A post by long time Oiler fan Bank Shot got me thinking about centres again.
He posted a list of centres in the Western Conference that he assessed to be better than Ryan Nugent Hopkins.
“If you look at centers that are better than anything the Oilers have you could make the case for the following:
I can’t disagree with any of those choices but I expect there are a few other names that might merit discussion:
Jiri Hudler (if he played centre)
Now, that’s a pretty long list and you may disagree with some but, as much as having a second or third tier #1C IS a problem, an even bigger issue is that some teams have 2 or 3 centres who are more accomplished than RNH.
I quoted Jim Neill a few posts back when he said he believes you need TWO elite centres to win anything in the NHL and I agree with him.
The Chicago Blackhawks have proven to be the exception to this rule but even they went out and signed Brad Richards over the summer knowing they needed more skill down the middle.
(Brad Richards gets a lot of negative press because of his contract but we have to remember he did score 20 goals and 51 points last season in NY and I would imagine a 25 goal 65 point season should be doable for him with the high scoring Hawks)
So, let’s take a look at the WC teams that have 2 elite centres:
Anaheim – Getzlaf/Kesler
Colorado – Duchene/McKinnon
Chicago – Toews/Richards
Dallas – Seguin/Spezza
Los Angeles – Kopitar/Carter
San Jose – Thornton/Pavelski/Couture
St. Louis – Backes/Statsny
Minnesota – Koivu/Granlund (I’m projecting Granlund here but think there is very little chance he doesn’t succeed as an elite #2C or perhaps higher)
So that’s the 8 teams that I think satisfy Jim Nill’s criteria for winning in the NHL.
Guess what? There are your 2013/24 WC playoff teams and all of Chicago, Dallas and St. Louis actually improved their centre depth in the offseason.
So, where does that leave the remaining 6 teams in the WC?
Some of them have arguably 1 elite C while others have none.
Vancouver – Sedin/Bonino. Nick Bonino had a pretty good season in Anaheim but it remains to be seen how he will fare in Vancouver. The Canucks have been drafting centres by the mitt full recently (Horvat, Gaunce, Cassels, Fox) but I think it’s reasonable to expect only Horvat among that group has a chance at being a top #2C in the NHL.
Arizona – Antoine Vermette? Their forward group is, quite frankly, a mess and they haven’t really replaced Ribiero. Martin Hanzal is their second best centre. Yikes.
Nashville – In the offseason, Nashville opted for quantity over quality and enter the season with 8 NHL centres. Fisher (injured), Cullen, Gaustad, Jokinen, Wilson, Smith, Ribiero, Roy and Forsberg and Jarnkrok warming up in the bullpen. Perhaps Ribiero is a #1C and perhaps one of that cast of thousands can emerge as a great #2C but it’ll be interesting to watch how Nashville deploys them and how it all works out.
Winnipeg – Brian Little is an underwhelming #1C but there are certainly indications he might be among the top 1o in the WC. And, of course, the Jets are hoping Mark Schiefle can break out this season and live up to his draft pedigree.
If he does, and longshot Nic Petan, a scoring phenom in the WHL, can gain some traction they might be very good down the middle.
Which brings us to Alberta.
Calgary – Since admitting they need a rebuild, the Flames have been following the “Nill Memo” pretty well. While they are behind the curve in drafting and developing, they have spent their last 2 #1 picks on Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett, 2 players with great draft pedigrees and tons of potential. The Flames also have some decent depth at C with veterans Mikael Backlund and Matt Stajan as well as youngsters Joe Colbourne, Bill Arnold, Markus Granlund and Max Reinhart, so, if their 2 first round picks develop as expected, they’re gold down the middle
Edmonton – The Oilers started their rebuild (we think) in 2010 with the Taylor Hall draft and have been all over the map since. More than a few observers felt that, if it is even close, you should draft a C. It was close but the Oilers decided to start their rebuild with a winger while Tyler Seguin went elsewhere. The implications of that decision have been felt ever since.
While Hall is emerging as one of the best LW in the league, Seguin is already among the elite centres and is a tremendous two way hockey player. The poor fellow, Corey Sznajder, who has been tracking zone entires for all NHL games last season, raised his weary head a few weeks ago:
“Tyler Seguin is incredible when it comes to making plays at the blueline, especially when it comes to making passes. I was tracking a Blues-Stars game and noticed that Blues tried to stand him up at the blueline and he managed to dodge the pressure, and get it to (Jamie) Benn a couple of times to create scoring chances.”
If the Lowe Regime had opted to draft Tyler, not Taylor, and then followed that up with drafting RNH the following season, the team would be set at centre.
They had a mulligan a couple of years later when they could have drafted Galchenyuk over Yakupov but shanked another one into the deep woods.
So, after 8 years and counting out of the playoffs and a shit load of high draft picks, the Oilers enter the 2014/15 NHL season with two established NHL centres, one of whom is likely at the very low end of #1c’s in the WC and a rookie who could be years away from making an impact…backed up by two AHL calibre centres vying to make a desperate team.
I expect you’ll see the WC standings continue to reflect centre depth for the foreseeable future.