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The Metropolitan Division’s Top 10 Centers: 2019-20

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Counting down the top pivots in the Metro

Washington Capitals v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Six Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

One of the biggest strengths of the Metropolitan Division is almost certainly the depth up the middle, with some of the League’s best centers calling the Metro home (a trend that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future with rookie Jack Hughes being drafted by the New Jersey Devils this summer).

So has there been a shake-up at the top of the rankings or has equilibrium been maintained for another season? Read on to find out (and if you missed them earlier. check out the defense and goalie rankings).

Honorable Mention: Kevin Hayes, Jack Hughes, Brock Nelson, Jordan Staal

10. Mika Zibanejad (NYR)
Last year’s rank: Not Ranked

Zibanejad has taken the early promise he showed in his first few seasons in Ottawa to a new level since being traded to the Rangers. Last season was by far his best in either city, as he established career highs across the board - and cracked the 30-goal mark for the first time - en route to a 74-point campaign. The Rangers have injected plenty of talent into their lineup during their “rebuild”, including high-octane scorer Artemi Panarin - which should give Zibanejad every opportunity to take last year’s totals and blow them out of the water.

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

There was no sophomore slump for Dubois, as he took his excellent 20-goal rookie season and kicked it up a notch in his second go-round with Columbus last year. His 61 points were good enough for third on the Jackets, and he balanced out his scoring attack with a decent amount of feistiness, leading the team in penalty minutes last year with 64. One thing to keep an eye on for Dubois? He’ll no longer have Panarin as his running mate, which isn’t great news for him.

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

Despite having his 2018-19 season shortened by 13 games due to injury, Hischier finished the year with just five fewer points than he did in a full complement of games the season before. It’s likely those numbers would have been higher if he’d had a healthy Taylor Hall on his wing all season the way he did in 2017-18. And even without putting up big numbers on the scoreboard, it was clear that Hischier was quite literally a game-changer - as noted by our pals at All About the Jersey:

With Nico on the ice at 5v5 this season, the Devils outscored their opponents 45-39, a GF% of 53.5% (via Natural Stat Trick). Without Hischier, the Devils were outscored 101-145, which comes out to an abysmal 41.1%.

7. Sebastian Aho
Last year’s rank: Not Ranked

Aho saw a significant increase in ice time between 2017-18 and 2918-19, and he repaid his coaching staff for the extra responsibility by putting up huge numbers - 83 points, to be exact, including his first 30-goal season. He was also a crucial piece of the Hurricanes’ surprise postseason run, with 12 points in 15 games. All of this, of course, (combined with his pending RFA status) made him a desirable candidate for an offer sheet this summer — and Montreal came a-calling with one that Aho signed and Carolina quickly (and smartly) matched.

T-5. Sean Couturier
Last year’s rank: 6

Couturier may be turning into one of the quietest near-elite players in the game right now; unless you see him play every night, it may come as a surprise when you notice that his numbers are now up there among some of the League’s best. After more defensive-minded campaigns to start his career, Couturier broke out in 2017-18 with a 31-goal, 76-point campaign - and then followed it up with a 33-goal season the following year (in two fewer games played).

T-5. Mathew Barzal
Last year’s rank: 5

Despite the fact that his team took a big step forward last season, Barzal actually seemed to slump a bit, following up an 85-point rookie campaign with “just” 62 points last year. A combination of factors likely went into that dip in production, from simple regression to the adjustment to a new system and coach to new linemates who both went through their own slumps over the course of the season. But a little dropoff in total points doesn’t erase the fact that he’s a game-breaking talent (and he stepped up his game in the playoffs big time, with two goals and seven points in the Isles’ eight-game run).

4. Evgeny Kuznetsov
Last year’s rank: 3

There’s no question that Kuznetsov took a step back last season... although as is the case with most of the guys on the list, “a step back” is still pretty darn good, with 21 goals and 72 points in 2018-19. He’ll need to figure out a way to bounce back from a disappointing year and return to the form that was fully on display during the Caps’ Cup run in 2018 — because that was a statement year for him, one that showed the hockey world what he was capable of, and we know it’s in him to get back.

3. Nicklas Backstrom
Last year’s rank: 4

As steady as they come, Backstrom did last season what he always does - put up close to a point per game, set up goals like nobody else, and performed with quiet brilliance in the shadow of his much louder linemate. Is he still underrated if we rank him up near the top of this list basically every year? ...you bet your ass he is.

2. Evgeni Malkin
Last year’s rank: 2

There’s no question that Malkin is an elite player, but he’s not the easiest one to pin down. His performance runs the gamut from very good to brilliant (and has been strongly impacted by injuries over the years, including last season when he missed another 14 games). Coming off of a 92-point season in 2017-18, Malkin’s 72 points in 68 games last year would probably be filed in the “very good” category - but only because, when healthy, he’s capable of a lot more.

1. Sidney Crosby
Last year’s rank: 1

He’s got McDavid to contend with League-wide and a couple of young whippersnappers set to join the Metro this season (to say nothing of a scrappy Russian winger challenging him every step of the way). And yet he remains, quite simply, the best center around - even after all these years.