For the first time in literally decades, the Calgary Flames are stacked up the middle of the ice. With the addition of Nazem Kadri in free agency, the Flames now boast their best depth at centre in a very long time. The trio of Elias Lindholm, Kadri, and Mikael Backlund stacks up well with almost any roster in the NHL.
Commonly mentioned as the most important position in the NHL for success, the Flames have set themselves up for great success this season by loading up at centre. There’s no doubt this is the best centre group the Flames have had in years, but how does it stack up against the rest of the NHL? Let’s take a look at every team’s centre depth chart and rank them from best to worst.
#1 Edmonton Oilers
Depth chart: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan McLeod, Derek Ryan
This ranking was pretty obvious. No team can match the Oilers one-two punch down the middle of McDavid and Draisaitl. Over the past five seasons the duo ranks first and second in the NHL for points among all positions.
McDavid is the best player in the world and Draisaitl isn’t far behind. You could argue both are top-five players in the NHL which makes the Oilers’ centre depth the best in the NHL by quite a wide margin. Not much else to say here.
#2 Toronto Maple Leafs
Depth Chart: Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Calle Jarnkrok, David Kampf
Matthews is the league’s best goal scorer and probably the second best player in the world behind McDavid. He’s also the reigning MVP of the league. Tavares meanwhile is not the player he once was, but he’d still be a first line centre on most teams in the league and has shown he can still produce at a point per game rate.
Add in two dependable two-way options in Jarnkrok and Kampf in the bottom-six and the Maple Leafs have one of the best centre groups in the NHL.
#3 Pittsburgh Penguins
Depth Chart: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter, Teddy Blueger
Despite their age, Crosby and Malkin continue to be one of the best one-two punches down the middle in the NHL. Both are past their prime, however both are still among the best centres in the NHL. In particular Crosby posted his best points per game rate since 2018–19 last season and continues to play at an MVP level at 35 years old.
Malkin has dealt with a plethora of injuries recently, but when healthy he’s still a point-per-game centre and a huge luxury on the second line. Blueger meanwhile is an underrated defensive specialist down the middle, and Carter can still chip in on offence.
#4 Florida Panthers
Depth Chart: Aleksander Barkov, Sam Bennett, Anton Lundell, Eetu Luostarinen
Barkov leads the way here as he’s a true superstar—one of the best two-way players in the game—and an annual MVP candidate. Bennett meanwhile found new life in his first year with the Panthers last season with 28 goals and 49 points. Time will tell if he can continue to post those results without Jonathan Huberdeau but for now he looks like a solid second line option.
Lastly, 21-year-old Lundell was tremendous in his rookie year last season posting 44 points in 65 games. There’s a good chance he surpasses Bennett this year and becomes the team’s full time second line pivot. Whether it’s Lundell or Bennett on the third line, that’s depth most teams can’t match.
#5 Vancouver Canucks
Depth Chart: J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Curtis Lazar
Miller exploding for 99 points last season certainly boosts this ranking. Whether or not that was a flash in the pan is up for debate but it can’t be overlooked when ranking their centre group going into 2022–23.
Pettersson meanwhile has huge upside and has shown he has point-per-game potential so having him on your second line is a nice bonus. The problem is despite his potential, he’s failed to consistently play at an elite level just yet. Finally, Horvat could be considered a decent second line centre so lining up with him on the third line is a luxury.
#6 Calgary Flames
Depth Chart: Elias Lindholm, Nazem Kadri, Mikael Backlund, Kevin Rooney
No team rose up these rankings more this offseason than the Calgary Flames. By adding Nazem Kadri in free agency the Flames now boast one of the best trio’s down the middle in the NHL. Lindholm finished second in Selke voting last season on top of scoring a career-high 42 goals and is a bonafide number one centre.
Kadri meanwhile posted a career-best 81 points last season. He’s unlikely to reach that number again but as the team’s second line centre, he should thrive. Finally, Backlund has been one of the more underrated two-way centres in the league for years and the Flames can now roll him out on the third line which shows their incredible depth down the middle.
#7 St. Louis Blues
Depth Chart: Ryan O’Reilly, Robert Thomas, Brayden Schenn, Logan Brown
The emergence of Thomas last season meant the Blues shot up these rankings. Thomas looked like a legitimate star last season and at just 23 years old, the sky’s the limit. To be able to trot out former Selke winner O’Reilly as well gives the Blues a one-two punch that is tough for most teams to beat.
O’Reilly had a down year last season, but as mentioned he’s just three years removed from winning the Selke and is still borderline elite defensively. To add to their riches, the Blues also have Schenn who posted 58 points in 62 games in 2021–22. However, he struggles defensively which limits his value.
#8 Tampa Bay Lightning
Depth Chart: Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Ross Colton, Pierre-Eduard Bellemare
Even with Steven Stamkos on the wing, the Tampa Bay Lightning still boast one of the best centre groups in the league. Despite his point totals dipping the last two seasons, Point is still without a doubt a very good first line centre.
Cirelli meanwhile, is among the very best two-way centres in the entire NHL and a perfect second line option. To round it out, Colton is one of the more underrated centres in the league and should only continue to get better. The Lightning’s trio at centre is among the best in the league even if they don’t have a true superstar.
#9 Boston Bruins
Depth Chart: Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Charlie Coyle, Tomas Nosek
Despite being 37 years old, Bergeron claimed another Selke last season and is still the league’s best two-way centre by a wide margin. Krejci meanwhile, returns after a year in Europe and at 36 years old there’s question marks regarding his effectiveness. That said, during his last season in the NHL in 2020–21, he was still a very solid second line centre.
Add in Coyle who can return to a more sheltered role on the third line and the Bruins look to have one of the better centre groups in the NHL once again with the return of Krejci.
#10 New York Rangers
Depth Chart: Mika Zibanejad, Vincent Trochek, Filip Chytil, Ryan Carpenter
This group is obviously led by Zibanejad, who has developed into an all-star, point-per-game centre in New York. He’s a borderline elite number one centre in the NHL. Trochek meanwhile comes in and should offer similar value to the departing Ryan Strome as a very good second line option. His point totals went way down last season but even as a 50- or 60-point player, he’s a solid option on your second line.
Chytil is the wild card here. He’s shown flashes of taking the next step, however he’s never been able to put it together consistently. If he’s finally able to reach his potential it would give the Rangers a big boost at centre.
#11 Minnesota Wild
Depth Chart: Ryan Hartman, Joel Eriksson Ek, Frederick Gaudreau, Marco Rossi
At first glance the Wild’s centre group seems pretty weak, however Hartman’s emergence last season gives them a big boost. Hartman’s 65 points and 34 goals both shattered his previous career-highs. As long as he’s paired with Kirill Kaprizov his point totals should remain around the same level.
Eriksson Ek meanwhile is extremely underrated as a top-end defensive centreman and is still just 25 years old. Lastly, Marco Rossi is one of the league’s top prospects and carries the highest upside of the entire group. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in his first NHL season, but if he can make an impact right away the Wild are looking very solid down the middle.
#12 Vegas Golden Knights
Depth Chart: Jack Eichel, Chandler Stephenson, William Karlsson, Nicolas Roy
This ranking completely hinges on how Jack Eichel looks this season. Once considered a franchise centre, Eichel has fallen off over the last two seasons due to poor health. I’m betting on Eichel finally getting back to full health and bouncing back in a big way in 2022–23 which is why I have Vegas this high.
The Golden Knights also have two underrated centres in Stephenson and Karlsson. Stephenson has gone from a depth option to a mainstay in Vegas’s top-six and is a quality centre who posted 64 points last season. Karlsson meanwhile has seen his point totals decline in recent seasons, but he still offers strong two-way play. Together the duo plus Eichel gives Vegas a formidable group of centres.
#13 Colorado Avalanche
Depth Chart: Nathan MacKinnon, Alex Newhook, J.T Compher, Darren Helm
Had the Avalanche kept Kadri, they would’ve been a lock for top five on this list. Without him they drop off quite a bit as they’re left with some unproven options behind their superstar MacKinnon. MacKinnon is a top-five player in the world and one of the most dynamic players in the NHL. The issue is the depth after him.
Both Newhook and Compher have upside, however neither has ever posted over 40 points or played extended time in the number two centre role. If one of them can rise to the occasion the Avs could be underrated here but that’s a huge if. For now they’re floated by MacKinnon.
#14 New Jersey Devils
Depth Chart: Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Erik Haula, Michael McLeod
In terms of future potential, arguably no group in the NHL rivals the Devils. In Hughes and Hischier the Devils have a duo that has the potential to be among the best in the league for the next decade. The problem is we’re still waiting for them to hit that potential.
If last year was a sign, they may both be ready to break out this season. Hughes posted 56 points in 49 games last year, a 94-point pace across a full season. Hischier meanwhile, came in at 60 points while posting some nice defensive numbers. Round it out with the newly acquired and dependable veteran Haula and the Devils are set down the middle with plenty of room to grow.
#15 Carolina Hurricanes
Depth Chart: Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jack Drury
It’s fair to say the Hurricanes are completely floated by superstar Sebastian Aho on this ranking. Beyond him it gets iffy real quick. Aho is a bonafide first line centre who’s become a lock for a point per game pace every season now.
Staal is still chugging along at age 34 but at this point he’d be better suited on a third line. The big question mark here is Kotkaniemi. His ceiling suggests he can be a second line centre but to date he’s been nothing more than a depth option. If he can finally find that next level the Hurricanes could be bumped up the list. It’s also worth mentioning that 22-year-old Drury dominated the AHL last year and has tons of upside.
#16 Washington Capitals
Depth Chart: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, Dylan Strome, Lars Eller
Backstrom is expected to return from offseason surgery so I’ll pencil him into the depth chart. The huge bounce-back season from Kuznetsov in 2021–22 also helps the Capitals ranking. Kuznetsov went from 29 points in 41 games in 2020–21 to 78 points in 79 games last year. He’s still dreadful defensively but at least his point production is back in a big way.
The newly signed Strome meanwhile is a good fill in on the second line while Backstrom is out and will be perfectly suited on the third line once he’s back. Add in a dependable veteran in Eller and the Capitals boast a well rounded group at centre despite no elite option.
#17 NY Islanders
Depth Chart: Matthew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Casey Cizikas
Determining which Barzal will show up in 2022–23 made ranking the Islanders on this list so tough. Barzal has the potential and has shown in the past he can be an elite first line centre, but unfortunately he struggled quite a bit last season. If Barzal can reach his superstar potential this year, the Islanders would be underrated at #15.
Past Barzal, the Islanders have the dependable and perhaps underrated Nelson, as well as a couple defensive specialists in Pageau and Cizikas. The Islanders boast a solid group of four, but with Barzal a question mark they lack a true number one right now.
#18 San Jose Sharks
Depth Chart: Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Nick Bonino, Nico Sturm
The Sharks may have one of the worst rosters in the NHL, but their centre depth is still their best asset. Hertl is a solid two-way centre who has shown in the past he can be a true number one centre although on a contender he’s probably more of a second line centre. On the Sharks, he’s their clear-cut best option.
Sharks veteran Couture isn’t the same player he once was, but he still provides positive value and can chip in offensively as he posted 56 points last year. Past those two, the Sharks don’t have much to offer as Bonino and Sturm are decent depth options but nothing more.
#19 Anaheim Ducks
Depth Chart: Trevor Zegras, Ryan Strome, Isaac Lundestrom, Benoit-Olivier Groulx
Both Adam Henrique and blue-chip rookie Mason McTavish are slated to play the wing this year which drops the Ducks ranking a bit. Regardless the duo of Zegras and the newly signed Strome is better duo than a lot of teams can offer.
Zegras is a budding star who could take the next step to superstardom this season after posting 61 points as a rookie in 2021–22. His ceiling is sky high. Strome meanwhile, was a great veteran pickup who can chip in offensively and gives the Ducks a solid one-two punch. Unfortunately the depth drops off in a big way as both Lundestrom and Groulx are replacement level players which hurts their ranking.
#20 Los Angeles Kings
Depth Chart: Anze Kopitar, Phillip Danult, Quinten Byfield, Blake Lizotte
The L.A. Kings have an interesting mix at centre. Kopitar is a former superstar who at 35 years old still has a solid two-way game but is far past his prime. Danualt is a defensive specialist who showed some offence last season as he posted a career-high 51 points.
Lastly, Byfield has massive potential but has yet to show much of it at the NHL level to date as he managed only 10 points in 40 games last year. If he can take another step this season towards his ceiling the Kings could have a scary trio down the middle that would match up well with most teams. If he doesn’t, the Kings bottom two centres are lacking in a big way.
#21 Winnipeg Jets
Depth Chart: Mark Scheifele, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Adam Lowry, David Gustafsson
After a miserable 2021–22 season for the Jets, this ranking may seem harsh but behind the name value the team’s centre group is very flawed. Scheifele is still a top-end point producer, posting 70 in 67 games last year, however he’s one of the worst defensive players in the entire NHL which tanks his overall value.
Dubois meanwhile struggled to start the season in Winnipeg last year however he turned it around eventually and started to show that two-way game that made him one of the more promising young centre’s in the NHL. Past those two the Jets don’t have much to offer at all.
#22 Ottawa Senators
Depth Chart: Josh Norris, Tim Stutzle, Shane Pinto, Dylan Gambrell
The Ottawa Senators boasts some of the best upside down the middle of any team in the league, but none of their young trio have reached their full potential just yet. Josh Norris was the best of the bunch last season, posting 55 points in 66 games in his sophomore season although his defensive game struggled.
Similarly, 20-year-old Stutzle posted a very solid 58 points in 79 games in his sophomore season. Expect his point totals to sky rocket this season as he continues to develop. Lastly the Senators have another young talent in Pinto on their third line who carries big upside but we’ll need to see it first before ranking them higher.
#23 Seattle Kraken
Depth Chart: Matty Beniers, Alex Wennberg, Yanni Gourde, Shane Wright
Two top four picks in Beniers and Wright give this group a ton of potential. For now though they rank in the bottom half of the league as the duo has a combined 10 NHL games. Beniers was tremendous in his short NHL stint last year, posting 12 points in 10 games. Expect him to continue that production this season.
Fellow top draft pick Wright was gifted to the Kraken and as mentioned he carries huge upside. Gourde is an underrated two-way centre who can carry the load defensively in this group. Overall the Kraken are set down the middle for the considerable future and should only rise on this list with each passing season.
#24 Detroit Red Wings
Depth Chart: Dylan Larkin, Andrew Copp, Pius Suter, Michael Rasmussen
With the addition of Copp in free agency the Red Wings finally have some centre depth behind captain Larkin. Copp put up a career-high 53 points in 2021–22 while also posting some solid defensive numbers. His addition is a huge boost to the Red Wings depth down the middle.
Larkin meanwhile, had one of the best seasons of his career last year posting 69 points in 71 games after a down year the season prior. If he can continue his 2021–22 form the Red Wings finally have a solid one-two punch at centre. Rasmussen has failed to live up to his draft pedigree, but at 23 years old he at least carries some upside if he can figure it out.
#25 Dallas Stars
Depth Chart: Roope Hintz, Jamie Benn, Radek Faksa, Jacob Peterson
The Stars better hope Roope Hintz stays healthy this season because without him they’ve got one of the worst centre groups in the NHL. Hintz is an under-the-radar superstar who only continues to get better each season. He’s a lock to hover around a point-per-game pace every year now.
After that though the talent drops off quick. Benn is far from the player he once and is would be a bottom-six option on a better team. Faksa and Peterson meanwhile are both replacement level players.
#26 Philadelphia Flyers
Depth Chart: Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, Morgan Frost, Scott Laughton
It’s now reported Flyers top centre Couturier is week-to-week and should be back this season so I’ll include him in their depth chart. He’s really the only saving grace here for one of the league’s worst centre groups. Couturier is one of the league’s best two-way centre’s when healthy, the issue is he hasn’t been healthy for two years.
Hayes puts up respectable points for a second line centre, but his defensive impacts are downright dreadful which limits his value. Frost has some nice upside, but to date he’s played in just 77 NHL games.
#27 Nashville Predators
Depth Chart: Ryan Johansen, Mikael Granlund, Colton Sissons, Cody Glass
On the surface Johansen and Granlund seem like a solid duo as they posted 63 and 64 points respectively last season. The issue is their underlying metrics are below-average at both ends of the ice and certainly not those of top-six centres. Add in the fact they’re both entering their 30s and the upside isn’t there.
Odds are both regress after their outlier seasons in 2021–22 which leaves the Predators with no true top line centre on the roster but instead two average top-six ones. Don’t expect Sissons or Glass to help much either.
#28 Montreal Canadiens
Depth Chart: Nick Suzuki, Christian Dvorak, Kirby Dach, Sean Monahan
The Montreal Canadiens have some big names down the middle, but that doesn’t mean it translates to depth. The recently acquired Dach comes with lots of upside, but he’s yet to show much of the talent that made him a lottery pick.
Suzuki is the main piece here, and despite his down year under Dominque Ducharme in 2021–22, he looked much better under Marty St.Louis and should be a legitimate number one centre for Montreal. Dvorak and Monahan both have talent but neither has posted great results in recent years.
#29 Buffalo Sabres
Depth Chart: Tage Thompson, Casey Mittelstadt, Dylan Cozens, Zemgus Girgensons
Lots of upside, not a lot of results is what would best describe this group. Thompson’s breakout 2021–22 campaign makes him the only true top-six centre on the roster at the moment. Whether or not he can repeat those results is up for debate which makes the Sabres’ centre situation look real iffy.
Mittselstadt was drafted with plenty of potential, but at 23 years old with a career-high of 25 points posted three years ago, the odds of him reaching his potential are slim to none. Cozens looks like a good bet to develop into a legit top-six centre after a solid rookie season in 2021–22 but that could still be a year or two away.
#30 Columbus Blue Jackets
Depth Chart: Boone Jenner, Jack Roslovic, Cole Sillinger, Sean Kuraly
When you have the chance to go from being centred by Elias Lindholm to this group of centres, you just have to say yes right? When Jenner is your top line option, you’re in trouble. Despite his reputation, he’s been atrocious defensively in recent years and would be a bottom-six centre on any above-average team.
Roslovic has some upside and has shown flashes of being a top-six centre, but he’s yet to put it all together and establish himself in that role. Sillinger is the most interesting of the bunch as he comes with tremendous upside. That said he’s still just 19 years old and probably a couple years away from being considered a legit option in the top-six.
#31 Chicago Blackhawks
Depth Chart: Jonathan Toews, Max Domi, Jujhar Khaira, MacKenzie Entwistle
We’ve now entered the Connor Bedard tier. When a 34-year-old Jonathan Toews who’s coming off a 37-point season is your best centre, you’re in rough shape. Toews is still a decent two-way centre, but on any good team he’s a middle-six option.
Domi can chip in offensively, but his defensive game is brutal and he’s far from a top-six centre. Khaira and Entwistle are both replacement level options and don’t offer much at either end. The tank is on in Chicago.
#32 Arizona Coyotes
Depth Chart: Barret Hayton, Nathan Smith, Jack McBain, Nick Bjugstad
There isn’t much to say here. The Coyotes can barely ice an AHL level centre group, let alone an NHL one. Hayton is the only one with real upside here, however at 22 years old and entering his fourth season with the franchise, time may be running out for him to live up to his draft pedigree.
Smith and McBain are young players but neither have more than bottom-six upside at best. Bjugstad is nothing more than a fourth line option at this point of his career. All aboard the tank.
Win down the middle
It’s not surprise that the league’s very best teams and cup contenders show up at the top of this list, while the league’s bottom feeders are at, well, the bottom. In order to be a truly competitive team in the NHL you need talent and depth down the middle of the ice. If you can’t stack up at centre, you won’t make it very far come playoff time.
With the addition of Kadri, the Flames now boast one of the best centre groups in the NHL which should make them a matchup nightmare for many teams come the playoffs.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire