The NHL is a league full of high-end forward talent. Arguably the most important forward position in hockey is the center, who is expected to cover more ice surface than any other player. In many cases, a team’s first-line center is the best all-around forward on the club. Many of the league’s top centers have been given the opportunity to show off their ability with the NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers starting up on August 1. So, without further ado, here are the top five centers in the NHL.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
McDavid finished second in the NHL during the 2019-20 regular season with 97 points (34 goals, 63 assists). A phenomenal playmaker and goal-scorer, McDavid reached 100 points in each of his past three seasons. The Oilers captain was on pace to exceed 100 points this season as well before it was cut short by the coronavirus. McDavid ranks first in the NHL in points over the past five seasons with 469 (162 goals, 307 assists), which is four more than Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane while playing in 46 fewer games. McDavid’s elite speed, playmaking ability and limitless ceiling makes him the top center in the NHL.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
MacKinnon finished fifth in the NHL this season with 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) and third with 62 even-strength points. Another elite season by the Avalanche center made him a Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award finalist for the second time in three seasons. MacKinnon had 29 multipoint games this season, with at least one point recorded in 53 of his 69 games played. He also takes care of business on the defensive end, recording a plus-13 plus-minus rating. Over the past three seasons, MacKinnon ranks third in the NHL in points with 289 (115 goals, 174 assists), behind only Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov (313) and McDavid (321).
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
McDavid’s teammate led the NHL with 110 points this past season (43 goals, 67 assists) and ranked first in points per game (1.55). Along with being the only player in the league to exceed 100 points, Draisaitl led the NHL in assists, powerplay points (44) and average ice time per game among forwards (22:37). The Oilers center tied Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak for first in game-winning goals (10) and came up in second for even-strength points (66) and powerplay goals (16). Draisatly also had 33 multipoint games during the season, recording at least one point in 56 of 71 games played. Over the past two seasons, Draisaitl leads the NHL with 215 points (93 goals, 122 assists), two more than Kucherov and McDavid.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby is the face of the NHL and has been the best all-around player in the league over the past decade. Crosby tallied 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 41 games this season, missing time due to a core muscle injury that required surgery. Last season, Crosby record 100 points (35 goals, 65 assists), the six straight seasons the Penguins captain scored at least 84 points. Since the beginning of the 2013-14 season, Crosby is tied for the lead with Patrick Kane recording 598 points (224 goals, 374 assists). Most importantly, Crosby is a playoff warrior. The Penguins center won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2016 (19 points) and 2017 (27 points), winning the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons. Crosby’s 104 playoff points since 2011-12 also lead the NHL.
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews has been an elite goal-scorer ever since he entered the league for the 2016-17 season. Matthews recorded career highs in goals (47), points (80) and powerplay points (25) in 70 games played this season. This is the second straight season the Maple Leafs star increased his goals and points total from the previous year. Matthews has scored at least 34 goals in each of his four NHL seasons and is second in the league with 158 goals since 2016-17. The Leafs center only trails Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin (181 goals) during that time period. Matthews’ elite play helped the Maple Leafs clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, giving his team a chance to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season.