Bruins

2021-22 NHL Position Rankings: Top 10 centers

Bruins

Figuring out the 10 best centers in the NHL is no easy task.

The amount of excellent players at this position is just staggering, with so many of them worthy of consideration. There's also a tremendous mix of older veterans still playing at a high level and young stars putting on a show for fans each night.

Here's a look at the top 10 centers in the league entering the 2021-22 season.

10) Mathew Barzal, Islanders

2020-21 Stats: 17 G, 28 A in 55 GP

Barzal has led the Islanders in scoring each of the last four seasons, and he's likely to do so again in 2021-22 barring injury. Islanders fans would love to see the talented center return to the form he showed during a breakout 2017-18 campaign when he set career highs with 22 goals and 63 assists. After losing in the Eastern Conference Final the past two years, the goal for the Islanders is to reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2022. For that to happen, Barzal needs to take his game to an even higher level (and maybe leapfrog some of the players on this list).

9) Jack Eichel, Sabres

2020-21 Stats: 2 G, 16 A in 21 GP

There were lots of trade rumors involving Eichel for much of the offseason, but he remains a member of the Sabres as the 2021-22 campaign nears. The Sabres are still in a rebuild and it would make sense to trade Eichel if the return is substantial. But he's signed for five more years with a large salary cap hit of $10 million. It's not the easiest contract for a contending team without a ton of cap space to take in. The neck injury that sidelined him for most of last season also is a factor teams should weigh before deciding whether to pursue a trade. When healthy, Eichel is an elite player capable of scoring above a point-per-game rate. 

 

8) Aleksander Barkov, Panthers

2020-21 Stats: 26 G, 32 A in 50 GP

Barkov has become a legit superstar center over the last three years, including a breakout 2018-19 campaign during which he tallied a career-high 96 points (35 goals, 61 assists) in 82 games. Let's not forget the defensive brilliance of Barkov's game, too, which earned him a Selke Trophy win last season.

The 26-year-old forward is entering the final year of his contract, and if the Panthers want to build on their recent success and become a perennial contender in the East, they need to re-sign Barkov to a long-term extension.

7) Brayden Point, Lightning

2020-21 Stats: 23 G, 23 A in 56 GP

Point is likely to be higher on this list in the coming years. One thing that stands out about the 25-year-old superstar is his postseason performances. Point tallied 33 points in 23 games when the Lightning won the 2020 Stanley Cup title, and he followed that up with 23 points in 23 playoff games last season when Tampa Bay repeated as champs.

6) Patrice Bergeron, Bruins

2020-21 Stats: 23 G, 25 A in 54 GP

Bergeron gets a lot of credit for his defensive brilliance, and rightly so -- he's the best two-way forward of his era and has been a Selke Trophy finalist in 10 consecutive years. The Bruins captain's offensive prowess shouldn't be overlooked, though. Bergeron has scored 20 or more goals in 10 straight non-lockout seasons, including five 30-goal campaigns over that span. You won't find a more complete player in the league than Bergeron.

5) Leon Draisaitl, Oilers

2020-21 Stats: 31 G, 53 A in 56 GP

Draisaitl has tallied 299 points over the last three years, and only his teammate Connor McDavid has more during that time. Few players can boast Draisaitl's all-world talent and excellent size at (6-foot-2, 210 pounds). He's been particularly dangerous on the power play, where his 47 goals and 105 points rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, among all players since the start of the 2018-19 campaign.

4) Auston Matthews, Leafs

2020-21 Stats: 41 G, 25 A in 52 GP

Matthews leads all centers with 125 goals over the last three seasons, one ahead of Leon Draisaitl's 124 despite playing 19 fewer games than the Oilers star during that span. 

Matthews was the Rocket Richard winner last season with a league-leading 41 goals. The only player since 2012-13 to score 50-plus goals in a season is Alexander Ovechkin. Matthews is a pretty good bet to hit that milestone in 2021-22. 

He also will be a key player for the United States at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

 

3) Sidney Crosby, Penguins

2020-21 Stats: 24 G, 38 A in 55 GP

Crosby remains an elite offensive player and one of the most consistent as well. Just two years ago he completed his sixth 100-point season. Unfortunately for the Penguins, Crosby might not be ready to play at the start of the regular season next month. He recently underwent wrist surgery and the recovery time could be six weeks.

2) Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche

2020-21 Stats: 20 G, 45 A in 48 GP

MacKinnon is one of the most talented players in the league. He's an excellent goal scorer and an elite playmaker, capable of dominating at even strength or the power play. The Avs star has scored above a point-per-game rate in four consecutive seasons, and if healthy in 2021-22, he'll have a good chance at reaching the 100-point mark for the first time.

1) Connor McDavid, Oilers

2020-21 Stats: 33 G, 72 A in 56 GP

This was one of the few easy choices when putting together this list. McDavid is the undisputed No. 1 center and player in the league. He won his second Hart Trophy as league MVP last season after scoring 105 points -- 21 more than any other player. The next challenge for McDavid is helping lead the Oilers on a deep playoff run. Edmonton has advanced past the first round just once in McDavid's six seasons with the franchise.