Talked about in the Daily this morning, the NHL Network ranked the top 20 centers in the league and some are not exactly a surprise as to where they fall in (Connor McDavid as #1). While the Blackhawks do not have a center on the list, they do have a plethora in the pipeline. CHN has written at length about those centers: Connor Bedard, Frank Nazar, Oliver Moore, Paul Ludwinski, Ryan Greene, Colton Dach and even Lukas Reichel. But just how important is it from not only an organizational standpoint, but also what’s stacked against them in both the league, the conference, and the division.
The last two Stanley Cup winners came out of the West–both with strong options down the middle. But it’s a trend that every champion in the last 15 years boasted.
The Upper Echelon
Of the who’s who of NHL centers, numbers 1-5 read as Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews, and Sidney Crosby. Jack Hughes clocks in at #6, but truthfully, there may need to be a replica of his 2022-23 numbers to put him into the “upper echelon” category.
The key here? Stanley Cup contenders need that top end, real-deal center and each of the five above are that. Hughes is knocking on the door but there needs to be a larger sample size. Of those five names, two are Stanley Cup winners while McDavid and Draisaitl are on a top-heavy Oilers squad that has yet to solve the playoff puzzle. Matthews helped the Maple Leafs get out of the first round, but it was a quick exit after that.
Crosby, Bedard’s idol, will be a first-ballot hall of famer and will go down as one of the best.
The key point–if Bedard is exactly what history and analysts believe he is, history shows that with all five, success follows. The setups may be different for each team in terms of roster construction but there is a high chance of success with one of these names on the lineup card.
It’s been previously written that Moore compared himself to Dylan Larkin, which in this poll, has him as the league’s 19th best centerman.
Larkin has been penalized by playing on a rebuilding squad and is likely a top 15 at worst, but the talent ahead of him is significant. On a stronger team, Larkin is likely higher up on the chain.
Regardless, he serves as the bellwether for both Moore and Nazar, similar two-way forwards that use their speed to disrupt and score. The biggest difference they’ll have is each other along with Bedard at the top of the chain.
Other Comparables to Measure Against Blackhawks Prospects
In some ways, it sets up a very interesting setup if the potentials that are projected indeed bear out. Take Edmonton as the example–having McDavid and Draisaitl are buoys for success. Likely, the Blackhawks have a couple years worth of entry level deals as they ascend. Will Nazar and Moore tally goals like the aforementioned pair? That’s up for debate.
But some of the other names on the list–Brayden Point as an example–has been a major strength for the Lightning. He also happened to be a third-round pick. His junior numbers foreshadowed a strong scorer, and then his performance in the pros made a lot of other teams look foolish for passing on him. He could be another great comparison for Moore and Nazar.
Hughes is also an apt comparison–speedy and able to find the back of the net with a multitude of scoring options.
Ludwinski is also another case for his speed, a player who was hobbled and slowed by injury last season. A strong showing from him equates another option at first in the bottom six. Greene had a great season at Boston and will look to build off of that. He may not have that same top end speed as the other four, but he can hold his own.
A final, often overlooked option – Dach. He was a force in the Western Hockey League postseason and was also very good in the Memorial Cup. Dach and Greene remind of a solid, and strong Nico Hischier (14th on the list). Hischier has only gotten stronger with each season without compromising his strong two-way play.
Greene and Dach seem similar in that mold.
Will Not Be A Sure Reflection of Future Returns
It’s often said that fanbases overvalue its prospects and that rings true, especially if one looks at the top 10 rankings lists of each franchise–and then compares notes with the actual returns. The Blackhawks are no different, here.
But the point again is looking at players currently ranked in the top 20 of the league–and then finding those comparable playing styles in the league.
Of those in the list, speed is certainly the attribute that stands out, but so too, does the more elite level two-way play that helps build teams into contenders. Jack Eichel (#7) showed his value as soon as he was healthy in Vegas–something never fully appreciated in Buffalo if only because he wasn’t able to singlehandedly pull them out of the rebuild phase.
The Blackhawks are onto something. Maybe the list in the future will be populated with names currently in the pipeline.