The New York Islanders boast one the deepest group of centers in the NHL, but none of them were good enough to be ranked in the Top 20 centers by the NHL Network producers and analysts.
If this list was expanded by ten, the Islanders likely have three skaters in the Top 30. Mathew Barzal, Bo Horvat, and Brock Nelson have all been NHL All-Stars and have the ability to elevate their games at times to be considered among the game's best. Horvat and Nelson are capable of being consistent 30-goal scorers, and Barzal remains one of the most gifted skaters and gifted playmakers in the league.
So, is this a grave injustice? No. When you take a look at the list, there are only three or four players that you could argue should be behind any of the Isles centers.
- Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
- Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
- Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
- Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
- Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
- Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils
- Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning
- Jack Eichel, Vegas Golden Knights
- Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
- Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
- Tage Thompson, Buffalo Sabres
- Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers
- Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars
- Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils
- Tim Stutzle, Ottawa Senators
- Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
- Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
- Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
- Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings
- Elias Lindholm, Calgary Flames
The player with the best argument is probably Nelson. The 31-year-old scored a career-high 75 points last season in 82 games (36 goals, 39 assists). That ranked him 19th amongst centers in goal-scoring and 22nd in assists. Nelson remains underrated and under the radar as he's emerged later in his career, so it's understandable that the list contains younger players, such as Nico Hischier, who scored 31 goals and 80 points on the high-powered New Jersey Devils last season.
Horvat was probably on his way to cracking the Top 20 until he was traded from the Vancouver Canucks to the Islanders on Jan. 30. Horvat had 31 goals before the All-Star break and was on pace to hit the 50-goal mark when he signed an eight-year extension to stay on Long Island.
A regression was always plausible, if not likely, in the second half of the season, but Horvat struggled to find the net and get chances after Barzal went down with an injury in February. He finished with 38 goals, ahead of players such as Hischier, Anze Kopitar, Evgeni Malkin, and Elias Lindholm, all of which made the list of the Top-20 centers.
As for Barzal, he was ranked 19th on the same list after the Islanders' deep playoff run in the bubble back in 2020. When that list came out in November, he was coming off having 60 points (19 goals, 41 assists) in 68 games in his second season playing for Barry Trotz. Over a full 82-game season, Barzal was on a pace for 72 points when he cracked the Top-20 rankings of centers.
He was averaging the same points-per-game (0.88) this season (14G, 37A) in 58 games before missing the rest of the regular season due to a knee injury. It's not that Barzal has regressed, but many expected him to take a further step forward after 2020, and it just hasn't happened, though he did rebound nicely after a disappointing 2021-22 season.
If he and Horvat click on the top line and his point total pushes 80, he could find himself back inside the top 20 next season, although perhaps he will no longer be considered a center.