Top 10 of the 2010s: Centers

Using modern analytics to evaluate the best Sabres centers of the past decade

Throughout the last decade, the Sabres roster has become a revolving door, of sorts. The 2010s started with the remaining parts of the Presidents’ Trophy winning team, which quickly transitioned into a grueling rebuild, and ended with a young team with promising top-end talent. So, in attempt to identify the best Sabres of the decade, I turned to the statistics.

Anyone can look at goals and assists to draw conclusions, but that omits a player’s defensive game. Plus-minus is unreliable, as the Sabres have been significantly worse in the tank years compared to others. That would do an injustice to the good players through the dark years. So instead, I compared Evolving Wild’s Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus and Goals Above Replacement models, as well as my own, in order to rank every player from the decade.

If you aren’t familiar with how models like these work, don’t worry, I simplified my rankings into a player’s “Offense” rank, “Defense” rank, and “Overall” rank. In order to limit the outliers, a minimum was set of 50 games played for skaters. This left a total of 80 skaters to rank, as well as the goaltenders. All players were evaluated on their total time in a Sabres uniform, and, therefore, these stats were evaluated on a per 60 rate basis due to varying bodies of work.

Each day this week we will explore a new position, and today we begin with the centers:

10 - Luke Adam

Overall - 34th

Offense - 28th

Defense - 42nd

Best season - 2011-2012

That’s first line center Luke Adam to you, whom as you may recall burst onto the scene centering Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. It was downhill from there for the former second round pick, as Adam was unable to sustain any high level of play. Adam barely met the minimum to qualify, which should say something about the fun we’re about to have with the rest of this list.

9 - Ville Leino

Overall - 32nd

Offense - 54th

Defense - 22nd

Best season - 2011-2012

Signed after dunking on the Sabres in the playoffs while playing on a line with friend-turned-foe Daniel Briere, Leino was unfairly tasked with being a premier second-line center and handed a monster contract out of free agency. He notoriously did not live up to the hype. One underrated and somewhat unnoticed part of his game, however, was his defensive play. Leino may not have put pucks in the net, but he really did his part in keeping them out of his own end.

8 - Evan Rodrigues

Overall - 30th

Offense - 25th

Defense - 44th

Best season - 2018-2019

Signed as a free agent after college, Rodrigues’ value was a hot debate all the way up until being traded this past deadline. While the goal totals never really backed it, his offensive impact was actually quite effective. He was about middle of the road among skaters on the defensive side of the puck as well. His corsi numbers and strong play in 2018-2019 set up what turned out to be a let-down of a 2019-2020 campaign.

7 - Johan Larsson

Overall - 28th

Offense - 45th

Defense - 21st

Best season - 2019-2020

One of the longest tenured Sabres of the decade, Larsson was first acquired with hopes of filling an offensive void at center, before eventually settling into a role as a defensive stalwart for the club. He and his line’s key to success is their strong corsi plus-minus, indicating that the puck is mostly in the offensive end with they are on the ice.

6 - Tim Kennedy

Overall - 27th

Offense - 41st

Defense - 21st

Best season - 2009-2010

Ah, here’s a good name-pull from the decade. Kennedy may not be the name you’d expect to see coming in at number six, but, in his 79 games in a Sabres uniform, he was actually quite effective. The Buffalo native was a good checking center, putting up numbers that averaged to 21st among skaters in defensive play.

5 - Paul Gaustad

Overall - 25th

Offense - 57th

Defense - 1st

Best season - 2010-2011

As RJ would say, give a honk for the Goose! It’s too bad we couldn’t honk a little more in his three seasons in this decade, as a flash of more offense would have really moved him up this list. His defensive ranking was tops among all skaters, which proves his defensive value ranged far beyond faceoffs. Perhaps the first round pick the Sabres received in return for him was warranted, after all.

4 - Tim Connolly

Overall - 13th

Offense - 7th

Defense - 43rd

Best season - 2010-2011

Connolly only had two seasons of play in the 2010s, but, as usual, his strong offensive talent was on display. The latter of the two seasons saw him post stronger corsi numbers, and elite impacts on the powerplay.

3 - Jack Eichel

Overall - 8th

Offense - T-3rd

Defense - 63rd

Best season - 2019-2020

If this was a ranking of best seasons by a Sabres player, Eichel’s most recent masterpiece would certainly land him atop the leaderboard. His 2018-2019 season may not be far behind, as well. However, Eichel’s early seasons required some improvement in his defensive play, which brought down his overall rank quite a bit.

2 - Derek Roy

Overall - 5th

Offense - 6th

Defense - 25th

Best season - 2009-2010

Despite riding the coattails of Briere and Chris Drury for his first few years, a trip down the historical data shows that Roy was in fact a strong number one center. He was a consistent contributor to all aspects of the game, including the powerplay and penalty kill. Roy entered the decade a polished player, which vaulted him ahead of a developing Eichel in these rankings.

1 - Ryan O’Reilly

Overall - 4th

Offense - T-3rd

Defense - 35th

Best season - 2016-2017

Ah, what could’ve been. While O’Reilly posted the strongest numbers of all Sabres centers of this decade, it turns out the one thing he needed to instill the most was confidence in himself. The truth is, a little more patience from the organization could’ve led to the Sabres exiting the decade with one of the top center combinations in the NHL.

Not mentioned:

Matt Ellis (38th overall)

David Legwand (42nd)

Rob Niedermayer (48th)

Casey Mittelstadt (49th)

Marcus Johansson (50th)

Adam Mair (55th)

Cody Hodgson (67th)

Other position rankings:

Left Wingers

Right Wingers



If the poll below is not showing up on your newsreader, please click here to go vote.

Who would you rank as the best Sabres center of the decade?

Ryan O’Reilly43
Derek Roy28
Jack Eichel195