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Fancy stats: Sidney Crosby ranked as NHL’s top center by data scientist

Stop the presses: Sid is good at hockey!

NHL: NOV 02 Oilers at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

@FauxCentre on twitter, a data scientist whose bio says they work with the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL had a really interesting series demonstrating the value and detail of the top centers in the NHL. The series concluded tonight with Sidney Crosby being named the best center in the league. It’s a pretty interesting view into the aspects of Crosby’s game.

Interesting to see this laid out in detail with a statistical background. What stood out to me is some of the information here could show why the Penguins don’t often play Patric Hornqvist with Crosby at even strength any longer. Hornqvist isn’t much of a zone entry tool, and as Crosby has grown older, his numbers here have diminished with age.

However, Crosby does remain dangerous on the rush given his incredible hockey IQ, vision and ability to pass the puck or quickly get a shot on net. Still, that’s one area where players like Jake Guentzel, Jason Zucker and even Conor Sheary and Dominik Simon can help support Crosby by being able to carry the puck into the zone more reliably than a player like Hornqvist.

One other standout is Crosby’s defensive game. The growing narrative driven by a lot of large media sources is how Crosby is redefining his game and becoming more of a “two-way” center that is excelling defensively. The advanced numbers haven’t really agreed. Crosby is certainly decent enough in his own end, but hasn’t really shown exceptional defensive results. And that’s not even a negative, if he’s digging too deep defensively, he’s not in position to lead transition attacks — where he’s undoubtedly at his most dangerous.

Still, stylistically, the data is clear that Crosby probably isn’t really a true defensive wizard. His job and his strengths skew towards offense.

Evgeni Malkin was also listed as No. 3 (with Edmonton’s Connor McDavid splitting the Penguins’ stars and taking second).

2019-20 was such a great bounce-back for Malkin. It’s almost hard to remember that is was only 12 months ago when general manager Jim Rutherford wouldn’t call Malkin untouchable and still a total franchise anchor. Malkin, in his age-33 season, scored 74 points in 55 games, often time being the singular best player on the ice in a lot of those games.

Unlike Crosby, Malkin has still been able to retain a lot of puck possession through the neutral zone, leading to a lot of solid entry numbers. And this makes sense if you think of Malkin — he’s galloping through the zone, he seeks to have the puck on his stick and he is often carrying it into the zone himself before dishing to a winger like Bryan Rust.

Malkin also is unspectacular defensively, but it’s really a small issue for what he is bringing to the table as a very elite offensive generator.

The Penguins have been blessed to have Crosby and Malkin as a 1-2 punch down the middle of the lineup now for going on the last 15 years. Time has moved on and other great players have popped onto the scene, but the Pens’ center duo have remained as super top-end players that have remained two of the very best centers in the game. Advanced stats continue to backup what has been apparent on the ice with Pittsburgh making the playoffs every season of Malkin’s career, these two are the offensive engines that fuel a strong team. Time has passed, but they’re both still at the very top of the mountain.