Best Centers: 1-5

So here we go. Best 20 centers in the league. I’ll be putting these out in increments of five (so 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20), and I’ll top it off with the best of the rest. I’ll do the same thing on Tuesday with wingers, defensemen on Wednesday, and goalies on Thursday.

Without further ado, you’re best five centermen in the league. Don’t @ me.

1 – Sidney Crosby

When it’s all said and done, Sidney Crosby will be a top-5 player of all time. Right now he’s in the group of 5-10 guys in the running for the guy behind Orr, Gretzky, Lemieux, and Howe. If he wants to, he can lead the lead the league in goals – he won his second Rocket Richard Trophy last year. He can lead the league in assists – he had a league-high 68 apples in 2013-14 and while his 84 helpers in 2006-07 (his second year in the league) was eight off the pace of Joe Thornton’s 92 that season, it would’ve led the league every year since. He’ll out-work, out-grind, out-skill you. There’s nothing he hasn’t won. Oh, did I mention he just turned 30?

2 – Connor McDavid

McDavid is the man trapped in the chasm between Crosby and the rest of the league. He’s inching his way closer to No. 87. Like Crosby in 2006-07, McDavid picked up his first Art Ross Trophy in his sophomore NHL season with his 100-point campaign last season. The 20-year-old is one of five NHLers to record triple-digit point totals since 2010-11, joined by Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, and Daniel Sedin.

3 – Evgeni Malkin

If Crosby is Gretzky, Malkin is Messier. A guy who will go down as one of the top 15-20 players ever, a guy who can go off on his own and lead a team to a Stanley Cup. Malkin has two Art Rosses of his own and after his performance last spring en route to Pittsburgh’s second straight title, as good a case can be made that he should have just as many Conn Smythes.

4 – Patrice Bergeron

The three aforementioned guys are in a class of their own. Bergeron is the best of the rest. Name something you need – Bergeron can do it. He gives you offense (61.2 points per 82 games in his career), he can win a faceoff (in fact, he’s won a league-high 7,524 faceoffs since 2009-10, which is nearly 1,000 more than runner-up Jonathan Toews over that span), he drives play, and he plays in every situation. The greatest quality of Bergeron? His ability to raise the level of the players around him at all times, from flanking Sidney Crosby for Team Canada to carrying his black and gold sidekicks over the years from Marco Sturm to Brad Marchand. It’s what he’s done best since his rookie year when he was part of a line comprised of an 18-year-old Bergeron along with Michael Nylander and Sergei Samsonov that carried Boston in the second half of the 2003-04 season.

5 – Auston Matthews

Don’t trick yourself into thinking the gap between the top pick in the 2015 draft (McDavid) and the 2016 draft (Matthews) is a wide one. Matthews is Sidney Crosby with a few more inches. He’s a big body, he grinds, he protects the puck as well as anybody, and just seems to do everything at will. He scored four goals in his first NHL game, he scored 40 in his rookie season. Matthews scored a league-high 30 goals at five-on-five last season. The Maple Leafs are the team that’s going to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada and it’s the Good Scottsdale Boy that’s going to lead them there.

 

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Thoughts Are My Own: Trouba Has No Leverage

Thoughts as you realize it’s the first day of November. Woah, it’s the first day of November.

*Jacob Trouba is being Jonathan Drouin-ed. And will continue to be. The Jets want what no team will give for his services. He’s a solid, top four defenseman at 21 years old. He has the size, he has the projection of being a top defenseman. Winnipeg will let the situation ride itself out until the December 1 deadline, where which Trouba will forgo a full season should he not be signed then, which only hurts his value. Ball is in the court of Kevin Cheveldayoff and company.

*Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid facing off for the first time ever is the headliner of Tuesday’s games, and rightfully so; they’re special talents, the two most recent first overall picks, and two of the best in recent memory. But here’s some other matchups that might catch your eye: Tampa Bay at Islanders, Steven Stamkos vs. John Tavares in another showdown of first overall picks; Washington at Winnipeg, Alex Ovechkin vs. Patrik Laine, the greatest goal scorer of the post-lockout years against what looks like the next great goal scorer the game bears witness to; and Anaheim at Los Angeles needs no explanation.

*The matchup (not Tuesday, obviously, but down the road) I find most compelling is Toronto vs. Buffalo. Matthews vs. Jack Eichel in a showdown of the two top American youngsters, two guys who are among the faces in U.S. hockey as teenagers. This is only made better by the natural geographic rivalry that exists with the two franchises fighting for the love of southern Ontario.

*Elliotte Friedman reported on Saturday that there will be no changes to the All-Star Game voting format, which if true is the right decision. Last year’s game was as successful as it had been in quite some time, no need to overthink it. The league has bigger fish to fry.

*Nothing wrong with Mikhail Sergachev, the ninth overall pick in this past June’s draft, being sent back to Windsor. He’d played just three games in Montreal, might as well get another year of OHL experience under his belt. He’ll be on a Spitfires team that features fellow first rounder Logan Stanley on the back line and 11th overall pick Logan Brown up front. Sean Day was a third round pick.

*Ohio State hockey is out to a 5-0-2 start to the season, moving up to No. 11 in the USCHO.com poll. The Buckeyes should only expound on the strong record, with doubleheaders against Robert Morris, UConn, and RPI awaiting in the next three weekends. The big challenge doesn’t come until after Thanksgiving, when Ohio State travels to Minnesota to open its Big 10 schedule.

Links

Dave Tippett has a motorcycle shop in his house.

Bruce Boudreau was ‘grumpy’ at the Wild practice on Monday as Minnesota rode a short bench for multitude of reasons.

The latest in the class-action lawsuit that faces the CHL and threatens to change the landscape of major junior hockey in Canada.

Teams led by Peter Chiarelli and Marc Bergevin benefitting from questionable offseason transactions the two general managers made for the respective organizations, the Edmonton Oilers (Chiarelli) and the Montreal Canadiens (Bergevin).

Jay Bouwmeester reflects upon his career to date as he approaches his 1,000th career NHL game.

Coyotes rookie forward Christian Dvorak gets sent down to the AHL. The 20-year-old had three assists in seven games while averaging 13:45 of ice time per night.

A question nobody has asked, or even thought of – could Matthews/McDavid be the next great NHL rivalry?

In case you missed it: Episode two of the Bobcast with Bob McKenzie. He does a really good job with these, really offers a bit of everything; from inside information to the sharing of knowledge of the game to even veering outside the game. Worth the listen.

Three Stars of the Midweek

NHL

Auston Matthews, Toronto: Do we really need to explain this? At one point it was looking like he was going to bury eight. The savior has arrived in Toronto.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton: The first overall pick in 2015 prior to Matthews being selected first in June logged defenseman-like 23:27 in the Oilers 7-4 win over Calgary. Oh, and he had two goals and an assist to boot.

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis: His second goal was an empty-netter, but his goal with 32 seconds left in the second period set the tone for the Blues three-goal third period in their 5-2 win over Chicago.

CHL

Nicolas Hague, Mississauga: The Steelheads poured it on Guelph with an 11-3 win on Wednesday. Hague, a defenseman, accounted for three of the goals, finishing with four points while finishing with a plus-four. A projected first round pick in 2017 with dimensions of 6-foot-5/216 pounds, the 17-year-old has five goals and eight points in seven games.

Jeremy Bracco, Kitchener: More good news for Leafs fans. Bracco, a second-round pick by Toronto in 2015, had three goals and five points in the Rangers 8-4 win over Guelph on Monday. He factored in four of the five powerplay goals for Kitchener, including two of his three goals. The Long Island native has five goals and nine points in three games, following up a strong first OHL campaign in which he put up 64 points in 49 games after leaving Boston College to join Kitchener. He had 14 points in nine games in the 2016 OHL playoffs.

Michael Bullion, Portland: Coming off a rough outing in which he allowed seven goals on 28 shots in a 7-3 loss to Swift Current, he stopped 48 of the 52 shots he faced in the Winterhawks 5-4 win over Regina on Wednesday night.

 

 

 

Pacific Division: Facts, Figures, Predictions

*Doug Weight is the only Oiler to post 82 points in a season since 1992. He did it three times; 104 in 1995-96, 82 in 1996-97, and 90 in 2000-01.

*A fifth consecutive playoff appearance for the Anaheim Ducks next spring would set a new franchise record.

*The Ducks were the class of the league last season on both the powerplay and penalty kill. Five-on-five wasn’t Anaheim’s strong suit, however, as its 127 even strength goals ranked 26th in the NHL.

*Among 34 goalies who have appeared in 100 games over the last four seasons, Mike Smith is tied for 27th in save percentage (.911) and 32nd in GAA (2.80).

*Drew Doughty is just the second player to average 28 minutes per game in back-to-back seasons for the Los Angeles Kings. He joins Rob Blake, who did so in 1999-00 and ’00-01.

*Joe Thornton and Henrik Sedin are second and third, respectively, behind Jaromir Jagr on the assists leaderboard among active players; Thornton with 948 and Sedin with 748. Fourth place? Jarome Iginla, at 662.

Predictions

1- Anaheim: The Ducks aren’t deep up front, but loaded on the back end. John Gibson shines in first full season.

2- Calgary: On paper, the Flames had no business being the worst defensive team in the league last year. Expect much better results with bounceback year on blue line plus addition of Brian Elliot.

3- San Jose: It’s time we begin acknowledging Joe Pavelski as one of the 10 best players in the league.

4- Edmonton: McDavid is the main attraction, but Peter Chiarelli is building something special. The Oilers will win a Stanley Cup within five years.

5- Arizona: Don’t count out the Coyotes as a surprise playoff team.

6- Los Angeles: After Team USA debacle, things don’t get better for Dean Lombardi as slow decline in LA continues.

7- Vancouver: The Canucks showed up at the Hashtag-*INSERT QUIRKY SYNONYM FOR BEING BAD*-For-*INSERT NAME OF PRESUMPTIVE FIRST OVERALL PICK* party two years too late.

What Should We Expect From Connor McDavid in Year 2?

Expect Connor McDavid to push toward 105-110 points in 2015-16, his second season in the NHL.

That, of course, been the million dollar question of the offseason. What to expect of McDavid, who was officially coronated as the first overall draft pick in the 2015 draft when the Edmonton Oilers selected him with the first pick, the pick that followed years of hype and lead-up.

McDavid had a very good rookie season, one that was derailed by a broken collarbone that sidelined him for three months. Limited to 45 games, McDavid finished with 16 goals and 48 points. While the performance wasn’t enough to take the Calder Trophy out of the hands of Chicago forward Artemi Panarin, McDavid was the only rookie to average more than a point per game, with 1.07, which equates to 88 points over an 82-game portfolio. Only Patrick Kane and Jamie Benn met that standard last season. Only five players have reached 88 points in their freshman season, ever.

It’s what puts McDavid right in the thick of the Art Ross Trophy conversation. A full blue-and-orange offseason while now having a taste of life inside NHL glass sets the standard even higher than the rookie output the teenager.

As not only conventional wisdom, but also history, suggests, a significant jump in production is expected from the 19-year-old who already has it all.

Eleven players in NHL history have career averaged of 1.2 points per game, which approximates to roughly 100 over the course of 82. McDavid is expected to be the 12th.

The 11 had average rookie outputs of 1.1, just a notch above McDavid’s 1.07. The number ranks seventh on that list of greats, behind Peter Stastny (1.415), Mario Lemieux (1.369), Wayne Gretzky (1.325), Sidney Crosby (1.259), Mike Bossy (1.246), and Kent Nilsson (1.162). It’s worth noting, of course, that all six played at least 73 games. So a sample of 25 games greater than McDavid, in the worst case.

But what happens when they get into the second season?

It varies. The average jump was somewhere from a 20-30 percent increase in production. Gretzky jumped 25.8 percent when he went from his rookie mark of 1.325 to 1.73, 110 to 123. Lemieux, who went from 112 points to 146 from his freshman to sophomore season, saw a 29.9 percent jump in point-per-game production (1.369 to 1.78). Crosby jumped 20.5 percent from 1.259 to 1.518.

There are outliers. Bobby Orr didn’t experience any jump despite winning the Norris Trophy in his second season. Limited to 46 games by an offseason knee injury, Orr had similar production to his rookie year. That said, he had a 41.9 percent increase from his second to third. Guy Lafleur actually saw his production dip nine percent, though he did that playing for a Stanley Cup-winning Montreal squad in which the likes of Jacques Lemaire, brothers Pete and Frank Mahovlich, and Yvan Cournoyer were in the prime of their careers. Phil Esposito saw his production dip, though he didn’t truly blossom until after he was traded from Chicago to Boston in 1967.

Pegging the production jump for McDavid at around 20-25 percent would put him at 105-110 points. It would be fairly uncharted waters for both the NHL, as just two players have surpassed the 105-point over the last six seasons, Evgeni Malkin (109, 2011-12), and Patrick Kane (106, 2015-16).

The Oilers haven’t had 100-point scorer since Doug Weight, in 1995-96. Nobody has broken 105 points since Mark Messier posted 129 in 1989-90.

But McDavid is a different case. A player who has a skill-set unlike any other in the NHL currently (except maybe Crosby), a player whose numbers back up the hysteria over his potential, the teen – who turns 20 in January – looks poised to put up numbers not seen in quite some time in not just Edmonton, but the NHL.