Goalies and defensemen have gotten their due. The right and left wingers have had their day in the sun. Now all that remains to close out our look at the best the Metropolitan Division has to offer is everyone's favorite: the centers.
Honorable mention: Brandon Dubinsky (CBJ), Sean Couturier (PHI), Kevin Hayes (NYR)
Kuznetsov's first full season in the NHL didn't get off to the smoothest of starts, as he spent the early months adjusting to his new position. By the end of the year, however, he'd adjusted and then some, lighting up the League over the last month or so and carrying it right into the postseason. He's already got the talent; for the start of the 2015-16 season, at least, he'll get the chance to show it off as he sets up Alex Ovechkin for at least a week or two.
9. Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes
Last year's rank: 6
Since joining the League in 2003, Staal has been a fairly consistent point producer (and has a 100-point, Stanley Cup-winning season under his belt) and one of the leaders of the Hurricanes. And while the offense has dropped off in the last few years, his points-per-game over the course of the career ranks in the top-30 among active players. He's put up five 30+ goal seasons, cracked the 40-goal mark twice and has only failed to hit 20 goals once since his sophomore season - the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, when he still managed to score 18. And even in a down season, he still led the 'Canes in points last year... although it may have been his last full season with the team with which he's spent his entire career.
8. Derick Brassard, New York Rangers
Last year's rank: Not ranked
Brassard was something of an unknown entity during his time with the pre-Metropolitan Blue Jackets, putting up solid (if not particularly flashy) numbers during his 5+ seasons in Columbus. That continued in his first full season with the Rangers, but last year that all changed with a breakout season that saw him hit 60 points (second on the Rangers behind only Rick Nash) and set new career highs across the board. He still hasn't hit the 20-goal mark just yet, but on an offensively-potent team like the Rangers he's got a shot at doing it soon.
7. Derek Stepan, New York Rangers
Last year's rank: 8
Injuries caused him to miss a chunk of the regular season for the first time in his career, but Stepan still managed to put up 55 points last year - just two shy of his total from the entire 82-game slate the year before (despite posting the lowest even-strength CF% of his career). He continued to produce in the playoffs, with about a point every other game... including one very important, and painful, overtime game-winner against the Caps in the second round. It's somewhat amazing to think that he's only 24, and the fact that he's getting better as he ages means that we likely haven't seen him at his full potential. Which should be scary for the rest of the Division.
6. Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets
Last year's rank: 7
|2014-15 (Blue Jackets)||82||26||45||71||-6||40||7||19||0||202||12.9|
Over the course of his first two seasons, Ryan Johansen put up a grand total of 33 points in 107 games. The next two? 134 points in 164 games (plus another six points in his first six playoff games). That's a pretty impressive trajectory for a kid who just turned 23 over the summer. Last year he got to join forces with Nick Foligno on a potent scoring line; this year they'll get the added bonus of having someone like Brandon Saad on their line, something which may help those numbers continue to improve for the foreseeable future.
5. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Last year's rank: 5
It may come as something of a surprise to note that the leading scorer over the last five seasons isn't Crosby. And it's not Alex Ovechkin. It's Giroux, with 376 points in his last 370 games - ten more than the next guy on the list. Considering his competition for the title, that's pretty impressive (even with the caveat that he's played in more games than anyone else on that list). Of course, a significant chunk of that point total (roughly 40%) was scored on the power play... but as we all know, those points still count.
4. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals
Last year's rank: 4
Giroux may have put up more points in the last handful of seasons, but few players have been as consistently productive over the course of their careers as Nicklas Backstrom. His points-per-game rate dipped just slightly below 1.00 this year, but only 11 players - active or otherwise - have maintained a higher rate since Backstrom's rookie season. He scored his 500th career point early in the 2014-15 campaign, and then simply followed it up with 72 more points to move into fifth place among the franchise's all-time scorers. But the history didn't stop there; Backstrom's 60 assists, tops in the League, extended his lead as the team's best ever playmaker with 427 assists... and counting. The reality is that Backstrom and Giroux could be considered 4 and 4a on this list, but give Backstrom a slight edge when it comes to defense, even-strength production and power-play assists... especially considering that he did so through a stretch of pretty bad coaching.
3. John Tavares, New York Islanders
Last year's rank: 3
The two-time Hart Trophy finalist may have fallen just short of the award whenever his name has come up for a vote, but there's no question that he's established himself as one of the League's best scorers on an up-and-coming team. His 86-point campaign last year was a career best, just another massively successful offensive season in a career in which he's averaged just under a point per game (and topped that in each of his last two seasons). He's carried that over into the glimpses of the postseason that he's gotten so far, with 11 points in his 11 games and stellar possession statistics to go along with the high-octane offense. And yeah, he's just 24.
2. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
Last year's rank: 2
When Malkin is healthy, he's capable of putting up big numbers - huge numbers, actually, to the tune of 100+ points when he's gotten a chance to play a full season (or close to it). And when Malkin is healthy, he's easily one of the scariest players in the League, with a vicious shot and great vision. The problem, of course, is that Malkin hasn't been healthy a whole lot over the course of his career. In fact, he's only appeared in more than 70 games one time since 2008-09 (and only 31 in the 48-game season in 2012-13). The offensive ability is always there, though, with 702 points in 587 games - a ridiculous points-per-game rate of 1.20.
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Last year's rank: 1
That whole "often injured but still offensively potent" thing extends even further to Crosby, who has a ceiling that's hard to predict because of just how many games he's missed over the course of his career. He's regained some semblance of health in the last two seasons, however, and that's been evident in the fact that he's scored 188 points over that span. Which is...eh, not bad. He is, without a doubt, one of the best - if not THE best - players in the world right now. And with a legitimate winger on his line for the first time in perhaps his career, it's a little scary to think just what he'll be capable of this season and beyond.