For the second installment of my NHL Power Rankings (for the first installment on the best goaltenders entering next season, click here), I have decided to focus on the man that holds down the middle of the ice.
Playing center in the sport of hockey is one of the most difficult positions in all of sports. The amount of responsibilities is endless, as one must be able to possess a strong will in the face-off circle, as well as maintain a presence in both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice.
Besides the goalie, the center is commonly the most vocal player on the ice due to the fact that he is responsible for directing traffic on every area of the ice.
So lets take a look at the 30 best centers entering next season.
Last Season's Stats: 64 games, 22 goals, 27 assists, 49 points, 50 PIMs
At the earlier part of his career, Lecavalier was one of the most durable players in the NHL, and while he is still a force in the middle of the ice, he has missed 35 games over the past two seasons.
The Lightning finished eight points out of the playoffs last season and had the second-worst goal differential in the Eastern Conference. While he remains a solid leader, he has been surpassed by superstar teammate Steven Stamkos over the past few seasons.
His 49 points last season were his lowest since 2002, and Lecavalier seems to be fading with age.
Last Season's Stats: 77 games, 22 goals, 27 assists, 49 points, 56 PIMs
If Kesler reaches his full potential, he could easily be a top-15 center in the NHL, but last season he suffered a tremendous downfall. After 148 points in the two seasons before last, Kesler fell way back and only managed to tally 49 points last season.
Kesler's shot percentage fell under 10 percent for the first time since 2007, and whether some may see last season as a fluke year, others have projected he is falling back in the shadow of the Sedin twins (Daniel and Henrik)
Staal's Last Season's Stats (with Pittsburgh): 62 games, 25 goals, 25 assists, 50 points, 34 PIMs
Skinner's Last Season's Stats: 64 games, 20 goals, 24 assists, 44 points, 56 PIMs
I couldn't decide which one to place here because no one has any idea how they are both going to be used in the Carolina Hurricanes' system. Chances are that Eric Staal will be moved to wing (more on that in a future slide), with his brother as the center, and Skinner will center the second line.
Jordan Staal has proven himself a goal scorer and one of the best penalty killers in the league, while Jeff Skinner is perhaps the best young talent in the game today.
I wouldn't be surprised to hear criticism that Skinner is this low, but his 44 points last season were a substantial step back from his 63 point rookie campaign.
Last Season's Stats: 18 goals, 37 assists, 55 points, 12 PIM
Ryan O'Reilly is just another one of the young talents in the Colorado Avalanche's system, and had a breakout season last year by putting up 55 points at just 21 years old.
His 37 assists were 49th best in the NHL out of all skaters, and while he still has a few years before he reaches his full potential, O'Reilly will be a player to watch next season.
Last Season's Stats: 82 games, 11 goals, 46 assists, 57 points, 75 PIMs
Getzlaf had his lowest point total since 2006, and may lose winger Bobby Ryan via trade this year, which would put a huge dent in his stock.
The 6'4", 220 pounder is still one of the premiere power forwards in the league today, but needs to find a way to build his point total back up to the 70-80 range if he wants to consider himself one of the top centers in the NHL.
Last Season's Stats (with Calgary): 82 games, 23 goals, 38 assists, 61 points, 54 PIMs
It will be interesting to see how Jokinen fits into the Winnipeg Jets' system, and although he had a high point total this year with 61, his minus-12 rating places him at 25 on this list.
Many Calgary Flames fans may believe that they will be fine by letting Jokinen go, but I think they will figure out next year that Jokinen was quietly their top offensive threat next to Jarome Iginla.
Last Season's Stats: 81 games, 16 goals, 44 assists, 60 points, 24 PIMs
Desharnais is one of the most underrated playmakers in the game today, and had a breakout year in his first full NHL season. There is no doubt in my mind that he could eventually be a top-ten center in this league, and may be the guy to lead Montreal back into the playoffs.
However, the Canadiens, who finished in last place in the Eastern Conference one season ago, will need to put some fire power alongside him to really reach his full potential, and that is what places him at number 24.
Last Season's Stats: 62 games, 18 goals, 34 assists, 52 points, 16 PIMs
The first overall pick in 2011, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a fantastic rookie season by putting up 52 points, and is only going to get better as time goes on and as the Oilers continue to improve.
While he is still very inexperienced, the "Nuge" is one of the most exciting young players in the game today, and is going to need to step into a leadership role if he wants to lead Edmonton back into the playoffs.
Last Season's Stats: 79 games, 21 goals, 32 assists, 53 points, 34 PIMs
While Paul Statsny is still yet to repeat his 79 point performance from 2010, he has improved immensely in the defensive zone, and has managed to stay out of the box after averaging over 50 PIMs per season in the two years before last.
Colorado continues to improve and, very much like the Oilers, is loaded with young talent that will eventually lead them back into the playoffs.
Stastny will be a very important piece to the Avalanche franchise for years to come.
Last Season's Stats: 79 games, 23 goals, 39 assists, 62 points, 36 PIMs
David Krejci has been one of the most consistent talents in the game as of late, and has averaged 62 points over his last four seasons. He was a huge reason for the Bruins' Stanley Cup Championship two years ago, and will continue to be a key player on a nightly basis.
While he could be much higher on this list, Krejci had the worst plus-rating (-5) of his career last season, and will need to improve in the defensive zone as next season approaches.
Last Season's Stats: 74 games, 16 goals, 35 assists, 51 points, 7 PIMs
While he has fewer points last season than many other players I put below him, Adam Henrique is the next superstar of this league, and he displayed his potential talent in the playoffs last year when the New Jersey Devils made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
He was arguably their best player in the final series, and had 13 points in the playoffs. He is only 22 years old and the Devils will expect a lot of offense out of him after losing Zach Parise.
Last Season's Stats (with Dallas): 74 games, 18 goals, 45 assists, 63 points, 66 PIMs
The newest member of the Washington Capitals will hopefully get a chance to center Alex Ovechkin and bring some more veteran leadership to a team that has underperformed over the last few seasons.
Ribiero has been a consistent playmaker over the last six seasons with the Dallas Stars and should bring a new offensive threat to the Nation's Capital.
Last Season's Stats: 82 games, 25 goals, 41 assists, 66 points, 22 PIMs
Now, before New York Rangers fans jump down my throat for having him this low, realize that he has been in a steady decline over the last couple of seasons, and is far off from his 91 point season that he put up in 2010.
Perhaps Richards greatest quality is his experience. However, note that he hasn't had a season with a plus-rating since 2004, and until he becomes a better player in the defensive end, it is hard to call him one of the games' elite centers.
Last Season's Stats: 81 games, 23 goals, 43 assists, 66 points, 14 PIMs
Valtteri Filppula quietly managed to put up 66 points and didn't miss one game last season, which is good enough to put him at No. 18 on this list.
Although he is arguably one of the most underrated centers in the game, the fact that he is surrounded by so much talent in Detroit makes it difficult to place his individual talent as one of the NHL's best.
Last Season's Stats: 80 games, 31 goals, 34 assists, 65 points, 16 PIMs
Logan Couture has been one of the most consistent second-line centers in the NHL, and many teams would kill to have a first line center that can put up 65 points in a season. However, it will be impossible for him to get out of Joe Thornton's shadow.
He has 21 power play goals over the last two seasons, and will have to continue to play well if the Sharks want to make a run toward the Stanley Cup Finals.
Last Season's Stats: 42 games, 14 goals, 30 assists, 44 points, 24 PIMs
Nicklas Backstrom has been the top center in Washington for quite some time, but missed 40 games last season due to a concussion, and in today's day and age it is impossible to predict how anyone will be able to come back from them.
Backstrom has a luxury of getting to play alongside Alex Ovechkin and should have a big season this year after averaging over a point a game in the 42 games that he did play last season.
Last Season's Stats: 82 games, 23 goals, 43 assists, 66 points, 40 PIMs
At one point, he was noted as one of the best players in the NHL, but Kane has been on a steady decline since the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. While he managed to play in all 82 games last season, Kane's .08 points per game was the lowest of his entire career.
He is still one of the best young players in the game, as he is still only 23 years old, but hopefully his production will continue to rise as opposed to plateau.
Last Season's Stats: 81 games, 26 goals, 52 assists, 78 points, 16 PIMs
He was the sixth leading scorer among all centers, however, he is going to be at a huge loss without Zach Parise in New Jersey. He will still have the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, but his point total is almost guaranteed to decrease.
Elias will also more than likely be the new captain with Parise gone, and it will be on his shoulders to lead the Devils back to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Last Season's Stats: 59 games, 29 goals, 28 assists, 57 points, 28 PIMs
While Jonathan Toews' point total may not seem like he is deserving of the 13th spot on this list, it is what he does in other areas of the game that places him this high, and note that injuries forced him to miss 23 games.
He had a 59.4 percent success rate in the faceoff circle, which was the highest out of any one else on this list, and a plus-17 rating displays that he is just as solid in the defensive zone as he is in the offensive end.
He is one of the best young leaders in the game today and a reason why the Blackhawks are commonly a front-runner for the Stanley Cup.
While he could be placed higher, a downside is his past with injury. But, there hopefully won't be any problems moving forward.
Last Season's Stats: 82 games, 24 goals, 46 assists, 70 points, 48 PIMs
Eric Staal has been the face of the Carolina Hurricanes pretty much ever since he put on their jersey, and with the addition of his brother Jordan, his morale should be at an all-time high when next season approaches.
However, the one part about his game that makes it difficult to place him any higher than No. 12 on this is the fact that he had a minus-20 rating last season, which should be a huge cause for concern.
Last Season's Stats: 81 games, 29 goals, 38 assists, 67 points, 30 PIMs
Tyler Seguin is one of the best young talents in the game, and he is a work horse that plays every shift like it is his last. His 67 points last year was an incredible improvement from the 22 points he put up in his rookie campaign as an 18-year-old.
While he is going to be an incredible player in his prime, his lack of experience and struggles in the faceoff circle are what leave him just out of the top ten.
Last Season's Stats: 82 games, 25 goals, 51 assists, 66 points, 20 PIMs
The alternate captain of the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings has been one of the better centers in the NHL for years, but rarely got his chance to prove it on the greatest of stages. This year, however, he was able to display his talents to the world as he was a huge reason the Kings won the Stanley Cup.
There are still areas where Kopitar can improve, like his grit in the defensive zone, but he is more than worthy of a top-ten spot on this list.
Last Season's Stats: 82 games, 31 goals, 50 assists, 81 points, 26 PIMs
John Tavares is going to be one of the best players in the NHL in the near future, and at the age of 21 he was the fourth leading scorer among all centers. His 50 assists were ninth best in the NHL, and his 81 points were seventh best. However, he has a lot of work to be done on the defensive end.
I may get criticized for having him this low, but if you watch the way he plays, I find that he is solely offensive minded at all times and commonly leaves the zone early, which puts too much pressure on the Islanders defensemen.
With time, Tavares will turn into a well-rounded player, and will be much higher than the ninth best center in the NHL.
Last Season's Stats: 82 games, 18 goals, 59 assists, 77 points, 31 PIMs
Joe Thornton has been one of the NHL's elite players for years, and even at the age of 33 he has refused to slow down. His 18 goals may be the lowest total he has had since 1999, but his 59 assists more than make up for it.
He is a beast in both ends of the ice, great in the faceoff circle and is a great model for kids growing up who want to know how to play the center position. He had a plus-17 rating last year and will continue to be a huge star in San Jose next season.
Last Season's Stats: 81 games, 22 goals, 42 assists, 64 points, 20 PIMs
While his statistics might not immediately jump out at you as one of the game's best, know that Patrice Bergeron was the recipient of the Frank J. Selke Trophy last season, which awards the forward who best demonstrates the most skill in the defensive part of the game.
Bergeron is the definition of a power forward, he plays physical everywhere on the ice and is one of the league's best in the faceoff circle. His plus-36 rating was the best in the NHL, and his 64 points were still good enough for 16th best among all centers.
Last Season's Stats: 80 games, 34 goals, 50 assists, 84 points, 36 PIMs
It is hard to deny that Jason Spezza's stats last season were anything short of phenomenal considering he played on a Senators team that just snuck into the playoffs, so why is he at No. 6?
He has had some setbacks with injuries in the past, and while he was able to play a full season this year, he had missed at least 20 games the two years before. Spezza is a star in this league and, without a doubt, one of the best players in the game when healthy.
Last Season's Stats: 82 games, 14 goals, 67 assists, 81 points, 52 PIMs
Henrik Sedin is without a doubt the best playmaker in the game, given that it helps to have your twin brother on your line. The way he finds openings in the ice is a skill that cannot be taught, and Sedin has been one of the best at dishing the puck for years.
The reason why I leave him at the No. 5 slot is that he lacks a physical presence on the ice, and when his line is stopped, it is almost always because they are overpowered physically.
He is a great player, but he needs to develop some grit to say that he is a top-three center in the NHL.
Last Season's Statistics: 70 games, 19 goals, 48 assists, 67 points, 14 PIMs
The things that Pavel Datsyuk can do with the puck are pretty incredible, and he has been one of the top-tier centers in the league for years. He does everything right with the puck and is fantastic in the defensive end.
While I could understand arguments that he could be placed higher on this list, there is no doubting that he is one of the best in the game today.
And to think he was drafted in the sixth round.
Last Season's Statistics: 82 games, 60 goals, 37 assists, 97 points, 66 PIMs
Steven Stamkos has, without a doubt, the best one-timer out of anyone else on this list, and is one of the best power-play utilities in the league. He has had over 90 points in each of the last three seasons and a ridiculous 53 power play goals over that same span. His 60 goals were the most in the NHL this year, and he seems to only be getting better as his career progresses.
If the Tampa Bay Lightning make another run toward the Stanley Cup Final soon, it will, without a doubt, be on the back of Stammer.
Last Season's Statistics: 75 games, 50 goals, 59 assists, 109 points, 70 PIMs
Evgeni Malkin did everything right for the Pittsburgh Penguins last year, and ended up going home with the Hart Trophy as the NHL's Regular Season MVP at the 2012 NHL Awards. His defensive game really improved this year, and he is getting better and better in the faceoff circle.
His statistics from last year are simply undeniable. In the entire NHL, he was second in goals, third in assists, first in points, eighth in power play goals and fourth in game-winning goals. That's pretty incredible.
So how could anybody trump him?
Last Season's Stats: 22 games, 8 goals, 29 assists, 37 points, 14 PIMs
Whether you are part of the majority that hates him or part of the Pittsburgh faithful that loves him, it is absolutely impossible to deny that he is the best player in the world when he is healthy. He has already won a Stanley Cup and scored the golden goal to win the gold medal for Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
I know he has missed a lot of time, but know that the Penguins would not have signed him to a 12-year contract extension if they were worried about his health.
Let me leave you with two statistics:
If Crosby had played a full 82-game season last year and continued on the same pace he had in the 22 games in which he did play, he would have ended the year with 138 points.
Beginning with the 2008-09 season, Crosby has 315 points in 221 regular season games, which is an average of 1.43 points per game. Try to find someone else with a better average in that same span.