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January 17, 2019
Player Ratings - Centers
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: A few things to watch for this season with Kid Crosby. First, he needs to shoot the puck more. Sid's got a bullet wrister; he simply doesn't use it enough. And he's actually regressing.
As a rookie, Kid Crosby averaged 3.43 shots per game. He averaged 3.16 in his Hart Trophy season and 3.26 last year. That's not gonna cut it. For comparison's sake, Ovechkin averages 5.44 shots, Jokinen averages 4.16, and Lecavalier averages 3.93. If Crosby wants to take his game to the next level, he must shoot the puck. It wouldn't hurt if he added a curve to his blade either, but I digress.
Oddly enough, in Gretzky's third season in pro hockey, he also averaged 3.26 shots per game. In his fourth year (1981-82), Gretzky saw the light and pounded a career-high 369 shots on net for an average of 4.61 shots per game. It began a string of five consecutive seasons with at least 324 shots. It's no coincidence they were also the five most productive seasons of Gretzky's career, translating to an ungodly 375 goals and 1,036 points in 324 games.
Obviously, those sorts of numbers are beyond the realm of possibility in today's NHL, but that doesn't mean Kid Crosby can't learn from the example. This is the year it all clicks. His goal output will jump dramatically. I'm calling 50.
The other key component will be ice time. Kid Crosby averaged 20:50 last year. That was 14th among centers. Ridiculous. Enough already, Therrien. We get it. You don't know how to coach superstars. Read a book or something. Google's your friend.
This is going to be a special season for Kid Crosby. And it's only the beginning.
Provided, of course, an advanced race of space goats doesn't descend upon Earth and enslave all its inhabitants. But that should really go without saying.
But you want a sneaky good Datsyuk stat? He led the NHL with 144 takeaways. And that was 58 more than his nearest competitor (Mike Modano). It's a testament to his smarts and determination on the backcheck.
Despite only cracking 30 goals twice in his career, the last time coming in 2002-03, Thornton gets more assists than cheap wine, piling up a staggering 255 helpers over the past three seasons.
Much like an LCS staffer at an open bar, Jokinen has never met a shot he didn't like. He's launched 1,043 pucks on net the past three years, and the trend should continue. He's all but a lock for his fourth-consecutive 30-goal campaign.
Even though he missed time in the middle of the season due to an appendectomy, Stastny's 1.08 points-per-game average was enough to rank eighth among NHL centers. He plays a heady game, relying on his powerful skating stride and uncanny hockey sense to create offense. The same anticipation also makes him solid in the defensive zone and a reliable penalty killer.
And Stastny gets bonus points for still using a wood stick. (Sunshine) trees.
Brad Richards, Dallas Stars: A nice guy and all, but a No. 2 center and minus-57 for his career. The Bulgarian women's hockey team doesn't get scored on as much as Richards.
Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators: One of the best playmakers in hockey, Spezza registered a career-high 92 points last season despite posting his lowest points-per-game average (1.21) since the lockout. There's no questioning his talent. His heart and head? Well, that's another matter entirely.
It's time for Spezza to grow the (sunshine) up. Ottawa cleaned house over the summer, banishing the likes of Ray Emery and Brian McGrattan, but the Sens held on to Spezza. They showed their commitment to him. Now it's time he returns the favor.
Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.
Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals: His 55 assists last season were a bold statement. Bolstered by back-to-back four-assist games in January, Backstrom tallied 55 points over his final 56 contests. He also came through big in the playoffs, potting four goals in the seven-game loss to the Flyers.
With Ovechkin, Semin, and Green in place, it's hard to imagine a better spot for a young playmaker. The supporting cast should keep the dreaded sophomore slump from kicking Backstrom square in the ol' Charlie Browns.