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The Metropolitan Division’s Top 10 Centers: 2018-19

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Counting down the top pivots in the Metro

Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals - Game Two Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

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 goalies).

Honorable Mention: Jordan Staal (CAR), Derick Brassard (PIT)

10. Alexander Wennberg (CBJ)
Last year’s rank: NR

A year after posting career highs in goals, assists, and points (and subsequently signing a six-year contract extension), Wennberg had a bit of a setback in 2017-18, starting off cold and then suffering a series of injuries that caused him to miss 16 games. While that confluence of events did cost him the first-line center job to rookie Dubois, he did rebound around the halfway mark of the season and helped fuel the Jackets’ playoff push down the stretch - and at just 24, there’s no reason to think that (should he stay healthy) he can carry that on into this season.

9. Lars Eller (WSH)
Last year’s rank: NR

Wrapping up a career season with a Stanley Cup-clinching goal is just about as good as it gets for any hockey player, and 2017-18 was certainly a season to remember for Eller. He picked up a couple of milestones, set some new career highs, and signed a mid-year contract extension to keep him in DC for the foreseeable future. Along the way he proved not only his ability as a depth player but also his versatility, particularly in the playoffs when an injury to Backstrom pushed him into an increased role - one in which he excelled.

8. Nico Hischier (NJD)
Last year’s rank: NR

The Devils’ rookie put together quite an opening campaign for himself, potting 20 goals and 52 points en route to a surprise playoff berth for his team. It was a year of strong rookie performances around the League, so Hischier perhaps flew under the radar a bit, but he ended the season as the second-highest scorer on the Devils (behind only Taylor Hall) and with the second-best five-on-five point total among his fellow rookie classmates. Not bad for 2017’s top draft pick - and there’s no telling what he’ll do for an encore.

7. Pierre-Luc Dubois (CBJ)
Last year’s rank: NR

Another teenager who put together an excellent rookie season, Dubois established new franchise records in goals (with his first 20-goal campaign) and points (with 47 in 82 games). He not only provided an offensive boost for his team, but he eventually staked his claim on the top-line center role - surpassing Wennberg - at the ripe old age of 19. Dubois even carried his impressive performance into the postseason, picking up two goals and four points in their six-game opening series against the Caps.

6. Sean Couturier (PHI)
Last year’s rank: 8

After years of flying under the radar, Couturier’s performance in 2017-18 finally brought him into the spotlight, as he hit 30 goals for the first time in his career and parlayed an excellent season into a spot as a Selke finalist. While the overall point and goal totals jumped this season (his 76 points moved him into the top-30 scorers in the League), it was largely due to finally getting a shot on the Flyers’ top power-play unit - and he continued to be consistently elite at even strength, scoring an impressive 2.05 points per 60 at five on five. Proponents of Couturier’s game have long argued that he was an underrated talent who could produce at a high rate if given the opportunity. Well, he got the opportunity this year... and he took full advantage of it.

5. Mathew Barzal (NYI)
Last year’s rank: NR

The future is bright up the middle for the entire Metropolitan Division, and with Barzal, it’s particularly bright for the Islanders (who frankly could use a little silver lining). The eventual Calder Trophy winner had a season to remember, with 22 goals and 85 points - numbers that put him in the company of some of the League’s elite scorers. His speed and agility make him hard to track down, and he eventually finished as the Islanders’ top scorer - one point ahead of top-line center John Tavares, whose vacated role is now Barzal’s to lose.

4. Nicklas Backstrom (WSH)
Last year’s rank: 3

You know a player is good when “just” 70 points in a full season is seen as something of a down year - but for Backstrom, who has been consistently consistent as a point-per-game player over the course of his career, 70 points was perhaps below expectations. That said, it was still another strong year for the Swedish center, as along with Kuznetsov he provided a serious one-two punch up front for the Caps. It was that level of depth, the ability to throw out two “top” lines, along with Backstrom’s incredible ability to conduct the team’s often lethal power play, that helped bring a championship to DC.

3. Evgeny Kuznetsov (WSH)
Last year’s rank: T-5

There was never a question about whether Kuznetsov was talented enough to play in the NHL; the only question was whether he could channel that talent into a consistent presence on the ice. That’s no longer a concern, as 2017-18 marked Kuznetsov’s emergence as a bona fide superstar. Another player to set career highs across the offensive board, Kuznetsov picked up 27 goals and 83 points - narrowly missing out on the team’s scoring lead. But it was in the playoffs where his real coming out party occurred, as he finished the postseason with an incredible 32 points... and one of the most important goals scored in franchise history.

2. Evgeni Malkin (PIT)
Last year’s rank: 2

Poor Malkin. Year after year, he’s stuck behind some guy named Crosby in these and any other rankings. Still, it’s a testament to just how good he is that the only person who can beat him in a ranking of the best is one of the best to ever play. 2017-18 was the first season since 2011-12 in which Malkin appeared in anywhere close to a full season, and the results were on full display, as he also had his best offensive output since then. He remained in the running for both the Richard and the Art Ross for much of the year, finishing with 42 goals and 98 points. Eventually his health did take a bit of a hit, and at the worst possible time, with an injury causing him to miss a handful of playoff games - but even in his shortened postseason run, he was a lethal weapon, potting four goals and eight points in nine games.

1. Sidney Crosby (PIT)
Last year’s rank: 1

It would take an awful lot to knock Crosby off the top of any list of the League’s best centers, Metropolitan or otherwise - and it’s certainly not going to be a 29-goal, 89-point campaign (topped off by an insane 21 points in 12 playoff games). No longer Sid the Kid, the 31-year-old just doesn’t seem to be slowing down much with age, and remains hands down one of the game’s best. ‘Nough said.