In this article, we’ve ranked the top six offensive centermen, and four centers that thrive on the defensive side, while also contributing some offense. All players ranked have been drafted or signed by NHL teams. The list includes three prospects from the Calgary Flames and a pair of Detroit Red Wings hopefuls. Of course, is not uncommon for the best players down the middle to take a few turns on the wing. But those listed play primarily at center.
Top offensive centers
The 19-year-old from Regina has played his entire junior career in his hometown, the last two seasons as a prospect of the Edmonton Oilers. Chosen in the first round, 22nd overall, at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Eberle is likely the most effective undersized forward the WHL has seen in recent memory.
Eberle’s rise to prominence was aided by a pair of WJCs played on Canadian soil. On this stage over two years, Eberle has played a pivotal role in Team Canada’s medal-winning fortunes with late-game heroics and consistent offensive production.
Over four seasons with the Pats, Eberle played in 265 games, collecting 159 goals and 164 assists for 323 points. At 5’11 and 185 pounds, which appears to be a stretch, Eberle has moved from the WHL to the Springfield Falcons of the AHL in each of the past two seasons after Regina failed to earn a postseason berth. Eberle will also suit up for Team Canada at the IIHF World Hockey Championship next month in Germany.
2. Brayden Schenn, Brandon Wheat Kings
Los Angeles Kings
The 18-year-old from Saskatoon burst onto the WHL scene during the 2007-08 season and proceeded to earn WHL Rookie of the Year honors. Considered primarily an offensive producer, Schenn has developed into a complete player over his three-year junior career in Brandon.
Selected fifth overall by the Los Angeles Kings at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Schenn is experiencing a deep and productive playoff run with the Wheaties. The city of Brandon will host the Memorial Cup in May. Schenn, along with regular linemates Matt Calvert (CBJ) and Scott Glennie (DAL), has perhaps been the WHL’s most dynamic trio for the past three seasons.
Schenn is a burly 6’, 195-pound centerman who does not shy away from traffic. He initiates physical play and creates open ice for his wingers. The younger brother of Luke Schenn, a 2008 first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brayden is likely destined for professional hockey next season.
3. Cody Eakin, Swift Current Broncos
The 18-year-old native of Winnipeg, Manitoba has become a reliable and consistent offensive performer in the WHL. In his third full season with the Swift Current Broncos, Eakin led the club with 47 goals and 44 assists, both career highs.
A third-round pick, 86th overall, by the Washington Capitals at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Eakin is indeed a speedster. If he can add to his 5’11, 180-pound frame in the next year or two without experiencing a decrease in acceleration, Eakin could position himself as a well-rounded prospect with a bright future in professional hockey.
Eakin, who has signed an entry-level contract with the Caps, was among the final cuts in December at Canada’s National Junior Team Selection Camp in Calgary prior to the 2010 WJC. Since the Broncos first-round elimination in the WHL playoffs at the hands of the Brandon Wheat Kings, Eakin has been skating with the Hershey Bears of the AHL.
The 20-year-old from Seal Beach, California will get a long look from the Calgary Flames, starting his assignment to the Abbottsford Heat of the AHL following the Spokane Chiefs ouster from the WHL playoffs in seven games by the Portland Winterhawks.
Wahl, who played much of the past season alongside Kyle Beach (CHI), produced a second half rampage that saw him collect at least a point in 31 of the Chiefs last 35 games. All told, Wahl scored 33 goals and 66 assists this season. He played four full seasons in Spokane, collecting 321 points in 317 games and winning a Memorial Cup in 2008.
Listed as a centerman, Glennie has also seen plenty of playing time on right wing beside Schenn over the past three seasons. The versatile 19-year-old forward is a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Dallas Stars made Glennie the eighth overall selection at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
In three full seasons with the Wheat Kings, Glennie has seen his offensive production increase each year. This past season, he collected 32 goals and 57 assists. At 6’1 and 190 pounds, Glennie has room to grow. He is a confident, skilled passer with above-average skating ability.
Last season he suffered a broken elbow, but returned to the lineup and had a productive playoff run with 18 points in 12 games. He was among the last cuts at Canada’s National Junior Team Selection Camp prior to the 2010 WJC. A berth in the 2010 Memorial Cup with the host Wheaties will provide Glennie with additional exposure and important developmental opportunities.
Ferraro burst on to the WHL scene last season with 37 goals on a Red Deer Rebels team that failed to earn a post-season berth. Despite the lack of team success, the Detroit Red Wings made Ferraro their second round selection at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
An early-season knee injury slowed the native of Vancouver, B.C. Ferraro could stand to add some weight and muscle, as he currently checks in at 6’ and 170 pounds. He was not as conspicuous during the second half of the season as a player with his skill set should have been, lending some credence to the challenges many second-year WHLers experience during their search for consistency.
A high-end skater, Ferraro now has the benefit of 183 games of WHL experience over three full seasons. While the Rebels were swept in the first round of the playoffs this season by the Saskatoon Blades, the fact is they qualified for the postseason with a young and energetic group. Ferraro has a great opportunity to emerge as the leader in Red Deer, a place where he can develop into a well-rounded contributor at both ends of the rink.
Top Defensive Centers
Perhaps the surprise of the Tampa Bay Lightning training camp at the start of the past NHL regular season, James Wright appeared in 48 games for the Bolts. In January, the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native was returned to the Vancouver Giants.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Wright will not threaten as a top-six forward in Tampa. However, he demonstrated a work ethic and commitment that forced the organization to keep him employed for more than half of the NHL campaign. Used primarily as a checking forward, an energy player, Wright managed two goals and five assists while with the Lightning.
The 19-year-old center scored six times and added 13 assists in 21 regular-season games back in Vancouver. At 6’3 and 195 pounds, Wright has pro size already and would appear destined for further development in the Bolts system next season. Due to potential salary cap issues in Tampa Bay, players of Wright’s caliber and stipend will likely get long looks as the organization strives to become a perennial playoff team again.
2. Brent Raedeke, Brandon Wheat Kings
Detroie Red Wings
Raedeke was bypassed by NHL teams in his draft year, but the Detroit Red Wings came calling with a free-agent tryout that resulted in a contract for the burly Regina, Saskatchewan native.
A key producer with the then expansion Edmonton Oil Kings, Raedeke has spent the past season enjoying the team success of the Brandon Wheat Kings after a mid-season trade. The Wheaties Memorial Cup aspirations required some lineup bolstering by general manager Kelly McCrimmon and he identified the versatile and durable Raedke as an important piece of the host club’s roster.
At 6’ and 200 pounds, he is difficult to play against and adds important depth and experience to Brandon’s high-powered roster.
3. Gaelan Patterson, Saskatoon Blades
Patterson was originally bypassed during his first draft-eligible year, yet the Flames saw enough of what they liked to make him their seventh-round pick at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He joined the Abbottsford Heat shortly after the Blades were eliminated from the WHL playoffs.
The 19-year-old native of Saskatoon has offensive ability, having tallied 22 times two seasons ago and 26 times this past season. He is also one of the Blades many well-rounded players at both ends of the ice. While he finished with 59 points this past season, he is not likely to elevate his offensive skills to the point where he will threaten as a top-pairing centerman in the NHL. More likely, he will bring work ethic and determination to the rink, attributes that should force the Flames to find him a job in their system as a reliable depth player.
Patterson is a veteran of 263 WHL games and could potentially return as a 20-year-old next season.
4. Lance Bouma, Vancouver Giants
Early on this season it was apparent that Bouma readily accepted his role as captain of the Vancouver Giants. Selected in the third round, 78th overall, by the Calgary at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Bouma will provide the Flames with grit and determination in spades as he continues to develop. Listed as a center, Bouma is a left-handed shooter who also plays on the wing.
A veteran of 295 WHL games, Bouma increased his offensive output every season. This year, he scored 14 times and added 29 assists while collecting 134 penalty minutes. Bouma provided a valuable physical presence on a Giants team that was stocked with highly skilled but under-sized key forwards.
The native of Provost, Alberta grew up an Edmonton Oilers fan, but has naturally altered his allegiance since being drafted. Should he advance to the AHL next season, he will find himself among a deep stable of former WHLers in Abbottsford.
Other Notables: Jimmy Bubnick (ATL) Calgary Hitmen; Byron Froese (CHI) Everett Silvertips; Roman Horak (NYR) Chilliwack Bruins; Tristan King (DAL) Medicine Hat Tigers; Milan Kytnar (EDM) Vancouver Giants; Matt Tassone (DAL) Swift Current Broncos.