The Top 5 NHL centers of 2022

      The year-end series concludes by looking at some of the most talented players in the game at the toughest position to play.

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      With the holiday season in full swing and 2023 quickly approaching, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was and see who the best players of the calendar year were. We witnessed some incredible performances over the course of the second half of the 2021-22 regular season, the 2022 playoffs, and the 2022-23 regular season so far, but only the best of the best will make these lists.

      Wrapping up the series are the centers, arguably the most important position in the sport. No other position requires a dedication to both defense and offense in order to really excel while also allowing your team to succeed, which is why it’s absolutely loaded with talent. The honorable mentions on this list probably crack the top five if they play left or right wing, and the guys at the top of this list are always the ones in the conversation for best player in the league.

      Those who’ve read my work know how much I like to use statistics to base my lists off. While that’s still the case here, it’s hard to do a complete list solely off stats because I’ve yet to find a website that combines regular season and playoff stats over the course of a specific date range, so I had to put a little bit of personal opinion into it as well. I’m sure this will go well and we’ll all have a great time.

      Honorable Mentions

      Patrice Bergeron
      Bergeron already has an incredible resume, but what he did in the 2021-22 season to capture his fifth Selke trophy is on a whole other level. While he didn’t produce at the rate of other people on this list, he finished the year with a 69.48% 5-on-5 xGF%, which was not only the best in the league, but also one of the highest totals we’ve seen since the stat was recorded, all while at the age of 36. Even if he retired and didn’t play for the 2022-23 season, I still might have included him on here just for that four-month stretch from January to April.

      Steven Stamkos
      Once considered one of the best players in the league, especially in the goal-scoring department, Stamkos has slipped under the radar when looking at the best talent in the league, mostly because a period where it seemed like he was injured more than healthy kept him out of the public eye. But he continues to be one of the most productive players in the league on one of the best teams in the league, and with three straight trips to the Stanley Cup Final (although he was barely part of one of them due to injuries), he seems to be back in the spotlight and given the respect he deserves.

      Tage Thompson
      Earlier this week I talked about the crazy career trajectory of Jason Robertson, but Thompson’s is the ultimate underdog story. He went from being a disappointing middle-six forward to a man that strikes the fear of God into his opponents and has become one of the most unique players in the NHL, combining his 6’6” frame with some excellent skating and sublime offensive skills to become one of the toughest players in the league to play against. His start to the 2022-23 season has been particularly dominant, and he likely makes any other position list if not for the talent of the five players on this list.

      5. Sidney Crosby

      Regular Season: 46G-63A-109P-85GP, 55.4% 5v5 xGF%

      Playoffs: 2G-8A-10P-6GP, 76.59% 5v5 xGF%

      The Kid’s still got it! Every time someone wonders if Crosby is getting old and losing a step, Sid seems to come back better than ever and reminds us why he was once the undisputed best player in the league – or at least, it shouldn’t have been disputed nearly as much as it was. 2022 was no different, with him not only continuing to be one of the top scorers, but he was also one of the best even strength scorers in the league.

      That’s right, Crosby is currently second behind Erik Karlsson in 5-on-5 points to start 2022-23, and third in 5-on-5 points in 2022 overall. That seems implausible considering how much some other players, including Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, are ahead of him in overall scoring, but they rely a bit more on power play production than Sid does. Combine that with an elite two-way game, a hockey IQ quite unlike any player we’ve seen, and the dedication to get better at every facet of the game, and there’s no reason for Crosby to not be in the top five.

      4. Leon Draisaitl

      Regular Season: 52G-64A-116P-85GP, 50% 5v5 xGF%

      Playoffs: 7G-25A-32P-16GP, 48.67% 5v5 xGF%

      I give Draisaitl a hard time, but there’s no denying the talent this man has. His ability to use his size and speed to create chances for himself and others is rarely seen in the league, and not too many players can say they’ve put up 50 goals and 50 assists in the same season, something Draisaitl has now done twice. His point totals continue to be straight out of a video game, even if his 116 on the year looks human compared to his teammate in McDavid, and Draisaitl always seems to be in the right spot at the right time. The fact that those totals translated into the playoffs also speaks highly of his talent.

      But, and this will surely cause Oilers fans to cause a riot, points only go towards so much of an all-around game, and it’s Draisaitl’s lack of one creates a clear separation from the top three. An elite talent like him shouldn’t be breaking even in terms of play-driving, and while his defensive game isn’t one of the worst in the league like it was a few seasons ago, it’s still nowhere close to the three ahead of him. Combine that with the fact that he plays easier minutes than the other three (as he gets to play with McDavid or he plays on a second line that gets easier minutes with the opponent focusing on McDavid), and it just makes it hard to make a case for him being in the top three merely because he has 5-10 more points than them (especially when a fair amount of his production comes from the power play).

      3. Nathan MacKinnon

      Regular Season: 37G-61A-98P-71GP, 54.12% 5v5 xGF%

      Playoffs: 13G-11A-24P-20GP, 61.95% 5v5 xGF%

      MacKinnon only gets the third spot on this list, but I’m sure he doesn’t care now that his name is on the Stanley Cup. Sure, some of that comes from playing on a talented and deep Colorado Avalanche team, but part of what makes that team so good is the fact that MacKinnon leads the charge up front. He continues to produce crazy numbers in the regular season, and that comes in the wake of several injuries to both him and the team surrounding him.

      And then, there was the playoffs. Cale Makar got the headlines, but MacKinnon had many games himself where he just decided that the Avs were going to win a game and put the team on his back. His amazing top-end speed and crafty hands while skating at those speeds are what give him that ability, and his hockey IQ is quite like another Cole Harbour native on this list. His playoff run made it very close to move him up this list, but it speaks to the talent ahead of him that winning the Cup wasn’t enough to slide him up higher.

      2. Auston Matthews

      Regular Season: 57G-56A-113P-81GP, 63.4% 5v5 xGF%

      Playoffs: 4G-5A-9P-7GP, 60.58% 5v5 xGF%

      If you did your research and knew what you were talking about, you probably knew that Matthews had slowly turned into the de facto second-best player in the league a few years ago, becoming the Alex Ovechkin of this generation’s talent with his ability to score goals from just about anywhere on the ice. Actually, I’m pretty sure he could fire a shot while getting popcorn at the concessions stand and it’d still be considered a scoring threat. The fact that he’s developed an excellent defensive game along with it has made it unfair to play against him, and allowed the Toronto Maple Leafs to not have to worry about matchups.

      And yet, that didn’t stop many from arguing that other players are better because they put up a few more assists. But 2022 cemented him not only as the runner-up to best player, but also showcased that the talent gap is close enough that a really good year can make the debate close, as demonstrated with Matthews taking the Hart trophy as the best player in the league by casually becoming the first 60 goal scorer in 10 years, and the first player to (unofficially) score 50 goals in 50 games since Mario Lemieux in 1996. And while he gets dinged by some critics for not putting up crazy point totals like McDavid and Draisaitl, he actually finished second in points per game over the year, and led the league in even strength points in that span as well.

      We haven’t quite seen him become a truly dominant force and carry the Leafs in the playoffs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he breaks the postseason goals record if the Leafs ever make a deep run in his prime. Still, that doesn’t take away from the incredible player that he’s become, and if you are still debating that anyone not named McDavid is better than him, you probably won’t ever be convinced.

      1. Connor McDavid

      Regular Season: 56G-82A-138P-85GP, 57.53% 5v5 xGF%

      Playoffs: 10G-23A-33P-16GP, 58.7% 5v5 xGF%

      I mean, who else was it going to be? I can’t quite recall when McDavid swiped the best player in the league torch from Crosby, but it’s been quite obvious for a while that he is a talent unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Even Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux didn’t have the toolboxes that McDavid has, and the fact that they had wilder point totals is more because the average player in the NHL then is not even close to the level of the average player now. And yet McDavid still puts up point totals that threaten those two player’s numbers despite that, speaking to the talent he McDavid possesses.

      Does he sacrifice defense to get those numbers sometimes? Yes, and while that’s what makes the debate between him and Matthews an actual conversation, it’s not something you can fault McDavid for, especially with the lack of talent he’s often been surrounded with in Edmonton. But you can tell that he took losing out on the Hart Trophy personally, already hitting the 30-goal mark before the New Year in the 2022-23 season, and it once again reminded us of who the true best player in the league really is.

      There was also, of course, his playoff run this season, showing what he can do when Oilers management is even semi-competent, so the fact that we haven’t seen more of this in the postseason is an absolute travesty and testament to how bad the management has been in Edmonton.


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