NHL Countdown: Top 10 Centers

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Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, and Jonathan Toews are among the NHL’s elite centers.

Is there any doubt as to who the most important forwards on any NHL team are? Sure, the wingers are imperative for success, but if you don’t have a stud center, your team is going absolutely nowhere. The centers have the most important and involved jobs of all the forwards. They’ve got to be faceoff experts, defensively accountable, pretty passers, and super snipers all at the same time. Here is Overtime’s top 10 NHL centers.

Honorable Mentions:

Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks:

The older Sedin twin (by 6 whole minutes!), Henrik has always been more of a playmaker to his brother’s sniper. But Henrik can certainly score himself. Sedin is a lock for at least 70 points (potentially 80) even at age 35, and has shown no signs of slowing down. He is still one of the NHL’s premier passers.

Pavel Datsyuk/Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings:

I’m grouping the old guard of Datsyuk and Zetterberg together here because they are very similar players at this stage of their careers. Each taken in the latter rounds of the NHL Draft one year apart, these two Europeans have been the Red Wings’ core for many seasons already. But both have succumbed to lower-body injuries in the last 3 seasons, a sign that their ends are near. Their skills keep them as honorable mentions, but Datsyuk and Zetterberg are too injury-prone to warrant a top 10 spot.

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks:

It’s hard to stand out on a team that includes Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, and Tomas Hertl among its forward corps. But Couture is the best out of them all. He has a 30-goal scorer’s shot, a winning attitude, and the ability to quarterback a power play and kill penalties. Injuries hurt Couture’s stock though; he has struggled to stay healthy lately.

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins:

Bergeron is an advanced stats darling, a shutdown defensive center and a wizard with the puck. But Bergeron has only scored 30 goals twice and has yet to accrue an elite offensive season, instead posting really good ones. Bergeron is a complete player in today’s NHL though, as well as the NHL’s best faceoff man.

10. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals:

Backstrom was originally just Alexander Ovechkin’s setup man to some, but he is a superstar in his own right today. His passes thread the needle, and his shot is electric when he chooses to unleash it. He has 7 goals and 16 points in 16 games so far in 2015-16. Backstrom is one of the NHL’s best skaters and a plus defensive player. He has emerged out of Ovechkin’s shadow and into the limelight. Few teams have a better passer-scorer combo than the Caps do with Backstrom and Ovechkin.

9. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings:

Kopitar’s numbers may not strike you as extraordinary, but he is a consistent gamer for the Kings. Often deprived of legitimate scoring wingers, Kopitar has to make many of the Kings’ opportunities. He is a penalty killer and Selke Trophy finalist every season, which pairs quite nicely with his ability to put up 70 points per season. Kopitar is the linchpin of a Kings team that has won two Stanley Cups under his watch. If only he would shoot more, then he’d be among the NHL’s top 5 centers.

8. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins:

Malkin always gets a bad rap from those outside Pittsburgh, but he really is a great player. It seems like he’s never putting up Crosby-esque numbers, but in reality he’s a point-per-game player. It seems like he goes missing in the playoffs, but really he has 111 points in 101 playoff games. It seems like he can’t stay healthy, yet he’s always there when Pittsburgh needs him most. But it is true that he struggles defensively and is one of the NHL’s most flagrant divers, which  knock him down on this list.

7. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers:

What more is there to say about Claude Giroux? He has scored more points than any other man in the NHL since 2012, plays with anger and intensity on a nightly basis, is insanely clutch, and is a leader on the Flyers. He also is second in the NHL in faceoff percentage and is a solid defensive player. But with suspect defense and goaltending, the Flyers are somewhat wasting Giroux’s best years. He’ll still be young when the Flyers come around, but Giroux may then be limited to 60-70 point seasons rather than his 70-85 pointers we expect now.

6. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks:

Getzlaf is a big, 6’4″, 224 lb centerman for the Ducks. He is their captain and their most recognizable player, and he plays from the heart. But Getzlaf has had a couple of slower seasons than expected recently, compounded by his 1-goal-start to the 2015-16 season. Still, Getzlaf’s down years entail 20 goals, 70 points, and a deep playoff run. He will need to get going to save the Ducks’ floundering season this year, though.

5. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning:

Stamkos’ slide down the rankings isn’t due to any slide in his performance, but rather the amazing successes of other NHL centers. Stamkos is the NHL’s second-best pure sniper and a plus skater. The 2-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner isn’t the NHL’s best defensive center or faceoff man, which could mean a move to wing is imminent. But Stamkos will never hurt you on the ice, don’t get me wrong. His repertoire of shots includes his sneaky wrister, deceptive backhand, silky snapshot and howitzer slapshot. He is among the NHL’s most dangerous power play men.

4. Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars:

Seguin has come back with a vengeance after the Boston Bruins shipped him to Dallas in a stunning and ultimately costly trade in 2012. Seguin has teamed up with Jamie Benn, Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza, and Valeri Nichuskin to become a two-time 37-goal scorer that compiles over a point per game. Seguin is a key piece on the league’s finest power play, and he has improved to an all-time high this season. Seguin has already accumulated 11 goals and 30 points in 21 games, a sign that this shooting (Dallas) star will continue to shine brightly in Big D.

3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks:

How many players have captained a team to three Stanley Cup Championships before the age of 28? Not many, but Toews is a member of the club. His individual numbers are consistent but not flashy (average of 27 goals and 63 points). Toews’s real value comes in his intangibles. He is the NHL’s best captain, an elite faceoff man and penalty killer, has chemistry with anybody, and is unbelievably clutch. He hasn’t won three Stanley Cups for nothing, after all. And oh, by the way, his playoff statistics are often better than his regular seasons’, a telling sentiment.

2. John Tavares, New York Islanders:

Tavares is one of the NHL’s most dominant individual players. He is a perennial 40-goal scorer and a surprisingly good faceoff man. Tavares isn’t a superb skater, but his stellar hands make up for his average skating ability. He does about 30% of his damage on the power play and is the Islanders’ captain and leader. He has been snubbed in MVP voting for a couple of seasons already, but what more does Tavares have to do to endear himself to voters? He averages over a point per game and is as clutch as they come. But there is one better than Tavares in terms of pure skill, the one player that is the benchmark for all others.

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins:

Yes, Crosby is still the NHL’s premier forward. He is dominant from the moment the puck drops until the final horn. Even when he’s been “contained” in playoff series of the past, he has only once been limited to a truly subpar playoff (2013-14). He has a wide assortment of shots, dekes, passes, and moves. Crosby is a noted diver and quite a punk at times, but overall it is good for the Penguins and the league when Crosby is agitated; he just steps up his game when he has to most. He has won the MVP award twice, scored 100 points 5 times (and was on a 100 point pace in all but one of his professional seasons), is a 5-time All-Star, and a Stanley Cup Champion. It’s hard to get Crosby off of his game, and even harder to replace him as the NHL’s top skater.

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