The Top 7 Canadian Centers to Ever Play in the NHLAugust 5, 2021
Ice hockey is the national sport of Canada, and the country has produced many of the greatest players the world has ever seen. When it comes to NHL centers, players from Canada sweep the board in terms of records and prowess, with two names in particular towering over the rest. Here are seven of the finest NHL centers, all of whom hail from Canada.
First on our list of greatest ever NHL centers from Canada is Joe Sakic, born in Burnaby in British Columbia. Sakic spent the entirety of his 21 year career with the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche franchise, where he earned himself a reputation as a fantastic captain. Co-captain in 1990-91, he took on the leadership position solo in 1992 and drove his team on to play above and beyond what a lesser captain might have extracted. He was named most valuable player (MVP) in the 1996 playoffs, which was also the year he first led Avalanche to the Stanley Cup, a feat that he repeated in 2001. Sakic, nicknamed Mr. Clutch, is a points machine, scoring in excess of 100 points in a season on no less than six occasions.
Sakic's skill got him a spot for Team Canada in the 2002 Winter Olympics where he played a role in delivering the nation its first ice hockey gold medal in half a century. The cherry on the cake was being named MVP for the whole tournament, against some pretty fierce competition. His loyalty to Avalanche extended beyond his playing days, and right now he's the general manager of the team.
Canadian Hall of Fame Legend
There are many legends from Canada when it comes to NHL centers, and one of the very best is Phil Esposito, who had a dramatic impact on the ice (and, later, off it as well). Ontario-born Esposito spent 18 seasons playing in the NHL, during which time he was a player for the Chicago Black Hawks, Boston Bruins, and New York Rangers. After he hung up his skates, Esposito continued to have significant influence within the sport. He became the head coach and general manager of the Rangers, and then went on to found Tampa Bay Lightning.
It was with the Bruins that Esposito hit the pinnacle of his career, securing not one but two Stanley Cups in 1970 and 1972. When he retired in the early 80s he was the second placed man on the points and goals record sheet (although certain other NHL centers from Canada have since surpassed his tallies). From 1969 to 1974 Esposito was named to the NHL's First All-Star team every single year. In terms of playing style he was famous for being a rock solid player capable of scoring from just about any position. Esposito has also won the Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy on multiple occasions (two and five times respectively) and is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Steve Yzerman is one of the best centers in NHL history and one of the many great players from Canada that have had a profound impact on the league. Despite spending more than two decades in the NHL he was a single team player, starting and ending with the Detroit Red Wings. Once his playing days were over, BC-born Yzerman stuck with the team and started working in the front office (later moving to Tampa Bay Lightning and being executive director for Team Canada for a pair of Winter Olympics). Yzerman's lengthy career and loyalty to the Red Wings saw him captain the team for an incredible period of time, exceeding 1,300 games and breaking the major league record for captaincy in any North American major league sport.
A sporting highlight was in 2002 when Yzerman achieved the rare double of winning the Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal in the same year. This was much to the delight of punters who placed some neat bets on the Bet365 casino and sportsbook. Within the NHL, this center also amassed his fair share of personal awards. In his decades in the sport Yzerman won the Selke Trophy, the Conn Smythe Trophy, the Lester B. Pearson Award, and the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance. And in 1988-9 he scored 155 points, a record that very few players on this list have exceeded.
The NHL Center that Became the Messiah
Players from Canada are commonplace in the NHL, and one center a cut above the rest is Mark Messier. Born and widely popular in Alberta, Messier spent 25 seasons in the sport with the Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, and the Vancouver Canucks. Dubbed the Messiah after he ended the Rangers' wait for a Stanley Cup triumph (a mere 54 years), Messier became a special assistant to the president and general manager of the team after his playing days came to an end. His size and strength earnt him his other nickname of the Moose (perhaps fitting for a powerful player from Canada). Messier's prolonged and prolific career enabled him to amass an impressive stat sheet, including the second most playoff points (295) and third highest regular season points (1,756).
Perhaps his most impressive feat is the unique achievement of being the only player in the NHL to ever lead two different sides to Stanley Cup glory. In fact, he's won half a dozen of them, one with the Rangers and five with the Oilers. Between 1984 and 1994 he triumphed in the Stanley Cup more than half the time. During his career Messier won the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Lester B. Pearson Award on two occasions (both in 1990 and 1992), and was considered the MVP of the playoffs once to secure the Conn Smythe Trophy.
The Youngest NHL Center Legend
Next up on our players from Canada who became top NHL centers is Sidney Crosby, who is the highest player on this list who is still competing at the time of writing. Sid the Kid made his NHL debut in the 2005-6 season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and racked up 102 points. Named runner up for the Rookie of the Year Calder Memorial Trophy, Crosby was just getting started in a career that has already made him widely considered one of the NHL's best ever players. In his second season he scored even more, making it 120 to claim the Art Ross Trophy and becoming the only teenager in any major league sport to win a scoring title. And that wasn't the only trophy he bagged that season, when Crosby also won the Hart Memorial Trophy for being the league MVP, and the Lester B. Pearson Award (proving his peers rated him highly despite his youth). He's also the youngest ever hockey player to break through the 100 points barrier.
If you believe in the power of numbers then remember 87 for Crosby. His first contract was a tasty $8.7m in 2007, his jersey number is 87, and he was born 8/7/87. The Sid the Kid nickname is fitting not only in terms of his youth when he started as a pro, but because he started playing at hockey when he was just two. Only a year later he learned to skate. It was in 2007 that he became the Penguins captain and took them all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. They were thwarted in 2008 but returned the following year and Crosby became the youngest ever captain to lead a side to the Stanley Cup. Clearly, he liked the feeling because he did the same again in 2016 and 2017. And a sweet moment came for him in the Winter Olympics of 2014, when he was captain for Canada and scored the overtime goal that saw off the United States and took gold for his country. It's his contribution that may have lead so many folks to chase NHL-themed slots when they find a Canadian no deposit bonus.
But for a laundry list of health problems, Mario Lemieux might have ended up becoming the best ever NHL center. But even with those many problems, he's still regarded by some as the sport's greatest player and most people would give him the number two spot. Nicknamed Super Mario, and the Magnificent One, Lemieux was a big guy on the ice but he managed to combine that with a delicate touch and swift skills, feinting to deceive his adversaries many a time. Lemieux's career spanned 17 seasons (only partial rather than full, for health reasons), and he spent every moment as an NHL center with just one team: the Pittsburgh Penguins. He even assumed ownership of the side in 1999. The highlight of Lemieux's playing career was leading the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cup victories in 1991 and 1992, (under his ownership, the team have won three more to date) - and one reason why it's one of the most popular Canadian sporting events to bet on. Internationally he also achieved an Olympic Gold leading Canada to victory in 2002. Lemieux's points per game average is a rock solid 1.88, only one man (see our top slot) scoring more on average. His trophy cabinet is pretty full too, with three Hart Trophies, four Lester B. Pearson Awards, six Art Ross Trophies for leading the league's points scorers, and the Conn Smythe Trophy for being the playoffs MVP in 1991 and 1992.
All that sounds very impressive, but it becomes even more so when considering Lemieux was never able to compete across a complete season. Out of 1,430 games in which he could've theoretically played, he only participated in 915. Only on six occasions did he manage 70 games or more in a season. How bad were these problems? Well, Lemieux suffered back pain so severe that others had to tie his laces. And that's before we consider that he also had spinal disc herniation and Hodgkin's lymphoma. All in all, it's amazing he was able to play, let alone become one of the greatest NHL centers the sport has ever seen.
The Greatest NHL Center of All Time
No prizes for guessing who is top of the NHL centers from Canada list, because even if this included players from the USA he'd still be top dog. A giant of the hockey game, and generally considered the best ever player, the finest of our magnificent seven is the Great One - Wayne Gretzky. He is arguably the most well known champion in Canada and it's easy to see why. His career spanned two decades and four teams during which time Gretzky racked up records like nobody's business. No other player has ever broken through the 200 point threshold in a single season, yet Gretzky achieved this feat on a quartet of occasions (one in five seasons he played). In 80% (16) of his seasons he scored over 100 points. Little wonder he's the record holder for most points and goals scored (and he also nabbed the record for most assists as well). But where does the story of this outstanding NHL center begin?
He was born in 1961, in Brantford (Ontario). When Gretzky was seven months old his parents moved house because the new place had a yard flat enough for an ice rink, which proved one of the wisest property moves imaginable (Gretzky's hockey prowess means he's now worth an estimated quarter of a billion dollars). Aged just two when he took to the ice at his grandparents' farm, it didn't take long for young Gretzky to reveal he had immense innate talent. Fast forward to 1978 and Gretzky was too young for the NHL but the rival WHA had no such limitation and he got his first taste of top flight action. The following year the WHA folded and Gretzky joined the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers.
Led by arguably the greatest hockey player of all time, the Oilers enjoyed four Stanley Cup championships. Gretzky himself picked up a plethora of accolades, including nine Hart Trophies, 10 Art Ross Trophies, and a quintet of Lester B. Pearson Awards. When he finally retired, the NHL also retired his number 99 jersey across the whole league.
And that completes our look at the seven finest NHL centers from Canada, from decades in the past to more recent players (and one still competing). Not to mention probably the two best players ever to grace the ice.