These articles were too big for the draft kit, but I will be releasing my positional previews over the next few days. We will start with the centres. In these posts we will look at a ton of different players and break them down into tiers and discuss what you can expect from them this season.
You can not talk about the elite centres without starting with Sidney Crosby. After three injury ravaged seasons in a row, where Crosby missed a total of 113 games, he played 80 of 82 games in 2013-14. As you would expect when he stayed in the lineup he was able to produce his fourth 100-plus point season. He s already entering his 10th NHL season and is the consensus first overall fantasy pick. Injury concerns aside, there is no player with a better chance to lead the league in points than Crosby. Once Crosby is off of the board, there is little doubt that Steven Stamkos will follow him. After breaking his leg in November, Stammer made a miraculous recovery and was back in the ice just four months later. Despite missing 45 games, he still tallied 25 goals, which is a 55-goal pace had he played every single game like he did in the previous four seasons. He is a preseason favourite for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy. Crosby’s teammate Evgeni Malkin is no slouch either. He too missed time with injury last season, limiting him to just 60 games. No one will ever doubt Malkin’s talent, but his durability is really starting to come into question. Over the last five seasons he has missed a total of 100 games. If you have the third overall pick, you might want to look at someone with a better chance at playing a full season. Wow, 2013-14 was a tough season for elite centres. John Tavares missed 23 games after tearing his MCL in the Winter Olympics. The 23-year-old had only missed three games in his first four seasons and last year’s injury shouldn’t worry you. He was on pace for a career-year before getting injured, so expect a monster season out of the Islanders’ star centre. While Tavares was off tearing his knee up in Sochi, Claude Giroux was at home…bitter he was left off of Team Canada. Following the Olympic break, Giroux took his frustration out on the NHL, scoring 29 points in the final 24 games to lead all players over that span. He is as gifted of a playmaker as you will find and a definite early round pick with his 30-goal, 60-assist potential. Rounding out the top-tier of fantasy centres is Ryan Getzlaf. An increased shooting percentage over the last two seasons has seen his goals per game rise from 0.268 in his first seven seasons to 0.38 over the last two years. He might not score 30 goals again, but you know a boatload of assists will be there with Corey Perry forever on his right wing.
When I started writing this article I said to myself, I only want five or six players max per category, so that left Tyler Seguin on the outside looking into the Elite tier. I guess we will give him one more year to prove that he can maintain what he did last season, but lets be honest… He is going to do it. He scored 37 goals with 47 assists (84 points) in 80 games last season and you can expect much of the same in his second year in Dallas. In Colorado they have a pair of young stud centres. Nathan MacKinnon broke onto the scene in his rookie year, tallying 24 goals and 39 assists (63 points) in 82 games, while Matt Duchene is still just 23-years-old but already has 105 goals and 158 assists in his young career. MacKinnon is the real deal. The kid can flat-out fly and showed the ability to score right away. He will take another step forward in 2014-15 and will soon be fighting amongst the NHL leaders in points. Duchene on the other hand is just five points below a point-per-game player over the last two seasons. He also possess a ton of speed, but needs to be more consistent. He is a streaky scorer, but if he can find some consistency, he will be in the conversation with the other elite centres. Staying in the West. Ryan Johansen had an electric third NHL season. There was a ton of hype surrounding the 22-year-old when he was drafted fourth overall in 2010, but he was only able to muster 14 goals and 19 assists (33 points) in his first 107 NHL games. People quickly forgot about those two seasons when he scored 33 goals with 30 assists (63 points) in 82 games last year. The 6-foot-3, 223 lbs. centre is extremely talented and that was no fluke. Expect his production to continue to rise as he establishes himself as a legit top-end pivot.
Reliable, Reliable, Reliable
If you looked up consistency in the NHL dictionary, you would probably see a picture of all of the guys I’m about to mention, but specifically Anze Kopitar. He has been in the NHL for nine seasons and only missed eight games. In each full-82 game season he has scored at least 61 points while scoring 70-plus five times. He is not going to lead the NHL in points, but he’ll approach 30 goals and finish the season with anywhere between 70-85 points with a tremendous plus/minus. That Jonathan Toews guy from Chicago is not too bad either eh? He isn’t a point-per-game player, but he is consistently close. He is one of the NHL’s most complete players, but sometimes that doesn’t translate to fantasy hockey the way you would expect it to. He is an elite face-off man and plays in all situations. If you get Towes you can almost guarantee 70 points, with upside and you have a good captain for your fantasy team. An elite playmaker playing with an elite sniper sounds like a recipe for fantasy success. Nicklas Backstrom had the third 60-plus assist season of his career in 2013-14 and he is a candidate to do that again this season with Alex Ovechkin on his wing. His goal totals rise and fall. He has scored between 14 and 33 goals in his first six 82-game seasons, so there is no telling how many red lights he’ll turn on, but you can bank on a ton of apples. Jason Spezza has been a consistent force in Ottawa for 11 seasons, but will start a new chapter of his career this season in Dallas. He will move into a secondary role with Dallas, but his production should remain consistent. A 30-goal season might be a stretch, but a 70-point year could be attainable. The Seguin and Jamie Benn combo should open a lot of things up for Spezza. Former Boston Bruin, Joe Thornton and current Bruins Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci land on this list as well. Little needs to be said about Thornton, he just racks assists up. Bergeron jumped out to 30 goals last season. Some regression should be expected in that category, but the 30-30 potential is always there. Krejci broke out as well with 50 assists and 69 points. The 28-year-old is a legit playmaker on a super deep Bruins roster.
Pavel Datsyuk had a tough year because of injury in 2013-14. He missed 37 games with a combination of lower-body and head injuries. The Magician still had 37 points (17G / 20A) in 45 games, but will certainly drop below his usual draft position, giving him great value potential. He has devastating hands and should be a point-per-game player, it is just a matter of how many games that will be. After a huge lockout shortened season, Eric Staal had his worst season since his rookie year in 2003-04. However, he is a former 100-point scorer and a consistent 70-80 point player. He is just 29-years-old and will definitely bounce-back. He has always been drafted in the first two rounds, but after a down year, he will certainly fall into the third or fourth round this September. That makes him a great value pick as well. In 2013-14, Henrik Sedin had his iron man streak of 679 games snapped. He played nearly 10 years without missing a game, so it is no surprise that it was his worth season since 2003-04. He is one of the NHL’s best playmakers and even on an off-year, he still had 50 assists. He won’t put up 100 points like 09-10, but he should be near a point per game and won’t cost you a first round pick anymore.
After three seasons in New York, Brad Richards signed a one-year deal with the Blackhawks this summer. Richards gives the Hawks a talented second-line centre for the first time in a long time. He will likely line up with Patrick Kane, which should allow Richards to pick-up some serious points. Even in years that were considered ‘disappointing’, he still posted 20 goals and 30 assists, so he should definitely be able to outplay his draft stock. Mikael Granlund took another step forward in his young career. The 22-year-old playmaker had 41 points (8G / 33A) in 63 games and should improve on that number this season. The Wild have talented wingers which will allow Granlund to pile up the assists in his third full season.
Already a five-year veteran of the KHL, Evgeny Kuznetsov will play his first full NHL season with the Washington Capitals in 2014-15. He came over late last year and scored three times with six assists (nine points) in 17 games. At just 22-years-old he already scored 65 goals and 81 assists (146 points) in Russia. He is a pure goal scorer and should top 20 goals this season. Ryan Strome also has a fair share of NHL experience, having played 37 games with the Islanders last season. The 2011 fifth overall pick will also play in his first full NHL season in 2014-15. He is a great playmaker (36A in 37 AHL games in 2013-14), with the ability to score goals as well. Depending on where he lands on the Isles’ depth-chart will play a huge role in how productive he is, but he might be too skilled to keep out of their top-6. Sam Reinhart, 18, was drafted second overall in this summer’s draft and could make the Sabres’ roster out of training camp. He is a tremendous leader and he will likely captain the Sabres in the future, but for now the rookie will look to take home the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year). He is an extremely intelligent player and if you pair that with an abundance of talent, you have a future all-pro centre.