Throughout the week we are going to release position preview articles. These articles are going to outline the top-end talent at each position as well as the sleepers, rookies and players that are on the decline. To start things off we are going to take a look at Fantasy Hockey’s deepest position, center. There is tons of talent amongst the center pool, from 50-goal scorers to the NHL’s most talented passers.
Over the last three season’s Sidney Crosby has struggled to stay healthy appearing in just 99 of a possible 212 games. However when he is in the lineup he is tremendously productive. Crosby overwhelmingly leads all other NHL’ers with a 1.61 points per game over the last three seasons. The next best points per game player is fellow center and Penguin, Evgeni Malkin. Malkin has also had trouble staying on the ice recently. He has missed 63 games in three years including 17 last year. However his 179 points is good for a 1.20 PPG and second in the NHL since 2010. Playing on the same high-powered Penguins team makes Crosby and Malkin intriguing choices with the first and second overall picks. The only other player that might make you reconsider is the 23-year-old sniper Steven Stamkos. The Tampa Bay Lightning center has scored 134 goals in the last three seasons. He had the longest consecutive goal-scoring streak last year with seven goals in six straight games. Stammer was a beast at the Tampa Bay Times Forum scoring 18 goals in 24 games at home. Second in goals over the last three years is the Islanders new captain John Tavares with 88. The 22-year-old led the Islanders to their first playoff appearance since 2007. He was tied for the league lead in even-strength goals and third in power-play goals. Rounding out the list of Top-Tier centers is Eric Staal. In 2012-13 Staal enjoyed his best points-per-game season since his sophomore in 2005-06. The Hurricanes signed Alexander Semin prior to the 2012-13 season and he enjoyed tremendous success alongside Staal. The 28-year-old Carolina captain had the NHL’s longest point streak with 17 points in a 10 game stretch last season. He also led the league in even-strength scoring (43 points), solidifying his spot amongst the NHL elite. It is hard to argue with Crosby’s production when he is healthy, but are you willing to take that risk? Or is Stamkos the more logical and safe choice?
Next in Line
I’m not sure you can call it a “down-year” but Flyers Center Claude Giroux saw his points-per-game drop from 1.21 to 1.00 last season. He is one of the NHL’s premier playmakers having posted 151 assists in the last three seasons and could easily be in the ‘Top-Tier’. The Flyers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07 but will lean on Giroux to get back into the post-season in 2013-14. Another center who narrowly missed the top tier is Henrik Sedin. One-half of the Canucks dynamic twin duo finished outside the Top-10 in assists for the first time since 2005-06. Despite a sub-par year for Henrik, he and his brother are in the final year of their contracts, so expect him to bounce back in a big way. Jonathan Toews won his second Stanley Cup in four years and should not be expected to slow down. After winning his first Cup, Toews went on to enjoy his best statistical season to date posting 32 goals and 44 assists (76 points) in 80 games. The oldest player on the list to this point is the uber-talented Pavel Datsyuk. With the acquisitions of Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson in the off-season, the Red Wings are expected to have Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg play together for the majority of the season. Shifting to the Eastern Conference could also help Datsyuk as he’ll face teams that are less familiar with his freaky skill. All signs are pointing towards a great year from the 35-year-old Russian. After battling knee and back issues last season, Jason Spezza appears as if he will be ready to start the season as the Senators top center. He has a lot to prove after being snubbed from Team Canada’s Olympic orientation camp. Also Spezza will have a four-time 30-goal scorer on his flank after Ottawa traded for Bobby Ryan in the offseason. With Mike Ribeiro out of town, Niklas Backstrom once again becomes the unquestioned number one center in Washington. Even in a shortened season Backstrom still managed to record 40 assists. With a full 82 game schedule and Alexander Ovechkin on his wing, we could see the Swede hit 60-plus assists for the third time in his career.
Joe Thornton is the definition of a reliable pick when it comes to Fantasy Hockey. Since being the first overall selection in 1997 he has been near a point-per-game player throughout his career. He sits at 1118 points in 1125 games. Although the vast majority of those points are assists, that is what makes him so steady. Last season was only the second time Thornton had less that 50 assists since 2002-03. That being said last year was a shortened season and the other time he had 49. Ryan Getzlaf is another name that comes to mind when you talk about reliable pivots. Aside from his performance two years ago Getzlaf has never disappointed in his eight-year career. He is another pass-first player who will add close to, if not more than 20 goals. The 6-foot-four-inch power forward has built up quite a rapport with Corey Perry, making them one of the most feared duos in the NHL. Entering his eighth-year in the NHL, Anze Kopitar continues to impress. His goals were slightly down last season but managed his best assists-per-game (0.68) of his career. The Kings look poised for another strong season in 2013-14, making Kopitar a great Fantasy option once again. In his 13th season as a pro and first with the Capitals, Mike Ribeiro was able to turn in one of the best campaigns of his career. As the team’s number two center behind Backstrom, the crafty Ribeiro scored 13 times and added 36 assists (49 points) in 48 games. In the offseason he signed a four-year, $22 million US deal with the Coyotes. This move should help his fantasy stock as he becomes the unquestioned top-line center that the Coyotes have been searching for. He should have no problem adjusting to coach Dave Tippet’s system because he played under Tippet in Dallas from 2006-09. Patrice Bergeron enters camp having spent the entire summer recovering from the broken rib, torn cartilage, separated shoulder and collapsed lung that he played with in the Stanley Cup Finals. Aside from the injury concern he turned in a good season in 2012-13. He put together 32 points in 42 games in the regular season and also had 15 points in 22 playoff games. It appears as if Bergeron will be ready for the start of the season and will be playing with great line-mates whether he is the first or second line center. The Bruins are so talented up front their first two lines are basically 1A and 1B. A 20 goal, 40 assist season is what you can expect out of Bergeron.
On the Rise
One of the NHL’s most speculated moves this offseason was the trade of Tyler Seguin. The 21-year-old, former second overall pick was dealt to the Dallas Stars after a tough postseason in Boston. In Dallas, Seguin will shift back to center which is his natural position. He is expected to open the season on a line with Jamie Benn which could become a formidable tandem.
“I think Dallas is a fresh new start… Something guys just need sometimes,” Seguin said. “I definitely want that and I look forward to it. It’s a very exciting time.”
In his last full season Seguin scored 29 times and added 38 assists (67 points) in 81 games. He will now be the top-line center in Dallas and will see a lot of power-play time. You might be hard pressed to find someone with as much upside heading into 2013-14. After scoring 32 and 31 goals in his first two full seasons in the NHL, Logan Couture tallied 21 in the lockout shortened season. Had it been a full 82-game schedule, Couture was on pace for 36 goals. Coming into this year he has given us no reason not to expect another 30-goal season from him. Being just 24-years-old and his near certain goal production make him a great fantasy pick. Couture is a safe pick but he also has tremendous upside. We have him ranked as the #14 center, but he could easily work his way into the Top 10. Matt Duchene rebounded from a poor 2011-12 by leading the Avalanche in assists (26) and finishing second in goals (17). After adding the top-pick Nathan MacKinnon to the roster, the Avs are strong up the middle and it all starts with Duchene. If they are going to be successful this season they will need him to repeat last season. He was on pace for 30 goals and 45 assists in a full season, those numbers would look really good in your number 2 center slot. After a lot of negotiating Nazem Kadri was present for the first day of training camp fresh off of signing a two-year, $5.8 million US deal. The Maple Leafs first round pick (7th overall) in 2009 finally found his stride last season. With Randy Carlyle behind the bench and ample time to produce, Kadri scored 18 times and had 26 assists (44 points) in 48 games. With Tyler Bozak cemented on a line with Phil Kessel, Kadri will take the spot on the second line between David Clarkson and James van Riemsdyk. With two wingers over 6-foot and 200 lbs, Kadri should have a lot of room to move out there this season. This line should be difficult to play against with a combination of size, skill and speed. The-22-year-old will be motivated to show that he deserved more money after settling for what Toronto was firm on paying him. Like the rest of the players in on this list, there’s a lot of potential here. Lastly there is the 2011, number three pick Jonathan Huberdeau. At 19, he scored 14 goals and added 17 assists (31 points) on his way to winning Rookie of the Year honours. Huberdeau is a dual-threat center with great hands. He can make the slick pass but also slip by the D and put the puck in the net. His only downfall is the fact that he is a Florida Panther. They are not expected to be a playoff team this season, so the lack of a supporting cast around Huberdeau limits his upside. That being said, there is no denying his talent and he could get to 60-points regardless of who he is playing with.
Former first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will miss the entire pre-season and could miss all of October as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery.
“In talking to our medical staff, we’ve determined that everything is on schedule — but it’s important for them that we maintain the pessimistic schedule that we started with, which would be Nov. 1,” Oilers GM Craig MacTavish said about Nugent-Hopkins recovery.
Battling through the shoulder ailment all season RNH only posted four goals and 24 points in 40 games last year. It was a disappointing season for his fantasy owners who expected him to build on his 52 point rookie season. Missing the first month of the season will bump Nugent-Hopkins down draft boards which could make him a steal. He is too big of a name to drop too far but the injury will certainly scare some people away. He is only 20-years-old and should be able to return to form on an electrifying Oilers team. After winning the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) in 2010-11, Jeff Skinner‘s numbers have dropped. Most of this can be contributed to the concussion issues he’s had to deal with over the last two seasons. Last year he was able to suit up for 42 of the 48 games, but did not look like the Skinner that took the NHL by storm in 2010-11. Heading into 2013-14 he is a candidate to outplay his pre-draft ranking. With a healthy 82-game season, the possibility of a point-per-game season is not out of the question. He is super talented and plays on an offense-first Hurricanes team. Do not sleep on this kid come draft day. Ryan Kesler heads into training camp healthy this season after two straight injury plagued seasons. He is not really considered as an injury concerned player, but rather can he return to his mid-70 point production from 2010-11? Kesler himself seems to think so.
“This year, I’m thinking it’s going to be a career year and I’m thinking it’s going to be a great year, not just for me but for the whole team,” he said.
Now the question is, do you think he will return to form?
The first overall pick in this summer’s draft was Nathan MacKinnon. There is not much doubt that he will make Colorado’s roster. As of right now new head coach Patrick Roy has him slotted to play on the third line with Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie. MacKinnon is a speedy center with a lot of skill who can play in both ends of the rink. En-route to a Memorial Cup Championship with Halifax, he posted 32 goals and 43 assists (75 points) in 44 games. He also led all players with 13 points in four games at the Memorial Cup. It is tough to predict what a rookie is going to do in the NHL but he should be the first or second rookie off the board. The second overall pick Aleksander Barkov is another rookie who appears to be guaranteed a roster spot come October 1st. At 18, he already stands at 6-foot-2, 205 lbs. and has already played against players much older than him in Finland. Barkov has great hands for a player of his size and could bring a second straight Calder Trophy to Florida. Although he is not eligible for the Calder because he is technically not a rookie having played seven games in 2011-12, Mark Scheifele for argument purposes is still a rookie. He only appeared in four games with the Winnipeg Jets last year before being sent back down to the OHL. At 6-foot-3 he brings size and skill that the Jets lack down the middle making him a likely candidate to make the roster this season. He tore up in the OHL playoffs posting 41 points in 21 games.
“I feel like I had a pretty good season and developed my overall game quite well last season,” Scheifele said. “Heading into this year, that’s a good step. My goal is to make the team and to be there the entire year. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
He has all the necessary make-up to be a successful NHL’er, expect a big step forward from him this season.
There is probably a list of 40 centers I could hand you and some of them might have good seasons but the vast majority won’t. Therefore I’m going to give you THREE pivots that I believe are poised for great years and will outplay their draft position.
At the time of his call-up Gustav Nyquist was the AHL leader in points with 60 in 58 games. Once at the NHL level he scored only three times and had three assists in 22 games. However it was in the playoffs when he showcased his exceptional speed and skill. He had five points in 14 games in the post-season but at times he, Joakim Andersson and Damien Brunner looked like the Red Wings best line. He will play anywhere between the Wings first and third line while also seeing ample power-play time, expect a breakout campaign from the Sweden native. In the last month of the shortened season, Alex Galchenyuk had 12 points in the final 14 games of the season. He will try to work his way into the Habs top-six but looks like he will start on their third-line with Lars Eller. He needs to find more consistency this season but has a lot of skill along with a superb desire to be a great NHL player. A 50-55 point season should be attainable for Galchenyuk. After a 51 point season in 2011-12, Adam Henrique enters this season under appreciated after a rough season. He was only able to muster 16 points in 42 games but should be in for a bounce back year. He will likely find himself with some new wingers this year. Henrique will probably land on the second line alongside Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder, both veterans who have scored a combined 317 NHL goals. He signed a six-year deal this offseason which shows the confidence the Devils have in him. After last year he will certainly slip on draft day, so why not take a chance on Henrique.