As we (hopefully) look forward to another riveting National Hockey League season, one topic that always generates a lot of buzz is who hockey’s best centermen are? Without further ado, here’s part one of my two-part series that looks at the top-10 centers in the NHL.
10) Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
Aleksander “Sasha” Barkov comes in at number ten as one of the league’s most underrated (and underappreciated) players. At just 25 years of age and standing at a whopping 6’3, 210 pounds, Barkov has firmly established himself as one of the most dominant and intelligent players on a rather lackluster Florida Panthers team. To his credit, Barkov has formed one of the league’s top 1-2 punches alongside Jonathan Huberdeau during his time in Sunrise and is an absolute force on each and every shift. In addition to Barkov’s play, his statistical accolades are stellar and include being a five-time 20+ goal scorer, including a 96-point season in 2018-19.
Barkov is the Cats’ go-to player in all situations and has become a real leader both on and off the ice as one of Sunrise’s most consistent offensive talents. He’s strong, skilled, quick on his feet, and extremely versatile which has been music to the ears of Panthers fans from up and down the sunny Florida coast. I can watch this kid play anytime because he plays hard, is a “team-first” guy, and has the ability to blow a game wide open on so many levels. Look for Barkov to once again be leading the charge in Florida as we look ahead to 2020-21. When you talk about the league’s most dynamic and dominant centers, the mighty Russian has to be included in the conversation.
9) Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
Next up is one of the finest Russian-born talents in National Hockey League history-his name is Evgeni Malkin. What can I say about the three-time Stanley Cup winner and the driving force on the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins squad alongside Sidney Crosby? Well for starters, number 71 in gold and black is as physically dominant and direct as they come and is just oozing with talent, tricks, and power. From individual accolades (i.e. Art Ross Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy, etc) to team triumphs (three-time Stanley Cup winner), there’s absolutely nothing this first-ballot Hall-of-Famer can’t do. What’s even scarier for opposing teams is that even at age 34 he’s still going strong.
When he’s on his game, few dominate a contest like “Geno”. His sheer size, physical play, and high-end skill is an absolute nightmare for opposing defenders. Throughout his illustrious 14-year playing career, Malkin has scored 70+ points in 10 seasons and eclipsed the 100-point plateau three times. What makes him so lethal is his ability to score both in class and from a distance with incredible instincts and a wicked release. Hands down one of the finest players of his generation, look for Malkin to continue to wreak havoc as we look ahead to the 2020-21 NHL campaign.
8) Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
Electrifying, explosive, breathtaking, exciting…oh, you can say that again! Coming in at number eight is New York Islanders superstar, Matthew Barzal. After being selected 16th overall back at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Barzal has hit the ground running on Long Island and has quickly become one of the game’s most talented forwards. Since entering the NHL as a rookie in 2017-18, Barzal popped 22 goals and 85 points and followed that up with back-to-back 60-point campaigns. At just 23 years of age, and with his whole career still ahead of him, the sky really is the limit for the Coquitlam, British Columbia native.
When it comes to sheer, raw talent-number 13 in orange and blue possesses a vast skill set and complete, overall package. He’s excellent on the puck, loves to make plays in all three zones, and certainly has the propensity for the big moment. Inside the NHL bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton last summer, Barzal posted five goals and 17 points in 22 games as his Islanders reached the Eastern Conference Final before eventually losing to the Stanley Cup champion, Tampa Bay Lightning. There are certain players you just have to keep your eye on throughout the course of a hockey game. Barzal is one of those players. Stay tuned, Isles fans!
7) Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning
It may sound crazy, but Lightning forward Brayden Point may quite easily be one of the quietest stud centermen in the NHL. Well, hockey fans, the cat is certainly out of the bag after being one of Tampa Bay’s most important players during their triumphant run to the 2020 Stanley Cup inside the NHL bubbles. Man oh, man, can this kid ever play the game. Whether he’s beating opponents with his sky-high hockey IQ, or his slick skills both with and without the puck, Point is arguably Tampa’s most valuable player and one of the game’s elite centers, who continues to get better and better.
When he’s on the ice, Point is so multi-faceted because he’s technically sound and instinctively dangerous all over the ice. He’s incredible in front of goal, feisty, quick, and has a real passion for the game and an engine that never seems to stop. Picture a top-line force with the work ethic of someone who’s fighting for a final roster spot-that’s Mr. Point, ladies and gentlemen. Add all that to an explosive skill set and 100-point potential, and that describes number 21 in blue in a nutshell. Add all that to an explosive skill set and 100-point potential. Wow! It’s extremely hard to repeat as Cup champs in the NHL, but with Point leading the charge in Tampa Bay (no pun intended), I see no reason why that can’t become a reality in 2020-21.
6) Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
Coming in at number six is the reigning Art Ross, Ted Lindsay, and Hart Memorial Trophy winner, Leon Draisaitl. Before the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to the 2019-20 regular season, the big German amassed 43 goals and 67 assists for 110 points with 12 games to spare with the Edmonton Oilers. The season prior, he scored 105 points. Now what if I told you that same player went hand-in-hand with Connor McDavid (of all people) and sometimes even lined up alongside one another?
Standing at a whopping 6’2, 210 pounds the Cologne-born product is a mammoth a player with a stunning and extensive toolbox. He’s strong on the puck, explosive, sees the game brilliantly, and can both create and finish off plays at the drop of a hat. Not only has Draisaitl become one of the very best players on the planet, he’s done so with an unmatched work ethic and quiet and reserved demeanor, standing in the spotlight of number 97. It’s unlikely we’ll have a full season (again) in 2020-21 , but I’d definitely peg Draisaitl to easily eclipse the 50-point mark in the city of Champions. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Stay tuned for part two of my article which will focus on the top-five centers in the National Hockey League.
Follow Dom Lunardo on Twitter @TapetoTape88
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