Top 10 Best Value Centers in the NHL in 2021-22

In the second part of the series looking at players with the best value contracts in the NHL this season, we go to centermen. There are a number of centres who have played very well this season on cheap deals. Some will be paid next season while others are still locked up on their great deals. Let’s take a look at the centres with the best value in 2021-22 and some honourable mentions.

10. Chandler Stephenson ($2.75 million)

Chandler Stephenson has enjoyed even more of a coming-out party for the Vegas Golden Knights through their injury-filled season. He has been one of the constants in the lineup, playing 73 games. He found a home between Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty last season and has played between them whenever they’ve been healthy. He is currently centering that line. If it wasn’t for Jack Eichel’s arrival, they would still make up Vegas’ top line.

Stephenson has just about doubled his assist total from last season when he set a career-high with 21. He has already hit the 40-assist mark this season. He is not an avid goal-scorer, but Stephenson can put pucks in the back of the net. He has a chance to also reach 20 goals for the first time in his career since he is three off and the Golden Knights have been playing well.

Chandler Stephenson Vegas Golden Knights
Chandler Stephenson, Vegas Golden Knights (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Stephenson has been a consistent producer for the Golden Knights all season. He is a big reason why they are still in the playoff race despite injuries to almost every other significant player on the team. As the first-line centre for more than half of the season, I think his average annual value (AAV) of $2.75 million is very good. They don’t have to worry since Stephenson is under contract for two more seasons.

9. Dawson Mercer ($894,167)

The first of two New Jersey Devils on this list is Dawson Mercer. He is just a rookie in the NHL like one other member of this list. He quietly stepped into the second-line centre role this season and was part of a very underrated and productive line for the first half of the season.

The Devils have cooled off a ton and struggled down the stretch, but Mercer still has 16 goals and 41 points in all 75 games this season. He is only 20, and the Devils still have him under contract for two more seasons after this one with an AAV south of $900,000. He comes in with the sixth-best cost per point this season among centremen in the NHL.

8. Ryan Hartman ($1.7 million)

Ryan Hartman is one of two players here that has seemingly come out of nowhere to centre the top line. He is on a playoff-bound team and is finally reaching his full potential years after being a first-round pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013. It helps that he has the explosive duo of Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello on his line, but that shouldn’t take away too much of what Hartman has been able to accomplish playing beside them.

Ryan Hartman Minnesota Wild
Ryan Hartman, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He has to line up against the opposing top lines and produce while playing against the opponents’ shutdown lines. Hartman brings more levels to his game than just his offensive production which has resulted in 31 goals and 59 points in 74 games. He is also physical and plays the game hard. His shooting percentage is much higher than his career average, so he could just be having a career year beside two very good players. Either way, he is making $1.7 million AAV for two more seasons, so Minnesota has time to really see at very little cost.

7. Nazem Kadri ($4.5 million)

Nazem Kadri is the highest-paid player on this list, but it is impossible to ignore what kind of season he has put together on the Colorado Avalanche. Nobody expected him to put up the kind of numbers he has. He has shattered career highs in assists (57), points (83), and power-play points (28) while appearing in just 65 games this season so far. He is second on the high-flying Avalanche team in points.

The bad news for the Avalanche is that Kadri is in the last year of his deal and will more than likely have to move on as he will be demanding much more money after this outbreak. If he hadn’t missed nine games thus far with injuries, he would be closing in on 100 points. For the amount of money he makes, any team would have him in an instant.

6. Robert Thomas ($2.8 million)

Robert Thomas is having a sensational season and has made his presence known among the best setup men in the NHL. He is sitting on 54 assists in 65 games with 18 goals to go with that. He has blown past a point-per-game pace in a middle-six role for the St. Louis Blues since their forward depth is so good.

Robert Thomas St. Louis Blues
Robert Thomas, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Thomas is currently riding a 12-game point streak that has seen him produce six goals and 24 points. In that span, he had also scored in six of seven games and is filling out as an all-around offensive threat. He doesn’t shoot a ton, so picture the goal production if he gets in that mindset a little more. He has blown by his career-best marks in a season, and the Blues are lucky to have him signed for one more season at this amount.

5. Trevor Zegras ($925,000)

Trevor Zegras is the other rookie I mentioned that made this list. He is one of the frontrunners for the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year. His season started a bit slow while other teammates were carrying the offensive load, but he found his way and exploded, finding great chemistry with Sonny Milano in the process. Zegras is now at 20 goals and 55 points in 69 games this season while pulling off incredible goals and setups throughout the season.

He may be one of the most skilled players in the NHL already, and he’s only 21 years old. While still on his entry-level contract, Zegras has had to play first-line centre for a chunk of the season while Ryan Getzlaf has been injured at times. The first year of his contract was burned last season, so he only has one year left after this one. Expect it to be a big one. In terms of cost per point, Zegras has the third-best among centremen and the second-best cost per assist.

4. Josh Norris ($925,000)

Josh Norris is another player who has solidified himself as a number one centre early in his career and produced while doing so. He has the fourth-best cost per point among centres in the NHL this season but has also only played 59 games. He has already proven himself as a scorer with 33 goals in those games. If he had only stayed healthy for more time he may have moved up a spot or two considering he is still on his entry-level deal like a few others on this list.

Norris would easily be a 40-goal scorer if he stayed healthy, even on an Ottawa Senators team that finds themselves near the bottom of the standings once again. The future looks bright with him at the head, but he is due for a significant pay raise after this season is over (“A look at Josh Norris’ unique season for the Senators and what it might mean for his next contract”, The Athletic, April 13, 2022).

3. Nick Suzuki ($863,333)

The Montreal Canadiens haven’t had too many bright spots this season, but Nick Suzuki is one of them. Finishing up his entry-level deal, expectations weren’t even too high considering he wasn’t given the max which is $925,000. He has well-exceeded expectations and the team has already noticed, giving him an extension with an AAV north of $7 million. But that’s next season, and we’re here to discuss how good he has been this season.

Nick Suzuki Montreal Canadiens
Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He has found great chemistry with Cole Caufield and hopes to see that continue for many years. Martin St. Louis came in and changed the culture in the room and on the ice which has seen elevated play from many. Suzuki has 38 points in his last 39 games and 57 points in 76 games overall. It is a good sign that his second-half production is much better as it may be a precursor for next season. He is the lowest-paid player on this list and also provides the lowest cost per assist and point among centres in the NHL this season while being a permanent fixture on the top line.

2. Jack Hughes ($925,000)

Jack Hughes hasn’t had the best of luck this season with injuries, but he has broken out in a big way for the Devils. This team looks promising for the future with two players making the list. Unlike Mercer, Hughes is coming off of his entry-level contract at the end of this season and has already been signed for $8 million per year.

But since he is still on his entry-level deal and has produced well over a point per game this season when healthy, he gives the Devils amazing value for how much they had to pay him. Playing just 49 games, he is leading the team in goals with 26, three ahead of Jesper Bratt. Hughes is also second on the team in points with 56.

Hughes trails only Suzuki for the lowest cost per point since he is paid a little less. Regardless, Suzuki played a lot more games, so overall, Hughes was the more efficient player when he was in the lineup.

1. Tage Thompson ($1.4 million)

Tage Thompson ranks first as the best value centre in the NHL this season. The Buffalo Sabres are finally seeing returns from him. He has seemingly come out of nowhere and has been a driving force on the team’s top line with Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch. This line alone has led the team to some big wins since being formed.

Tage Thompson, Buffalo Sabres
Tage Thompson, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Before last season Thompson signed a three-year, $4.2 million contract with an AAV of $1.4 million. In year two of the deal, this is an absolute steal. He has turned into a legitimate number one centre for the Sabres that does it all. He is 6-foot-6 and over 200 lbs. He can shoot and score, and he isn’t afraid to throw his body around when he needs to.

He leads the team in goals with 34 and points with 61. Thompson is second on the team in assists to Rasmus Dahlin who is enjoying a better season as well.

Related: Top 10 Best Value Goalies in 2021-22

Here are some honourable mentions since there are a significant number of great contracts this season, whether they are entry-level or not:

  • Anton Lundell ($925,000) – Florida Panthers
  • Frederick Gaudreau ($1.2 million) – Minnesota Wild
  • Dylan Cozens ($894,167) – Buffalo Sabres
  • Mathieu Joseph ($737,500) – Ottawa Senators
  • Ivan Barbashev ($2.25 million) – St. Louis Blues
  • Travis Boyd ($750,000) – Arizona Coyotes
  • Nic Roy ($750,000) – Vegas Golden Knights
  • Roope Hintz ($3.15 million) – Dallas Stars

Any surprises above? Let me know in the comments if you agree with the list or who should get switched around.

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