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#NHLTopPlayers: Top 20 Centers

NHL Network reveals best of current crop

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / NHL.com Staff Writer

Top 20 Centers Right Now

NHL Network unveils Top 20 Centers Right Now

NHL Network counts down the Top 20 Centers Right Now, ranking the best at the position in the National Hockey League #NHLTopPlayers

  • 01:14 •

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 for a special program that premiered Sunday as the first in a nine-part series leading up to the regular season. Here is the list:

 

[RELATED: #NHLTopPlayers Right Now]

 

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

For the third straight season, McDavid tops the list of best centers. The 22-year-old finished second in the NHL with 116 points (41 goals, 75 assists), behind Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov's 128, and had at least one point in 66 of his 78 games for the Oilers. McDavid finished third in voting for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP last season after winning the award for the 2016-17 season. A two-time Ted Lindsay Award winner (most outstanding player as voted by the NHL Players' Association), McDavid has reached 100 points in each of the past three seasons. Despite missing 37 games with an injury as a rookie in 2015-16, McDavid ranks third in the NHL in points over his four NHL seasons with 372, behind Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (381) and Kucherov (379).

"As far as individual talent, it's hard to argue against Connor McDavid," NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson said. "The stuff he can do, the speed he can do it at, and quite frankly, the support staff he has around him is not what Sidney Crosby has. He's the best offensive player in the League, he's the best centerman in the NHL right now. Connor McDavid deserves to be No. 1."

Video: McDavid edges out Crosby for top spot on list

 

2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Crosby had 100 points (35 goals, 65 assists) last season, tied for fifth in the NHL with Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand. It was the sixth straight season Crosby has had at least 84 points, and he leads the NHL with 551 points since the start of the 2013-14 season. Crosby, who turns 32 on Aug. 7, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2016 (19 points) and 2017 (27 points), when he helped the Penguins win the Cup in back-to-back seasons. His 104 points in the playoffs since 2011-12 lead the NHL.

"On the power play, he is as good as there is in the NHL," Johnson said. "The part where he's really evolved his game in the last few years, is he's gotten better in his own end. He bears down a little bit more, he makes good plays, more defensively reliable."

 

3. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

After he had 97 points and was runner-up for the Hart Trophy in 2017-18, MacKinnon showed that was no fluke last season, setting NHL career highs in goals (41; tied for sixth in NHL), points (99; seventh) and power-play points (37; fourth). He has increased his points each of the past four seasons. MacKinnon, who turns 24 on Sept. 1, helped Colorado advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008, with 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 12 postseason games.

 

4. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

He set NHL career highs last season in goals (35), assists (61) and points (96), 10th in the NHL and the most in a single season in Panthers history. Barkov, who turns 24 on Sept. 2, had an NHL career-high 31 power-play points, scored five game-winning goals and won 53.7 percent of face-offs. He won the Lady Byng Trophy voted as the most gentlemanly player in the NHL (four minor penalties all season) and finished fifth in voting for the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL. Barkov's 100 takeaways ranked second in the NHL behind Vegas Golden Knights forward Mark Stone's 122.

"He's one of the best defensive centermen in the League, utilizing his very long stick, tall guy (6-foot-3), and he gets his stick in a lot of plays to break them up," Johnson said. "Lots of hand-eye coordination, and not only does he break it up with his stick checks, which he's amongst the best in the League at, but then he makes the next play after he gets the puck. That's what differentiates him from a lot of guys; they might break it up, then give it away. That's not what Barkov does. He breaks it up, then he keys a rush chance."

Video: Aleksander Barkov cracks the top five on the list

 

5. John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs

In his first season with the Maple Leafs, Tavares set NHL career highs in goals (47; third in NHL), points (88) and rating (plus-19). He also tied his career high with eight game-winning goals and won 54.45 percent of his face-offs, the highest of his 10-season NHL career. Tavares, who turns 29 on Sept. 20, has scored at least 24 goals every season since entering the NHL with the New York Islanders in 2009-10, including at least 33 in four of the past five seasons.

 

6. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

Matthews had an NHL career-high 73 points (37 goals, 36 assists) last season. He has scored at least 34 goals each of his first three NHL seasons, and his 111 goals since 2016-17 are fifth in the League. Matthews, who turns 22 on Sept. 17, led the Maple Leads with 12 power-play goals and was tied for fourth in the NHL with nine multigoal games last season.

"He is so silky smooth with his hands, has got a great shot, he sells a shot fake, able to dance around a defender like it's nothing," Johnson said. "Goals per game amongst centermen the last three years, (he's) No. 1 (0.52 per game). He doesn't pile them up just on the power play, he gets most of his work even strength, which makes it even more impressive. Auston Matthews certainly could climb up higher than he is this year to next."

Video: Auston Matthews lands at No. 6 on the list

 

7. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Bergeron tied his NHL career high with 32 goals and set his high with 79 points in 65 games last season. The 34-year-old then had 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in 24 playoff games to help the Bruins advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Bergeron, entering his 16th NHL season, was eighth in the NHL in face-off winning percentage among those with at least 750 draws last season (56.6 percent). A four-time Selke Trophy winner, he has been a finalist for the award eight times, including last season, when he had seven shorthanded points (tied for third in NHL) and four shorthanded goals (tied for fourth).

 

8. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

Stamkos scored 45 goals last season, his most since scoring 60 in 2011-12, and had an NHL career-high 98 points, tied for ninth in the League. The 29-year-old had 40 power-play points, second in the NHL behind Kucherov's 48. Stamkos has 370 goals since entering the NHL in 2009-10, second behind Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin's 439.

 

9. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Scheifele led the Jets with 38 goals last season and had an NHL career-high 84 points. His 23 power-play points, 12 power-play goals, six game-winning goals and three overtime goals also were the most of his eight-season NHL career. The 26-year-old has scored at least 29 goals in three of the past four seasons.

 

10. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning

The 23-year-old is coming off a breakout season when he had 92 points (41 goals, 51 points). Point, who led the NHL with 20 power-play goals, one more than Stamkos, had 35 power-play points (tied for sixth), seven game-winning goals (tied for 11th) and a plus-27 rating (tied for 10th). Point had 11 three-point games last season and was one of 18 NHL players who had at least five points in a game (one goal, four assists vs. New Jersey Devils, Oct. 30).

Video: Discussing the qualities that make up a good center

 

11. Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars

Seguin led the Stars in goals (33), assists (47) and points (80) last season, and has led them in goals in each of the past three seasons. In six seasons with Dallas, Seguin has had at least 72 points each season and at least 33 goals five times. The 27-year-old has 206 goals since 2013-14, fifth in the NHL, and his 464 points in that span are tied for fifth.

 

12. Ryan O'Reilly, St. Louis Blues

In his first season with the Blues, O'Reilly matched his NHL career high with 28 goals, set highs with 49 assists, 77 points and a plus-22 rating, led the NHL in face-off wins for the second straight season with 1,086, and was seventh in face-off winning percentage among those to take at least 750 draws (56.9 percent). The 28-year-old won the Conn Smythe Trophy after he led the NHL with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 26 games and helped St. Louis to its first Stanley Cup championship. O'Reilly, who won the Selke Trophy for the first time, also was a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy after he was called for three minor penalties all season.

 

13. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

A three-time Cup winner (2009, 2016, 2017), Malkin has scored at least 33 goals in six of his 13 NHL seasons and had at least 70 points in 10 of them. He had 17 multipoint games last season and got his 1,000th NHL point with his second assist of the game March 12 against the Capitals. Malkin has averaged more than a point per game in each of the past eight seasons. The 33-year-old won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2009 when he had 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 24 games.

 

14. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Aho is coming off a breakout season when he had 83 points (30 goals, 53 assists) to lead the Hurricanes. He also set NHL career highs in rating (plus-25), power-play points (24) and game-winning goals (seven) last season. The 22-year-old, who had a five-year offer sheet from the Montreal Canadiens matched by the Hurricanes on July 7, had 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 15 playoff games to help Carolina advance to the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.

"You see the slow and steady progression of his game, every year getting better and better," Johnson said. "I don't think 83 [points] is a ceiling for him, I think he can go better than that as his team gets better, as they get more offensive, more support underneath him, because right now Aho is the guy that everyone targets to check and he's still performing to that level. He's just a fantastic player who is good at everything and can really help his linemates go … he makes his teammates better."

Video: Sebastian Aho checks in at No. 14 on the list

 

15. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

Eichel had the most goals (28), assists (54) and points (82) of his NHL career last season, and has scored at least 24 goals in each of his four NHL seasons. The 22-year-old also had NHL career highs in power-play points (26), shots on goal (303) and face-off winning percentage (47.01 percent), and had 27 multipoint games.

"He's only getting better, and as his team gets better, in large part because he will continue to get better, then maybe the recognition will climb up a little bit," Johnson said. "I would be disappointed if I don't see him score 30-plus goals this year to go with his 85 or so points. ... He's their offensive catalyst, but I think this year, as much as he does on the ice, he's got to continue to get better off the ice. Be a leader, be the captain and help lead the Buffalo franchise back to prominence, because their fans deserve it."

Video: Jack Eichel takes the No. 15 spot on the list

 

16. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals

The 27-year-old had 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists) last season after he had an NHL career-high 83 (27 goals, 56 assists) in 2017-18. Kuznetsov led the 2018 playoffs with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) to help the Capitals win the Cup for the first time.

 

17. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

Couture led the NHL with 14 goals in the playoffs after he scored 27 and had an NHL career-high 70 points during the regular season. He plays in all situations and had 18 power-play points and two shorthanded goals last season. The 30-year-old has topped 20 goals eight times and 30 goals three times in 10 NHL seasons, and his 65 points in the playoffs since 2015-16 are second behind Crosby's 68.

"He could play in every situation, he could play against any opponent," Johnson said. "Maybe the greatest compliment of him is that when the games get tighter, when they matter more, when it's more physical, when it's more emotional … he's the rarest of great players who has tremendous regular-season stats and then they get quite a bit better in the playoffs. ... Offense is not supposed to go up in the playoffs, no matter how good you are. Logan Couture is that kind of guy. The bigger the game, the better he plays."

Video: Logan Couture comes in at No. 17 on the list

 

18. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

One of the elite passers in the NHL, Backstrom had 52 assists last season, the sixth straight he's had at least 50, coinciding with a stretch of six straight with at least 70 points. Backstrom, who has missed 10 games since the start of the 2013-14 season, has averaged 32.2 power-play points per season in that span. The 31-year-old had 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 20 games in the 2018 playoffs to help Washington win the Cup.

 

19. Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames

Monahan set NHL career highs in goals (34), assists (48), points (82), power-play goals (12) and points (23), and shots on goal (211) last season. He has scored at least 27 goals in each of the past five seasons after he had 22 as a rookie in 2013-14. The 24-year-old had seven games with at least three points, including four with at least four points last season.

 

20. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks

Voted the winner of the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year for 2018-19, Pettersson led NHL rookies in goals (28) assists (38), points (66) and power-play goals (10) and points (22). He had a shooting percentage of 19.4 percent. The 20-year-old had two five-point games, becoming the sixth rookie to do that in one season since 1967-68.

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