At this point in the NHL, ranking the top centers is like predicting the winner of an Olympic 100 meter final when Usain Bolt was in his prime: Everyone else is just scrambling for second place, at best.
Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid ranked first overall in ESPN's 2023 NHL positional ranking for centers, which was compiled through 20 surveys that represented those on the ice and behind the scenes. He topped our list in 2021 as well.
This is not a spoiler. This is reality. Other centers might be "in the conversation" for best in the NHL, but McDavid is the standard they're trying to achieve.
"It's hard to comprehend how fast he is," a Western Conference team executive said. "It's amazing to watch. It's also impossible to defend."
Here's how the rankings worked: Surveys were conducted over the past two months. Respondents were asked to rank their current top 10 players at center, winger, defenseman and goaltender, based on a predetermined list of the top 25-35 players at each position. Players who were ranked in the top 10 on each ballot were given a numerical score -- No. 1 earned 10 points, No. 2 earned 9 points and so on.
There were 10 NHL players surveyed -- six from the Eastern Conference, four from the Western Conference. They range from NHL award nominees to veteran role players. To balance that perspective, we surveyed 10 people from the hockey operations departments of NHL teams, including three coaches and three general managers.
Combined, their insights led to rankings that go behind fan conjecture and media narratives to reveal the best of the best -- at least according to those inside the NHL.
Here are the top 10 centers, according to our surveys, with additional reporting from yours truly, Kristen Shilton and Ryan S. Clark to add context to the choices. Stats are collected from sites such as Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference and Evolving Hockey.