Canucks Watch: Strong centers help Vancouver lead the NHL

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The best team in the NHL over the past three-plus seasons has either been the Detroit Red Wings or Pittsburgh Penguins - take your pick.

And while the two are opposites when it comes to age, confidence in the goaltending and even how they were built, Detroit and Pittsburgh are similar in how they lineup some serious talent down the middle of the top two lines.

The Penguins, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, have two of the more offensively dominant pivots in the NHL and even have a third option in Jordan Staal should one of the two get injured. The Red Wings, with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, have more experience, not quite as much offense, but a plethora of defensive acumen on their side.

Counter those centers with what you’ll see on teams at the bottom of the standings – Toronto, Edmonton and the Islanders – and it quickly becomes apparent that teams need a strong collection of high-end middlemen to be taken seriously in this league.

Enter the Vancouver Canucks duo of Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler.

Anytime you’re able to combine a Hart Trophy winner with a Selke candidate you have a good mix of attributes. Add on the fact the Hart Trophy winner has a twin brother who is just as good and the Selke candidate is having a career offensive season and you have the making of something special.

With 118 points between them this season, Henrik Sedin and Kesler are the highest scoring pair of centers in the NHL. That achievement is impressive enough and, in a league where you clearly need a good middle combo, is the antidote for a team that hasn’t won a Cup in 40 years.

But there’s more to Vancouver’s center success than simply leading the league in scoring.

As we’ve discussed in this space before, everyone knows Kesler is having a fantastic breakout season and the two-way player leads all NHL centers in plus-minus. But Henrik is also among the elite in that stat, sitting sixth among centers, five behind Kesler.

And while Kesler, sitting third amongst NHL centers in blocked shots, brings it even further, when you add third-liner Manny Malhotra into the mix you really get the perception the Canucks centers do it all. Malhotra, who leads all centermen in blocked shots and is second amongst centers in faceoff percentage, may not be a superior scorer like the teammates above him on the depth chart, but he sure rounds out the workload nicely.

From the best two teams in the league over the past three seasons to other Stanley Cup champions in Chicago (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp) and Anaheim (Ryan Getzlaf, Andy McDonald) it’s clear all serious contenders need two strong centers and anything on top of that is gravy.

Well, the Canucks definitely have their elite centers – and plenty of gravy to soak in.

This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.

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