The center position is the heart and soul of any NHL team's offense. For example, the last ten Cup champions had the best centermen that ever took the ice.
The Anaheim Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf had an outstanding playoffs for their '07 team with 17 points, Pavel Datsyuk was solid offensively and defensively with 23 playoff points for the 2007-08 Red Wings, while Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby seemed to have played his absolute best hockey for the Pens' three Cup teams of the salary cap era. Jonathan Toews spearheaded a dynamic Blackhawks offense during their modern dynasty that netted them three Cups in six years. And the L.A. Kings had the likes of Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar centering their top lines en route to a pair of titles in 2012 and '14.
Since 2005, at least seven of the 12 first-overall draft picks are centers who've achieved a certain level of NHL success so far, including Crosby, John Tavares, and current Art Ross Trophy winner Connor McDavid. The point is that for any franchise to have solid depth at center, they have to win faceoffs, score timely goals, block shots, and make their teammates better. But not every group of centers in the league can match the same level of success that the Penguins have for the last decade because they're probably not good enough to produce offense consistently or have failed to meet expectations. With the NHL set to welcome their 31st franchise in Las Vegas for next season, let's rank each team's group of centers from worst to best. We should point out we will not be including the Golden Knights on this list, because the Knights are very unlikely to ice the four centers they grabbed in the expansion draft this summer.
32 ARIZONA COYOTES (STEPAN, DVORAK, HOLLAND, BURMISTROV)
Where can we start with the Coyotes and their awful offense from top to bottom? Arizona spent another season as a bottom-dweller in the west, and their group of centers had an underwhelming 2016-17 campaign.
The Coyotes 2014 draft pick Christian Dvorak made the team out of training camp last year, then traded for Peter Holland from the Toronto Maple Leafs last December and added Russian center Alex Burmistrov off waivers from the Jets on January 2, 2017. Holland and Burmistrov went on to struggle offensively in the desert, combining for 25 points in 66 games. Meanwhile, Dvorak recorded 33 points during his rookie year.
Since Arizona released their longtime captain Shane Doan, it appears this team a bright future ahead of them they seem to be looking ahead. They traded for Derek Stepan, which gives them a slight upgrade down the middle, but not enough to put them any higher.
31 COLORADO AVALANCHE (MACKINNON, DUCHENE, GRIGORENKO)
The Colorado Avalanche were flat-out awful last season, finishing with a league-worst 48 points. It was a far cry from the Sakic, Roy and Forsberg era where they won a pair of championships in '96 and '01.
The Avs completely tanked in 2016-17, yet they didn't win the right to draft first overall this year. Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia's own Nathan Mackinnon led the team with 53 points on a last-place team, but fellow teammates and centers and Matt Duchene and Mikhail Grigorenko really struggled offensively and defensively. Duchene had a career-worst 41 points, while Grigorenko picked up 23 points in 75 games.
It's a shame how Duchene and Mackinnon experienced a poor season in Colorado and they haven't lived up to the hype so far. Unless the Avs make significant strides to become a playoff contender, they'll continue to struggle on both ends of the ice.
30 NEW JERSEY DEVILS (HENRIQUE, ZACHA, ZAJAC)
The Devils' era of Stanley Cup success under former general manager Lou Lamoriello feels like a long time ago. New Jersey had won hockey's ultimate prize three times in five attempts. Since the Devils' last Cup Finals appearance five years ago, they've failed to reach the playoffs for the next five seasons. The franchise allowed key players Zach Parise, David Clarkson and Martin Brodeur to depart as free agents, while Ilya Kovalchuk bolted for the KHL.
New Jersey has been in a rebuilding phase since Lamoriello left the Devils and let Ray Shero take over as GM in 2015. He drafted Czech center Pavel Zacha that same year, then retained veteran centers, Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique. They guided the Devils to the 2012 Cup final versus L.A., but Zajac's failed to record a 20-goal season since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and had 14 this past season. Henrique had his first 30-goal season in 2015-16, but he collected 40 points in 82 games the following season. Also, Zacha had a pedestrian rookie year, scoring 24 points during the 2016-17 campaign.
Travis Zajac is past 30, yet Henrique and Zacha are still in their twenties. The good news is that they secured the first overall draft pick this year, so there's still hope that the Devils return to form once again.
29 VANCOUVER CANUCKS (HORVAT, H. SEDIN, SUTTER)
The Vancouver Canucks have endured another period of mediocrity following another Game 7 loss in the 2011 finals. Remember when this team had a solid offensive core during the years they won the President's Trophy? The Canucks had the likes of the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, and Alex Burrows leading the charge until the 2011 Bruins and 2012 Kings ended their dreams of winning it all.
Nowadays, they've landed in the cellar of the West under new GM Jim Benning and team president Trevor Linden. The Canucks' corps of centers went through an up and down '16-'17 season. Brandon Sutter recorded 34 points and finished with a -20 rating. Bo Horvat and Henrik Sedin had 50-point campaigns but struggled defensively.
Henrik and Daniel are on the cusp of retirement, Horvat has a bright future ahead of him, and Sutter has been a huge disappointment. Quite frankly, their fans want a winning team that could get over the hump and claim the franchise's first Cup that's eluded them for the last 40 years.
28 BUFFALO SABRES (EICHEL, O'REILLY, REINHART)
The Buffalo Sabres experienced their seventh consecutive season of missing the playoffs thanks to a 15th place finish in the Eastern Conference standings. That led to their team cleaning house by relieving head coach Dan Bylsma and GM Tim Murray of their duties after a 78-point season.
The Sabres' centers last year included their much-hyped draft pick Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart, and Zemgus Girgensons. Eichel and O'Reilly reached the 50-point plateau last year, while Reinhart posted a career-high in points with 47. But Girgensons had a less than productive season with seven goals and nine assists all year.
The team hired former defenseman Phil Housley as head coach on June 15th. It appears Eichel, O'Reilly, and Reinhart are poised to become the building blocks that should make them a playoff contender and maybe bring a Stanley Cup to Buffalo. Don't be surprised if they have better offensive production in 2017-18.
27 CAROLINA HURRICANES (J. STAAL, RASK, LINDHOLM)
Another 82-game season, another non-playoff year for the Carolina Hurricanes. Since the Canes' last playoff appearance eight years ago, they've been outside of playoff contention thanks to some mediocre teams over the years. But let's highlight the centers who anchor their lines include Jordan Staal, Victor Rask, and Elias Lindholm.
Ever since Staal was dealt by the Penguins to the Hurricanes in June 2012 and subsequently signed a 10-year, $60 million contract, he's provided decent point production for the last five seasons but has failed to record a 50-point season. The one good year that he's had in Carolina was the 2015-16 season where he scored 20 goals and 28 helpers. Staal notched 45 points in 75 games last year. Rask had a subpar 2016-17 campaign, amassing 45 points through 82 games, and Lindholm had the first 40-point season of his career. It seems disappointing for Carolina to have at least three centers fail to crack the 50-point plateau, so they'll have to address that position's needs this offseason.
26 NEW YORK RANGERS (HAYES, ZIBANEJAD, J.T. MILLER)
When you think of the Rangers' group of centers this past season, you might have a fair bit optimism for their future in the Big Apple. That was until they got depleted this offseason. The Rangers lost Oscar Lindberg in the expansion draft, then traded Derek Stepan to Arizona in what seemed like a cost-cutting move.
In the 2016-17 season, Derek Stepan and Kevin Hayes had decent offensive production, but Mika Zibanejad couldn't crack the 40-point mark after New York dealt Derick Brassard to the Senators and got him in return. Stepan stepped up last year with a 55-point effort, which isn't bad for an underrated player of his caliber. Hayes contributed with 49 regular season points but managed just three assists in 12 playoff games. Luckily for a streaky player like Zibanejad, he rebounded with nine playoff points and a sudden-death overtime goal against Montreal in the first round.
With Lindberg and Stepan gone, J.T. Miller might have to be moved back to the middle, but as of today, the Rangers don't have a deep lineup down the middle.
25 MONTREAL CANADIENS (DANAULT, PLEKANEC, GALCHENYUK, SHAW)
The Canadiens' group of centers consisted of Phillip Danault, Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Plekanec, and Andrew Shaw last season. Galchenyuk had 44 points last year, a small decline from his 56-point season the year before. He also was flip-flopped from the center spot to the wing, which makes you question just how well off the Habs are. The gritty Shaw fared quite well in his first season with the Habs, scoring 12 goals and 17 assists, while collecting a career-high 110 PIMs. But the aging Tomas Plekanec had a terrible 2016-17, recording 28 points.
In conclusion, the Habs made some noise this offseason by trading for Lightning winger Jonathan Drouin, who accepted a six-year deal worth $33 million. Montreal's acquisition of Drouin should not only boost their offense but perhaps improve the point production of Galchenyuk if head coach Claude Julien decides to put them on a line together. You also wonder if Plekanec's days are numbered in Montreal, despite being the Habs' key player for the last 12 seasons.
24 FLORIDA PANTHERS (BARKOV, TROCHECK, BJUGSTAD)
The Florida Panthers have struggled to put together a team that's capable of winning a championship since they were swept in the '96 Cup finals. The Sunshine State's other NHL team went on to miss the playoffs this past season following a first round exit to the Islanders a year ago.
The Panthers currently have a good collection of young forwards and defensemen such as Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, along with wily veterans Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo on their roster. Their centermen include the likes of Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad, and Sasha Barkov who seem to have bright futures ahead of them.
Although the Panthers failed to reach the playoffs for a second straight season, Barkov and Trocheck had 50-point campaigns and became their top two point-getters, but Bjugstad had a forgettable season with 14 points in 54 games. If Florida can get back to the playoffs in 2018 and beyond with the 1-2 punch of Barkov and Trocheck, improved defense and goaltending, they have the potential to become a legit Cup contender.
23 DETROIT RED WINGS (ATHANASIOU, LARKIN, NIELSEN)
The Detroit Red Wings has some promising centers in their twenties like Andreas Athanasiou, Riley Sheahan, and Dylan Larkin. They also added veteran center Frans Nielsen through free agency, but their 25-season playoff streak came to a bitter end last year as their key players stumbled at times and fell below their conferences' standings.
Larkin had an outstanding rookie season with 45 points to his credit but did not fare well during his second year. The University of Michigan product collected only 32 points and finished with a disappointing -28 rating. Athanasiou picked up 18 goals during his second season in Detroit. Nielsen had signed a six-year deal one year ago, but he suffered a down year with the Red Wings. He went on to score 17 goals and collect 24 assists, so this could lead to a continued offensive decline for the Danish-born Nielsen.
With the franchise set to move into a new arena and the opportunity to re-emerge as a playoff contender, the future is still bright for the Red Wings because of their homegrown talent and solid prospect development through their AHL team in Grand Rapids who recently won a Calder Cup this year.
22 ST. LOUIS BLUES (STASTNY, BERGLUND, SCHENN)
The 2016-17 St. Louis Blues had to endure another second-round elimination to the eventual Western Conference champion Predators in six games. Although starting goaltender Jake Allen stood on his head during the 2017 playoffs, their offense led by the elite Vladimir Tarasenko went cold due to the efforts of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, Alex Steen playing on one foot, and a power-play unit that went two for thirty through two playoff rounds.
The Blues' bunch of centermen this past year consisted of Patrick Berglund, Paul Stastny, Robby Fabbri and Jori Lehtera. Stastny had a decent '16-'17 season with 40 points, but the same cannot be said for his other two centers. Berglund and Lehtera floundered all year long, combining for 56 points in 146 games dressed. Additionally, Fabbri suffered an ACL injury that forced him to miss the rest of the regular season. He picked up 29 points prior to hurting his knee.
The Blues parted ways with Lehtera, brought in Brayden Schenn, which seems like an upgrade, but we'd like to see it play out before placing the Blues higher.
21 NEW YORK ISLANDERS (TAVARES, CIZIKAS, NELSON)
Long Island's professional hockey club continues to witness its ups and downs. The New York Islanders regressed this past season, missing the playoffs for the second time in four seasons.
The Isles' group of centers are captain John Tavares, who continues to consistently produce more than 60 points per season, Toronto-born Casey Cizikas, Alan Quine, and Brock Nelson. Although the Isles failed to clinch a playoff spot, Tavares picked up his fifth 20-goal season in 2016-17. His teammate and center Casey Cizikas really struggled during that campaign with 29 points in 59 games. Nelson hit the 40-point plateau for his third consecutive season, and Quine was invisible for parts of the year with 18 points.
Tavares is really the heart of their offensive core, but you wonder if his fellow centers can lead them to another Cup for the once-proud franchise. If the Isles don't sign him to a long-term contract extension, they could have the worst group of centers in the league.
20 TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (STAMKOS, JOHNSON, NAMESTNIKOV)
The Tampa Bay Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Final two years ago but lost in six to the Blackhawks. The next year, they advanced to the East final but Pittsburgh eliminated them in Game 7 and went on to win the Cup. But Tampa went on to miss the playoffs this past season. Although Nikita Kucherov scored 40 goals and not having Steven Stamkos in their lineup for a majority of the year, Tampa fell one point shy of the East's final playoff spot.
The Bolts have Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, and Vlad Namestnikov as their centermen. Even though Stamkos is capable of scoring goals on a yearly basis, he couldn't catch a break with injuries last year. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee that limited him to 17 games, but picked up an impressive 20 points. Johnson had an average '16-'17 campaign, scoring 19 goals in 66 games. And as for Namestnikov, his offensive production fell from 35 points in 2015-16 to 28 the following year.
Stamkos has to put that injury-riddled season behind him. When "Stammer" is 100% healthy, he can terrorize opposing goaltenders with his patented slapshot that might end up in their net, so Bolts fans should expect many great seasons from him. Johnson could potentially have 60 points next season and the Lightning should reach the playoffs again.
19 WINNIPEG JETS (LITTLE, LOWRY, SCHEIFELE)
Last season, the Jets' centers consist of Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, Marko Dano, Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault, and Scheifele. Although Scheifele had a career year (32 G, 50 A), Lowry managed to record less than 20 goals, while Little picked up 47 points despite a negative plus-minus rating through 59 games.
Although Winnipeg has missed the playoffs for the last two years, the Jets have a strong offensive core led by the young Patrik Laine, captain Blake Wheeler, and Mark Scheifele. They are determined to win a Stanley Cup for their rabid and passionate fan base who really embraced the original Jets from its WHA years to their final season 20 years ago.
The Jets-Thrashers franchise has not won a single playoff game in their history, yet they have laid out a foundation for long-term success. If their young forwards take a bigger step offensively, they should put the Jets in a long-term position to compete for the Stanley Cup.
18 PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (GIROUX, KONECNY, LEHTERA, COUTURIER)
Following the death of longtime owner Ed Snider a year ago, the Philadelphia Flyers had a rough 2016-17, finishing sixth in a difficult Metropolitan Division with 88 points and no playoffs. Captain Claude Giroux, Jori Lehteran (following the trade of Brayden Schenn), Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny are the team's forwards who center their lines. Even though Giroux and Schenn were capable point producers last year, they were exposed defensively, which is perhaps why the Flyers shipped Schenn out. Couturier mustered 34 points in 66 games, and Konecny notched 28 points during his rookie year.
Philadelphia sports fans really want their pro teams to succeed, and the Flyers are no exception in that city. The Broad Street Bullies era has become a distant memory, but the Flyers are looking to build a new identity and win another Stanley Cup soon unless they continue to miss the postseason.
17 NASHVILLE PREDATORS (JOHANSEN, BONINO, FISHER, JARNKROK)
It seems like yesterday that the Predators appeared in the fourth round of the playoffs. They finished the year with 94 points and the 16th-seeded Preds went on a memorable run. Nashville swept Chicago in the quarterfinals, then took out St. Louis in six and vanquished Anaheim in six to win the Clarence Campbell Bowl. But the team ran into the Penguins, who beat them in a hard-fought, six-game Cup final.
The 2016-17 Predators had an interesting collection of centers that had their shortcomings offensively. Mike Fisher became the team's captain last year but had 42 points all season. Ryan Johansen cracked the 60-point mark, and Calle Jarnkrok disappointed with 15 goals. Fisher struggled with no goals in this year's playoffs, while Johansen had a great postseason with 13 points until he underwent hip surgery during the Western final that forced him to miss the entire Finals. Luckily, their depth at center seemed to have paid off.
Colton Sissons became Nashville's unsung hero that same series against Anaheim with a hat trick in Game 6 that propelled Nashville to their first Cup final. Nashville's offensive core of Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Johansen, Jarnkrok, and Sissons are the future of the franchise, and this year's long playoff run will determine if the Preds continue to become a Cup contender for years.
With the signing of Nick Bonino in free agency, the Preds have greatly increased their depth down the middle.
16 DALLAS STARS (SEGUIN, SPEZZA, FAKSA)
The Dallas Stars finished last season without a playoff spot, only the second time in three seasons. They boast one of the best young centers and excellent point producers in the NHL, and he is Tyler Seguin. A member of the 2010 draft class, he had another great season with 72 points while playing all 82 games in 2016-17. Their other centers included Radek Faksa who fared decently with 12 tallies and 21 assists, Cody Eakin who went cold throughout the previous year with a career-low 12 points, and Jason Spezza showed that he wasn't past his prime at 33 by enjoying another 50-point season.
The Stars addressed their needs at goaltender by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year deal worth $29.5 million in May, so the future isn't all doom and gloom for Dallas' offensive corps. Expect Seguin and Jamie Benn to have productive seasons and lead the Stars back to the playoffs.
15 LOS ANGELES KINGS (KOPITAR, CARTER, TOFFOLI)
The L.A. Kings experienced championship success in the early part of this decade with two Cup wins and three appearances in the Conference Finals. Darryl Sutter was responsible for making that possible until the Kings missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons that led to his firing. A down 2016-17 season from Slovenian center Anze Kopitar was why they got a lengthy offseason, although fellow center Jeff Carter fared better offensively and Tyler Toffoli somewhat regressed.
Kopitar replaced teammate Dustin Brown as Kings captain, but the heightened expectations of that role hindered his knack to score goals with a career-worst 12 tallies, yet finished the year with over 50 points. Carter was the Kings' leading point-getter with 66, and Toffoli picked up 34 points in 66 games.
L.A. found their man behind the bench this past April by promoting former associate coach John Stevens this past April. The coaching change could help Kopitar and Toffoli return to form, and a healthy Jonathan Quick should put the Kings back in Cup contention.
14 WASHINGTON CAPITALS (BACKSTROM, KUZNETSOV, ELLER)
Another year has gone by for the Capitals without a Stanley Cup title. They've won the Presidents' Trophy two years in a row but failed to advance past the second round thanks to the rival Penguins. The Capitals' Niklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Lars Eller served as their centers a year ago, although they.
Backstrom produced the second 80-point campaign of his Caps tenure and added 13 playoff points against the Leafs and Pens. The dynamic Kuznetsov played 82 games and picked up 59 points, but Eller was somewhat disappointing once the Caps acquired him via trade from Montreal. He scored 12 goals and 13 assists all season and failed to find the back of the net in this year's playoffs.
Backstrom and Kuznetsov remain as the team's key pieces towards winning a Cup, but it is still mind-boggling how they've been unable to reach the conference final during the Alex Ovechkin era.
13 BOSTON BRUINS (BERGERON, KREJCI, SPOONER)
The Bruins slightly improved from their ninth-place finish in the Eastern Conference two seasons ago to seventh the following year. Boston went on to earn 95 points but fell to the Senators in the first round of the playoffs.
Boston's assortment of centers included veterans Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and youngsters Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano. Bergeron's point totals dropped from 68 in 2015-16 to 53 last season, yet he remains the Bruins heart and soul. Despite being slowed by an MCL injury a couple years back, Krejci managed to play all 82 games and had a whopping 54 points. Spooner provided a modest point total of 39, and Vatrano had ten goals.
Bergeron and Krejci carried the load for last year's Bruins, but you wonder if Spooner and Vatrano have long-term futures with the team. But they're fortunate to have the veteran presence of defenseman Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand, and Bergeron on their team who experienced the thrill of winning a Cup six years ago.
11 MINNESOTA WILD (KOIVU, GRANLUND, COYLE)
The 2016-17 iteration of the Wild had their best season ever with 106 points under the leadership of head coach Bruce Boudreau. But Minnesota ran into Blues goaltender Jake Allen and ultimately suffered a first-round elimination in five games.
Aside from the early postseason exit, Minnesota's centers were outstanding all regular season. The 25-year-old Mikael Granlund led Minnesota in points with a whopping 69. Wild captain Mikko Koivu scored 18 times and collected 40 helpers, and the 6'3" Charlie Coyle reached the 50-point mark for the first time in his career.
To summarize, Koivu showed that he's still an elite player in his mid-30s, while Granlund and Coyle's offensive production significantly improved as they're about to hit their prime.
10 SAN JOSE SHARKS (COUTURE, PAVELSKI, THORNTON)
San Jose's group of centermen may be one of the league's most intimidating on the ice. The Sharks are blessed with the excellent passing of Joe Thornton, a deadly shooter in Joe Pavelski, and the underrated Logan Couture.
Fresh off their first Cup Final appearance, the 2016 Western Conference champions did not struggle too much the following season. Best known as "Jumbo", Thornton scored a mere seven goals, yet he continued to set up his teammates for timely goals. He had 43 helpers for the Sharks last season, and the future Hall of Famer now has over 1,000 career assists. Couture scored 25 goals and 52 points, and Pavelski had his fourth 20-goal year and nearly cracked the 70-point mark with 68. Depth centers Melker Karlsson and Chris Tierney showed promise by reaching the 20-point plateau, which led to the Sharks making the playoffs for the second straight season. Unfortunately, they fell to the Oilers in six games.
Although Patrick Marleau and Thornton continue to age, and are possibly going somewhere else in free agency, Pavelski and Couture are still in their prime, and they still boast an incredible Norris Trophy-winning blueliner in Brent Burns. It's possible their centers could have either decent or solid production next year, and San Jose might capture the Cup someday.
9 COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (DUBINSKY, GAGNER, WENNBERG)
Who would've thought the Blue Jackets would become a playoff contender in the East? Columbus head coach John Tortorella helped them earn a 100-point campaign, the best season in team history, and a first-round date with the Penguins. Columbus' playoff run lasted only five games. Blue Jackets centers Alexander Wennberg and Sam Gagner had 50-point seasons, but Brandon Dubinsky scored 12 goals and notched 29 assists.
Blue Jackets fans should be optimistic about the future of their team beyond this year. The presence of young defensemen Seth Jones and Zack Werenski, solid goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky, and the guidance of Tortorella should lift them to new heights. The Jackets traded away Brandon Saad and landed Artemi Panarin so we'll see how that move works out for them.
8 OTTAWA SENATORS (TURRIS, BRASSARD, PAGEAU, SMITH)
Last season, the Ottawa Senators enjoyed a resurgent season as centers Kyle Turris, Derick Brassard, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Zack Smith's contributions led to a playoff spot for the team. They eliminated Boston and the New York Rangers in six but fell one win shy of reaching the Cup as the Penguins beat them in double overtime.
Turris was the only center on the Sens to crack 50 points, while Pageau, Smith, and Brassard had 30-point regular seasons. Turris and Pageau delivered once the playoffs arrived, as each player had 10 points during their run. Pageau had the game of his life, scoring four goals including the overtime marker that ended Game 2 of their second-round series against New York. Brassard scored a few goals and notched seven assists during the postseason as well, but could miss the start of next season due to surgery on his labrum.
7 TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (MATTHEWS, BOZAK, KADRI, MARTIN)
For most hockey fans, it's easy to see that the Leafs have an embarrassment of riches at the center position.
They include 2016 1st overall pick Auston Matthews along with veterans Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak. They also have Mitch Marner and William Nylander who both have the potential to eventually play center. But Matthews was the guy who truly stood out among the team's young stars last season, scoring 40 goals and 29 assists.
He became the first player in NHL history to score four goals in his first game on October 12th and went on to win the Calder trophy. Marner also shined with 61 points in his rookie year, while Kadri and Nylander had 60-point seasons. The Leafs truly have a bright future ahead of them, as their offensive core and a decent goalie in Frederik Andersen should help them win the Stanley Cup and end their 50-year title drought.
6 CALGARY FLAMES (BENNETT, MONAHAN, BACKLUND)
The Calgary Flames returned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a one-year absence with a 94-point season, thanks to a balanced offense led by Johnny Gaudreau, a stable defense, and decent goaltending from Brian Elliott. However, the Flames were swept in the first round against the Ducks.
Calgary's unit of centers last season consisted of Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, and Sam Bennett. Monahan and Backlund really stepped up for Calgary with 20-goal seasons, but Bennett flat-out stumbled with 26 points in 81 games.
Aside from a cameo appearance in the 2017 playoffs, a majority of the Flames' roster improved a fair bit and they look poised to compete with the rest of their division for years to come. Edmonton gets all the attention, but the Flames are going to be right there with them.
5 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (TOEWS, ANISIMOV, KRUGER)
The Blackhawks became the gold standard within the NHL, winning three Stanley Cups in six years despite their cap issues. The likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith emerged as the pillars of their Cup success. But their group of centers is kind of a mixed bag of greatness and inconsistency.
It's quite obvious that Toews is the man for that team, but Marcus Kruger looks almost invisible on their high-flying offense despite his effective defensive play. Artem Anisimov is capable of recording 30 to 40 points per season but doesn't have the scoring prowess of a Brandon Saad, an Artemi Panarin or Kane. Toews produced another impressive point total with 58 points in 72 games played. His 622 career points cement his status as one of the best players to don a Blackhawks jersey.
It seems almost hard to believe that Chicago's band of centers is ranked below the top 10, but the Hawks' incredible collection of speedy forwards and durable defensemen over the years makes up for not having other good centers who compliment Toews.
4 ANAHEIM DUCKS (GETZLAF, KESLER, RAKELL)
Anaheim benefitted from their elite offensive core of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler last season, finishing as three of the Ducks' top five point-getters. The Ducks' group of top centers included Getzlaf, Kesler, Rickard Rakell, and depth forwards Nate Thompson and Antoine Vermette.
Getzlaf and Kesler were Anaheim's go-to guys, finishing 1-2 in team scoring with 73 and 58 points respectively. In the 2017 playoffs, they combined to record 27 points over three rounds. Rickard Rakell had a strong season with 51 points in 71 games, then added seven goals during this year's playoff run that ended with a conference final loss.
The Ducks' key centermen exceeded their expectations, but we will see if the team carries their success from a third-round appearance this past year into next season by returning to the Cup Final.
2 EDMONTON OILERS (DRAISAITL, McDAVID, NUGENT-HOPKINS)
Edmonton has to be blessed with the amount of talent that their hockey club currently has. The Oilers' collection of centers boasts a rising star in Connor McDavid, the German-born Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
There's no doubt McDavid played outstanding last year with a 100-point season that earned him the Art Ross Trophy and the league's MVP in his young career. Draisaitl made a good impression for Edmonton, lighting the lamp 29 times with 48 helpers during the regular year. He also recorded a playoff hat-trick on home ice in their second-round series vs. Anaheim that forced a Game 7. However, Nugent-Hopkins fell short of a 20-goal season and couldn't score a goal in his first trip to the NHL's second season.
For McDavid and Draisaitl, they lived up to the hype and we should see their pro careers take flight. But Nugent-Hopkins continues to be an average NHLer, considering that the Oilers had high expectations of him as their number one pick in 2011.
1 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (CROSBY, MALKIN, BONINO, MATT CULLIN)
Fresh off winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, the Penguins' collection of centers consist of the best player today in Sidney Crosby, his longtime teammate Evgeni Malkin, and gritty two-way forward Nick Bonino. We'll have to see if Matt Cullin comes back for another year, but he hinted at retirement following the Pens' Cup win.
Crosby proved to the hockey world that even concussions can't slow down his ability to get on the scoresheet. He has two Conn Smythes and three Stanley Cups on his astounding resume, a testament to his lasting will to compete. Malkin may have been left off the NHL's 100 Greatest Players list, but "Geno" had a great 2016-17 with 72 points and '17 playoffs with 10 goals and 18 assists in 25 games. Bonino has been a fine addition to the Penguins' lineup since GM Jim Rutherford traded for him in July 2015, helping Pittsburgh win two Cups with 25 points in 45 playoff games.
The Pens have proven the center position is important for the style of play that's predicated on goal-scoring, team speed and defense. It definitely showed the past two seasons, and 30 other teams must find a way to match their success.
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