After considering the likelihood of JT Miller sticking around with the Vancouver Canucks (for now) and also about the effectiveness of having him on the top line with Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat behind him in the middle, it seemed liked a good time to draw some comparisons. Given their strengths and those of the Edmonton Oilers superstar pivot-men, the overall league rankings near the top might not look much different than those of the Pacific Division. That’s where we begin.
— Edmonton Oilers – When Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are both playing the middle, the Oilers might get away with having a top-line AHL’er centering the third group and still rank at the top of the NHL.
We’re not ranking entire forward units here, or teams, just the top-three centres, and these guys, especially ‘McJesus’, are otherworldly. It’s hard not to like him either. He’s just chill, until of course the frustration bubbles over from watching his team in the D-zone. Eye test, analytics, whatever, these guys are the best the NHL has to offer and in reality their third centre is either Ryan McLeod, who needs a contract, or former 1st-overall NHL draft pick from 2011 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as a fallback. All four are lefties.
— Vancouver Canucks – Three 30+ goal scorers. Who saw that coming last season, especially with ‘Petey’s’ slow start. Dude was back on his game and then some in the second half, and he worked his arse off all over the ice. The other two did as well. Toss out Miller’s fits of frustration and occasional mini-tantrums and you have yourself a very dynamic and versatile top-3, other than the fact they’re all left-handed.
— Calgary Flames – Elias Lindholm, Nazem Kadri and Michael Backlund. Simple. Yet what isn’t simple is the fact that this team’s entire high-end make-up and chemistry has changed. Out are wingers Johhny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk and in up top are Tyler Toffoli and Jonathan Huberdeau. Lindholm operates at a first-line discount price of less than $5-million per season. It’ll be curious to see how he deals with the changes. Cocky Kadri brings sandpaper and swagger while Backlund is 33-years-old and maybe starting to slip, although he did play in all 82 games last season (39 points) and had a very strong postseason.
— Vegas Golden Knights – Attitudinally, I’ve never been a big fan of Jack Eichel’s, but I’m not his GM, coach or linemate. He’s a very talented 25-year-old centre making $10-million a season. Slotting behind him is William Karlsson, and behind him for now is Nicolas Roy. Impressed overall? Are you staggered with awe? Nope. But like Backlund, Roy had 39 points last season, in four less games, and he’s only 25-years-old. He’s strong analytically, somewhat physical, with a poor PIM differential. Why focus on the 3rd-line guy so much? Because in a lot of cases, that’s what separates the teams on this list and why the Vancouver Canucks have a win, win, win with Horvat.
— Anaheim Ducks – The quackers needed to add some veteran skill to the middle and they did so with Ryan Strome coming over from the New York Rangers to back-up the hyper-talented Trevor Zegras, who centres the top line while finishing out the final year of his entry-level deal. There is scary good youth in this line-up up front, mostly on the wings with Troy Terry and WJC hero Mason McTavish. This is a work in progress with an absurd upside. Not there yet. We’re looking at 22-year-old Isac Lundeström pivoting the 3rd line. He had 16 goals last season.
— San Jose Sharks – Wowsy. What’s new in Anaheim is what’s old up the coast in San Jose. The Veteran approach likely has a hidden star in Tomas Hertl on the top line, the omnipresent Logan Couture behind him, and Nick Bonino in a familiar place behind them centering the 3rd-lind. Only now Bonino is 34-years-old and Couture is right behind him at 33. Couture’s the face of the club, the leader, who’s possession numbers have slipped, as have his face-off percentages, yet his work ethic and his uncanny ability to draw penalties continue. This is a group and a team in gradual transition under new general manager Mike Grier and new head coach David Quinn.
— LA Kings – The venerable Anze Kopitar on first, the underrated Phillip Danault on second, and to continue quoting the ancient comic duo of Abbot and Costello, ‘I don’t knows on third”. Is it 24-year-old lefty Blake Lizotte, who did have ten goals and 24 points in 70 games last season, or is it 20-year-old, 2020 2nd-overall NHL draft pick Quinton Byfield? One would think it will soon be the latter moving up the line-up, but for now this group is buoyed by the do-everything Slovenian Kopitar.
— Seattle Kraken – The Kraken will be improved overall. The rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks should heat up, but as it relates to strength up the middle, the sea monsters aren’t that scary just yet. They do have 2021 2nd-overall pick Matty Beniers likely giving it a whirl on the top line with 2022 4th-overall pick Shane Wright waiting somewhere in the wings. Not on the wing, the theatrical term of ‘in the wings’, as Alexander Wennberg and Yanni Gourde will handle the other chores in the middle with the big club for now. If the upside holds, a Beniers/Wright one-two punch in the future could actually be downright frightening.
Shortly, in a turbo-version of this, VHN will try to slot the Vancouver Canucks on this list with all 32 NHL teams.