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Chicago Blackhawks’ Centers: A Comparison To Other Central Division Teams

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DALLAS, TX - MARCH 31: Tyler Seguin #91 of the Dallas Stars skates against the Minnesota Wild at the American Airlines Center on March 31, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Tyler Seguin
DALLAS, TX - MARCH 31: Tyler Seguin #91 of the Dallas Stars skates against the Minnesota Wild at the American Airlines Center on March 31, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Tyler Seguin /
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The Chicago Blackhawks’ depth at the center position has steadily eroded in recent seasons, which means comparisons of that depth to the holdings of other Central Division teams are likely to be unfavorable

It feels as if the Chicago Blackhawks’ center depth has steadily gone downhill since the franchise’s last Stanley Cup win in 2015. Jonathan Toews‘ health has deteriorated along with the consistency of his linemates, leading to offensive struggles. And he’s been flanked on the second through fourth lines by a revolving door of centermen.

Right now, the Blackhawks are looking at Toews, Artem Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz, Marcus Kruger and David Kampf as centers to open the 2018-19 season, although Anisimov could well be on the trading block.

It’s not the most impressive crew, to be sure. But is it really all that bad when you look at some key statistics? That’s what I’m seeking to find out today, specifically comparing that quintet to the centers boasted by the six other Central Division teams.

The statistics I looked at for this were 2017-18 regular-season points, faceoff percentage and overall Corsi-for. I know there’s much more to being a good center, especially in today’s NHL, than these three numbers. But they are three areas in which a center is expected to succeed at some level — whether he’s on the first or fourth line.

Let’s take a look at each Central Division team’s average in each of these three departments to try and garner a better understanding of which franchise holds the best NHL-ready center depth at this time.

(Note: Statistics listed as points/faceoff percentage/Corsi-for percentage.)

Chicago Blackhawks

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  • Jonathan Toews: 52/58.0/56.8

    Artem Anisimov: 31/45.7/49.9

    Nick Schmaltz: 52/40.1/51.9

    Marcus Kruger: 6/55.4/54.0

    David Kampf: 11/53.0/51.6

    Blackhawks’ averages: 30.4 points, 50.4 faceoff win percentage, 52.8 Corsi-for

    Spoiler alert: The Blackhawks’ centers averaged, by far, the fewest points among all seven Central teams last season. This had roots in Anisimov missing time due to injury, Kruger getting sent to the AHL with Carolina and Kampf bouncing between the NHL and AHL.

    Despite terrible faceoff percentages from Anisimov and Schmaltz, the bottom-line guys offered win rates strong enough to back Toews — though both Kampf and Kruger played fewer than 50 NHL games last season. As for the Corsi mark, it’s the best among 2017-18 Central centers, but it didn’t mean a whole lot last season for the Blackhawks (or, in Kruger’s case, the Canes).

    Despite two averages above 50 percent, it’s clear the Blackhawks’ center corps is among the weaker ones in this division. All but Schmaltz and Kampf are heading the wrong way as far as age, all but Schmaltz are average to slow in the speed department, and only Schmaltz appears a consistent scoring threat at this time.

    Colorado Avalanche

    Nathan MacKinnon: 97/41.9/50.9

    Tyson Jost: 22/36.7/46.0

    JT Compher: 23/45.1/48.0

    Carl Soderberg: 37/45.3/46.1

    Alexander Kerfoot: 43/42.1/48.2

    Avalanche’s averages: 44.4 points, 42.2 faceoff win percentage, 47.8 Corsi-for

    This definitely is an unimpressive group in some areas, but there’s a lot of promise here from a scoring perspective. In fact, the Avs blow away the rest of the division when it comes to average points from their 2017-18 centers. MacKinnon’s total bolsters that, certainly, but having a low point of 22 is nothing to sneeze at.

    The Avs were an abysmal faceoff and possession team last season, as shown by their center averages in both departments. Still, there’s a lot of youth and speed in that up-the-middle group, and with a scoring touch, that could prove extremely dangerous.

    Dallas Stars

    Tyler Seguin: 78/54.9/51.5

    Jason Spezza: 26/55.8/53.2

    Martin Hanzal: 10/55.1/47.6

    Mattias Janmark: 34/39.4/49.8

    Radek Faksa: 33/51.6/50.3

    Stars’ averages: 36.2 points, 51.4 faceoff win percentage, 50.5 Corsi-for

    The Stars’ center list is interesting. Seguin is an obvious star, but his health has been somewhat of a concern in recent years. Both Spezza and Hanzal (the latter competed in just 38 regular-season games last year) are injury cases as well.

    Dallas has spent the last few seasons noticeably trying to improve down the middle. It’s hard to argue this group is really bad at anything other than guaranteeing it can get through an entire season intact.

    Minnesota Wild

    Eric Staal: 76/51.2/49.4

    Mikko Koivu: 45/51.4/49.6

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    Joel Eriksson Ek: 16/42.6/47.9

    Eric Fehr: 4/47.5/50.3

    Charlie Coyle: 37/52.2/44.9

    Wild’s averages: 35.6 points, 49.0 faceoff win percentage, 48.2 Corsi-for

    It’s hard to be intimidated by this center corps, especially if Coyle is used at a wing instead of at center. (He’s still an effective offensive presence either way.)

    Staal and Koivu have been around the block, making it hard to say an upswing is on the way for either. Fehr has a known ceiling as well. The Wild certainly compete with the Blackhawks for the weakest center corps in the Central.

    Nashville Predators

    Ryan Johansen: 54/55.4/53.0

    Kyle Turris: 51/51.5/54.1

    Nick Bonino: 25/54.3/47.0

    Calle Jarnkrok: 35/51.3/47.8

    Colton Sissons: 27/55.3/49.9

    Predators’ averages: 38.4 points, 53.6 faceoff win percentage, 50.7 Corsi-for

    This is a really steady bunch of centers the Predators have compiled. Those top three all have well-known names, and the bottom two have spent the last two years grinding and making Nashville a more known hockey entity.

    These guys all still have good years ahead of them, too. At least in theory. This is easily a top-two center lineup in the Central, and a leading group in the entire league.

    St. Louis Blues

    Brayden Schenn: 70/48.0/54.6

    Ryan O’Reilly: 61/60.0/50.8

    Tyler Bozak: 43-53.6/53.3

    Oskar Sundqvist: 5/44.6/47.7

    Ivan Barbashev: 13/38.4/50.4

    Blues’ averages: 38.4 points, 48.9 faceoff win percentage, 51.4 Corsi-for

    I’d make the argument St. Louis presently possesses the best crop of centers in the Central Division. Though the bottom two guys in this fivesome don’t impress, you’ve got the potential for Robby Fabbri to play center, and recent draftee Robert Thomas already is slotted into the Blues’ forward lines on Daily Faceoff.

    So the depth certainly is there. And, unlike the Blues of past years, they’re actually moving past just having big, hulking dudes running around and trying to smash opponents after goals scored. This could be a really scary group for any NHL team to line up against.

    Winnipeg Jets

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    Mark Scheifele: 60/51.3/51.5

    Bryan Little: 43/56.0/50.6

    Nicolas Petan: 2/48.0/47.5

    Adam Lowry: 21/55.9/56.6

    Andrew Copp: 28/51.8/52.6

    Jets’ averages: 40.0 points, 52.6 faceoff win percentage, 51.8 Corsi-for

    The name power really isn’t with the Jets in this group, but it doesn’t matter too much. They have such strong wings that guys like Petan, Lowry and Copp become offensive dynamos, as it pertains to a bottom-six role.

    The faceoff win percentage is impressive, regardless of zone starts or opponents. And this is a pretty able-bodied group as well, especially when it comes to the direction in which the NHL is trending.

    Final rankings

    I’d rank the Central Division’s centers — specifically the ones that are on each team’s roster right now (outside of Kampf) — in the following order:

    1. St. Louis
    2. Nashville
    3. Winnipeg
    4. Dallas
    5. Colorado*
    6. Chicago*
    7. Minnesota

    I should say, the reason I included Kampf is because the Blackhawks’ website lists only four guys at center right now. So I wanted to make sure each team had five representatives. But even with Kampf’s inclusion here, the Blackhawks still rate lowly in the centers category.

    It’s clear the Blues and Preds have far and away the clubhouse leaders at this position, with Winnipeg not terribly far behind. I feel things drop off pretty precipitously from there, though if Dallas’ top three can all stay healthy, that group contends for the No. 3 spot on this list.

    I put asterisks next to the Blackhawks and Avalanche because I have them for a tie for fifth (the WordPress format wasn’t friendly to me trying to type out “T-5”). I think both the Blackhawks  are in a holding pattern right now, but I also think the Avs have some improvement to go to officially surpass the Blackhawks.

    Of course, none of these rankings take into account guys who could pop up from the minors or a recent draft (outside St. Louis’ Thomas) to improve or destabilize the pecking order.

    Next: The Daniel Carcillo Story: Steve Montador

    With all of this said, I do believe the Blackhawks’ centers are above the league basement. The Central Division just presently has some really strong center groups. There’s not much the Blackhawks can do about that. They can only improve their own roster. I still think, however, they need to improve at defense and backup goaltender before they address the center spot.

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