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#NHLTopPlayers: Top 20 Centers

NHL Network reveals best of current crop

NHL.com @NHL

Winning an important faceoff, leading the rush up the ice and setting up teammates make up the hallmark of a top center. NHL Network experts chose the top 20 centers in the League for a special program to be broadcast during the summer. Here is their list:

 

[RELATED: #NHLTopPlayers Right NowTop 10 NHL Goaltenders | Top 20 NHL Wings | Centers on the bubble]

 

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

The No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy as League scoring champion with 100 points (30 goals, 70 assists) in 82 games last season, his second in the NHL. He also won the Hart Trophy (League MVP) and Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding player as voted by the players). McDavid, 20, had 27 power-play points, six game-winning goals and was plus-27 to help the Oilers qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the 2005-06 season.

"Nobody plays at the speed he does," said NHL Network analyst Mike Rupp, who played 11 seasons as a forward in the League. "His hands and his mind are working even faster than his feet are, and that doesn't even seem physically possible. That's what defensemen have to see every night with Connor McDavid. …There is no ceiling. I haven't seen it yet, and that's why I think this guy's No. 1."

McDavid had 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) during an NHL-high 14-game point streak to end the regular season and had nine points (five goals, four assists) in 13 playoff games for the Oilers, who advanced to the Western Conference Second Round. He also was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the League in 2015-16 (48 points in 45 games).

Video: NHL Network unveils the Top 20 Centers Right Now

 

2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

From June 2016 through June 2017, Crosby racked up the hardware. He was Penguins captain for back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, with Pittsburgh defeating the San Jose Sharks in six games in the 2016 Final and the Nashville Predators in six games in the 2017 Final. Crosby won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP following each championship (six goals, 13 assists in 24 games in 2016; eight goals, 19 assists in 24 games in 2017). He also had 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in six games as captain of World Cup of Hockey 2016 champion Team Canada and won tournament MVP.

"Once Connor McDavid came on the scene, I think Sidney Crosby's like, 'I'm not giving up my throne yet,' and his game got to a new level," Rupp said. "So who knows, maybe Sidney Crosby will see this and he'll kick it up a notch we didn't think he could even get to. …He is the most complete center by a mile in the National Hockey League … on both sides of the puck."

Last season, Crosby led the League in goals (44) and was tied for second in points with Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane (89).

Crosby, who turned 30 on Aug. 7, was a finalist for the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award each of the past two seasons. He was voted one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players.

Video: Sidney Crosby lands the No. 2 spot

 

3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Malkin often flies under the radar because he's teammates with Crosby, but he finished tied for 14th in the League in points (72) and tied for 13th in goals (33) last season despite missing 20 games. His 1.16 points-per-game average was third behind McDavid and Crosby among players who played at least 20 games.

"There is not a better 1-on-1 hockey player in the National Hockey League than Evgeni Malkin," Rupp said. "He is physically robust. He can take over any hockey game, we see it happen all the time. If there's a player that you ever want with the puck on his stick as his teammate at the end of the game, it's No. 71. That's saying that, playing on a team with [No.] 87. He's that dynamic."

Malkin, who has won three Stanley Cup championships with the Penguins (2009, 2016, 2017), led all scorers in the 2017 postseason with 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) after he had 18 (six goals, 12 assists) in the 2016 playoffs. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2009 with 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 24 games. The 31-year-old had at least 70 points in four of the past five full NHL seasons and has scored 414 points in 354 NHL games since 2011-12. He's won the Art Ross Trophy twice (2009, 2012), the Ted Lindsay Award (2012) and the Calder Trophy (2007).

Video: Evgeni Malkin takes the No. 3 spot

 

4. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

Matthews, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, lived up to the hype. The 19-year-old scored four goals in his NHL debut Oct. 12 at the Ottawa Senators and was tied for second in the League in goals (40). He led NHL rookies in goals, points (69), shots on goal (279) and game-winning goals (eight), and had 21 power-play points (eight goals, 13 assists). Matthews set Maple Leafs rookie records for goals and points in a season.

"He knows very young, as a rookie, that physically he can dominate, and he did that in his first season," Rupp said. "I mean, 40 goals. When you look at our list, most of these centermen we're talking about in the National Hockey League are playmakers, they're not necessarily finishers. … He might be a little higher than what people would think but, I mean, how do you put any restrictions on him? He had 40 goals and turned the face of a franchise around. He's been unbelievable."

Matthews had three goal streaks of three or more games, including a five-game streak from March 25-April 3. The Calder Trophy winner also had five points (four goals, one assist) in six postseason games for Toronto, which qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13 by improving its point total from 69 in 2015-16 to 95 last season.

Video: Auston Matthews lands at No. 4

 

5. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

Backstrom finished second in the League in assists last season (63) and was fourth in points (86). In the past four seasons, he's had at least 18 goals, 50 assists, 70 points and 30 power-play points.

"You know where Alex Ovechkin's office is. That's the spot that you always know where he is," Rupp said. "Well guess what? So does Nick Backstrom. …This guy has assisted on 46.3 percent of Ovi's goals in his career. That is uncanny."

Backstrom is the playmaker for the Capitals more often than not; he has 540 assists since entering the NHL in 2007-08, and his 728 points (in 734 games) since then rank sixth in the League.

Video: Nicklas Backstrom takes the No. 5 spot

 

6. John Tavares, New York Islanders

Tavares had 66 points (28 goals, 38 assists) in 2016-17 to lead the Islanders in scoring for the third straight season and seventh time in his eight NHL seasons. He's scored at least 24 goals every season he's been in the League and hasn't had fewer than 54 points in a full NHL season.

"John Tavares is clutch and he has that ability to elevate his game in big games," Rupp said. "That's something that doesn't happen all the time. He's a special player."

Tavares, who turns 27 on Sept. 20, finished second in the League in points in 2014-15 (86) and is a two-time Hart Trophy finalist (2013, 2015). Thirty-nine of his 235 NHL goals (16.6 percent) have been game-winners, and 71 (30.2 percent) have come on the power play. He has 537 points (235 goals, 302 assists) in 587 NHL games.

Video: John Tavares takes the No. 6 spot

 

7. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

Stamkos had 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 17 games last season and was tied for third in the League in scoring when he sustained a season-ending knee injury Nov. 15. He had 64 points (36 goals, 28 assists) in 77 games in 2015-16 and 72 (43 goals, 29 assists) in 2014-15, when he helped the Lightning reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Stamkos had at least 23 goals in each of his eight NHL seasons prior to 2016-17 and has scored more than 40 four times, including an NHL career-high 60 in 2011-12, when he won his second Maurice Richard Trophy as the top goal-scorer in the League (2009-10). The 27-year-old has 582 points (321 goals, 261 assists) in 586 NHL games.

Video: Rupp on top spot, surprises from Top 20 Centers list

 

8. Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars

Seguin had at least 72 points each of his first four seasons with Dallas, finishing either first or second on the Stars. He scored 26 goals last season after he had 33, 37 and 37 in the three seasons prior. Seguin, 25, has had at least 24 power-play points every season since being acquired in a trade from the Boston Bruins on July 4, 2013, and has scored 23 game-winning goals in that time.

 

9. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

Getzlaf had 73 points (15 goals, 58 assists) in 74 games last season and led the Ducks in the playoffs with 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in 17 games to help them reach the Western Conference Final. In addition to playing in all situations (even strength, power play, shorthanded), Getzlaf often is used on important faceoffs. The 32-year-old has 814 points (236 goals, 578 assists) in 861 NHL games.

"He's mean, he's big [and] he's strong. [His] vision is second to none in the National Hockey League, and he can shoot it and he can really bring it," Rupp said. "When he does, he can carry this team. He almost singlehandedly got this team all the way through the playoffs. It was one of the most spectacular playoff runs led by one player that I've seen in a long time."

Video: Ryan Getzlaf lands at No. 9 on the list

 

10. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Scheifele had a breakout season in 2016-17, finishing seventh in the NHL with 82 points (32 goals, 50 assists). The 24-year-old has increased his goal and point totals, as well as his plus/minus rating, each season since becoming a full-time NHL player in 2013-14. Scheifele, who scored five game-winning goals and had a shooting percentage of 20.0, had three point streaks of at least five games last season.

"I think he's just going to be up on the rise," Rupp said. "He's a dynamic player, and I think maybe because he's playing in Winnipeg we don't get to see enough of him, but this guy is world class, and I think he has the potential to get to the top five for sure."

 

11. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

One of the best two-way players in the game, Bergeron won the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward in the NHL for the fourth time in six seasons in 2016-17, when he had 53 points (21 goals, 32 assists), including three shorthanded assists and 17 power-play points (eight goals, nine assists), and a plus-12 rating. The 32-year-old scored seven game-winning goals and won 60.1 percent of his faceoffs, third among players who took at least 100.

"He's great on both sides of the puck [and] he's one of the most complete players in the National Hockey League," Rupp said. "When I think of the position of center, all that screams to me is responsibility. You have to be a responsible player, you have to be responsible for producing offense. This guy can produce offense, and we know about his defense."

Video: Patrice Bergeron lands at No. 11

 

12. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

The three-time Stanley Cup winner got off to a slow start in 2016-17 before scoring 37 points in his last 35 games to finish with 58 points (21 goals, 37 assists), the fourth straight season he had at least that many. The 29-year-old, who has scored at least 21 goals in each of his 10 NHL seasons, won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2010 and the Selke Trophy in 2013, and was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players.

 

13. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Kopitar was second on the Kings in scoring in 2016-17 with 52 points (10 goals, 42 assists) after leading them each of the previous nine seasons. Named captain prior to last season, Kopitar led Los Angeles forwards in ice time (1,578:14), average ice time per game (20:45), power-play ice time per game (3:00) and shorthanded ice time per game (1:54). Kopitar, who will turn 30 on Thursday, is a two-time Stanley Cup champion (2012, 2014). He won the Selke Trophy and the Lady Byng Trophy (most gentlemanly player) in 2015-16.

Video: WPG@LAK: Kopitar picks the corner for gorgeous PPG

 
14. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

Eichel, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, had 57 points (24 goals, 33 assists) in 61 games last season to lead the Sabres in scoring despite missing the first eight weeks because of an ankle injury. He had an 11-game point streak (five goals, 11 assists) from Feb. 14-March 7 and finished with 24 power-play points (10 goals, 14 assists). Eichel, 20, had 56 points (24 goals, 32 assists) as a rookie in 2015-16, helping the Sabres improve by 27 points (54 to 81) from the previous season.

"I think he's going to have a similar next season as what Connor McDavid had [last season]," Rupp said. "This past season was just an absolute explosion. … We know he's moving in the right direction. He's going to be towards the top of the list next year."

Video: Jack Eichel takes the No. 14 spot

 

15. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

Draisaitl set NHL career highs with 29 goals, 48 assists, 77 points, 27 power-play points (10 goals, 17 assists), five game-winning goals, 172 shots on goal, a 49.0 faceoff winning percentage and a plus-7 rating last season, his third in the League. He also helped the Oilers get to the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06 and led them in goals (six), assists (10) and points (16) in 13 postseason games. Draisaitl, 21, had an 11-game point streak from March 14-April 4, when he had 19 points (five goals, 14 assists), and a seven-game point streak from Jan. 16-31, when he had nine points (four goals, five assists).

Video: ANA@EDM: Draisaitl buries McDavid's feed for OT win

 

16. Ryan Johansen, Nashville Predators

Since he was acquired in a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Seth Jones on Jan. 6, 2016, Johansen has thrived as Nashville's top center with 95 points (22 goals, 73 assists) in 124 games. He tied for the Predators lead with 61 points (14 goals, 47 assists) last season and had 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 14 playoff games before having emergency surgery for acute compartment syndrome in his left thigh. Johansen, 25, won 54.6 percent of his faceoffs last season and has won at least 50 percent in each of the past five seasons.

"I think he's going to be even higher in the future on this list because he's starting to understand now that, 'I can be this. No one can stop me when I'm playing with my size,'" Rupp said. "With the skill set that he has and the work ethic he's now been accustomed to bringing every night, the sky is the limit for this guy."

Video: Ryan Johansen takes the No. 16 spot

 

17. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

Barkov missed 21 games because of injury last season but had 52 points (21 goals, 31 assists) and averaged 19:24 of ice time. In the past two seasons, he has 111 points (49 goals, 62 assists) with 30 power-play points (12 goals, 18 assists) and 13 game-winning goals. The 21-year-old had 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) in his final 25 games last season.

Video: CHI@FLA: Barkov picks the corner with sharp wrister

 

18. Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings

Carter, 32, led the Kings in goals (32) and points (66) last season. He has scored at least 21 goals each of the past 10 seasons and has had at least 62 points each of the past three. He had 22 power-play points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 2016-17, when he was tied for second in the NHL with nine game-winning goals. Carter has won the Stanley Cup twice (2012, 2014) and hasn't had a minus rating since he was minus-12 in 2011-12.

 
19. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals

Kuznetsov, who led the Capitals with 77 points (20 goals, 57 assists) in 2015-16, had 59 points (19 goals, 40 assists) and was plus-18 last season. The 25-year-old had four game-winning-goals for the second straight season and has 182 points (53 goals, 129 assists) and a plus-53 rating in 261 NHL games. 

"This guy, I think, is the most important piece to this organization getting over that hump," Rupp said. "We talk about their playoff struggles. They need him to kind of establish a second line. He's certainly capable of it. … If he exceeds what he's done at this point, that's when the Washington Capitals will get over the hump."

Video: Evgeny Kuznetsov lands at No. 19 on the list

 

20. Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames

Monahan had 27 goals for the second straight season in 2016-17 and finished second on the Flames with 58 points (27 goals, 31 assists) behind Johnny Gaudreau (61). He's finished among the Flames' top three scorers each of the past three seasons. Monahan, who turns 23 on Oct. 12, had 17 power-play points (eight goals, nine assists), scored four game-winning goals (two in overtime) and won 51.5 percent of his faceoffs last season. He also led the Flames in playoff scoring with five points (four goals, one assist) in four games.

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