NHL Power Rankings: The 10 Best Centers in the World Today
Its August. In the life of an NHL fan, it's probably the most boring month of the year. The NHL Entry Draft and the free agency period are over. Ditto for prospect camps. Training camp is still about a month away for most teams. During a time with no hockey, one of the only things we hockey fans have to discuss is what team or what player is the best (and how that best player is going to lead his team to a Stanley Cup in eight months time).
In this first installment of NHL Power Rankings by position, I'm taking a look at the 10 best centers in the NHL today. But first a few ground rules: in order to qualify as a "center," the player must be listed on NHL.com's 2010-2011 regular season statistics page as a center.
Beyond that, I've taken into account a number of factors when crafting this list: offensive skill and production, defensive play, intangibles (face-offs, blocked shots, etc), clutch play and leadership, to name a few.
And without further ado, here they are: the 10 best centers in the NHL today. Enjoy.
#10: Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
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We begin with the Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf who has quietly blossomed into one of the NHL's best all-around centers. In 2010-2011, he turned in another strong campaign, posting 76 points (19 G, 57 A) in just 67 games while centering the Ducks' top line and leading the team to the playoffs.
In terms of offensive ability, Getzlaf is a step behind players like Kopitar. But he more than makes up for it in other areas of the ice. He's a solid defensive player (plus-14, 57 blocked shots), a strong checker (189 hits) and a great leader on and off the ice.
And while it's true that Getzlaf plays alongside two fantastic goal scorers in Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, more often than not it's the play making acumen of Getzlaf that allows those two to score the way they do.
#9: Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes
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The oldest of the Staal brothers, Eric has very quietly established himself as one of the NHL's best all-around players. He's an incredibly gifted offensive player, scoring 76 points while playing on a mediocre Hurricanes team, a solid, if not spectacular player in the defensive zone and an leader on and off the ice.
If he were playing in a major hockey market, Staal would be lauded as one of the best in the game. But since he toils in Carolina, no one notices. But take the time to watch a Hurricanes game and you'll see that almost always, Staal is the engine that makes the whole team go.
His defensive game and intangibles need work. But he's still a very solid all-around player and worthy of inclusion on this list.
#8: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
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While he's been hampered with injuries over the past two seasons and overshadowed by Sidney Crosby for his entire career, "Geno" is still one of the most explosive and potent offensive weapons in the world. He has been better than a point-per-game player throughout his career, racking up 418 points in just 352 career games. When he's been on the ice, he's been a responsible defensive player and a decent on-ice leader.
However, his recent injury troubles, his decent defensive game and his mediocre ability inside the face-off circle all cost him on this list. But make no mistake: Malkin is still one of the league's premier centers—he just does not have the refined all-around game and intangibles that players higher on this list possess.
#7: Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings
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The former Flyer captain checks in here at No. 7, largely due to his world-class defensive ability and strong on-ice leadership. Unlike many other players on this list, Richards is not a flashy, high-flying offensive center. Despite that, he is still a very good offensive player who has averaged more than 70 points over the past four seasons.
Instead, Richards earns his keep as one of the NHL's best two-way centers. While in Philadelphia, Richards was responsible for shutting down the opposition's top scoring threats for a full 60 minutes, a role in which he excelled. He remains one of the game's best and most dangerous penalty killers. And despite recent reports to the contrary, has been a fantastic on-ice leader for a number of Flyer teams.
Richards is a team-first center and a natural leader. He's a gritty two-way center. And he has quite a bit of talent at the offensive end of the rink to boot. Like it or not Philadelphia fans, he's a top 10 center in the NHL.
#6: Brad Richards, New York Rangers
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The crown jewel of the the 2011 Free Agency class is also one of the game's best centers. Over the course of his career, Richards has done just about everything. He's won a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy, a Lady Byng Trophy and been a finalist for quite a few other honors and awards.
He's a fantastic offensive play maker who makes those around him better (Marian Gaborik: start buying him dinner now), a very responsible defensive stopper and a player that does the little things well. He's a point-per-game player and has been for most of his career. And when it matters most, Richards has come up huge, netting seven playoff game winning goals during the Lightning's 2004 Stanley Cup run (an NHL record).
#5: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
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For better or worse, Steven Stamkos is still a bit of a one-trick pony. But what a pony. Over the past two seasons, I've seen a tremendous improvement in the other aspects of Stamkos' game: he's become a better offensive playmaker, a more responsible defender and a grittier, more physical all-around player. Despite those improvements, Stamkos is still primarily a natural goal scorer, not a complete player. Like I said: one trick pony. But what a pony.
For those Lightning fans about to strangle me, relax. Stamkos is 21. He's the youngest player on this list and he's already cracked the top five. If he can continue to improve his overall offensive game, blossom into an on-ice leader and become a solid defensive player, he'll move up on this list. But right now, No. 5 is darn good for a player that's only been in the NHL three seasons.
#4: Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
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I'll admit that I'm a little biased against the Sedins after their abysmal performances in the Stanley Cup Finals. But in spite of that, Henrik deserves to be in the top five on this list. Over the past few NHL seasons, he's been one of the most consistently dominant scorers on one of the NHL's best regular season teams. Sedin has proven he's a solid, if not spectacular, defender, a good, if not great, leader and a class act on and off the ice.
And if his performance in the Stanley Cup Finals was atrocious (and it was), his willingness to answer every question reporters had after that heartbreaking Game 7 loss was a shining example of what every captain should do.
In terms of offensive ability, there really isn't a question as to whether or not Henrik is one of the most dangerous offensive players in the NHL—he is. He's scored over 200 points in the past two seasons. He's a Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner. He's usually one of the league leaders in plus/minus rating. He's an on-and-off ice leader for the Canucks. He's the complete package.
#3: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
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Just about everywhere he's gone, Jonathan Toews has been a leader and a winner. He has been the captain of an Original Six franchise since 2008. He's won a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe Trophy. He's the youngest member of the Triple Gold Club. He's been a Calder Finalist, a Selke Candidate and more. That's a better resume than most NHL players retire with. Toews is 23.
Toews does it all for the Blackhawks. He scores (averaging 70-plus points per season over the past three years). He plays defense (plus-20 average over the past three years). He leads (youngest captain in the NHL, youngest captain to win a Conn Smythe Trophy). And he does the little things well (won 56.7 percent of his face-offs, 3:1 Tka:Gva ratio).
For those NHL fans who are not familiar with just how good Toews is, watch a few Blackhawks games and prepare to be impressed. He's the real deal and he's only going to get better. The sky is the limit for Toews, which is good news for 'Hawks fans and bad news for the rest of the NHL.
#2: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
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When Pavel Datsyuk retires, I would not be at all surprised if the Selke Trophy is re-named for him. He's won it three times (2008, 2009, 2010), along with a pair of Stanley Cups (2002, 2008), four Lady Byng trophies (2006-2009) and a grab bag full of other awards and honors.
But beyond the hardware, Datsyuk is one of the best all-around players at any position in the NHL. He scores (651 points in 662 career regular season games). He plays absolutely stellar defense (career plus-187), he does the little things extraordinarily well (54.7 FO percentage, 2:1 Tka:Gva ratio). If it weren't for the guy on the next slide, Datsyuk would be the best center in the NHL today.
#1: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
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Topping this list is none other than Sidney Crosby, quite possibly the best player in the world right now. Despite his recent struggles with post-concussion syndrome, expect Crosby to return to form in 2011-2012 and resume his reign of terror on stat sheets everywhere.
If this pick needed some justification, here it is: Crosby has just turned 24 and has won the following: a Stanley Cup, a Hart Trophy, an Art Ross Trophy, a Rocket Richard trophy, a Lester B. Pearson Award, a First Team NHL All-Star Award, the Mark Messier Leadership Award and the Sporting News NHL Player of the Year Award.
In case all of that wasn't enough, Crosby has scored 572 points in 412 career games. His 1.39 points per game ranks among the best all-time. And in case you've forgotten, he's only 24.
The Honorable Mentions
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These four players didn't quite make the cut, but they still deserve to be mentioned as some of the game's best centers:
Joe Thornton (Tied for #10)