By Ian Oland
The NHL Network came out with a list of their top 20 centers in the NHL right now and two Washington Capitals players made the final rankings.
Evgeny Kuznetsov was ranked 16th while Nicklas Backstrom was penciled in at 18th.
Our Top 20 Centers are… #NHLTopPlayers pic.twitter.com/gNgTUyUqyk
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) August 5, 2019
Here’s how the NHL explained the Caps’ rankings.
16. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals
The 27-year-old had 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists) last season after he had an NHL career-high 83 (27 goals, 56 assists) in 2017-18. Kuznetsov led the 2018 playoffs with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) to help the Capitals win the Cup for the first time.
18. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals
One of the elite passers in the NHL, Backstrom had 52 assists last season, the sixth straight he’s had at least 50, coinciding with a stretch of six straight with at least 70 points. Backstrom, who has missed 10 games since the start of the 2013-14 season, has averaged 32.2 power-play points per season in that span. The 31-year-old had 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 20 games in the 2018 playoffs to help Washington win the Cup.
The NHL Network’s list isn’t bad overall — all of these players are really good — but where some players slot seems somewhat arbitrary.
For instance, slotting Kuznetsov over Backstrom is questionable, even when considering narrative-esque factors like Backstrom’s age and Kuznetsov being in his prime. Backstrom, who was given more of a shutdown role by Todd Reirden, had more points than Kuznetsov (74 v. 72) last season and did better in almost every possession metric. And while Kuzy is very, very special offensively and can take over games when he’s feeling it, last year he had one of the worst defensive seasons in recent NHL history. Then there are faceoffs. Sure, faceoff success isn’t as important as it’s made out to be, but Kuzy finished last season with his FO percentage under the Hockey Mendoza Line (38.7 percent) while Backstrom was more dependable (48.6 percent).
Kuznetsov did spend more time with Alex Ovechkin on the top line at 5-v-5 and has a higher salary than Backstrom. Do those factors combined with Kuzy’s monster performance during the 2017-18 regular season and the 2018 postseason make him better right now than Backstrom? It’s hard to say.
What I can say though is that I’m very glad both of these boys are on my favorite team (and Nicklas Backstrom should have won three Selke Trophies already).
What do you think of the NHL Network’s list?
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