20. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
Barzal’s Calder-worthy rookie season was just enough for him to find himself on the opening spot of this list. The Islander’s number one center took the league by storm, showing off his incredible speed and playmaking ability throughout the season. The 21-year-old had 85 points in a full season last year and will look to take over as the superstar of the Islanders after Tavares’ departure.
19. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning
Brayden Point can slide under the radar for some – thanks mostly to his teammates Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman – but he has a truly special skill set. The youngster has the ability to skate with some of the fastest in the league and has incredible poise for a player as young as he is. His point totals have never exceeded 66 in a season, but don’t be surprised to see that change in the coming years.
18. Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues
Brayden Schenn was a huge addition for the Blues this past season. The addition of Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak will take a huge weight off his back as the team’s number one center, and it would be to nobody’s surprise to see him have an even better season this season than last, where he totaled 28 goals and 70 points after an absolutely stellar start to the season.
17. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals
Backstrom is one of the game’s greatest playmakers. He has the ability to find people that opposing teams didn’t even know were on the ice. He sees the ice with some of the best players of his generation and is widely accepted as one of the more underrated players in recent history. He has had at least 70 points in each of the past five seasons, but never stands out as much as other players because of the subtlety of his game.
16. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
Draisaitl is another one of those players that might not get the attention he deserves. Yes, he and McDavid were expected to be one of the best center duos in the entire league this past season, and they never lived up to that hype, but after hitting the refresh button over the summer, look for Draisaitl to have a very strong start to the season and potentially put up some serious points.
15. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
Sean Couturier was the beneficiary of his linemates having fantastic seasons at the same time as him. Few tandems performed as well this season as Giroux and Couturier did, and that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Couturier has some strong offensive skills, which he proved last season, but his most impressive trait is two-way play. Similarly to some players higher up on this list, Couturier has the ability to be great in his own defensive zone, and then force the play up the ice to generate plenty of chances, and few centers do this as well as he does.
14. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
Everyone knows the potential Jack Eichel holds. He can be just as much of a game-changer as any player on this list, but he just needs to take an extra step to get into the top-ten realm. He has incredible stickhandling ability and can snap the puck with some of the best. With a 64-point season in the rear-view mirror, look for Eichel to take a step up this season with some new teammates by his side, and expect something closer to the 70-75 point range.
13. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals
Kuznetsov has only recently taken over the role of the Washington Capitals number one center, but he has done so in flying colors. His creativity on the ice is truly unique, and his ability to make plays has shown to be up near some of the best in the league (similarly to Backstrom, his teammate). Unlike Backstrom, however, Kuznetsov has become a true threat when it comes to goal-scoring as well, showing the ability to escape from tight areas to create plays, which is evident in last year’s 83 points.
12. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
Aleksander Barkov is one of the most underrated players in the league. He is arguably a top-three two-way centerman but still has the ability to make some incredible plays in his offensive zone. He is also, of course, the king of the shootout, as he has made plenty of the league’s best goaltenders look more like puppets than pros. His 78 points in 79 games last season was a career high, but don’t be surprised to see him surpass these numbers with new linemate Mike Hoffman joining the Panthers this offseason.
11. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
Mark Scheifele is another player who has recently come into his own as one of the league’s brightest stars. He plays a huge role in Winnipeg and makes use of the benefit of playing alongside some of the best wingers in the league. He is more of a playmaker than anything else, but he truly does showcase every facet of the game that you could want in a center. He has a fantastic shot, is great on the faceoff dot, and can come back and defend his own zone with the best of them. The 25-year-old had 60 points in 60 games this past season, so if he can stay healthy, look for him to put up some big numbers as Winnipeg searches for that elusive Stanley Cup.
10. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Bergeron has been a cornerstone of Boston’s success for a long time. He has been their number one center for almost ten years now and has always been both a great player and a great leader. Bergeron puts up some pretty solid numbers – he’s good for anywhere between 45 and 65 points in any given season – but his value comes from his ability to play in all three zones. He is one of the best faceoff takers in the league, is great in front of the net in the offensive zone, and is arguably the best defensive center in the NHL. Even at age 33, Bergeron hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and looks to remain one of Boston’s most important players for a few more seasons.
9. John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares has finally relocated, and it is to nowhere other than his childhood team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. His point production has been a bit inconsistent for a long chunk of his career, where he either seems to get around 65 points or more than a point per game. In Toronto, he will look to consistently be above the point-per-game total, especially considering some of the talented young guns around him. He has great all-around offensive ability and will see some added relief in not having to be his team’s superstar, with players like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander surrounding him.
8. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Anze Kopitar is another one of the league’s best two-way centers. What separates him from players like Bergeron and Barkov, however, is his well-known offensive ability. He has fantastic stickhandling ability, a great shot, and can pass with some of the best. The other impressive thing about Kopitar is that he gets his point totals without any other superstars as linemates, which means he could stay pretty close to last season’s 92 points if Ilya Kovalchuck can produce as his new linemate.
7. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews was faced with incredible expectations right when he entered the league, and he has yet to disappoint. The big-bodied 21-year-old had 63 points in 62 games last year, which means he would have been around the 85-point mark, had he stayed at that pace for a full season. The Leafs’ superstar has an incredible shot, and that is coupled with one of the brighter hockey minds in the game, as well as a great ability to find his teammates. As he and Nylander play together, look for both of their point totals to only climb higher.
6. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
It would be interesting to see just how high up this list Steven Stamkos would be if he had never suffered that serious leg injury. He is almost always above a point-per-game pace, but his injuries have definitely caused him some difficulties over the course of his career. Nonetheless, Stamkos still has one of the best shots in the NHL and, frighteningly, plays on a line with another of the league’s top-five shooters, Nikita Kucherov. Don’t expect to see Stamkos slow down any time soon, as both he and his team are expected to be very good for at least two or three seasons, should their core stay together.
5. Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
Tyler Seguin is one of the most underrated offensive players in the league. He has fantastic all-around ability in the offensive zone, whether it is running the power play, leading the rush, finding his teammates, or deciding to shoot the puck himself. He had dealt with some drama in the early portion of his career but has come into his own since transitioning to Dallas a few seasons ago. His line, which includes Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov, remains one of the best in the league, and one of the most dynamic groups you could possibly put together, evident in Seguin’s 78-point season.
4. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Avalanche fans have been waiting for Nathan MacKinnon to break out of his shell for quite some time, and he did just that in the 2017-18 season. In 74 games, he had 39 goals and 58 assists, for a total of 97 points, and basically dragged the Avalanche to the playoffs after they had a historically weak season in 2016-17. MacKinnon has it all: great speed, incredible hands, a wicked wrist shot, and the ability to make otherworldly passes. His line, which includes Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog was one of the best in the league last season and is now expected to make some serious noise in seasons to come.
3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
Evgeni Malkin makes up half of the best center ice duo in the NHL. He has fantastic all-around ability and is an ever-present threat whenever he is on the ice. His size allows him to be a physical presence on the ice and makes battling with him in his defensive zone a nightmare for every team he plays. Alongside his physical and defensive ability, Malkin has an incredible shot, silky hands, and a hockey IQ rivaled by very few. He is another player that is almost always at or above the point-per-game mark, but what makes this even more impressive is that he does this on his team’s second line, unlike the majority of the players on this list, who play on their team’s first line.
2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby served his role as the league’s best player for a long time, and for good reason. He can do it all. He has a skating ability, playmaking ability, a fantastic shot, and vision that is only bettered by one player in the entire league. Even at the age of 31, “Sid the Kid” has still found a way to put up over 80 points in every full season that he’s played in. His style of play makes it just about impossible to slow him down – he doesn’t need to race by defenders to make things happen, and that is part of what makes him one of the best players to ever touch the ice.
1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
With all due respect to Crosby, he is no longer the league’s best player; that title has been taken over by 21-year-old Connor McDavid. The Oilers’ Captain has played in three seasons, only two of which he played in all 82 of his team’s games. In those two full seasons, he had 100 and 108 points, both good enough to make him the Art Ross winner. So, what makes Connor McDavid so special? The biggest thing is his ability to make plays at top-end speed. He can do pretty much everything any other player on this list can do, but he can do it faster. If you watch highlights of McDavid’s best plays, he is always moving at top speed, but still has complete control over the puck, as well as knowing exactly where his teammates are, and where they are going to be. At only 21 years old, McDavid will likely boast the crown of the league’s best center for years to come, and will surely be one of the league’s most exciting players to watch for the majority of his career.