Who have been the best centres in the NHL, based solely on their performance this season? It’s been a tough year for some well-known pivots; traditionally dominant players like Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews and John Tavares are nowhere to be found among the NHL’s scoring leaders.
That does not mean the game has lacked for quality performances, however. These are the top 10:
1. Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars (31GP, 17G-25A-42PTS)
It’s simply impossible to ignore Seguin. With 42 points in 31 games, he’s second in the NHL in scoring and runs away with the lead among centres; he’s more than 10 points clear of any other player on this list. At a time when NHL scoring is down, Seguin is on pace for the best season of his career.
If he appears in 80 games and continues to score at his current rate he’ll top the 100-point mark. Perhaps the craziest thing is that Seguin’s shooting percentage is right in line with his career norms and the collective shooting percentage of the players on the ice with him is high, but no higher than it’s been in recent seasons. That makes it less likely that his scoring will erode as the season goes on, though we should note that he’s putting up much more offence on the power play than he has in years past.
2. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins (29GP, 9G-20A-29PTS)
Bergeron’s name generally doesn’t come up anywhere near the top of lists like this one because he just doesn’t score enough. Bergeron’s defensive game is readily recognized by virtually everyone, but the three-time Selke Trophy winner has never finished higher than fourth in All-Star voting. If he keeps this up, that’s going to change this year.
He’s having his traditionally brilliant season in terms of two-way metrics, with the Bruins dominating puck possession and goal differential when he’s on the ice, despite head coach Claude Julien’s habit of starting him in the defensive zone against the other team’s best line. The difference this year has been power play scoring. Bergeron has 15 points on the power play through 29 games, which is better than any full-season total he’s managed since 2007.
3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins (29GP, 14G-13A-27PTS)
Pittsburgh has been impotent offensively all year, with Malkin almost the lone exception. In terms of five-on-five scoring, Malkin’s 2.24 points/hour is miles ahead of anyone else on the team; no other regular forward is above 1.6 points/hour. It’s scary to think what he might be able to do if new coach Mike Sullivan gets the Pens on track.
4. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals (26GP, 10G-17A-27PTS)
Hip surgery should have slowed Backstrom to start the year, but it didn’t happen. Instead he put up five points in his first two games back and looked better than ever. Washington outscores the opposition by a 2:1 margin when he’s on the ice and destroys them on the shot clock.
5. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks (32GP, 9G-22A-31PTS)
The Canucks have some problems, but the Sedin twins are not among them. Henrik is averaging just under 20:00 per game, with heavy usage on the power play and at even-strength and spot duty on the penalty kill, though he’s been out enough in the latter situation to have a shorthanded goal to his credit. His personal shooting percentage is a little higher than his career average, but as he’s primarily a playmaker that’s not really a red flag.
He’s actually scoring almost exactly in line with last year’s pace, so there’s no reason he can’t continue putting up points at this rate. What makes that impressive is he’s doing it against the backdrop of a league without a lot of high-scoring centres. Outside of Seguin, no regular pivot in hockey has collected more points than Sedin.
6. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (22GP, 9G-18A-27PTS)
Draisaitl currently sits fourth in the NHL in points per game, and among centres is second only to Seguin. He and linemate Taylor Hall have run red-hot since his recall from the AHL and if he can keep this up he’ll climb this list.
7. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks (30GP, 14G-14A-28PTS)
Pavelski has become one of the most lethal power play scorers in the NHL, so it’s somewhat surprising to see that after scoring 19 goals on the man advantage a year ago he has just two this season. He’s made up for any deficiencies in that department at even-strength, where he’s been both a lethal scorer and a responsible defensive player.
8. Ryan O’Reilly, Buffalo Sabres (31GP, 11G-17A-28PTS)
O’Reilly has been cast in a lead role in Buffalo, and he’s looking pretty good. A brilliant defensive centre, his customary strengths are still in evidence (e.g. 58.6 per cent in the faceoff circle, just four penalty minutes) but he’s also been wonderfully effective on the power play in the early part of the season.
9. Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche (32GP, 16G-12A-28PTS)
After scoring just a single goal in his first 11 games, Duchene has 15 markers in his last 21 and currently sits one behind Seguin for the goal-scoring lead among centres. When he’s on the ice at even-strength, the Avs out-shoot the opposition by a 32-29 margin; when he’s off the ice they get out-shot 31-25.
10. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (31GP, 11G-17A-28PTS)
Though the struggles of regular linemate Jakub Voracek (two goals) have hurt Giroux badly in the even-strength assists department, Philadelphia’s captain is scoring goals at five-on-five, contributing in a major way on the power play and helping the Flyers to shockingly good shot metrics whenever he steps on the ice.