Puck Daddy - NHL

(Rankings are based solely on players' projected performances in 2011-12. Please note that players are listed at their official position when the rankings were created.)

In keeping with tradition, there isn't a weak link among the league's top centers. It's a deep, talented bunch. You could persuasively argue the superstar credentials of Nos. 1 through 20, and you could also make a strong case for the inclusion of any of the five honorable mentions.

Sidney Crosby(notes), despite missing the second half of last season due to concussion symptoms, deserves to skate into 2011-12 as the league's premier pivot. Long live The Kid, right? It would be a devastating blow to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the entire NHL if Crosby continues to be plagued by health concerns, but the silver lining to that worst-case scenario is the fact the Pens boast two more marquee middlemen in Evgeni Malkin(notes) (No. 6) and Jordan Staal(notes) (No. 20). And there's a raft of other elite centers, from Pavel Datsyuk(notes) in Detroit to Jonathan Toews(notes) in Chicago to Henrik Sedin(notes) in Vancouver to … well, the list could go on and on. But we had to cut it at the top 25, plus five honorable mentions.

Honorable mentions: Paul Stastny(notes), Colorado Avalanche; David Krejci(notes), Boston Bruins; Joe Pavelski(notes), San Jose Sharks; Jason Spezza(notes), Ottawa Senators; Stephen Weiss(notes), Florida Panthers.

25. John Tavares(notes), New York Islanders: No man is an Island, but this young goal-scorer is as close as it gets.

24. Dave Bolland(notes), Chicago Blackhawks: Just ask the Sedin twins about the effectiveness of this two-way 'Hawk.

23. Tomas Plekanec(notes), Montreal Canadiens: Known for his sweet playmaking and even sweeter turtleneck sweater.

22. Matt Duchene(notes), Colorado Avalanche: He might not be the next Joe Sakic(notes), but close enough.

21. David Backes(notes), St. Louis Blues: Known for his devastating hits, the big Blue is coming off a career season (31 goals, plus-32 rating).

20. Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins: A two-way force and he's only 22. He's really a No. 2 center, but on the Pens he's a checking demon who can score 25 goals.

19. Anze Kopitar(notes), Los Angeles Kings: Teams up with Mike Richards(notes) to give the Kings one of the league's best 1-2 punches down the middle.

18. Patrice Bergeron(notes), Boston Bruins: A key contributor to Boston's Cup win, he's overcome the concussion problems that once threatened to derail his career to develop into a complete player. Can play, and excel, in any situation.

17. Mikko Koivu(notes), Minnesota Wild: Big, powerful pivot will benefit from additions of wingers Dany Heatley(notes) and Devin Setoguchi(notes).

16. Jeff Carter(notes), Columbus Blue Jackets: Like Richards, he was shocked and unhappy to learn he'd been traded by the Flyers. But at least he lands on a line with Rick Nash(notes).

15. Nicklas Backstrom(notes), Washington Capitals: His numbers dipped significantly last season, but that's what happens when Alex Ovechkin(notes) scores a mere mortal 32 goals.

14. Henrik Zetterberg(notes), Detroit Red Wings: Underrated two-way player who delivers in crunch time.

13. Brad Richards(notes), New York Rangers: No pressure, Brad. It's just New York City and a $60 million contract.

12. Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings: The ex-Flyers captain shouldn't lack for motivation. Look for a big year on the West Coast.

11. Vincent Lecavalier(notes), Tampa Bay Lightning: Slowed by wrist injuries the past couple years, the Bolts captain is too talented to be a minus player who struggles to score 70 points.

10. Ryan Kesler(notes), Vancouver Canucks: Forty-one goals and one of the game's best defensive players, plus toughness and leadership. That's pretty much the complete package.

9. Joe Thornton(notes), San Jose Sharks: Don't expect another scoring title or MVP award, but that's an acceptable tradeoff for improved playoff performances. The window of opportunity to win a Cup is closing, but it hasn't shut yet.

8. Eric Staal(notes), Carolina Hurricanes: Great skater, great shooter, great size.

7. Ryan Getzlaf(notes), Anaheim Ducks: Prototypical No. 1 center is big, talented and tough. The perfect pivot for Corey Perry(notes) and Bobby Ryan(notes) on the league's No. 1 line.

6. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: Combination of size and skill allows Pittsburgh's "other" franchise player to take over games. The prognosis on his February knee injury is encouraging.

5. Steven Stamkos(notes), Tampa Bay Lightning: When he's on, he joins Crosby, Ovechkin and Co. in the conversation as the game's best player. The kid just needs to be more consistent, more of a factor in every game, to reach the highest level.

4. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks: He's the playmaking twin, not the goal-scoring twin.

3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: Heart and soul of the 'Hawks is a big-stage star who leads by example.

2. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings: You know, he just might be the best all-around player in the game today.

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: Yes, we're making the big assumption that the face of the NHL will be fully recovered from the concussion issues that caused him to miss the second half of last season. Why? Because the alternative is too awful to acknowledge.

Sam McCaig is the NHL editor for Yahoo! Sports and Yahoo! Canada

Photo credits: Getty Images

Related Articles

Puck Daddy

Add to My Yahoo RSS

Related Photo Gallery

Y! Sports Blog