Top center in NHL in 3 seasons debated

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NHL Network is spending the offseason presenting the best current NHL players at each position. On Sunday, the network’s producers and analysts chose the top 20 centers in the League in a special program that airs at 6 p.m. ET on NHL Network. To add to that conversation, we asked eight NHL.com writers to pick the player they think will be the best center in three seasons. Here are their choices:

 

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby told me early in the 2018-19 season that McDavid was the best player in the NHL. Since then, McDavid has scored 213 points (75 goals, 138 assists), which is tied for second in the NHL with Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning, two points behind teammate Leon Draisaitl. McDavid’s average of 1.50 points per game during that span is the best in the NHL (minimum 10 games). Since being selected No. 1 in the 2015 NHL Draft, no player has more points (469) or assists (307). Of the top 50 scorers of all time, only Wayne Gretzky (1.92) and Mario Lemieux (1.88) have averaged more points per game than McDavid (1.34) has in his five seasons. And in three years McDavid will be 26, an age when most players are entering their prime. — Mike Zeisberger, staff writer

McDavid won the Hart Trophy as League MVP in 2016-17 and has finished in the top five in voting each of the past four seasons. He won the Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion and the Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player as voted by the NHL Players’ Association in 2016-17 and 2017-18. In other words, he has been one of the best players, if not the best player, consistently for a while now. As Zeisberger pointed out, he’ll be 26 years old in three years. Let’s make yet another Crosby-McDavid comparison: At 26 in 2013-14, Crosby won the Hart, Lindsay and Art Ross. — Nicholas J. Cotsonika, columnist

McDavid’s statistics, accomplishments and accolades, cited by my colleagues above, are real and they are validated by his peers. But to me they are all decorations on what he is all about, the fastest hockey player with the highest skill who can fly up and down the ice making accurate, advanced calculations on his own movements and actions as well as the other players on the ice with him. This is not a one-game or one-season program. It continues to grow and amaze and mature. And to think that will be any different in three years is preposterous. — Tim Campbell, staff writer

I defer to the late Ted Lindsay, not with a choice but an observation. Twice McDavid has won the award that bears the name of the Detroit Red Wings Hall of Famer and NHLPA pioneer. The morning of the 2017 NHL Awards gala, Lindsay sat in his Las Vegas hotel suite and spoke about McDavid. “I’m amazed at everything that kid can do, and the speed he does it,” Lindsay said, shaking his head. “It’s ridiculous. It’s scary. And he’s what, 20? Imagine him five years from now if he stays healthy. Or 10. He could dominate his position for a long, long time.” — Dave Stubbs, columnist

Video: Top 10 Connor McDavid plays from 2019-20

 

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

All due respect to the great McDavid, but I’m going with the also-great MacKinnon. I need to remind myself that MacKinnon is 25 because he’s entering his eighth NHL season. In his past three seasons MacKinnon has scored 289 points (115 goals, 174 assists) in 225 games, averaging 1.28 points per game. From his speed to his power game to his highlight-reel goals, he’s fantastic and he’ll still be fantastic three years from now at 28. — Tracey Myers, staff writer

It may be bonkers not to pick McDavid, who in my estimation is the most talented player in the NHL. But MacKinnon is and will continue to be a more well-rounded center and the most impactful player. That’s not a knock against McDavid, but if we go down the list we can see that MacKinnon stacks up in every category (speed, puck-handling, scoring, passing, taking over games, leadership, experience). But in three years I think MacKinnon will have his name on the Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe Trophy on his resume. He showed in last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs that he can be, if not already is, the most impactful player in the League. That impact only will grow as the Avalanche continue to develop into a championship team. If I had to select one player right now to start a team, my pick would be MacKinnon. — Dan Rosen, senior writer 

 

Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning

It’s almost impossible to argue against McDavid being the best center in three years, and yet I’m going to try. Brayden Point has stunned me with his progression over the past couple of seasons as he has rocketed to the top of the list of centers I’d want on my team. He’s become a star, and he’s done it in the absolute biggest moments, including helping lead the Lightning to a Stanley Cup championship last season. At 24, and having played 295 NHL games, Point still has plenty of upside. He’s scored 262 points (116 goals, 146 assists) in his four seasons, and has increased that excellence in the playoffs, where he has scored 50 points (22 goals, 28 assists) in 44 games, including 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) in 23 games en route to the Cup last season. Though his scoring doesn’t match up with McDavid and MacKinnon, I’m going under the radar with Point. — Amalie Benjamin, staff writer

Video: Brayden Point’s best plays in Stanley Cup Playoffs 

 

Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

The safest picks are McDavid or MacKinnon, but there definitely is a chance that Eichel could narrow the gap or even rise to the level of those two players during the next three seasons. The X-factor is left wing Taylor Hall, who signed a one-year contract with Buffalo on Oct. 11 and has a chance to lift Eichel to new levels of production this season (and potentially beyond). Eichel also has proven chemistry with two other Sabres left wings in Victor Olofsson, who scored 20 goals as a rookie last season (11 on the power play), and Jeff Skinner, who scored 40 goals playing on Eichel’s wing in 2018-19. Eichel, who was on an 82-game pace for 94 points last season, was selected one pick after McDavid in the 2015 Draft and is one of the only centers with a ceiling in his stratosphere. — Pete Jensen, senior fantasy editor

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