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Top 10 Best Centers in NHL History

Ranking the best NHL Centers of All Time as Wayne Gretzky leads the way. Also where Mark Messier, Phil Esposito, Mario Lemieux and more rank

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By Fan Rankings | August 12, 2022 - 12:43 PM

Centers have the most flexibility when it comes to their position on the ice. Wingers and defensemen have their zones on the ice, while a center is more of a wildcard and can go where needed.

It was my personal favorite when it came to playing offense. The main goal of a center is to break up plays and generate offense, and these ten names were the greatest in NHL history. Here are the top ten centers of all time.




Honorable Mention

Brian Trottier

Team(s): New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins

Brian Trottier has the weird trivia of being drafted twice during his draft eligible year. He was drafted 22nd overall by the Islanders and 18th overall by the Cincinnati Stingers.

He made the right choice; the Stingers did not merge into the NHL and the Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983.

He then went on to win two Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh and won one in 2001 as an assistant coach in Colorado. During 1,279 NHL games, he scored 524 goals and 901 assists for 1,425 points.

Accolades:
  • 6x Stanley Cup champion (1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1991, 1992)
  • 9x NHL All-Star (1976, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1992)
  • 2x NHL First All-Star Team (1978, 1979)
  • 2x NHL Second All-Star Team (1982, 1984)
  • Calder Memorial Trophy winner (1976)
  • Art Ross Trophy winner (1979)
  • Hart Memorial Trophy MVP winner (1979)
  • Conn Smythe Trophy (1980)
  • King Clancy Memorial Trophy winner (1989)




Top 10 NHL Centers

10. Stan Mikita

Team(s): Chicago Black Hawks

Stan Mikita is one of the greatest Blackhawks of all time, in 1961 he became the first Slovak-born player to win the Stanley Cup.

Mikita had a long NHL career, playing 21 seasons for the Chicago Blackhawks. In 1,394 NHL games, he was able to score 541 goals and 926 assists for 1,467 points.

Shortly after retirement, he was inducted into the hockey hall of fame. He was also the first player in Blackhawks history to have their number retired.

Accolades:
  • 2x Hart Memorial Trophy MVP (1967, 1968)
  • 4x Art Ross Trophy winner (1964, 1965, 1967, 1968)
  • 2x Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner (1967, 1968)
  • Stanley Cup champion (1961)
  • 6x NHL First All-Star Team (1962, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1968)
  • 2x NHL Second All-Star Team (1965, 1970)
  • 9x NHL All-Star (1964, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975)
  • Lester Patrick Trophy winner (1976)
  • The Hockey News' list of the 100 greatest NHL players - 17 (1998)
  • Hockey Hall of Fame (1983)




9. Joe Thornton

Team(s): Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers

Joe Thornton is the only active playing player on this list, even though he is a free agent. Thornton is best known for being the longtime San Jose Shark, but before that, he was a Boston Bruin for seven seasons.

He then played for the Sharks for 15 years. He has been chasing a Stanley Cup ever since, playing two seasons with Toronto and Florida.

In 1,714 NHL games, he has scored 430 NHL goals and 1,109 assists for 1,539 points. His career might be coming to an end, and it has been a wild ride.

Accolades:
  • 6x NHL All-Star (2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009 (captain))
  • Art Ross Trophy winner (2006)
  • Hart Memorial Trophy winner (2006)
  • NHL First All-Star Team (2006)
  • NHL Second All-Star Team (2003, 2008, 2016)




8. Phil Esposito

Team(s): Chicago Black Hawks, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers

Mr. Original Six, not his actual name, but he played for three of the six original NHL teams. Starting his career in Chicago, he played four seasons for them before going to Boston for nine seasons.

He then finished his career, playing six seasons for the Rangers. He won two Stanley Cups with the Boston Bruins. In 1,282 games, he scored 717 goals and 873 assists for 1,590 points.

Accolades:
  • 2x NHL Second All-Star Team (1968, 1975)
  • 10x NHL All-Star (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1980)
  • 5x Art Ross Trophy winner (1969, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974)
  • 2x Hart Memorial Trophy winner (1969, 1974)
  • 6x NHL First All-Star Team (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974)
  • 2x Stanley Cup champion (1970, 1972)
  • 2x Lester B. Pearson Award winner (1971, 1974)
  • Lester Patrick Trophy winner (1978)
  • Hockey Hall of Fame (1984)
  • The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players - 18 (1998)
  • '100 Greatest NHL Players' in history (2017)

 

 

7. Joe Sakic

Team(s): Colorado Avalanche

Joe Sakic, in my humble opinion, is the classiest player to ever play the game. During the Red Wings/ Avalanche feud, the Red Wings would not go after Sakic.

We all know the Barnaby story. Sakic had a long and illustrious 30-year NHL career with the Avalanche and Nordiques. You can also add some time as the GM of the Avalanche.

During his hockey career, he has won three Stanley Cup Championships, two as a player and one as an executive. Over 1,378 NHL games, he scored 625 goals and 1,106 assists for 1,641 points.

Accolades:
  • 2x Stanley Cup champion (1996, 2001)
  • 12x NHL All-Star (1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2007)
  • Conn Smythe Trophy (1996)
  • Bud Light Plus/Minus Award (2001)
  • Hart Memorial Trophy (2001)
  • Lester B. Pearson Award (2001)
  • Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (2001)
  • 3x NHL First All-Star Team (2001, 2002, 2004)
  • NHL All-Star Game MVP (2004)
  • NHL/Sheraton Road Performer Award (2004)
  • NHL Foundation Player Award (2007)




6. Mario Lemieux

Team(s): Pittsburgh Penguins

Who is the better Pittsburgh Penguins? Mario or Crosby? It’s quite the debate, but both players are incredible in their own ways.

Lemieux played the better part of 22 years in the NHL, even after missing some time fighting cancer. Lemieux has won five Stanley Cups, two as a player and three as an owner.

He recently sold a majority of the Penguins to Fenway Sports. In 915 NHL games, he scored 690 goals and 1,033 assists for 1,723 points.

Accolades:
  • Hockey Hall of Fame (1997)
  • 2x Stanley Cup (1991, 1992)
  • 2x Conn Smythe Trophy (1991, 1992)
  • 6x Art Ross Trophy (1988, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997)
  • 4x Ted Lindsay Award (1986, 1988, 1993, 1996)
  • 3x Hart Memorial Trophy (1988, 1993, 1996)
  • 3x NHL All-Star Game MVP (1985, 1988, 1990)
  • 12x NHL All-Star Game (1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2003)
  • 5x NHL First All-Star Team (1988, 1989, 1993, 1996, 1997)
  • 4x NHL Second All-Star Team (1986, 1987, 1992, 2001)
  • NHL All-Rookie Team (1985)
  • Calder Memorial Trophy (1985)
  • NHL Plus/Minus Award (1993)
  • Lester Patrick Trophy (2000)
  • Bill Masterton Trophy (1993)




5. Steve Yzerman

Team(s): Detroit Red Wings

The question of the last few years, is Yzerman a better GM or player? The argument could be had that he is a better GM.

He basically built the Lightning’s almost dynasty, and is on the cusp of starting another one in Detroit. Yzerman had a 23-year long NHL career, all with Detroit.

He won three Stanley Cups as a player and one as an executive in 2008. In 1,514 NHL games, he scored 692 goals, 1,063 assists for 1,755 points.

Accolades:
  • 10x NHL All-Star (1984, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2000)
  • NHL First Team All-Star (2000)
  • Lester B. Pearson Award (1989)
  • Conn Smythe Trophy (1998)
  • Frank J. Selke Trophy (2000)
  • 3x Stanley Cup champion (1997, 1998, 2002)
  • Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (2003)
  • Lester Patrick Trophy (2006)
  • The Hockey News "The Top 60 Since 1967 – The Best Players of the Post Expansion Era" - 6
  • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (2009)
  • Named on the 100 Greatest NHL Players list for the NHL's Centennial Anniversary (2017)




4. Marcel Dionne

Team(s): Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers 

Sadly, Marcel Dionne is the only player on this list to never win a Stanley Cup. Drafted 2nd overall by the Red Wings in 1971, he played in the NHL from 1971 to 1989.

During that time, he played for Detroit, Los Angeles, and the New York Rangers. In 1,348 NHL games played, he scored 731 goals, 1,040 assists for 1,771 points. He retired in 1989, after 9 games with the Denver Rangers of the IHL.

Accolades:
  • 2x Lady Byng Trophy Winner (1975, 1977)
  • 8x NHL All-Star (1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1985)
  • 2x NHL First Team All-Star (1977, 1980)
  • 2x NHL Second Team All-Star (1979, 1981)
  • 2x Lester B. Pearson Award Winner (1979, 1980)
  • Art Ross Trophy Winner (1980)
  • Hockey Hall of Fame (1992)




3. Mark Messier

Team(s): Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks

Mark Messier, what else is there to say about him? He is possibly the most beloved player in NHL history and is still making an impact on the game almost 20 years after retirement.

Messier started his hockey career in the WHA, before moving to the Oilers in 1979. During his NHL career, he played for the Oilers, Rangers, and Canucks.

During his playing time, he won five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers and one with the Rangers, the most recent time they won the Cup. Messier now awards an NHL player the Mark Messier award every season.

Accolades:
  • 16x NHL All-Star Game (1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2004)
  • 4x NHL First All-Star Team (1982, 1983, 1990, 1992)
  • 6x Stanley Cup champion (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1994)
  • Conn Smythe Trophy winner (1984)
  • NHL Second All-Star Team (1984)
  • 2x Hart Memorial Trophy (1990, 1992)
  • 2x Lester B. Pearson Award (1990, 1992)




2. Ron Francis

Team(s): Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs

The current GM of the Seattle Kraken, Francis is the second-best center in NHL history. During his 22 season NHL career, he played for the Hartford Whalers, Penguins, Hurricanes and Maple Leafs.

He won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992. In 1,731 NHL games, he scored 549 goals and 1,249 assists for 1,798 points.

Accolades:
  • 4x NHL All-Star Game (1983, 1985, 1990, 1996)
  • 2x Stanley Cup champion (1991, 1992)
  • NHL Plus-Minus Award (1995)
  • Frank J. Selke Trophy (1995)
  • 3x Lady Byng Trophy (1995, 1998, 2002)
  • King Clancy Memorial Trophy (2002)
  • Hockey Hall of Fame (2007)




1. Wayne Gretzky

Team(s): Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers

The literal great one, if Gretzky got traded, anyone could get traded. My favorite thing about Wayne Gretzky is that he was never drafted.

He started his hockey career with the Indianapolis Racers, before being traded to the Oilers, who then joined the NHL.

He then went on to play for the Kings, Blues and Rangers. Wayne Gretzky won four Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers. Gretzky played 1,731 NHL games, scoring 459 goals and 1,249 assists for almost 1,800 points.

Accolades:
  • 9x Hart Memorial Trophy MVP (1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989)
  • 10x Art Ross Trophy winner (1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1994)
  • 2x Conn Smythe Trophy (1985, 1988)
  • 5x Lester B. Pearson Award (1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987)
  • 5x Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (1980, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1999)
  • 3x NHL Plus-Minus Award (1984, 1985, 1987)
  • 4x Stanley Cup champion (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988)
  • 3x Chrysler-Dodge/NHL Performer of the Year (1985, 1986, 1987)
  • Dodge/NHL Performance of the Year Trophy (1989)
  • Lester Patrick Trophy (1994)
  • 3x NHL All-Star Game MVP (1983, 1989, 1999)
  • NHL MVP — Rendez-vous (1987)
  • Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year (1982)
  • Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year (1982)



How would you rank these great National Hockey League Centers? Rank below to be added in the NHL Power Rankings 

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