This article is my response to another written by James Tanner over at HockeyBuzz (http://www.hockeybuzz.com/blog.php?post_id=78980). For the purposes of this list, I am only using the players which were included in his list, which he crowd sourced. Without further ado, my ranking of the top 30 “3rd line centres”.
My rankings are based mostly off of adjusted relative expected goals for percentage, because I believe this is the most important stat in determining which player is better at helping their team outscore the other. For players who were closely distributed, I used offensive production as a tie breaker of sorts. All stats are 5v5.
Category: Weird Exception
#1. Marcus Kruger – Kruger is one of the most underrated players in the game because he doesn’t put up flashy stats. He scored four points last season… That sounds really bad. But the appreciate the true beauty of Kruger’s game, you need to dive deeper than this, even deeper than most advanced stats show on the surface.
Kruger’ job isn’t to score or put up points. His job is exclusively to stop the other team from scoring. According to Kruger’s dCorsi, we should expect someone with Krugers deployment to have around a 44% Corsi For percentage, but outperformed that by almost 10%. That’s Patrice Bergeron level of defensive brilliance. It is this deployment which allows Patrick Kane to take such easy shifts and put up giant point totals. Think of Marcus Kruger as the inverse version of Patrick Kane, equally brilliant in an opposite direction. Without one the other cannot succeed.
Category: Probably Should be Top Six
These are all players who I’m skeptical to even call 3rd liners because of the minutes they play. But as this list is crowd sourced, I’m simply ranking the players who were on this list.
#2. Mike Fisher – Fisher is an extremely underrated player. He is likely the best centre on the Predators. Yes, even ahead of Ryan Johansen. There are few two way centres in the league mightier than Fisher.
#3. Leon Draisaitl – Draisaitl played on the Oilers first line for most of the season, next to Taylor Hall. He did so with remarkable offensive ability but was no slouch when it came to driving possession.
#4. Mikael Backlund – Backlund is part of a great defensine line with Michael Frolik, which is really the Flames second line. Nevertheless he is stellar defensively and chips in a decent amount offensively.
#5. Matthieu Perreault – One of the most underrated players in the game, Perreault could play on many teams first line. He’s good for 40-50 points a season while quietly being one of the top two-way players in the game.
#6.Mikko Koivu – So Mikko Koivu is actually his teams first line centre, and he’s darn good at it. He doesn’t produce much in the way of goals or assists on a per hour basis, but he’s a legit Selke candidate. I’m not sure which two Wild centre’s the public thinks is above him, but here we are.
#7. Tomas Hertl – Hertl rose to prominence in the Stanley Cup finals, but really was a dominant possession player all season and adds first line tier goal scoring. His playmaking is weak, but he plays next to Joe Thornton…. on the first line…. on the wing. Not sure how he was eligible for this list. But he is really good.
#8. Vincent Trocheck – He was tripped. We all saw it. It happened. It was hard ranking him as low as seventh, but I suspect someone as good as Trocheck will be higher a year from now.
Category: Top of the Line 3rd Liners
#9. Vladimir Namestnikov – Namestikov plays on a team that boasts Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Valterri Filpulla down the middle. This is probably why he doesn’t get much attention for being one of the top bottom six players in the league. He adds offence and gets the puck out of his net.
#10. Elias Lindholm – Lindholm, like seemingly every other forward on the Hurricanes, is very one dimensional. He’s really good at playing D, not so good at scoring on the other team. He still adds good value to his team.
#11. Radek Faksa – See number 10, replace “Lindholm” with “Faksa” and “Hurricanes” with “Starts”.
#12. Sam Reinhart – Sabres fans would probably kill me if I said Reinhart was better than Eichel, but here we are. I’m excited to see how he develops. Is he adds a better offensive game, he’ll be a high end threat. Still only 20.
Category: Average Third Liners
#13. Nick Bonino – Bonino was underrated with the Canucks and overrated with the Penguins. He’s really good at playmaking, pretty mediocre at driving play. Not a bad player to have this low on your depth chart.
#14. Patrick Berglund – Berglund is my idea of a perfectly average third liner. Does everything okay, but he’s not great at anything.
#15. David Desharnais – I have two things to say about Desharnais. One, he’s not a top six player by any means. Two, he doesn’t deserve the crap he gets. He is what he is, and he’s not a bad player.
#16. William Karlsson – Centre, Columbus Blue Jackets… I don’t really know what else to say.
#17. David Backes – Somewhat controversial perhaps? Backes used to be pretty good, now he’s okay. He’s not worth $6,000,000, and that is a bad contact for the Bruins. He’ll probably decline quickly.
#18. Carl Soderberg – He’s not Ryan O’Reilly that’s for sure. But Avalanche fans can’t complain, considering they have Duchene and MacKinnon as their top two guys.
#19. Trevor Lewis – Sort of a poor mans Kruger. Good defensively but he’s a much bigger drag on shot generation than Kruger is. Good role player.
#20. Lars Eller – I wouldn’t have paid two second round picks for this guy but he’s better than Shaw so¯\_(ツ)_/¯
#21. Tyler Bozak – I recently found out just how good Mikhail Grabovski used to be and I now understand why Leafs fans dislike Bozak to the extent that they do. But on a list of true third liners, he’d be an upper end guy. It’s not Bozak’ fault that Leafs management sucked. Don’t take it out on him. He’s not that bad.
#22. Bo Horvat – He struggled when Sutter was out and he became the teams 2C. Best keep him on the third line for now. He did well there.
Category: Tolerable, but Not Ideal
#23. Riley Sheahan – The Wings are in some serious trouble. Zetterberg, Neilson and Sheahan are their best options down the middle. Holland will sell his soul for a wildcard spot.
#24. Kevin Hayes – Had a tough year. I think he’ll rebound. Needs to gain AV’s trust.
#25. Rikard Rakell – He kinda became overrated this year. He’s fine. Whatever he gets paid will probably be more than he’s worth.
Category: Really Bad
#26. Jean-Gabriel Pageau – He can reduce shots against. But he plays in Ottawa so nobody will notice. He’s not good at anything else.
#27. Brock Nelson – I was shocked just how bad Nelson is. Always kinda thought he was better before I looked into it. I’d trade him as he seemingly has value in a trade.
#28. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – If there’s one thing me and Tanner agree on, it’s that Bellemare is the worst 3rd line centre in the NHL. He’s worse than most if not all fourth liners and doesn’t deserve to be in the NHL.