As we head towards the beginning of the new season it is always nice to check out who the top players in the division will be considering those are the players you will see the most of.
Today we will look at the top six centers for all the teams in the Metropolitan Division.
Data has been taken from both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. I looked at both offensive output as well as possession at even-strength. Here are the results and how I would rank the duos:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
No surprise really. These two players have the best offensive numbers and also drive possession at a high rate. Pittsburgh even has decent forward options to surround these players in 2015-16 for the first time in forever.
2. New York Islanders
Ryan Strome may be the most overlooked young player in the league right now. He is producing offense at a top line level and his possession numbers are tremendous. It goes without saying but John Tavares is awesome and will be sniffing around for the Art Ross Trophy again this season. New York has quite the duo down the middle.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets
Ryan Johansen is morphing into a bonafide star center in the NHL. He will team up with Brandon Saad and give other teams fits for years to come. Also look for Ryan Johansen's possession to jump as the Blue Jackets are bound to have more healthy bodies this year. Brandon Dubinsky is an underrated producer of offense at 5 on 5 as he produces at a first line rate even if his shutdown abilities are usually over exaggerated.
4. New York Rangers
I thought about ranking this duo third overall but the ceiling of Ryan Johansen was the tie breaker. These two aren't the sexiest names in the division but both players are very solid at generating offense during even-strength. Derek Brassard is a great possession player while Derek Stepan is a little bit lower in that department (although injuries are in play for the 2014-15 season). This duo will continue to take care of business for the Rangers.
5. Philadelphia Flyers
Claude Giroux is one of the better players in the NHL but this duo is ranked lower because of the group element. Brayden Schenn needs to show more. He is not even producing offense at a third line level the past two years. His usage should allow him to improve on that in 2015-16. Giroux's score-adjusted Fenwick of 52.17% is good considering he has been on a Philadelphia team that hasn't excelled in that department the past two years. A little bit concerning is Giroux's 1.77 points per 60 as that is a rate you see with low end second line players. He needs to produce more at even-strength.
6. Washington Capitals
This duo will rise up the rankings in the near future as Evgeny Kuznetsov gets more time in the NHL. His playoff run showed the potential he has moving forward. But up until this point his numbers in the league are too low to justify bumping this duo above some of the others. Truth be told I still get surprised when I look at Nicklas Backstrom's even-strength points per 60 numbers. His rate of 1.72 is that of a high end third line player. I don't know how that is possible considering he plays with the best goal scorer of this generation. The arrivals of TJ Oshie and Justin Williams can only help on this front. If Washington wants to make it out of the Eastern Conference their best center needs to find more tangible offense which he has certainly shown he is capable of in the past.
7. Carolina Hurricanes
Both of the Staal brothers are solid on the possession front. In fact Jordan Staal is the best defensive center on this list. However, Jordan Staal is also tied for the worst points per 60 on this list at 1.16 which is low end fourth line level stuff. Sure Carolina's winger situation isn't the best but that is too low for this duo to outrank most of the competition. Eric Staal does moonlight on the wing at times these days but he is still one of Carolina's two best centers. He is still a solid player and I believe it would be wise for Carolina to shop him around this season. Whoever signs Eric Staal to his next contract will be paying a premium for past performance. Carolina should be looking to rebuild with youth at this point in time.
8. New Jersey Devils
Nothing very exciting on the center front in New Jersey. This duo is the most anemic from and offensive standpoint with Adam Henrique in the mid-fourth line level with 1.36 points per 60 and Travis Zajac tied with Jordan Staal's 1.16. The good news is that New Jersey should be competing for 30th intentionally this year much like BUffalo did last year. The bad news is that the draft lottery rules changed and 30th no longer guarantees one of the top two draft positions (can drop as low as fourth overall).
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