Who's the Best Centre in Hockey?
So who is the best centre in the NHL? A very tough question indeed since there are so many to choose from. But I will try to narrow it down to the 10 best centres in the NHL. I also threw in rankings for top young centre and checking centre.
1. Joe Sakic – Perhaps the most consistent player in the NHL. He is a leader by example showing his teammates how it’s done. He is one of the best offensive players in the NHL period regardless of position. With his great speed, great shot, tremendous playmaking skills and hockey sense, there may not be any better player who can carry the offence like Sakic. Some may be as good, but not better. He is also strong in his own zone developing a solid defensive game to go with his offence. Great on faceoffs with quick hands, Sakic can do it all.
2. Peter Forsberg – If healthy he is the best player on the planet. But staying healthy has been the big battle that Peter the great has faced throughout his career. The most dangerous player in the NHL, he can create offensive chances out of nothing. There may not be a harder player to contain in the offensive zone than Forsberg. He is impossible to knock off the puck, is maybe the best playmaker in the NHL and simply at times unstoppable. only injuries can keep Forsberg off the score sheet.
3. Joe Thornton – There are few players who can combine size and physical play with speed and skill like Thornton. He looks very hungry to show he is among the best. Impossible to knock off the puck with his great size and reach. Has great vision and underrated playmaking skills. Can be a bull and be punishing physically or play a finesse game. Proved he can fill in any role either checking or scoring. People question his leadership and big game ability but everyone did that for Yzerman and boy did they ever look stupid.
4. Mario Lemieux – Like Forsberg, if he remains healthy, there is just no stopping Lemieux. The best playmaker in the NHL he can find players and make plays that borderline on impossible. Still tough to handle with his size and reach he can be a force around the net. He is the complete offensive package. great size, terrific hands, out of this world hockey sense and imagination. If there is a player with a higher skill level than Mario that is still playing I’d like to know who that is because i dont think there is anyone.
5. Vincent Lecavalier – Lecavalier has all the skills in the world to be a dominant centre. He is starting to show that dominance every year. He was brilliant in Tampa’s cup run especially in the finals where he was dangerous every shift. At 6’4 he has size to make him tough to handle. He has great speed to boot. His vision and creativity are top notch but he is a terrific goal scorer too and will only get better. Though not the Michael Jordan of hockey as a foolish ex-owner once predicted, he is among the most talented players in the League. He is starting to become one of the best big game players in the game. that is where players make their mark on the NHL.
6. Mats Sundin – At 6’5 Sundin has size that all teams want up the middle. Despite being big, he is a very good skater. Perhaps possesses the best backhand in hockey and is terrific at blowing past defenders on the outside and circling the net for a backhand. He is near impossible to handle down low with his size and strength. He also isnt a bad playmaker either. The number are proof of how productive Sundin is. A point per game player through his career there is little worry about production when it comes to Sundin. And he is a big game player, putting very good playoff numbers and being among the top OT scorers in NHL history.
7. Patrick Marleau – If the ideal centre possesses great size, to go with blazing speed, great hands and strong leadership qualities than Marleau is the poster child for centres. Marleau has it all. He doesnt get much air time out west, but is one of the best players to watch. He is an exciting player to watch because of his great speed. But if he wants he can play in the trenches. starting to show the signs of being the player he was projected to be out of junior.
8. Brad Richards – when you get compared to Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman, you must be a pretty darn good player. Richards is already a proficient two way player who can do it at both ends. But he has high end skill that offers him a chance to be one of the best offensive players in the future. only 25 he still has plenty of years left to show what kind of player he can be. he has speed, imagination, vision, and tremendous shooting ability to put up big numbers. like his teammate Lecavalier, he showed the uncanny ability to score huge goals.
9. Pavel Datsyuk – perhaps one of the top 5 most skilled players in the NHL. Datsyuk does stuff with the puck that is nothing short of unbelievable. And what makes him so great is that he seems like he isnt trying when he does it. He can make hall of fame blueliners look silly. There may not be a more patient player with the puck. he can wait to the last possible moment to make the play and that patience serves him well.
10. Keith Primeau – people will contend that a centre who doesnt score much shouldnt be on this list. Just look at the players listed below who perhaps should have cracked the top 10. But through sheer impact on the team and on the game, Primeau is one of the best. It isnt like Primeau cant score, it’s the style of play and the role given to him by Hitch that leads to low point totals. In the opened up NHL, Primeau should put up the numbers. His size and speed are a rare combination in the NHL. he can bully his way to the net or simply out skate you. He may not score every game, but at key times you can count on offensive production from Primeau.
There are several players who didnt make the list. Fedorov, Modano, Gomez, Koivu, Weight, Yashin, Roenick, Lindros, Morrison, Lang, Savard, Arnott, Allison, Jokinen. It is nothing against them but a product of having so many great players in the NHL.
The future looks bright though up the middle. Here are the top 5 young centres:
1. Sidney Crosby – perhaps he will be one of the best players ever. we are not sure yet but we’re sure he will be a star player for sure. Great speed, shot, tremendous vision and hockey sense. Sees the play like few before him.
2. Jason Spezza – not enough attention is paid to Spezza. Unbelievable pair of hands to go with great size and hockey sense. One of the most creative players in the NHL right now.
3. Jeff Carter – Should be a very good power centre in the NHL. can score at will as shown in the AHL and junior. If he can do that in the NHL, I see a rocket trophy for him at some point.
4. Evgeny Malkin – great combination of size, speed and skill. has the talent to be Fedorov like in terms of challenging for the Hart and Selke.
5. Eric Staal – any player who gets compared to Ron Francis is a darn good one. Staal may quietly put up point per game numbers, be a long time captain and just produce game in and game out. He has great size to go with a nice set of skills.
Whose the best on the defensive end? Primeau is arguably the best shutdown centre in the league but here are 5 others who are as good:
1. Michael Peca – In your face player who can still get people off their games. Might even be better than his Selke years feeding off the energy of the Oiler crowd.
2. Kris Draper – perhaps the fastest player in the NHL. Uses that to his advantage to close up space for opponents. showed he can score but is paid to check. Part of one of the best checking lines ever in the grind line that help Detroit to 3 cups.
3. John Madden – Has great wheels that he uses to harass opponents taking away their time and space. has a bit of a scoring touch too.
4. Alyn McCauley – quietly has developed into a top checking centre who can provide offence. Often overlooked by playing in California. usually in great defensive position using his high end hockey sense to read plays.
5. Bobby Holik – physically intimidating shutdown centre. plays his best hockey if given a specific role and specific player to check. can get players off their game by punishing them physically.
There you have it. the best centres in the game today. There will be plenty of argument for sure about who ranks where but it is almost impossible for every hockey fan to agree on everything. The biggest complaints are going to come from Sundin and Primeau and where i ranked them. But you have to look at the big picture and not just the team they play for. the numbers, the skill, the talent, the intangibles these players bring. just because Gomez had tons of assists last time doesnt make him a better player than Sundin. Just because Savard is an points machine doesnt make him the well rounded impact centre like Primeau. that is what i focused on and why I ranked these players the way I did. Like them or not, they are among the best and any smart hockey fan, hockey expert, coach, GM and players will tell you that.