As preparations for the World Cup of Hockey 2016 hit high gear leading up to the start of the tournament on Sept. 17 in Toronto, NHL.com looks at how the teams stand. Seven writers who will cover the two-week event at Air Canada Centre were asked to rank the teams from 1-8 in various categories. Today we look at which team has the best No. 1 center.
There really is little argument left as to whether Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is the best center in the game.
His strong play last season and a dominating Stanley Cup Playoff run that included the Penguins' six-game victory against the San Jose Sharks in the Cup Final catapulted him back to the top of the field in the eyes of most critics. Crosby won the Conn Smythe Trophy (six goals, 19 points in 24 games) and won the Cup for the second time in his career (2009).
"Sidney Crosby proved last season he is still the most dominant player in the NHL because of his across-the-board impact, including on the scoreboard, on the score sheet, on his linemates, and not to be forgotten, on how the opposing coach has to manage his lineup," NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen said.
According to a panel of NHL.com voters, Crosby is the runaway No. 1 center in the World Cup of Hockey 2016. He received all seven first-place votes and a perfect score of 56 points, nine better than second place Anze Kopitar, the Los Angeles Kings captain who will play for Team Europe.
Video: Crosby slices through Tampa Bay's defense for GWG
For this vote, the likely No. 1 center for each of the eight teams in the tournament was identified, and the players were then ranked first through eighth by each of the seven voters.
The No. 1 centers the voters chose from were Crosby, Kopitar, Joe Pavelski of Team USA, Nicklas Backstrom of Team Sweden, Evgeni Malkin of Team Russia, Connor McDavid of Team North America, Aleksander Barkov of Team Finland and David Krejci of Team Czech Republic.
"Coming off his Conn Smythe win -- and the Stanley Cup -- Sidney Crosby is riding high," NHL.com staff writer Amalie Benjamin said. "Though he started out the season in very un-Crosby-like fashion, he returned his game to where it usually is and where it needs to be, finishing third in the NHL in scoring. That bodes well for Team Canada heading into the World Cup, with the two-time Olympic gold medalist leading the way."
As good as Crosby has been in the NHL, he has been just as dominant in international play. Crosby has five goals and 10 points in 13 Olympic games, winning the gold in each of his two Olympic appearances (2010 Vancouver, 2014 Sochi).
His numbers in those tournaments do not adequately define his impact, LNH.com managing editor Arpon Basu said.
"His play in these best-on-best tournaments has always been heavily scrutinized and eventually a storyline emerges that Crosby is not producing enough," Basu said. "He had seven points in seven games at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but he went pointless in the elimination round until scoring the golden goal in the final against the United States. At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Crosby had three points in six games, but that included the goal that gave Canada a 2-0 lead in the gold-medal game.
"In each case, the quality of Crosby's overall play far exceeded his production."
Part of the reason Crosby has not been dominant in international play is because of the strength of the Canada teams for which he has played.
Video: LAK@SJS, Gm3: Kopitar ties the game on the power play
"The scary part is how many No. 1 centers Team Canada has behind him," NHL.com columnist Nick Cotsonika said.
Kopitar, the unquestioned star of Team Slovenia in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, will now be surrounded by NHL players in the inaugural Team Europe appearance. The team is a collection of players from various European countries, excluding Finland, Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic.
Malkin, the No. 2 center in Pittsburgh behind Crosby, finished third in the vote with 43 points, 10 better than fourth-place Pavelski, the center from the Sharks.
TEAM CANADA (Sidney Crosby) - 56 points (7 first-place votes)
TEAM EUROPE (Anze Kopitar) - 47 points
TEAM RUSSIA (Evgeni Malkin) - 43 points
TEAM USA (Joe Pavelski) - 33 points
TEAM SWEDEN (Nicklas Backstrom) - 28 points
TEAM NORTH AMERICA (Connor McDavid) - 24 points
TEAM FINLAND (Aleksander Barkov) - 12 points
TEAM CZECH REPUBLIC (David Krejci) - 9 points