Who are the best centers in Bruins history? Ranking the Top 10
The Bruins aren’t known for Hart Trophy-level centers or NHL-leading scorers who have posted gaudy numbers over the course of the franchise’s history.
If anything, they are known more for dominant defensemen, excellent goaltenders and teams that have been tough, and greater than the sum of their parts, rather than full of starry individuals.
They have had their share of excellent franchise centers as well, though, even if most of them have either been traded away from the B’s at some point like Phil Esposito or didn’t get to Boston until later in their careers like Adam Oates or Jean Ratelle. Plenty of Hall of Fame players to choose from here, however, and at least one who will be headed there once he hangs up the skates.
Here are the Top 10 centers in Bruins history:
10. Derek Sanderson
Let’s start this list with the most colorful player in Bruins history. Turk was a gritty center during Boston’s era of Stanley Cup winners in the early 1970’s and combined his brash on-ice style with a celebrity lifestyle off the ice. He did the little things like winning face-offs and killing penalties, but his best season for the B’s was 29 goals and 63 points in 71 games for the 1970-71 Bruins.
It all caught up with Sanderson eventually as he exited the Bruins amid contract issues and had his own off-ice demons to conquer, but Sanderson was the real deal with 135 goals and 294 points in 389 games for the Black and Gold. He also finished a two-time Cup winner and the Calder Trophy winner as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year back in the 1967-68 regular season.
9. Joe Thornton
Certainly the San Jose Sharks got the best of Thornton as we’ve seen play out over his entire NHL career, but Jumbo Joe finished with 169 goals and 454 points in 532 games for the Black and Gold. He started slowly as a No. 1 overall pick getting his feet wet in the NHL as an 18-year-old, but by the end of his run in Boston he was good enough to have posted 36 goals and 101 points in 2002-03.
He was an NHL All-Star that season and was both an All-Star and the Hart Trophy winner in the 2005-06 season when he was infamously traded by the Bruins to the Sharks in exchange for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau. All these year later, however, Jumbo Joe hasn’t won a Stanley Cup despite his obvious talent and Hall of Fame-level career.
8. Peter McNab
McNab was one of the cogs in those Bruins teams of the late 1970’s and put up some pretty impressive numbers during his time in Boston. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound McNab posted 263 goals and 587 points in 595 games over his eight years in Black and Gold before he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for current Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill. McNab topped 40 goals twice and had his best season in his first full year in Boston when he produced 38 goals and 86 points in 80 games during the 1976-77 season.
7. David Krejci
The 33-year-old David Krejci isn’t done and will be underrated for his accomplishments when he does finally hang up his skates, but he’s one of the best centers in the history of the Bruins franchise. Some of the underrated part is because he was always in the shadow of Patrice Bergeron as the No. 2 center on the team, but the 1-2 punch of Bergeron and Krejci down the middle is a big part of what has made Boston special for so long.
Krejci has the Stanley Cup in 2011 and he twice led the entire playoff field in scoring when the B’s went to the Stanley Cup Final in both 2011 and in 2013 as well. Over his 14-year NHL career, Krejci has 207 goals and 686 points in 911 games and has another 36 goals and 103 points in 132 career playoff games.
6. Adam Oates
The playmaking center spent parts of six seasons in Boston from age 29 through age 34 and was the triggerman for some good Bruins teams that could never quite get over the hump in the playoffs. Oates was never the fastest skater and didn’t have a rocket shot, but utilized his great hockey mind and an incredible set of hands to become one of the NHL’s best offensive centers during his era. He finished with 142 goals and 499 points in 368 games for the Black and Gold.
Oates was eventually traded to the Capitals along with Bill Ranford and Rick Tocchet for Jim Carey, Anson Carter and Jason Allison along with a draft pick that turned into Lee Goren. Oates had one of the best seasons by anybody ever in a Bruins uniform when he posted 45 goals and 142 points in 1992-93, but somehow still only finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting that season.
5. Bill Cowley
A Hall of Famer, two-time Cup winner and two-time Hart Trophy winner, Cowley (pictured, right) finished with 190 goals and 537 points in 508 games for the Bruins over a 12-year career with the Black and Gold. The playmaking center led the NHL in assists three times during his career and led the NHL with 64 points scored in 46 games during the 1940-41 regular season.
Cowley was also aces during the Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup in 1939 when he posted three goals and a league-leading 14 points in 12 games. The 5-foot-10, 165-pound Cowley was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1968.
4. Jean Ratelle
The smooth center was one of the key players sent to Boston, along with Brad Park, in the seismic deal that sent Phil Esposito to the New York Rangers, and with Ratelle at the ripe old hockey age of 35 years old. But the Quebecois center still tacked on an amazing six years for the Bruins at the end of his career.
Ratelle finished with 155 goals and 450 points in 419 games for the B's and was a key part of the Lunch Pail AC teams that had success in Boston into the late 1970’s. Ratelle won a Lady Byng Trophy during his first season in Boston and then posted 33 goals and 94 points in his first full season with the Bruins in 1976-77.
3. Milt Schmidt
A two-time Stanley Cup winner, a four-time All-Star and the Hart Trophy winner in the 1950-51 season, Schmidt centered the famed “Kraut Line” and was the originator of the term “True Bruin” with his service to the organization as a player, coach and executive. Schmidt finished with 229 goals and 575 points in 776 games even while missing three whole seasons in his mid-20’s while serving in World War II.
It was a different era, of course, with Schmidt topping out at 27 goals and 62 points in 59 games during the Original Six era in 1946-47, but there was no denying his skill, all-around play and dedication to the game while also serving as a gentlemanly ambassador for the Bruins throughout his well-lived life.
2. Patrice Bergeron
It isn’t close to over yet for the 34-year-old, but he’s already amassed some very impressive numbers along with the Stanley Cup in 2011, and three Stanley Cup Final appearances overall in a B’s uniform. Bergeron has four Selke Trophies as the best two-way center of his generation and has 352 goals and 869 points in 1,089 games over his 16-year career. Combine that with his wins at both the World Juniors and the Olympics and Bergeron is one of those rare, rare hockey players who has won at the most competitive levels in every elite hockey tournament in the world.
Beyond his abilities on the ice, Bergeron is going to finish his career as a Bruins player from beginning to end in a rarity of the free agency era, and will go down as one of the toughest, most competitive and best leaders who has ever worn the Black and Gold uniform.
1. Phil Esposito
Espo scored 60-plus goals three different times in a Bruins uniform and holds the B’s franchise record for a single season when he scored 76 goals in 1970-71. In all, he scored an amazing 459 goals and 1,012 points in 625 games over nine years in Boston and will always be the most prolific goal-scorer in Bruins history.
Esposito did it with size and strength around the net as much as he did it with dazzling skill, but when he was teamed with Bobby Orr they made the B’s pretty much unstoppable back in the day. He was a two-time Hart Trophy winner, two-time Stanley Cup winner and eight-time All-Star with the Bruins during his nine seasons. That’s about as good as it gets.