#4: Nathan MacKinnon – Colorado Avalanche
We often forget how many people labeled Nathan MacKinnon a bust when he struggled mightily to live up to the lofty expectations placed on his shoulders when he was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, but it’s safe to say that all of his critics have been silenced for good as he’s without a doubt one of the best players in today’s game.
In the first slide, we discussed how important it is to be able to play a full 200-foot game as a true center in the NHL, and while Nathan MacKinnon is one of the most skilled forwards in the league in recent memory, his two-way capabilities leave more to be desired when ranking true centers in the show.
Since the 2017-18 season, when at the time Mack recorded career highs in goals (39), assists (58), and points (97), finishing atop the league in scoring has become the norm for the Halifax, Nova Scotia native. However, MacKinnon’s performance in the defensive zone and in between the hash marks is what prevents him from cracking the top three on this list.
Make no mistake about it, the line that separates the players in the upper class of this list is very fine, as they would all be taken to be a franchise 1st line center on any team in the NHL. Though if we’re nitpicking, which we always are, MacKinnon’s career faceoff win percentage of 45.7% is rather pedestrian.
Furthermore, when you want to assess whether or not someone is a true center, put them in this hypothetical scenario: Time’s running out late in the 3rd period, you’re on the penalty kill and the faceoff is in your defensive zone. Who do you have the most confidence in winning the draw and fending off the man advantage?
As insanely talented as Nathan MacKinnon is, placing your money on him to be the guy for that situation isn’t a wise bet. The fact of the matter is, the only reason we consider him to be a top 5 center in the NHL today is because of his offensive output, not because of his stout two-way game or prowess in the dots. It’s for that reason Mack comes in at No. 4 on this list.