NHL Positional Rankings – Centers Edition

Many hockey publications post their positional rankings each year before the regular season starts and using, what I guess to be, some type of grading system to be objective. I wanted to get involved in making my own positional rankings but didn’t want to be subjective and make a list based on which players I like the most. Instead I came up with a point system that values different aspects of a player’s repertoire and attempted to come up with a nice number that can be compared with other players. I started off by just counting point totals, but felt that was unfair to players who were injured last season but are still really good, so I factored in the player’s point-per-game rate instead. There are still some issues with my system and when I rank the players it will mostly be based off the number I have calculated, but I also factored in my opinions on some players, how good they are on the ice, and the general perception of the players throughout the hockey world. The majority of these categories are based off the 2016-17 season unless indicated otherwise.

For Centers I Factor in:

  • Age Factor: I give the player one point for every year they are under the age of 30 and subtract one point for every year they are over the age of 30; Example: If a player is 32 years old, he gets a -2 for this category.
    • I included this category because the younger the player is, the longer his peak is, if he has entered it yet, and the more long-term value he can have.
  • Health Factor: I give the player one point for every 75 game season the player has had the past three seasons; Example: If the player has played in at least 75 games twice in the past three seasons, he gets a +2 for this category.
    • To me, health has to be important in ranking players because a player is only valuable if he is on the ice. I only included the three previous seasons because some players are young and only have two seasons in the league.
  • Point-Per-Game Factor: I give the player a half point for every tenth of a point-per-game that player was during the 2016-17 season; Example: If a player had a point-per-game of 0.78 last season, I gave the player +8 points, rounding to the nearest tenth of a point.
    • Like I mentioned above, using points-per-game instead of flat points removes the health element from how productive he is. I made this decision when I didn’t think it was fair to penalize Steven Stamkos for only playing in 17 games last season.
  • Plus/Minus Factor: I give a half point for every +5 that player was and subtracted a half point for every -5 that player was during the 2016-17 season. There is no rounding in this category; Example: If a player had a +23 rating last season, I would give him +2 points.
    • I think that although the plus/minus statistic isn’t as highly regarded as it used to be, I still think it can be used to represent how good his team is when he is on the ice. For a center this is important because he is supposed to be play-driver during his shift.
  • Faceoff Factor: I give a half point for every percentage point above 50% and subtracted a half point for every percentage point below 50% during the 2016-17 season. I rounded to the nearest whole number; Example: If a player had a 47.7% faceoff success rate, I would give him a -.1 for the category.
    • Obviously this category is only applicable for centers but with the new rules regarding faceoffs this season, being good at them is more valuable than it has ever been.
  • Puck Possession Factor: I used Corsi For (CF) to measure this. CF is all shot attempts plus shots that missed the net and blocked shots while Corsi Against (CA) is the same measurement for the opposition. A percentage is determined when CF is divided by CF + CA. For this exercise, I gave a half point for every percentage point above 50% and subtracted a half point for every percentage point below 50%. I rounded to the nearest percentage point; Example: If a player has a 55.6% CF ,I would give him +3 points.
    • Possession measurements are one of the important ways that advanced metrics have taken off in hockey. For a center, this is important because it is generally indicative of how strong that player’s line is when he is on the ice. Because he is responsible for driving play down the middle and is supposed to be the most defensive-minded forward, this is vital.
  • Award Factor: I give a point for every major award the player has won. These include Art Ross, Rocket Richard, Hart, Vezina, Norris, Calder, Lady Byng, and Selke Trophies. This category encompasses a player’s entire career.
    • If awards play a factor in a player’s likelihood to get inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, I felt it should be a category for this.
  • Playoff Factor: I gave a point for every playoff round a player’s team has won during the previous three seasons; Example: Pittsburgh has won consecutive Stanley Cups and lost in the first round the prior season. That means players on who have been on all three teams are given 8 points.
    • I didn’t want to reward this category too much because second and third year players won’t have had the opportunities to be in the playoffs. At the same time, I also wanted to reward others for being key members on winning teams.

The Rankings

  1. Sidney Crosby
Age Factor
+1 every year under 30, -1 every year under 30
Health Factor
+1 for every 80 game season last three years
PPG Factor
+1 for every .1 point per game
+/- Factor
+.5 for every 5 pts positive,
-.5 for every 5 pts negative
Faceoff Factor
+.5 for every % over 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
CF% Factor
+.5 for every % above 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
Award Factor
+1 for every major award won in career
Playoff Factor
+1 for every round won in last three years
Total

30 (0)

2 1.19 (12) +17 (1.5) 48.2 (-1) 53.2 (1.5) 6 8

31

  • Crosby is the gold standard in the NHL and has been for the past decade. He has been better than a point-per-game player every season in the NHL and all weaknesses that he may have had earlier in his career have been addressed. Even in the playoffs, where his play had been criticized for years, he has excelled, winning consecutive Conn Smythe Awards. Connor McDavid is closing the gap on Crosby’s lead as the league’s best center and best player, but for now Crosby is still the best.

2. Connor McDavid

Age Factor
+1 every year under 30, -1 every year under 30
Health Factor
+1 for every 80 game season last three years
PPG Factor
+1 for every .1 point per game
+/- Factor
+.5 for every 5 pts positive,
-.5 for every 5 pts negative
Faceoff Factor
+.5 for every % over 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
CF% Factor
+.5 for every % above 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
Award Factor
+1 for every major award won in career
Playoff Factor
+1 for every round won in last three years
Total

20 (10)

1 1.22 (12) +27 (2.5) 43.2(-3.5) 53.8 (2) 2 1

27

  • In his first two seasons in the league, McDavid has been significantly better than a point-per-game player. He has already won an Art Ross, a Hart, and a Pearson Trophy and has been everything he was projected to be. Similar to where Crosby was during the same stage of his career, McDavid has some areas where he needs to be better. He already has all the tools: he is the fastest skater in the league with the puck, has the vision to thread pucks through tight areas, has an electric shot, and has the size that other elite players haven’t had. By the end of this season, with another year of development, McDavid could surpass Crosby as the game’s best player.

3. Evgeni Malkin

Age Factor
+1 every year under 30, -1 every year under 30
Health Factor
+1 for every 80 game season last three years
PPG Factor
+1 for every .1 point per game
+/- Factor
+.5 for every 5 pts positive,
-.5 for every 5 pts negative
Faceoff Factor
+.5 for every % over 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
CF% Factor
+.5 for every % above 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
Award Factor
+1 for every major award won in career
Playoff Factor
+1 for every round won in last three years
Total
31 (-1) 0 1.16 (12) +18 (1.5) 43.1(-3.5) 51.9 (1) 4 8

22

  • Since entering the league in 2006, Malkin has been one of the best players in the league, giving the Penguins two of the top five players in the league, along with Crosby. It is because of them that the team has won two consecutive Stanley Cups and three overall during the Crosby/Malkin Era. He has the awards – a Calder, two Art Ross’s, a Hart, and a Conn Smythe, and has been at his best in the playoffs. He loves controlling the puck and is very hard to take the puck away from. Could be better at taking faceoffs and is often too aggressive but that aggressiveness is also what makes him so dominant.

4. Steven Stamkos

Age Factor
+1 every year under 30, -1 every year under 30
Health Factor
+1 for every 80 game season last three years
PPG Factor
+1 for every .1 point per game
+/- Factor
+.5 for every 5 pts positive,
-.5 for every 5 pts negative
Faceoff Factor
+.5 for every % over 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
CF% Factor
+.5 for every % above 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
Award Factor
+1 for every major award won in career
Playoff Factor
+1 for every round won in last three years
Total
27 (3) 2 1.18 (12) +3 (0) 53.5 (2) 56.7 (3.5) 2 5

29.5

  • Stamkos rates really well in this exercise because of his high point-per-game level throughout his career. He has, however, struggled with devastating injuries throughout his career but every time he steps back on the ice he continues to show that he is among the best in the league. He has scored more than 40 goals four times in his career, has won two Rocket Richard Trophies, and was a runner-up for MVP for the 2011-12 season. When he is healthy, he a top ten player in the league. His shot is along the same lines as Alex Ovechkin’s and Vladimir Tarasenko’s, causing me to forget that he is a center. Can drive play with the best centers. His ceiling is limitless and he will go as far as his health takes him.

5. Auston Matthews

Age Factor
+1 every year under 30, -1 every year under 30
Health Factor
+1 for every 80 game season last three years
PPG Factor
+1 for every .1 point per game
+/- Factor
+.5 for every 5 pts positive,
-.5 for every 5 pts negative
Faceoff Factor
+.5 for every % over 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
CF% Factor
+.5 for every % above 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
Award Factor
+1 for every major award won in career
Playoff Factor
+1 for every round won in last three years
Total
20 (10) 1 0.84 (8) +2 (0) 46.9(-1.5) 52.2 (1) 1 0

19.5

  • Putting Matthews this high on the list is likely controversial but it was very difficult for me to leave him outside the top five. He is coming off the best rookie season in Maple Leafs history, has proven himself to be an elite goalscorer, and drives his line well. After scoring 40 goals last season he was named rookie of the year and was a key player in getting Toronto back to the playoffs. Had a man’s physique upon entering the league and knew how to play against men from day one after playing a year in Switzerland. Has a lethal shot and is a good passer. Uses his body to his advantage when protecting the puck and has already developed into a good defensive center.

6. John Tavares

Age Factor
+1 every year under 30, -1 every year under 30
Health Factor
+1 for every 80 game season last three years
PPG Factor
+1 for every .1 point per game
+/- Factor
+.5 for every 5 pts positive,
-.5 for every 5 pts negative
Faceoff Factor
+.5 for every % over 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
CF% Factor
+.5 for every % above 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
Award Factor
+1 for every major award won in career
Playoff Factor
+1 for every round won in last three years
Total
27 (3) 3 0.86 (9) +4 (0) 50.6 (1) 52.9 (1.5) 0 1

19.5

  • Despite playing in the biggest market in North America, (although on the wrong team in the NYC metro area) Tavares has managed to remain underrated in much of the hockey community. That being said, he is one of the best playmakers and two-way forwards in the league. I found Tavares difficult to grade because he has never played with the most talented players and his future with the Islanders is up in the air. Possesses all the tools needed to be an elite player, including high level hockey IQ, a great shot and passing ability.

7. Jonathan Toews

Age Factor
+1 every year under 30, -1 every year under 30
Health Factor
+1 for every 80 game season last three years
PPG Factor
+1 for every .1 point per game
+/- Factor
+.5 for every 5 pts positive,
-.5 for every 5 pts negative
Faceoff Factor
+.5 for every % over 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
CF% Factor
+.5 for every % above 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
Award Factor
+1 for every major award won in career
Playoff Factor
+1 for every round won in last three years
Total
29 (1) 2 0.81 (8) +7 (.5) 54.9 (2.5) 52.4 (1) 1 4

20

  • Toews can’t be judged offensively on the same level that Crosby, McDavid, or Tavares are because that’s not his game. He is one of the best two-way centers in the league, has been pivotal on all three Stanley Cups that the Blackhawks have won, all while still being slightly under a point-per-game for his career. Is incredibly skilled at maintaining control of the puck, passes it very well, and can score at high levels when needed. Loves playing a strong, physical game, which makes him very good at killing penalties and getting to the net.

8. Patrice Bergeron

Age Factor
+1 every year under 30, -1 every year under 30
Health Factor
+1 for every 80 game season last three years
PPG Factor
+1 for every .1 point per game
+/- Factor
+.5 for every 5 pts positive,
-.5 for every 5 pts negative
Faceoff Factor
+.5 for every % over 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
CF% Factor
+.5 for every % above 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
Award Factor
+1 for every major award won in career
Playoff Factor
+1 for every round won in last three years
Total
32 (-2) 3 0.67 (7) +12 (1) 60.1 (5) 61.8 (6) 4 0

24

  • The perennial Selke Trophy favorite, Bergeron has already won four of them and has finished no worse than second in voting the past six seasons. He is also one of the best at faceoffs in the NHL, almost always finishing with a percentage between 55 and 60%. Is very gifted offensively even though that isn’t his entire game. Knows what to do with the puck in every situation and is one of the smartest players in the league.

9. Nicklas Backstrom

Age Factor
+1 every year under 30, -1 every year under 30
Health Factor
+1 for every 80 game season last three years
PPG Factor
+1 for every .1 point per game
+/- Factor
+.5 for every 5 pts positive,
-.5 for every 5 pts negative
Faceoff Factor
+.5 for every % over 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
CF% Factor
+.5 for every % above 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
Award Factor
+1 for every major award won in career
Playoff Factor
+1 for every round won in last three years
Total
29 (1) 3 1.05 (11) +17 (1.5) 51.4 (.5) 50.6 (.5) 0 3

20.5

  • I feel like most people wouldn’t realize that Backstrom has basically been a  point-per-game player throughout his career. He has gotten lost in the shadow of Alex Ovechkin despite being a better all-around player. Is a better distributor of the puck than he is a scorer and has supreme vision. Standard first line puck-driving center with excellent defensive ability.

10. Jack Eichel

Age Factor
+1 every year under 30, -1 every year under 30
Health Factor
+1 for every 80 game season last three years
PPG Factor
+1 for every .1 point per game
+/- Factor
+.5 for every 5 pts positive,
-.5 for every 5 pts negative
Faceoff Factor
+.5 for every % over 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
CF% Factor
+.5 for every % above 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
Award Factor
+1 for every major award won in career
Playoff Factor
+1 for every round won in last three years
Total
20 (10) 1 0.93 (9) -13 (-1) 38.9(-5.5) 47.7 (-1) 0 0

12.5

  • Eichel often gets lost in the fold because he was drafted directly behind McDavid in the 2015 Draft and then Matthews was taken the year after him. In almost every other draft Eichel would have been taken first overall and is living up to that accolade early in his career. He had a solid rookie season and followed that up by being one of the most productive players in the league after returning from a preseason injury last year. Is one of the best at keeping the puck away from defenders and has a rocket of a shot. May be a better sniper than McDavid. The spotlight is centered on him now because he has been paid like an elite player, now he just has to live p to it.

11. Mark Scheifele

Age Factor
+1 every year under 30, -1 every year under 30
Health Factor
+1 for every 80 game season last three years
PPG Factor
+1 for every .1 point per game
+/- Factor
+.5 for every 5 pts positive,
-.5 for every 5 pts negative
Faceoff Factor
+.5 for every % over 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
CF% Factor
+.5 for every % above 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
Award Factor
+1 for every major award won in career
Playoff Factor
+1 for every round won in last three years
Total
24 (6) 2 1.04 (10) +18 (1.5) 43.5 (-3) 51.7 (1) 0 0

17.5

  • I put Scheifele ahead of some more experienced centers on this list because of the leaps he has taken in recent years and the upside he has. This season already represents his fifth full season in the NHL and his point totals have increased each year. Given the strides he has taken plus the talent surrounding him in Winnipeg means that he could be a top five center in a few years. Is equally comfortable playing a scoring and distributor role. Strong in the defensive zone with a high hockey IQ.

12. Ryan Getzlaf

Age Factor
+1 every year under 30, -1 every year under 30
Health Factor
+1 for every 80 game season last three years
PPG Factor
+1 for every .1 point per game
+/- Factor
+.5 for every 5 pts positive,
-.5 for every 5 pts negative
Faceoff Factor
+.5 for every % over 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
CF% Factor
+.5 for every % above 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
Award Factor
+1 for every major award won in career
Playoff Factor
+1 for every round won in last three years
Total
32 (-2) 2 0.99 (10) +7 (.5) 50.3 (0) 49.9 (0) 0 4

14.5

  • I’ve always had the impression that Getzlaf isn’t the most offensively-minded player  but he has been so consistent throughout his career with just under a point-per-game average. Even as he has aged his production hasn’t dropped off and he had one of his best seasons in the NHL last season. Uses his size to his advantage and is among the best playmakers in the game. Has an incredible shot while also passing the puck well.

13. Tyler Seguin

Age Factor
+1 every year under 30, -1 every year under 30
Health Factor
+1 for every 80 game season last three years
PPG Factor
+1 for every .1 point per game
+/- Factor
+.5 for every 5 pts positive,
-.5 for every 5 pts negative
Faceoff Factor
+.5 for every % over 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
CF% Factor
+.5 for every % above 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
Award Factor
+1 for every major award won in career
Playoff Factor
+1 for every round won in last three years
Total
25 (5) 1 0.88 (9) -15 (-1.5) 51.0 (.5) 51.6 (1) 0 1

16

  • Seguin has all the skills necessary to be an Art Ross Trophy winner but has been so inconsistent throughout his career, going from extremely good seasons like two seasons ago to being pretty underwhelming last year. Is a very good skater and is extremely confident with and without the puck. Is as good as anyone else in the league in one-on-one situations when controlling the puck. Able to play both center and wing but is best in the middle given his ability to pass the puck and drive play. Is injury-prone due to his frame and doesn’t take hits the b

14. Joe Thornton

Age Factor
+1 every year under 30, -1 every year under 30
Health Factor
+1 for every 80 game season last three years
PPG Factor
+1 for every .1 point per game
+/- Factor
+.5 for every 5 pts positive,
-.5 for every 5 pts negative
Faceoff Factor
+.5 for every % over 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
CF% Factor
+.5 for every % above 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
Award Factor
+1 for every major award won in career
Playoff Factor
+1 for every round won in last three years
Total
38 (-8) 3 0.63 (6) +7 (.5) 50.8 (.5) 53.9 (2) 2 3

9

  • The best passer of this generation, can threat a puck through the tightest of spaces. His vision is unmatched in the league. Doesn’t have the footspeed that others on this list do, but never really has, and still uses his strength and size to control the puck. Should probably score more goals than he does but doesn’t shoot the puck enough. He may be falling off a bit.

15. Anze Kopitar

Age Factor
+1 every year under 30, -1 every year under 30
Health Factor
+1 for every 80 game season last three years
PPG Factor
+1 for every .1 point per game
+/- Factor
+.5 for every 5 pts positive,
-.5 for every 5 pts negative
Faceoff Factor
+.5 for every % over 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
CF% Factor
+.5 for every % above 50%, -.5 for every % under 50%
Award Factor
+1 for every major award won in career
Playoff Factor
+1 for every round won in last three years
Total
30 (0) 3 0.68 (7) -10 (-1) 52.7 (1.5) 54.9 (2.5) 2 0

15

  • When Kopitar is on his game, he is one of the best players in the league. However, he is inconsistent offensively and can be taken off the puck by physical defensemen. Is very smart, athletic, and has some of the best hands in the game. He is at his best playing a two-way game, as evident by his Selke Trophy for the 2015-16 season.

*All stats and information come from Hockey-Reference.

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