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Ranking the Pacific Division’s 1-2 Centres

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Where do Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks rank on the list of Pacific Division top-two centre tandems? That’s the question for this British Columbia Day.

Who tops the list? It would be difficult to argue against the man with the jets on his feet, Connor McDavid, and his German pal Leon Draisaitl. Yes, there are questions about their 200-foot games and their lack of playoff success, but let’s face it, McDavid is from another planet. A planet where D-man weep about getting burned to the outside and goalies get beaten top shelf from 3-feet out. McDavid has won the scoring title three of the last five years and Draisaitl once. The key to beating them, among other things, is taking advantage of the club’s lack of depth. But for today, we’re only worried about the top two slots.

Would Horvat and Pettersson (H & P for these purposes) be next? Vancouver Canucks fans are saying, “Yes, please.” Or at least “I hope so.” This is exercise in projection, especially since Pettersson missed the 2nd half of the season with his wrist injury. Also, just for fun, let’s picture a Covid-free hockey world. We’ll go alphabetically.

Anaheim’s middle isn’t what it used to be, mainly because their heart-and-soul man, captain Ryan Getzlaf, just signed a one-year deal at the age of 36. He’s riding things out in a re-build, at least for now. Whether is was Andy McDonald, Ryan Kesler, or Adam Henrique, who’s still there but could slide to the wing, the middle has never been that devastating for the Ducks; definitely not flashy. It was about pounding and grinding with solid team play, and it’s been awhile.

20-year-old Trevor Zegras, the club’s 9th-overall pick in the 2019 draft, is slated to fill the other top-two centre spot. Sam Steel is another active prospect, but he’s already had a decent look with 129 NHL GP and doesn’t have the offensive upside. Cue Mason McTavish, this year’s 3rd overall pick. He’s that Swiss-born Canadian with the Scottish name. Big kid, big shot. Give it a little time and the Ducks may indeed be devastating and somewhat flashy up the middle. And deep.

Advantage H & P

When glancing at the Calgary Flames in the off-season, just getting a feel for who may be the 1-2 punch becomes a question. It could go inverse to the amount of money they’re making; Elias Lindholm, then Michael Backlund, then Sean Monahan. Which is actually a pretty damn nice 1-2-3 balance, if only we were taking it that far. This club’s main offensive problem has been on the wing(s). But again, we’re not doing full team evaluations at the moment. This is about the 1-2.

Oh, and let’s stop the bus for a moment … June 23, 2018 – the Carolina Hurricanes sent Lindholm and Noah Hanifin to Calgary in exchange for Dougie Hamilton (who wanted out, but not as bad as he wanted out of Boston), Adam Fox (yes, that Adam Fox), and Michael Ferland (who’s career has ended here in Vancouver). One could argue that based on Fox alone, Calgary lost the trade. If you’re looking for general analytics, Lindholm and Pettersson are higher on the scales on aggregate. “Petey” was a dynamo his Calder Trophy year, while Bo-Bo and Monahan fall lower in the more recent melt.

By the way, all three Flames’ centres are sub-50% in the face-off category over the last two seasons, with Backlund at a woeful 45.6%. Meanwhile, Petey won 53.6% over two seasons but barely took any in comparison to Horvat (49.4%), who took the 2nd most in the League since 2019, behind only Ryan O’Reilly. Horvat absolutely crushed it on power play draws at 66.1% over that time period. No one else is close except for one guy who’s actually well ahead of him. Guesses? None other than Jordan Staal (70.2%). Reeeeeally? Yep. So, partly because of unexplained intangibles working against the Flames …

Advantage H & P

The LA Kings are eeeeeenteresing in this category with the addition of free agent Phillip Danault from the Canadiens. But not that interesting. Let’s face it, we’re waiting for the development and emergence of last year’s 2nd overall pick Quinton Byfield. He hasn’t even turned 19 yet (August 19th). Danault takes a lot of D-zone draws and isn’t exactly an offensive wildman. Anze Kopitar is of course Anze Kopitar. Dude has won 54.1% of his draws the last two seasons, etc. etc. He’s turning 34 this month and he’s making $10-million a year for three more seasons. Good for him, he deserves it, but I’m not sure this tandem deserves to get ranked ahead of the Canucks. Again, especially with Pettersson, this is about projecting a full recovery to performance potential. A lot of intangibles here. What will Danault’s game be like coming off a Cup loss, a short summer, and cashing in on a six-year deal. Call it a …

Push

I just like watching San Jose’s Logan Couture tip pucks. He’s one of the masters, among other things. This guy has racked up 577 career points since jumping into the league in the 2009-’10 season. But like the other struggling California teams, this is about re-building, re-constructing, out with the old and in with the new. That said, in the specific 1-2 centre category, Couture’s pal Tomas Hertl is one of the most under-rated players in the league, especially lately. Fans east of Lake Winnipegosis would have a hard time spelling his first or last name. He had 74 points in 77 games in the NHL’s last full season.

Both Couture and Hertl are career Sharks and the captain has been around long enough to have played in the postseason against Vancouver in both 2011 and 2013. These guys bring experience intangibles to the table and in terms of mooshing the Corsi ratings with other algorithms, the two slot efficiently ahead of the Vancouver pairing. Keeping the middle ground wide here …

Advantage Sharks

Seattle Kraken my head open. Next …

Advantage H & P

The Vegas Golden Knights present the inverse dichotomy of making this list. Where the Canucks should clearly be better than most of these teams, but not necessarily better in the top-two centre positions, this is one where they’re clearly better in the top-two centre positions, but not better as a team.

Not that I have anything against Chandler Stephenson and William Karlsson, but they’re not blowing your doors off. Stephenson’s Corsica, if you’re into that type of thing, was 101st among NHL centres last season. Most of this team’s production, power, strength in those numbers, comes off the wing. Deeply.

Advantage H & P

Vancouver Canucks: Captain Bo and Petey: It’s always a good sign when your top two centres are actually 1A and 1B for the moment and they’re both legit. This list/ranking would change once we factor in third and fourth line centres which we’ll do closer to the season. Need that one signature on a contract.

Right now, in this hypothetical category on August 2nd – tied for 3rd in the Pacific.

Oilers, Sharks, Canucks/Kings, Calgary, Vegas, Anaheim, Seattle

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