The NHL is a league that seems to be getting better and better every single season. Every year there are new players coming in and taking the league by storm, as well as some young ones who begin to move past their inconsistencies and develop into stars. There are also the ones who have been around forever, yet show no signs of slowing down. While it takes an entire team of players to win championships, there is no denying that the elite players are who the fans pay to watch. Many of those top players happen to play the center ice position, one which we will be taking a look at today.
In this article, I will do the daunting task of ranking the current top 10 centers in the NHL. Lists similar to this often tend to bring in plenty of criticism as they are opinion based, and there are several arguments to be made about which players did or didn’t make the cut, as well as where they are placed on the list. One thing everyone should be able to agree on is that the 10 that I have chosen for this list are all extremely talented players who their respective teams should be very thankful to have. With that being said, let’s take a look.
10. Mark Scheifele
The Winnipeg Jets have one of the better core forward groups in the entire NHL, and leading the way for them is Mark Scheifele. The 28-year-old has been an impressive offensive producer since being drafted seventh overall in 2011, and there is no reason to expect that to change anytime soon.
This past season, Scheifele’s 63 points in 56 games led the Jets roster, while his 21 goals tied him with Nikolaj Ehlers for second. He has played a total of 575 games in his NHL career and has 507 points. The one area of his game that leaves plenty to be desired is his defensive play, which he would need to improve on in order to climb further up this list. Regardless, his offensive abilities are fantastic and are good enough to earn him a spot on their own.
9. Jack Eichel
Perhaps the toughest player to rank on this list is Jack Eichel, who had a nightmarish 2020-21 season. The captain of the Buffalo Sabres got off to a very slow start prior to a season-ending injury, with just two goals and 18 points in 21 games. It is becoming clearer by the day that he needs a change of scenery and will be moved, it’s just a matter of when.
Unfortunately for Eichel, he has still not gotten the surgery he needs for his neck injury, meaning he will not be available to start the 2021-22 season. Once he gets traded those issues should work themselves out, and when he is healthy being on a new team with a better supporting cast should see him produce elite-level offence that could catapult him into top-five centermen territory.
8. Brayden Point
Brayden Point has defied plenty of odds to not only make it to the NHL, but become a superstar. The 25-year-old has become a key part of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s core, and is a huge reason why they have won back to back Stanley Cups.
While Point’s regular-season production has been very good, especially his 2018-19 season where he had career highs with 41 goals and 92 points, his play in the postseason is why he finds himself on this list. Some undersized players seem to struggle in the playoffs, but Point is not one of them. During the Lightning’s 2020 Cup win, he had 14 goals and 33 points in just 23 games, while this past Cup win he recorded 14 goals and 23 points in 23 contests. He is a phenomenal player who is worth every cent of the eight-year, $76 million extension he just recently signed.
7. Patrice Bergeron
Despite being 36 years old, Patrice Bergeron is showing no signs of slowing down. The four-time Selke Trophy winner was great once again in 2020-21, recording 23 goals and 48 points in 54 games, all while maintaining his elite defensive play, which earned him a Selke nomination yet again.
At some point, one figures Bergeron will begin to regress as Father Time eventually comes for everyone. However, until he does, it is impossible to not include him on lists like this. The fact he is considered a near lock to make Team Canada’s roster at the 2022 Winter Olympics speaks to just how good of a player he still is.
6. Aleksander Barkov
For years, Aleksander Barkov was discussed as the game’s most underrated player. While many have since come to realize how great he is, he still remains underappreciated due to the fact he plays for a small-market team in the Florida Panthers.
In 50 games this past season, Barkov scored a team-leading 26 goals while also putting up 58 points. Like Bergeron, he is also fantastic defensively, and was recognized as such by being awarded the Selke Trophy this year. The Panthers are turning into legitimate contenders in the East and Barkov is a huge reason why.
5. Sidney Crosby
Gone are the days that Sidney Crosby is recognized as the best player in the world, though he is still amongst the game’s elite. Though he may not be the offensive catalyst he once was, he still puts up terrific numbers, including this past season where he led his team with 24 goals and 62 points in 55 games.
Through his 16-year career, Crosby has never had a season where he has been under a point per game, a true testament to how consistently incredible he has been during his 1,039 total games. With three Ted Lindsay Awards (one being a Lester B. Pearson), two Hart Trophies, two Art Ross’, two Rocket Richards, two Conn Smythe’s and three Stanley Cups, he will go down as one of the best to ever play the game and still has plenty of great years left.
4. Auston Matthews
There will be plenty of complaints about Auston Matthews coming in at fourth on this list. Toronto Maple Leafs fans will argue he should be higher, while plenty of others will suggest he has done nothing to be this high. The one thing that is for sure is that he was dubbed as a goal scorer at the time he was taken first overall in 2016, and he has certainly lived up to that label.
The 2020-21 season was the best of Matthews’ career from a point-per-game perspective, as he scored a league-leading 41 goals in just 52 games while also adding 25 assists. The great season earned him his first, and likely not his last, Rocket Richard Trophy. The one area he has struggled at early on in his career is his play in the postseason, though he has plenty of time to change that narrative and likely will in the near future.
3. Leon Draisaitl
For quite some time, many tried to suggest Leon Draisaitl was a byproduct of Connor McDavid. He has since been able to prove that narrative wrong, however, centering his own line for the majority of his past two seasons while continuing to improve his numbers. The 2019-20 season went a long way in proving just how great of a player he is, as he recorded a league-leading 110 points in just 71 games.
This past season, Draisaitl finished second in league scoring with 84 points, trailing only his teammate in McDavid. Not only is he one of the game’s best passers, but he is also a great goal scorer, proven by his 50-goal campaign in 2018-19. He and McDavid are without a doubt the most dynamic duo in the NHL currently.
2. Nathan MacKinnon
After coming into the league with plenty of hype after being drafted first overall in 2013, Nathan MacKinnon had a number of solid yet not spectacular seasons. That all changed in 2017-18, a season that saw him become the elite-level forward many expected. Since then, the 26-year-old has turned into one of the game’s best, and recorded north of 90 points in three straight seasons from 2017-2020.
This past season, Mackinnon started out somewhat slow for his lofty standards yet still finished with a ridiculous 65 points in 48 games. He kept that play going in the postseason as well, scoring eight goals and 15 points in just 10 games. It is only a matter of time before he records his first 100-point season, and it may also be just a matter of time before he is able to lead the Colorado Avalanche to their third Stanley Cup.
1. Connor McDavid
It is hard to remember a player who came into the league with more hype surrounding his name than McDavid. The electric 24-year-old had been talked about on sports shows since he was just a kid, and clearly for good reason as he has established himself as the unanimous best player in the NHL. He has recorded 100 or more points in four of his six seasons, including 2020-21 in which he did what most would have thought impossible before the year started, putting up an unfathomable 105 points in 56 games.
McDavid already has three Art Ross Trophies, three Ted Lindsay Awards, and two Hart Trophies, and the scary part is he is still improving. With 574 points in 407 career games, he has already established himself as one of the most gifted players of all time, and will have plenty more hardware by the time his career is said and done. Winning a Stanley Cup or two would further cement his status as one of the best to ever play the game.
Feedback on List
As mentioned above, a list like this will have plenty of disagreement as it is highly subjective. Though I believe the players discussed here are the top 10 centers in the league, I understand not everybody will have the same viewpoint. Feel free to leave your comments below and discuss who you believe should have been included, who shouldn’t have been put on this list, and who was ranked too high or too low.
Honorable Mentions: Ryan O’Reilly, Sebastian Aho, John Tavares, Anze Kopitar, Elias Pettersson, Mat Barzal, Sean Couturier, Mika Zibanejad, Evgeni Malkin
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.