To help celebrate NBC Rivalry Night, NHL.com will look at a rivalry within the rivalry of the featured game on Wednesday nights. For this week, we are trying to determine which Czech Republic countryman is the better center, David Krejci of the Boston Bruins or Tomas Plekanec of the Montreal Canadiens.
In each of the past four seasons, the top-scoring Czech centers in the NHL have been David Krejci of the Boston Bruins and Tomas Plekanec of the Montreal Canadiens.
Martin Hanzal of the Phoenix Coyotes is ahead of Plekanec for a top-two spot among Czech centers in 2013-14, but Plekanec and Krejci clearly have been the country's top two centers for nearly a decade. Krejci leads all Czech centers in points since he joined the Bruins for his first (mostly) full season in 2007-08, with Plekanec not far behind and Hanzal in third, significantly off the pace.
Krejci and Plekanec also have worked together as the Czech Republic's top two centers in four major international competitions, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, 2014 Sochi Olympics and IIHF World Championships in 2008 and 2012. They helped the Czechs win a bronze medal in 2012.
Plekanec helped his country win bronze in 2011 at the World Championship while Krejci was helping the Bruins return the Stanley Cup to Boston for the first time in 39 years.
Which of these talented Czech centers deserves the title of best countryman at his position?
|Krejci was one of the last selections in the second round of the 2004 NHL Draft, but the 63rd pick is the third- or fourth-best player from his draft class a decade later.
He played six games in 2006-07 with Boston and 56 the following season before becoming a fixture in the Bruins' top six forwards in 2008-09. That season he totaled a career-high 73 points, and he's become a consistent scorer for a defense-first club.
Krejci has 107 goals and 364 points in 488 NHL games. He has at least 52 points in each of his five full NHL seasons and was on pace for the high 50s in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 schedule.
Among players from his draft class, the only ones with more career points went No. 1 and No. 2: Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne has a case to be considered in the top three, but he and Krejci certainly join the Russian dynamos to form the top four.
This season could end up being one of Krejci's best. He has 16 goals and a team-leading 55 points in 64 games. For the seventh consecutive season his Corsi percentage is 52 percent or higher.
Then there is the postseason portion of Krejci's resume. Krejci has led the NHL in scoring in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in two of the past three seasons. Though he has not won a Conn Smythe Trophy, he is part of an exclusive list.
There are nine players who have led the Stanley Cup Playoffs in scoring more than once since the League expanded beyond the Original Six teams. Phil Esposito, Rick MacLeish, Guy Lafleur, Brian Trottier, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux each did it between 1968 and 1992. The only players to do so in the past two decades are Krejci, Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg.
|Plekanec was a third-round pick in the 2001 NHL Draft, but like Krejci is one of the top players from his draft class.
Selected by Montreal at No. 71, the Kladno native's first full season with the Canadiens came in 2005-06. His breakout offensive season came in 2007-08 when he had 29 goals and 69 points. His production slipped in 2008-09 but he's been a consistent offensive threat since.
Plekanec has 173 goals and 431 points in 664 games for the Canadiens. He had at least 52 points in four of his six full seasons in the League, and was on pace for the high 50s in 2012-13.
He is ninth in points among players from the 2001 draft class, but there's an argument to be made that Plekanec is in the top five on a list of best players from that year, likely behind Ilya Kovalchuk, Jason Spezza, Mikko Koivu and Patrick Sharp.
Plekanec has 17 goals and 35 points in 66 games this season. He is second on the team in goals (Max Pacioretty has 30) and sixth in points.
Plekanec was captain of the Czech Republic at the Olympics for the second consecutive tournament. He has three goals and seven points in 10 Olympic games, and 14 goals and 36 points in 47 games at the World Championship. He was part of the last Czech Republic team to win gold at the IIHF World Junior Championship, in 2001.
The Canadiens have not had a lot of postseason success in the past eight years, but Plekanec does have 33 points in 52 playoff games.
Verdict: Krejci has been the more productive offensive player and has a postseason pedigree that can be matched by few active players. Plekanec has wedged his way into the conversation about top two-way centers in the NHL.
The Canadiens clearly lean on Plekanec; coach Michel Therrien puts him on the ice often for defensive-zone faceoffs. Plekanec has been on the ice for the most faceoffs (1,055) with less than 25 percent of them in the offensive zone.
Krejci's raw possession numbers are better, but Plekanec's zone starts play a role in that. Krejci also faces easier competition, with Patrice Bergeron typically in the "Plekanec role" for the Bruins. Plekanec probably is a slightly better all-round player in 2013-14, and he's under contract for one more season than Krejci.
The biggest factor in Krejci's favor is youth. He turns 28 on April 28, making him 3 1/2 years younger than Plekanec, who turns 32 in October; that plays a big role in any argument about the future of the two. They might continue to be the top two centers from the Czech Republic for the next four years, but it would be much safer to wager on Krejci remaining a consistent top-six NHL forward for longer than Plekanec.