Time to get real: the season is over. We might get playoffs we might not, who knows. All I know for sure is it’s time to start making my rankings for next season! My esteemed colleague James Maloney posted his Way Too Early Center Rankings last week. Then, to one-up the rest of us poor saps that write fantasy hockey here at OTH, he pumps out his Way Too Early Left Winger Rankings a couple days later. Yo James, cut the shit!
The following are my top-10 center rankings. I’m not married to these rankings. I could definitely see some movement up and down from now to October (seriously, please let there be hockey in October). If you see something you disagree with, feel free to present an argument! Healthy debate is encouraged!
For this series, we will be using Daily Faceoff for positions since there are a lot of dual/triple position eligible players.
HERE WE GO!
1. Connor McDavid – Edmonton Oilers
Yep. Slam dunk here. If I had the first overall pick in any type of league format I’m taking McDavid. For a good chunk of the second half, he was playing with Josh Archibald and Zach Kassian at even strength and he still put up a nearly a point-per-game. Added to that, he was on the best power play in the league and I can’t see them getting too much worse considering their firepower. Don’t overthink it and wind up with next season’s Nikita Kucherov.
2. Nathan MacKinnon – Colorado Avalanche
I’m not ready to drop MacKinnon down my ranks yet. What sets him apart from the centers behind him is the shots: 318 in only 69 games this season and 365 in the full 82 last season. Since he shoots so much, his shooting percentage is actually low (11-ish the last two years) but to me that is going to lead to a lot less variance in his game. As long as he’s healthy, he going to be shooting. Oh, and he has a pretty solid supporting cast.
3. Leon Draisaitl – Edmonton Oilers
Let me go on the record here and say I still do not buy a 19+ percent shooting percentage. It’s going to come down at some point. But consider this: even if Draisaitl had scored half as many goals as he did this year, he still would have been on pace to finish with 101 points in 82 games. So! I’m not actually all that worried about his game. He’s a goal scorer, he’s a playmaker, and if he doesn’t go in the first round of your drafts this year, all you and all 11 of your league mates should be ashamed of yourselves.
4. Auston Matthews – Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs fired head coach Mike Babcock on November 20th, 2019. From then until the de facto “end of the season”, Auston Matthews played 47 games and had 33 goals – a pace of 57 over the course of 82 games. In terms of expected goals, he’s ahead of everybody on this list. His shot total of 290 was a career-high, and his shooting percentage of 16.21 is completely sustainable for someone of his talent. We shouldn’t be surprised to see him score 50 goals in the very near future.
5. Sidney Crosby – Pittsburgh Penguins
Father Time comes for everyone, but I don’t think he’s coming for Crosby anytime soon. While he did miss a significant amount of time this year, it was for sports hernia which has been addressed. When he was playing, he was his old self ; 17 points in 17 games before the surgery and 30 points in 24 games after. His shots/60 have been on the decline for the last three seasons and his IPP last year (83.93) was too high to be sustainable. However, I still think point-per-game is the floor for the veteran. Especially with a healthy team around him.
6. Jack Eichel – Buffalo Sabres
There is no question that Jack Eichel is an elite talent in the NHL. Through his first 57 games, he had 73 points and was on track to a career year. He tanked over his last eleven games, however, only amassing five points on 34 shots. There was some injury speculation on twitter, there is also the possibility that he could have lost motivation. He’s only human and all that losing in Buffalo could really take a toll on a person. But hey! Next season is a new year and he’s shown me enough to believe in his skills.
7. Evgeni Malkin – Pittsburgh Penguins
Another elder-statesman I’m not ready to give up on just yet. 2019-20 proved that he can still produce at an elite level after a down season the year before. His goals/60 of 1.4 are in the same neighborhood as Artemi Panarin (1.35), Jack Eichel and Nathan MacKinnon (both 1.43). Similarly, his points/60 (4.14) have him sandwiched between Connor McDavid (4.16) and Leon Draisaitl (4.11). That’s some good company! Yeah, he’s going to be 34 in 2020-21. But Alex Ovechkin was 34 this season and he still scored 48 goals. These guys are aging but they haven’t hit the wall just yet.
8. Mika Zibanejad – New York Rangers
What a year for the center for the Blueshirts. Building on a great performance the year prior, Zibanejad filled the stat-sheet this season even while missing 13 games. 41 goals and 75 points in 57 games is pretty incredible stuff. However, some of his underlying numbers were a bit too high to be counted on going forward. A shooting percentage of 19.71 can’t necessarily be trusted to be his “new normal”. Also, his 80.65 IPP is also a little high to be called “sustainable”. Are these numbers so high that they couldn’t continue under any circumstance? No. I’m just proceeding with caution.
9. Sebastian Aho – Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes had a bit of an up-and-down year. Their goaltending was inconsistent (who would have guessed?) and they struggled to find depth scoring at times. However, Sebastian Aho did not have any trouble putting the puck in the net – he scored 38 (!) times. Of course, his shooting percentage (18.4) was elevated from his career rate (12.6 prior to this season) but he’s now shown he can be a playmaker and a trigger man. We know he can produce with anybody, at the end of the year he was on a line with Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen. That line has the potential to be one of the best in hockey. Count me in!
10. Elias Pettersson – Vancouver Canucks
I was back and forth between a few different guys for this 10th spot, but I think I’m choosing wisely here. Pettersson is an elite playmaker on a team with the 4th best powerplay in the league. He doesn’t shoot a ton, but when he does he makes them count. He showed significant growth in his defensive game from his rookie year to this one so it wouldn’t be a stretch to see his average TOI creep up closer to 20:00 a night, rather than the 18:32 it is now. At just 21 years old, the sky is the limit for the Swedish center in the Pacific Northwest.
Ok gang! Hope you like my list. If you don’t, let me know and try to convince me otherwise. Also, keep an eye out for the rest of my rankings that will be on the way in the near future.
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