But do you know who did? Unrestricted free-agent Nazem Kadri.
No Islanders on the NHL Network's Top 20 list centers ... or is there?
Kadri checks in at No. 14 ahead of Ryan O'Reilly, Jack Eichel, and Jack Hughes. At age 31, the unsigned center had his best season, setting career highs in assists (59), points (87), and power-play points (29) for the Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche. Despite breaking his thumb during the playoffs, Kadri scored seven goals and added eight assists as Colorado dethroned the Tampa Bay Lightning and captured their first Stanley Cup since 2001.
"Kadri himself if you look at you know, the principal reasons [the Avalanche] had the regular season that they did, they had the playoff run that they did that ultimately results in a Stanley Cup Championship. Kadri's got his fingerprints all over '21-22 for the Colorado Avalanche, a really unique package… There's a lot to like in Nazem Kadri."- NHL Network analyst Stu Grimson
When Islanders fans think about a potential Kadri signing, it's often in terms of being a No. 2 center coinciding with either Barzal or Nelson moving to the wing. Then there's been some summertime speculation that his presence could make J.G. Pageau expendable in the right deal with Kadri sliding into his spot. But it's rarely thought of him being the best center on the roster.
The rumored 7x$7M deal for Kadri looks more reasonable given the company he keeps on the Top 20 list. Of course, it's the term of the deal that has others concerned given that Kadri will be 32 next season and the track-record of players maintaining their production into their late 30's is a short list reserved some the greatest names in the game.
Mathew Barzal doesn't rank in the Top 20
Barzal is noticeably absent on the list after having the worst offensive season of his career. He had 15 goals and 44 assists in 73 games as he struggled to find continuity on his top line with a revolving door of wingers. Despite the frustration, he expressed a desire to sign a long-term contract extension with the Islanders.
In the November 2020 version of the Top 20 centers list, Barzal checked in No. 19 overall after leading the team in scoring the previous three seasons. He was coming off scoring 17 points (5G, 12A) in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles. ESPN's Greg Wyshynski had Barzal ranked 10th overall as late as April 2021.
"When you're a good player, what you want is the puck," NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson said. "He provides such a unique element to his game that the Islanders need, they don't really have … the ability to transport the puck up the ice, out of his own end into the offensive zone."
The underrated and under-appreciated Nelson is not viewed in Top 20 company, even after his 37 goals in 72 games for an Islanders team that finished 24th in goals scored last season. It was the first time the 2010 first-round pick (30th overall) reached 30 goals, but he was on pace to surpass or reach the mark each of the previous two seasons.
Nelson isn't the playmaker Barzal is but has demonstrated to be a reliable 25-30 goal scorer, and after last season, the ceiling might be even higher. It's that scoring ability that has led to many thinking that he would be the one asked to move to wing if Kadri ends up on Long Island.