Much like the goalies, this division is downright stacked up the middle, with some of the best in the game suiting up for teams in the Metropolitan. Let’s take a look at how the top 10 shakes out this year (and if you’re so inclined, go back and see how we ranked the defensemen and the right wings, as well).
Honorable mention: Kevin Hayes (NYR), Marcus Kruger (CAR), J.T. Miller (NYR), Jordan Staal (CAR)
10. Brandon Dubinsky
Last year's rank: NR
He’s the guy you love to hate, the one wreaking havoc around the opponents nets... he is Brandon Dubinsky, uberpest. His most productive goal-scoring days seem to have been left behind in New York, but since arriving in Columbus in 2012 he’s still been good for about 40-50 points a season (and a fair number of penalty minutes, as well).
9. Elias Lindholm (CAR)
Last year's rank: NR
Lindholm broke into the NHL at the tender age of 19. Now 22, he’s had some growing pains over the past four seasons, he’s seen his production (and ice time) rise each year, culminating in a career-best 45 points in 2016-17. He’s headed into his first contract year, and will be doing so on a still young but much improved and up-and-coming Carolina squad - hard not to expect big things from him.
8. Sean Couturier (PHI)
Last year's rank: 8
A glance at his surface-level stats may not be all that impressive, especially considering his high draft position (taken eighth overall back in 2011), but Couturier has turned into a pretty impressive defensive-minded center and penalty killer for the Flyers. While his 2016-17 season was cut short by a knee injury, he still finished with his second-highest points-per-game rate (,515). More importantly for the Flyers, Couturier is a strong driver of possession, one who makes his teammates better and who generally sports a high RelCF rate.
7. Mika Zibanejad (NYR)
Last year's rank: HM
Drafted by Ottawa back in 2011, the 24-year-old Zibanejad has become a consistent offensive producer, first with the Senators (where he put up back-to-back 20-goal seasons) and then with the Rangers. A broken fibula cost him almost two months of his first year in New York, but even with that time lost he managed to score 14 goals and was on pace for a career year had he managed to stay healthy. He did return in time to do some damage for the Rangers in the playoffs, picking up a team-high nine points (two goals, seven assists) in their 11-game run, and earned himself a new five-year deal with the Blueshirts for his efforts.
T-6. Claude Giroux (PHI)
Last year's rank: 5
For our purposes, Giroux is still considered a center... even though he’s currently being tested on the wing. Tough to blame him; you can only get owned by Nick Backstrom so many times before you have to change positions to get away from it.
...but seriously, folks. There’s no question that Giroux had something of an off year last year, and has seen his numbers steadily decline overall over the last two to three years. His 14 goals marking his lowest total in any full 82-game season and his points-per-game rate dropping to 0.71, his worst rate since 2009-10.
And yet he’s still Giroux - he’s still feisty, he’s still tough to play against, and he’s still capable of burning you on the power play (his 31 power-play points last season ranked third among all forwards). He may have fallen off a bit, but the move to wing (and an influx of young talent to the Flyers’ lineup) may reinvigorate him yet.
T-6. Evgeny Kuznetsov (WSH)
Last year's rank: 6
The evolution of Evgeny Kuznetsov, from his arrival towards the end of the 2013-14 season to now, has been an interesting one to watch - and its rarely been linear. He’s had plenty of peaks and valleys, all part of the adjustment from one country and style to another. Even with those ups and downs, however, it’s hard to deny that he’s insanely talented. A “slow” start to the season last year still had him just falling short of a second-consecutive 20-goal campaign, and he got himself on the right path in plenty of time to redeem his 2016 playoff disappointment with an explosive 2017. Expectations for Kuznetsov will be much higher this year, as he’s set to take over the #1 center role from Backstrom and should be joining the team’s top power-play unit to boot.
4. John Tavares (NYI)
Last year's rank: T-3
Tavares struggled at times last season to produce the way we’re used to seeing him produce, with his points-per-game dropping to a “measly” 0.86, his lowest since his sophomore season. And yet, as is the case with elite talents, even an off year still looks pretty good, as Tavares once again came close to the 30-goal mark (a plateau he’s hit three times and come within two goals another three times) and managed 66 points. Now in the final year of his contract, Tavares will be looking for a big payday - either from the Islanders or someone else - but may need to have one more strong season before that happens.
3. Nicklas Backstrom (WSH)
Last year's rank: T-3
Backstrom has long been known for his quiet consistency that is somewhat hidden by the overarching shadow of his boisterous captain. This year, however, he took it up a notch, inserting himself into the Art Ross race (finishing an extremely respectable third behind a couple of slackers named Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby) and putting together what was arguably his best all-around season as a pro. He hit 20+ goals for the fourth time, 60+ assists for the fifth time and 80+ points for the third - each of which is an achievement all on its own. He even kept it going in the playoffs, an area in which he’s struggled at times, leading the team with six goals and 13 points in 13 games. He’s just... good.
2. Evgeni Malkin (PIT)
Last year's rank: 2
Speaking of good, only someone like Malkin could miss about a quarter of the season and still manage to put up the gaudy goal and point totals he did this year. Injuries have been a recurring issue for Malkin over the course of his career, and he hasn’t played a full 82 games since 2008-09; the last time he appeared in even 70 games in a season was way back in 2011-12. Despite that, he’s inching closer to 1000 points (currently at 832 through 706 games) and continues to be a force to be reckoned with when healthy - especially in the postseason, where he’s been dominant.
1. Sidney Crosby (PIT)
Last year's rank: 1
For years, the one asterisk that seemed to follow Crosby around was his inability to stay healthy, with a series of injuries - some related, some unrelated - shortening his seasons on a regular basis. Over the last four seasons, though, he’s missed just a handful of games each year... and unsurprisingly is back to his old point-producing ways. Crosby’s 44 goals led the League last season, giving him his second career Richard trophy (and first since 2009-10), and he finished second in points to McDavid’s 100-point campaign. And for an encore? Just his second-consecutive Conn Smythe trophy, as he captained the Penguins to a third Stanley Cup. That’ll do.