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The Metropolitan Division's Top 10 Centers: 2016-17

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Counting down the Metropolitan Division's best up the middle

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Now that the right side of the ice has been covered (along with the goaltenders and the defensemen), it's time to skate over a bit to look at the guys dishing them the puck: the centers.

Honorable mention: Mika Zibanejad, J.T. Miller

T-9. Adam Henrique
Last year's rank: Not ranked

GP G A P +/- PIM ESG PPG GWG SOG PCT
2015-16 (Devils) 80 30 20 50 10 23 21 7 8 149 20.1

At times the goal-scorer, at others the playmaker, Henrique has maintained his offensive pace in different ways over his five seasons in the NHL. 2015-16 was his best season yet, however, as he hit 30 goals for the first time in his career and came just one point short of tying his career high of 51. He tied the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos with eight game-winners last season, and 18 of his 30 goals were scored five on five - more than anyone else in Jersey not named Kyle Palmieri had at any strength. In fact, no one has scored more goals as a Devil than Henrique since his first full season in 2011-12, and only Patrik Elias has more points (209) than Henrique's 203 over that span. Not bad for someone still a few months shy of 27.

T-9. Brayden Schenn
Last year's rank: Not ranked

GP G A P +/- PIM ESG PPG GWG SOG PCT
2015-16 (Flyers) 80 26 33 59 3 33 15 11 5 178 14.6

After seeing his numbers steadily increase over the first few seasons of a career, Schenn had a breakout season in 2015-16, setting career highs all over the place en route to his first 25+ goal season. 11 of those goals came on the power play, a personal best and second on the Flyers behind Wayne Simmonds; he improved at even strength as well, though, with an even-strength points-per-60 rate of 1.95 (another career high) that trailed only Sean Couturier among his Philly 'mates. All of that success added up to a new four-year deal worth over $20 million for the just-turned-25 year old.

8. Sean Couturier
Last year's rank: Honorable Mention

GP G A P +/- PIM ESG PPG GWG SOG PCT
2015-16 (Flyers) 63 11 28 39 8 30 9 2 1 119 9.2

When healthy, Couturier is one of the Flyers' more valuable and versatile forwards despite also being one of their younger ones. Unfortunately he wasn't healthy for a good portion of the 2015-16 season, suffering a lower-body injury in February that caused him to miss a few weeks of action and then suffering a shoulder injury early in the team's first-round series against the Caps. Despite that, he managed to put up a career-high .62 points per game (and a team-leading 1.96 points per 60 at even strength). But offense isn't what Couturier is known for; routinely facing off against opponents' toughest lines and getting a low percentage of offensive-zone starts, yet excelling in possession (only Michael Raffl had a better CF% at five a side). Selke-worthy? Probably not far off.

7. Derek Stepan
Last year's rank: 7

GP G A P +/- PIM ESG PPG GWG SOG PCT
2015-16 (Rangers) 72 22 31 53 5 20 14 5 5 192 11.5

The Rangers teams he has played on over the first six seasons have varied in offensive firepower and overall skill, but Stepan has always been a consistent performer for them, checking in with an average of just about 50 points every season since his rookie year. He's maintained that consistency, and even led the Rangers in points per 60 at even strength by a healthy margin last season - all despite frequent linemate Rick Nash having an off year, despite facing tough competition, and despite missing 10 games to injury.

6. Evgeny Kuznetsov
Last year's rank: 10

GP G A P +/- PIM ESG PPG GWG SOG PCT
2015-16 (Capitals) 82 20 57 77 27 32 15 5 4 193 10.4

In his first 100 games or so in the NHL, it was clear that Kuznetsov was still adjusting to the North American game; after last season, it's probably safe to say that he's adjusted. Kuznetsov broke out in a big way in 2015-16, putting up his first 20-goal season and finishing the year as the Caps' top scorer - no easy feat on a team with some pretty impressive offensive weapons. He also led the League in primary assists per 60, and trailed only Alex Ovechkin and Justin Williams (both 53.1%) in even-strength CF% among all Caps' forwards. Despite a bit of a drop off at the end of the season (one that unfortunately bled into the playoffs), Kuznetsov gave the Caps what they've long been missing: a solid second-line center.

5. Claude Giroux
Last year's rank: 5

GP G A P +/- PIM ESG PPG GWG SOG PCT
2015-16 (Flyers) 78 22 45 67 -8 53 15 6 5 241 9.1

When you can say that a 67-point season is an "off" year for a guy, he's probably doing pretty well for himself. The 2015-16 season was a bit of a dip from his usual production, both in terms of pure boxcar stats and the underlying ones, but it was still a solid season for Giroux (especially considering the fact that he was apparently playing through a hip injury for part of it). He continued to excel on the power play, leading the team with 27 power-play points - the fifth-straight season in which he's held that top spot - despite seeing his goal production with the extra man take a hit, and led his team in overall scoring.

T-3. John Tavares
Last year's rank: 3


GP G A P +/- PIM ESG PPG GWG SOG PCT
2015-16 (Islanders) 78 33 37 70 6 38 26 7 5 250 13.2

Coming off of a 2014-15 season that resulted in 86 points and his second nod as a Hart Trophy finalist, the 2015-16 season was something of a disappointment for the Islanders' captain as he "only" managed 70 points and a second-straight 30+ goal season. Still, it was likely a momentary dip in an already impressive career that has seen him average just under a point per game overall (and just above that rate in two of his last three seasons). He led his team in points-per-60 at five on five by a healthy margin, and dominated in faceoffs to the tune of 54.1%. And despite his rough regular season, he stepped it up big time in the playoffs, picking up 11 points in 11 games and helping his team to their first playoff series win since 1993.

T-3. Nicklas Backstrom
Last year's rank: 4

GP G A P +/- PIM ESG PPG GWG SOG PCT
2015-16 (Capitals) 75 20 50 70 17 36 17 3 4 129 15.5

On a team full of flashy scorers, Backstrom is the quietly consistent backbone, lurking in the shadows of the team's other superstars while making them better. His 70 points weren't a career high - far from it - but they were good enough for third in scoring on the Caps and top-20 in the League, the third-straight season (and fifth overall) that Backstrom's had at least 70 points. He also remembered that he was capable of shooting the puck, picking up his first 20-goal season since 2009-10 (with all but three of those scored at even strength, despite his role running the team's top-ranked power play). All this despite getting a late start to the season thanks to offseason surgery? Impressive, as was his playoff performance overall, where he outdueled the top centers for both the Flyers and Penguins. What, like it's hard to do?

2. Evgeni Malkin
Last year's rank: 2

GP G A P +/- PIM ESG PPG GWG SOG PCT
2015-16 (Penguins) 57 27 31 58 1 65 16 11 6 162 16.7

Malkin missed a significant portion of the Penguins season with an upper-body injury (which later turned out to be an elbow injury that lingered through the playoffs). When he was healthy and in the lineup, however, he put up roughly a point per game, and finished fourth in scoring on his team while appearing in 15-20 fewer games than anyone ahead of him. He led the Penguins in power-play goals and tied with Kris Letang for the team lead in points with the extra man (again, in only 57 games), and was one of the team's better players in the early part of the season when no one was playing well in Pittsburgh. He also, amazingly, had 18 points in the playoffs - and was back ahead of schedule - with basically one working arm.

1. Sidney Crosby
Last year's rank: 1

GP G A P +/- PIM ESG PPG GWG SOG PCT
2015-16 (Penguins) 80 36 49 85 19 42 26 10 9 248 14.5

Was 2016 the year of Sidney Crosby? It's certainly starting to look that way, as he turned a disappointing start into a dominant second half of the 2015-16 season, an impressive postseason that ended with a Conn Smythe trophy, and a World Cup win (and another MVP award). 58 of his 85 points on the season came after January 1, and all he did was tack on another 19 points in 24 playoff games. It wasn't his best season overall, with his point-per-game pace markedly off from his career rate of 1.33... but that's a hell of a career rate, bringing him closer to 1000 career points despite missing as much time as he has with injuries. And that's why he's the best.