Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky
Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier formed one of the most potent one-two punches ever.
The tandem was key in leading the Oilers to four Stanley Cups in five years, from 1984 through 1988.
But there have been several other great centers in team history.
Rankings are based on the following criteria: playing at least three seasons in Edmonton, significant offensive numbers, leadership qualities, ability to win faceoffs, contributing to team success and a commitment to defensive play.
Using these categories, Craig MacTavish, Shawn Horcoff and Sam Gagner receive honorable mentions.
If Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to progress, and stays with the organization, he seems likely to make this list in a few more seasons.
The following five players, based on the above criteria, are the greatest centers in Edmonton Oilers history.
There will be many fans unwilling to put Todd Marchant this high on their list, but he was a very good center for many seasons in Oil Country.
Marchant was one of the best skaters to ever play for the Oilers and while his offensive numbers were never outstanding, he still contributed offensively, despite his heavy defensive responsibilities.
He was involved in some memorable playoff games, and his series-winning goal against the Dallas Stars in 1997 remains one of the most exciting goals in Oilers history.
Marchant was a great teammate, provided necessary leadership and made life miserable for many opposing centers.
Former Oiler Jason Arnott
Jason Arnott had more productive years in other NHL cities, but he was a quality center while in Edmonton despite not having many talented teammates.
Arnott was put into demanding situations long before he was ready and his time in Edmonton coincided with some of the worst years in Oilers history—similar to the most recent four or five seasons.
The Collingwood, Ontario native played with an edge while in Edmonton despite the knock by some that the effort was not there night in and night out.
He was a bright spot on some poor teams with his ability to put up points and intimidate the opposition.
Arnott’s defensive game improved after he left Edmonton, with much of that due to the system he learned with the New Jersey Devils.
In many ways, the Oilers have never replaced Arnott’s combination of size, scoring ability and tenacity at the center position.
Doug Weight developed into one of the NHL’s better centers in the late 1990s.
While the Oilers’ supporting cast was never strong enough to win consistently in the stacked Western Conference during his tenure, Weight soldiered on and led the Oilers year after year.
His chemistry with Bill Guerin was particularly notable, and Weight earned better than 80 points a season in three different campaigns.
Weight became a better faceoff man over time and more than held his own in the defensive end.
He was also one of the best passers in team history and his ability to create offensive chances was exemplary.
Weight was a great teammate based on his ability to lead by example and shoulder the blame when necessary. The Detroit native will always hold a special place with Edmonton fans.
In almost any other organization, Mark Messier would not follow anyone on a list of the top centers.
Mark Messier was the greatest leader in Oilers history and had the intangible quality to make everyone around him more accountable.
Messier earned nearly 1,900 points in his NHL career and is second on the all-time NHL points list.
His style of play, best described as reckless abandon, caused him to miss a significant number of games in several seasons. However, Messier’s heart and ferocity was what separated him from his peers.
Messier was not one of the most talented players to ever play the game, but his will to win may have been matched only by Montreal Canadiens great Maurice Richard.
Messier’s play was outstanding in both the regular and playoff seasons.
The fact that Messier’s best years were in his hometown made it that much sweeter for both Messier and his legion of fans.
Sublime. Incomparable. The Great One.
There can be no debate that Wayne Gretzky is the greatest center in Edmonton Oilers history.
If none of Gretzky’s goals were ever registered, he would remain the NHL’s all-time leading scorer with 1,963 assists.
While Gretzky remains the greatest passer the game has ever seen, he also scored goals like no other player in NHL history.
Gretzky was no shrinking violet—playing in the corners while absorbing hits—when opponents could catch him.
While he never had Messier’s physical presence, Gretzky struck fear into the hearts of opposing defensemen like no other with his ability to make them look ridiculous.
He played important playoff minutes for the Oilers even when he was not expected to score.
Gretzky always took pride in defending his own end as well as producing offensively.
Not just Edmonton centers, but all NHL centers will be viewed in the long shadow of No. 99 for many years to come.