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Centers on the bubble

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

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

Top 20 Centers Honorable Mentions

Looking at honorable mentions for Top 20 Centers

Before the NHL Network counts down the top 20 centers in the League, Jamie Hersch and Mike Johnson reveal who just missed the cut

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NHL Network knows who the best players are in the League right now. It will reveal its lists in a nine-episode series leading up to the start of the regular season. The first episode is Sunday at 6 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 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. Mike Johnson, a forward who played 11 seasons (661 games) in the League from 1996-2008 and is now an analyst for NHL Network, shared his thoughts on what makes a top center.

"The top centers would have to be someone you can play in any situation," Johnson said. "They would have to be an offensive catalyst, not only for themselves but for their linemates. Someone who drives play and can ideally score lots of goals, but the best guys can also if you're winning by a goal in the last minute. You want them out there at the end of a game, you want them out there in overtime, in clutch situations against other teams' good players.

"That kind of versatility, being able to do everything, is what separates the best centermen from other ones who are just good."

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.


Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Toews had NHL career highs across the board with 35 goals, 46 assists and 81 points in 82 games for the Blackhawks last season. The 31-year-old had 23 power-play points, scored five game-winning goals and won 56.3 percent of his face-offs. He scored at least 20 goals for the 12th straight season.

"Great bounce-back year for him" Johnson said. "He had a couple of difficult years (52 points in 2017-18; 58 points each in 2015-16 and 2016-17) and he showed that he can still perform at a high level offensively. We knew he was always going to be a good defensive centerman, but the offense had dried up. ... He responded with a career year at 30 years old. That's not something that usually happens."

Video: STL@CHI: Toews dekes, beats Allen in the shootout


Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders

One season after winning the Calder Trophy voted as the NHL rookie of the year, Barzal led the Islanders in points for the second straight season with 62 (18 goals, 44 assists). The 22-year-old had 18 power-play points, scored three game-winning goals, was second among Islanders forwards in ice time per game (17:55) and is one of the best playmakers in the League.

"His first year was probably to show that he could play in the NHL and his second year was to show that he could win in the NHL," Johnson said. "He probably sacrificed some of his individual offensive production to play a better defensive game.

"Without John Tavares there (signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent July 1, 2018), his role was really different. He was the guy that the other team focused on when they played the Islanders and I thought he dealt with that added responsibility as well."


Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

The 27-year-old tied his NHL career high with 76 points and set a high by scoring 33 goals. His 17 power-play points (eight goals) and 14.8 percent shooting percentage were also his best. Couturier topped Flyers forwards in ice time per game (22.08) and his 57.1 percent face-off winning percentage was tied for sixth among players with at least 200 face-offs taken.

"I think that he's underrated," Johnson said. "I think that he has actually proven himself to be one of the best centermen in the League. He drives play, kills penalties, matches up against the other teams' best lines, doesn't have to always play with a top player. We knew he was good defensively previously. We weren't sure about his offensive game, but we've discovered that the last couple of years."

Video: CAR@PHI: Couturier tips home PPG from doorstep


Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings

In his fourth NHL season, Larkin led the Red Wings in goals (32), assists (41), points (73) and penalty minutes (75), and scored seven power-play goals and two shorthanded goals in 21:51 of ice time, best among Detroit forwards. The 23-year-old also won 54.5 percent of face-offs and was the first Red Wings player to score at least 30 goals since Marian Hossa (40), Johan Franzen (34), Pavel Datsyuk (32) and Henrik Zetterberg (31) in 2008-09.

"You weren't sure if he was going to be a centerman when he first started," Johnson said. "You weren't sure if he was going to be able to slow the game down to deal with all those responsibilities, but he can. He's the go-to guy for Detroit offensively and he is OK with that. He's a new-age player with all the speed that he can play with. All aspects of his game have grown. He should be a fixture on this list for the next several years."


Matt Duchene, Nashville Predators

The 28-year-old, who played for the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets last season, tied his NHL career high with 70 points (31 goals, 39 assists) set in 2013-14 and his 31 goals were the best of his 10 NHL seasons. Duchene, whose 55.3 percent face-off winning percentage was the third best of his NHL career, signed a seven-year contract with the Predators on July 1.

"He doesn't need necessarily the support of his wingers to create his own offense," Johnson said. "Some of the best edges in the League with his stops and starts, tight turns, good hands in tight and I think it'll be a nice fit [in Nashville] with (centers) Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris. He'll share the responsibilities and won't have to be the go-to guy, and in that situation he might just become the go-to guy."


Here is the schedule (all episodes will air at 6 p.m. ET):

Aug. 4: Top 20 centers

Aug. 11: Top 20 defensemen

Aug. 18: Top 20 wings

Aug. 25: Top 10 goalies

Sept. 1: Top 50 players (50-41)

Sept. 8: Top 50 players (40-31)

Sept. 15: Top 50 players (30-21)

Sept. 22: Top 50 players (20-11)

Sept. 29: Top 50 players (10-1)

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