What is the most important position in hockey? 5 reasons why it is the centermen

What position has the greatest impact on the game of hockey? Hockey fans love to debate about all things hockey, and there has been lots of debate over what the most important position in hockey is.

So, what is the most important position in hockey? The centermen is the most important position in hockey. The most coveted player to obtain by a general manager in the NHL would be a prototypical big, skilled centermen who can control the play and pace of the game, and dominate in both the offensive and defensive zone.

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An argument will be made that choosing what position is the most important is a subjective exercise, and to a certain extent this is true. Different people will have different philosophies of what will make a team great and how best to do that.

Some of the common philosophies will be to start from the net out or defence wins championships or build up the middle. But, what is true? What position makes the greatest impact on the game and on a team?

For me, and I think for a lot of people the answer to this question would be the centermen. I believe in the concept of build up the middle. I think you can win a championship with average goaltending, because that can be overcome with a good team defensive system. However, it would be practically impossible to win a Stanley Cup without high-end players at your center position.

Centers are players that more than any other control the play and pace of the game and have the highest impact in both the offensive and defensive zones. I believe that the goalie is the hardest position to play, but it is the centermen who is the most important.  

Well, let’s look at some data and hockey wisdom to find out how the position of center stands out from the rest in the impact category and has produced the most impactful players of all time.

Reason #1: Most players inducted into the Hall of Fame by Position since 1999

Hall of Fame Inductees since 1999
PositionTotal
Center24
Right Wing14
Left Wing10
Defensemen 16
Goalie 6

Of all the players inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame since 1999, 24 of them were centers. Within that list the most notable where Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. What surprised me was that only 6 goaltenders had been inducted – amazing goaltenders such as Patrick Roy, Domink Hasek and Martin Brodeur, but still only 6.

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The Hockey Hall of Fame vote, if anything, is a vote at the level of impact of a player on the game during their era. And, it has been determined that the most impact on the game was done by players that played the center position.  

Reason #2: Hart Trophy Winners for Most Valuable Player

Hart Trophy Winners by Position since 1923
PositionTotal
Center49
Left Wing8
Right Wing16
Defensemen11
Goalie 8

The Hart Trophy is awarded at the end of the year to the player that is deemed to be the Most Valuable Player to his team. In the NHL the player who has been deemed to be the most valuable to his team since the award was given out in 1923 has played center 49 times. The next position is not even close at 16 times with Right Wing. In fact, if you combine the amount of times a player has won the award at a non-centre position it totals 43, which is still 6 short of tying the amount of times by a center.

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To be honest the award for the Hart trophy is weighted towards the forward position as a defensemen and goalie have to be extra special to win the award since they get their own trophies (Norris and Vezina).

However, when you look at the actual data of the award it is consistently the center far more than any other position who has been deemed by the hockey community as making the most impact to the success of the team.  

Reason #3: Most overall #1 draft picks are #1 Centers

First Overall Draft Positions since 1980
PositionTotal
Center17
Wing10
Defencemen7
Goalie2

The NHL entry draft is a chance for NHL teams to find the next superstar player who is going to make the biggest difference to their franchise going forward.

If you look who was chosen first overall since 1980, it has been a player at the center position 17 times. That is only two times less than all of the other positions combined at 19.

As well if you look at the centres who were drafted it is a who’s who of NHL starts: Mario Lemieux, Mike Modano, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid – and the list goes on.

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The other positions have great stars drafted as well but many more flops: Rick DiPietro (G), Ed Jovanoski (D), Bryan Berard (D), Chris Phillips (D), Roman Hamrlik (D). All of these were solid NHL players but pale in comparison to the centers who were taken 1st overall.

Reason #4: The hardest thing to do in the NHL: Score goals. Who does it the best? Centermen!

It is said that the hardest thing to do in the NHL is get points and score goals. Defence can be taught, but scoring cannot. The NHL managers covet players who can put points up on the board, and players who drive the most offence in the game are the centers.

A team can teach a defensive system to try and compensate for their lack of scoring prowess, but they can not as easily create a system to score goals. Defensive play is seen as something that can be controlled or taught, but scoring is natural and requires creativity and imagination that a player either just has or doesn’t.

With this in mind, it is rare to find these special offensive players.  When you look at the scoring totals at the end of each year, the centermen will always be near the top in the greatest number – this is overwhelmingly the case year-to-year.

Reason #5: Redraft the NHL who would be the first players taken? Centermen!

A fun question to ask is, “if all of the players in the draft were put into a pool and redrafted who would be taken first”?

You would get a lot of debate, but most people would fall on taking one of the top centerss in the game. The names you would hear most would be Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon or Auston Matthews. There are amazing players such as Patrick Kane, Nikitia Kucherov, Carey Price or Brett Burns but all would be chosen after the top centers of the game. Everyone knows the best cornerstone piece to build your team around is the top center. Other positions you can compensate for and still win, but if you do not have top line centers it is almost impossible to win a championship.

Conclusion

So, there you have it – the case for why the centermen is the most important position. It really is the premium position in hockey.

As a fan of hockey, I want my team to be able to acquire great centermen, because I know that it really is the cornerstone of a great hockey team. All the other positions can be added after that (although, I would want a great goalie and top defensemen right after the centermen).

It is the most important position in hockey, and do not let anyone else tell you otherwise 🙂

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