Some of the National Hockey League’s best talent has always been at center. The position is expected to play a defensively responsible game while also being the primary generator of offense. Some believe that having an elite top line center is the single most important element a team needs to win a Stanley Cup.
The past decade has seen veteran centers secure their legacy and made room for elite new centers to arrive. The following five players stand out above the rest, based on considerations of individual accomplishments as well as team achievements from 2010 to the end of 2019.
5. Steven Stamkos
While injuries, including both a broken leg and a season-ending knee injury, have plagued Steven Stamkos for much of the decade, he continued to be an elite scorer for the Tampa Bay Lightning when healthy. Stamkos’ 333 goals over the decade are the most of any center, and second to only Alexander Ovechkin among all players.
Stamkos’ 2011-12 season included a career-high 60 goals. The list of active NHL players who have scored 60 goals is short: Stamkos and Ovechkin. The list of players who accomplished the feat this decade is even shorter: Stamkos. His iconic 60-goal season was good for his second Rocket Richard Trophy.
Through the decade, Stamkos ranks second among centers in goals per games played (behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews), and fourth among centers in points per games played. He was selected to the NHL Second All-Star Team in both 2011 and 2012.
While Stamkos doesn’t have the same level of postseason success or individual hardware as some of the centers on this list, his scoring performances when healthy are almost unmatched.
4. Evgeni Malkin
Like Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin’s decade featured a plague of injuries that kept him from ever playing a full, 82-game season. Still, when Malkin was healthy and playing his game, he frequently looked like the best player in the league. Over the decade, he ranks third in points per game played among all players. His 109 points in the 2011-12 season (in only 75 games) awarded him the Art Ross, an NHL First-All Star Team selection, and the Ted Lindsay Award. When teammate Sidney Crosby was injured, Malkin filled the gap in a way no one else could.
Malkin was instrumental in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, most notably in 2017 when Malkin recorded 28 postseason points – leading all players.
“Geno” would likely be even higher on this list if not for the 2010 cutoff, as he had a career year in 2008-09, winning the Art Ross, Stanley Cup, and Conn Smythe.
3. Patrice Bergeron
If the NHL ever needs to rename the Frank J. Selke Trophy, they won’t have to think very hard about who the successor should be. Bergeron’s defensive prowess and two-way game have resulted in four Selke wins – tied for an NHL record with Bob Gainey. Across the entire decade, Bergeron never finished outside of top-five in voting for the award. Additionally, he never posted a negative plus/minus season and finished the decade at plus-201 – first among all centers.
Over the past few years, Bergeron has been the glue for the NHL’s best line, featuring wingers Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Playing alongside them, Bergeron posted a career-high 79 points 2018-19 in only 65 games played – just shy of a 100-point pace over a full season. At age 34, he continues to be one of the most dominant centers in the league with no signs of slowing down. Two Olympic gold medals, and a Stanley Cup in the decade solidify his placement at No. 3.
2. Connor McDavid
Although Connor McDavid has only been in the league for half of the decade, his individual accomplishments already qualify him for a second-place ranking. McDavid’s 1.33 points per game played ranks first in the league among all players over the decade.
A generational talent, McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy twice by age 21, a feat formerly only achieved by Wayne Gretzky. He was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player in 2017, and the Ted Lindsay Award (awarded to the league’s best player as voted by peers) in 2017 and 2018. To round out his trophy case – which would already likely qualify him for the Hockey Hall of Fame – McDavid has been named to three consecutive NHL First All-Star Teams, in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
McDavid, despite only playing three full seasons, is the only player this decade to have three 100-point seasons. He is the league’s undisputed best 5-on-5 player – his 84 even-strength points during the 2017-18 season were the highest even-strength scoring total since Jaromir Jagr in 1995-96.
To Edmonton Oilers fans delight, McDavid, 22, may still be improving. At the time of writing, he leads the scoring race this season and is on pace for 125 points – a would-be career high.
Even more impressively, he has achieved his astonishing point totals while playing with a frequently changing cast of wingers on a struggling Oilers team. With many years left in his prime, expect to see McDavid on top of the next decade’s top centers list.
1. Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby is the best center of the decade – a decision that should cause no controversy. He captained the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, winning consecutive Conn Smythe Trophies along the way – becoming only the third player in history to do so. The decade gave him his second Art Ross, two Rocket Richards, two Ted Lindsay Awards, three NHL First All-Star Team selections, and three more NHL Second All-Star Team selections.
Crosby also gave the hockey world one of the most iconic goals of the decade, when he scored the “golden goal” to win the gold medal for Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Canada repeated the gold medal in 2014 – with Crosby as captain, of course.
Despite missing significant time with multiple serious concussions, Crosby led all centers with 727 points over the decade. His 1.23 points per game over that timeframe is second to only McDavid. Already an offensive force, Crosby used the decade to improve his defensive game, finishing in the top-10 in Selke votes the past four consecutive years.
If all this isn’t enough, Crosby leads all players in wins above replacement over the decade, per evolving-hockey. He used the decade to showcase his leadership and talent and establish himself as one of the best to ever play the game.
Honorable Mentions: Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Toews, Claude Giroux, John Tavares