Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews and the Top 3 Centres in the NHL

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 29: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers battles for the puck against Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on March 29, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 29: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers battles for the puck against Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on March 29, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /
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Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews and the Top 3 Centres in the NHL

Honorable Mention

Before a deeper examination of the Top 3, let’s make note of those that occupy the second tier, just outside cracking the elite.

It should be prefaced that this is not a slight to any of these players. In fact, despite not making the upper level at the centre position, many would be considered Top 20 players in the league.

Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins is a surefire Hall of Famer who has been the face of the NHL since he was drafted and before Connor McDavid arrived with the Edmonton Oilers.

He has a resume littered with NHL awards, championships, and statistics that have set the bar for the current generation of players. Yet, he didn’t crack our Top 3 because the sun is setting on his career.

Crosby is no longer the dominant player he was during his prime. All athletes should age gracefully and maintain the standard he has set with his determination, but he is now below the top tier.

Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils had a breakout season a year ago, but he needs to stack another season or two on top of that before joining the top of the class. Late-bloomer Tage Thompson of the Buffalo Sabres is in a similar situation. More proof is needed.

Jack Eichel of the defending champion Vegas Golden Knights improved his status with his performance last year, but more needs to be accomplished. Injuries have hindered him and he needs to stay healthy.

Elias Petterson of the Vancouver Canucks has performed well, has youth on his side, and plays at both ends of the ice, but his team has accomplished little. Until the Canucks become a factor he can’t be among the elite.

Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning has proven to be a clutch performer during the team’s championship runs. He, along with Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers, in my opinion, would occupy the fourth and fifth spots in these positional rankings.

Who does that leave to occupy the Top 3 spots at centre?

McDavid of the Oilers, Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche are the current Mount Rushmore of NHL centres.

A deeper look will reveal who deserves the top ranking and why.