in the 2020 playoffs to help the Lightning win the Cup.

8. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

A three-time Stanley Cup champion (2009, 2016, 2017), Malkin has scored at least 25 goals in 10 of his 14 NHL seasons and at least 70 points in 11 of the 14. He led the Penguins with 74 points last season (25 goals, 49 assists) and has averaged more than one point per game in each of the past nine. Malkin, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in the 2009 playoffs after he scored 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 24 games, ranks fourth among active NHL players with 63 postseason goals.

7. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Bergeron scored 56 points (31 goals, 25 assists), was plus-23 and averaged 18:44 of ice time in 61 games last season. He helped the Bruins allow the fewest goals in the NHL (167; 2.39 per game) and win the Presidents' Trophy with the best points percentage in the League (.714; 44-14-12). Bergeron ranked fourth in the NHL in face-off winning percentage (57.9 percent; minimum 750 draws), tied Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres for seventh in face-offs taken (1,311), and was fifth in face-offs won (759). Bergeron has won the Selke four times (2012, 2014, 2015, 2017) and is a nine-time finalist for the award.

"There's two parts to being a great centerman," Johnson said. "It's when you have the puck … you make it easier for your linemates, what to do with the puck. When the other team has it, you make it harder for them, and that's what Patrice Bergeron does so well. …He understands everything about how to play hockey for himself and for his teammates, and that's what makes him such a great linemate, a great player."

Video: Bergeron places 7th on the top 20 centers list

6. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

Eichel scored an NHL career-high 36 goals in 68 games last season and had 78 points, four below his high set in 2018-19. He set NHL career highs in power-play goals (11), points (27) and rating (plus-5), and he was tied for third in the NHL with nine game-winning goals. He scored four goals against the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 16, the start of a 17-game point streak (31 points; 16 goals, 15 assists) that was the longest in the NHL last season. Eichel has scored at least 24 goals in each of his five NHL seasons.

5. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

Matthews set NHL career highs in goals (47), points (80) and power-play points (25) in 70 games last season, increasing his goal and point totals for the second straight season. He has scored at least 34 goals in each of his first four NHL seasons, and his 158 goals since 2016-17 are second in the League behind Ovechkin's 181. Matthews led the Maple Leafs with six points (two goals, four assists) in four games against the Blue Jackets in the Qualifiers.

"Auston Matthews has proven to be one of the best 5-on-5 goal-scorers we have seen in years," Johnson said. "He does everything you expect him to do exactly as you expect him to do it. ... All he does is score, produce, and help Toronto win."

Video: Matthews places 5th on the top 20 centers list

4. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Crosby scored 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 41 games last season, missing 28 because of a core muscle injury that required surgery. He scored 100 points (35 goals, 65 assists) in 2018-19, his sixth straight with least 84 points. Crosby has scored 598 points (224 goals, 374 assists) since the start of the 2013-14 season, tied for the NHL lead with Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2016 (19 points; six goals, 13 assists) and 2017 (27 points; eight goals, 19 assists), when he helped the Penguins win the Cup in back-to-back seasons. His 107 points in the postseason since 2011-12 lead the NHL.

3. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

Draisaitl won the Hart Trophy voted as NHL MVP and the Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player as voted by the NHL Players' Association last season, when he led the League in points (110; 43 goals, 67 assists), points per game (1.55), assists and power-play points (44). He also tied Bruins forward David Pastrnak for first in the NHL in game-winning goals (10), was second in even-strength points (66; Artemi Panarin, Rangers, 71) and power-play goals (16; Pastrnak, 20), and was first among NHL forwards in average ice time (22:37 per game). Draisaitl leads the NHL with 215 points (93 goals, 122 assists) over the past two seasons, two more than teammate Connor McDavid and Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning.

"[The Oilers] were hoping they could find someone to play behind Connor McDavid," Johnson said. "They didn't just find someone, they found one of the best players in the world. … This guy is going to be real good for a really long time."

Video: Draisaitl places 3rd on the top 20 centers list

2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

A Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award finalist last season, MacKinnon finished fifth in the NHL with 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) and third with 62 even-strength points. He had 29 multipoint games, scored at least one point in 53 of 69 games, and was plus-13. MacKinnon ranks third in the NHL over the past three seasons with 289 points (115 goals, 174 assists), behind McDavid (321) and Kucherov (313). He was leading the NHL in playoff scoring with 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 15 games when the Avalanche were eliminated by the Stars in the 2020 Western Conference Second Round.

 "You look at the physical tools of course, the speed and the strength, and the way that he's able to combine that with the hands and the vision to become one of the best offensive players," Johnson said. "But what he did in the playoffs this past year, is just something we don't see … He has really pushed himself up now, three years in a row, into being in the conversation of being the best player in the world."

Video: MacKinnon places 2nd on the top 20 center list

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

For the fourth straight season, McDavid, who finished second in the NHL with 97 points (34 goals, 63 assists), tops this list of best centers. A two-time Ted Lindsay Award winner (2017, 2018), McDavid has scored at least 100 points in each of the past three seasons and was on pace to do so this season before it was paused March 12. Despite missing 37 games with an injury as a rookie in 2015-16, McDavid ranks first in the NHL in points over his five seasons in the League with 469 (162 goals, 307 assists), four more than Kane in 46 fewer games.

"He's on a nice run, four years in a row of piling up the points, atop this list again and deserves to be there," Johnson said. "He is by a good margin, the best offensive player in the world."

Video: McDavid places 1st on the top 20 centers list

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