Just like in Fantasy Football, I rarely go into a Fantasy Hockey draft with any set plan. The only exception to that rule is in the first round. In the first round, I will generally have a list of players that I want to select. If I have the seventh overall pick, then I will write down my top seven players, rank them in the order I prefer, and then select whichever player is ranked the highest on my list and is still available when my turn comes around.
The center position is loaded in Fantasy Hockey. There are plenty to go around and you can find good value late in your draft. Does that mean you should wait on selecting a center? Yes and no. Yes, I want to wait and load up on my wings, but no, not in the first round. Most pundits will tell you that the Top 3 picks in the draft could all be centers, certainly the Top 2. I’m certainly not passing up on a Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin, or John Tavares just because the position is deep. I still want the best players on my team, but after those top guys are gone I can wait for a few rounds before really having to worry about the talent pool being diluted. Here are my Top 40 centers.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: There will always be some injury concern with Crosby (concussion, wrist) and some of us may dislike his style of play, but there is still little doubt that he is one of the best players in the NHL, and perhaps the best overall.
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: I can see taking Stamkos over Crosby if you play in a league that weighs goal scoring heavily. Am I concerned about Martin St. Louis no longer being on the team? Yes, quite a bit of pressure will be on rookie Jonathan Drouin and second year player Ondrej Palat to take some of the offensive pressure off of Stamkos.
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: Now, I still like Malkin as my number three center but I’d be lying if I said I was totally comfortable with it. He no longer has James Neal (Nashville) on his line, but will instead play with Beau Bennett and Patric Hornqvist. Perhaps Malkin will have to do more solo work than he is used to. He will still be on the top power play unit, though, with Crosby and Chris Kunitz, and that unit will still be deadly.
John Tavares, New York Islanders: Tavares may be the best player in the NHL as far as getting no respect. Sure, he plays for the Isles, a team with plenty of issues when it comes to management and ownership, but he’s a 40 goal scorer waiting to happen. He is mister everything for the Isles and will always be on the ice. He is 100 percent healthy after missing the second half of last season due to knee surgery. I’ll take him in any league.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: Giroux got off to a slow start last season due to the wrist injury he suffered right before the season started. Once that injury healed, he took off and showed everyone the type of player he is, someone you can build your team around. Would I take him first round? He is certainly in consideration for the bottom half, and if not, should definitely go in the top of the second round.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: Quite a few NHL people will tell you that if they were starting a team today from scratch and could pick any player, Toews would be that player. That is pretty high praise, but of course, that doesn’t really help us Fantasy players, we still need production. Toews hasn’t hit the 30 goal plateau since 2010-11 (although, he might’ve hit 40 if the lockout never happened in 2012-13). That’s enough for me to drop him a few slots on this list, but I’m still not complaining if he is on my squad.
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars: The best thing to ever happen to Seguin was being traded from Boston to Dallas. Maybe it was the fact that he would be the main man in Dallas, getting back to playing center, or just getting out of a major market; he looked great last season. A 40 goal season could be on the horizon this year, as he should only get better and playing with Jamie Been sure doesn’t hurt.
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks: Some would argue that Getzlaf should be ranked higher, and I’ll admit he could be, but I have my doubts about his consistency. He scored a career high 31 goals last season, six more than any other year in his career. Was it just a career year or is this a sign of things to come? If you believe the best is still ahead, then by all means move him up a couple of spots. But if you believe he will go back to being a mid-20s goal scorer, then this is a more accurate ranking of his Fantasy value.
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Kopitar is another one of those unheralded stars, despite the fact that the Kings have won two of the past three Stanley Cups. Will he put up 40 goals? No, but he does play in all situations, will score somewhere in the vicinity of 30 goals, add another 40 assists, possible double-digit power play goals, and has really good talent around him.
Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks: With all the noise the Sharks have made this season with regard to wanting new leadership on the team (stripping the captaincy from Thornton and Patrick Marleau), I’m a little surprised that Couture hasn’t been named the number one center. Not that it matters; he is the best center on that team at this point in time, and could be about to have a breakout season.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: Just like Couture, the only reason MacKinnon may not be the top line center for the Avs is because this will only be his second full season in the NHL. But make no bones about it, he is a dynamic player that makes everyone around him better. This kid has superstar written all over him.
Pavel Datysuk, Detroit Red Wings: I love Datsyuk and he is one of the more skilled players in the game, but he is also 36 years of age, has averaged 19 games missed due to injury over the past four years and doesn’t have all that much talent around him. I’d still like him on my team, but not as a C1.
David Krejci, Boston Bruins: Yeah, I was surprised the Bruins gave him a new contract that pays him in the neighborhood of $7 million a season, also. He’s only had two seasons in his career in which he has put up more than 20 goals. Sure, he’s good at dishing the puck but I want goal scorers. I’ll pass and let someone else grab him.
Paul Stastny, St. Louis Blues: I’m a big believer in Stastny. I might have preferred that Stastny remain in Colorado but St. Louis is a better team and don’t under estimate the effect a better defense will have on his game. A better defense means more time in the offensive zone for the skill players.
Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes: Staal was once considered an upper echelon player but those days have passed. The Canes don’t have the best of offensive talent around him and this could be another ho-hum season for the former superstar.
Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche: Duchene will center Gabriel Landeskog and Jerome Iginla, not too shabby. Could this be the year that Duchene finally eclipses the 30 goal mark?
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks: It’s my belief that if not for the no trade clause that Thornton has in his contract, he would’ve been dealt this off-season. The Sharks could make life hard for Thornton. They have already stripped him of his captaincy. What if they decide to call his bluff, make him a third line player and take away his power play time? I’m going to pass here.
Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals: There are a couple of questions that need to be answered with regard to Backstrom. Will he remain on the line with Alexander Ovechkin? Will new coach Barry Trotz have a more offensive friendly system than he did in Columbus? If both answers are yes, then I have him ranked too low.
Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets: You have to like the direction the Blue Jackets are headed in, and Johansen is a big reason why. I’d feel more comfortable, however, if the player and team would come to an agreement on a new contract, something they haven’t done at this moment in time.
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: Bergeron seems to be like a fine wine, he’s getting better with age. Bergeron hit the 30 goal mark last season for the first time since 2005-06, and with the loss of Iginla to free agency, the Bruins will need his offense once again.
Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks: How the mighty have fallen. Remember when Sedin used to be a first round pick? Yeah, seems like forever, when it actually was just two years ago. This pretty much shows you how quick the Canucks and the Sedin twins have imploded.
Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings: I’m surprised Carter still qualifies at center, or maybe to be more precise, I’m surprised he doesn’t qualify at wing also, since that is where he has spent a majority of time the past couple of seasons. I prefer him at wing much more than I do at center.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers: I love Nugent-Hopkins’ talent, but now it’s time that we see the production. He only has 41 goals in his three seasons despite playing on a line with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall. I just need to see more.
Ryan Kesler, Anaheim Ducks: Kesler has plenty of talent, it’s just staying on the ice that has always been a problem. The best ability in professional sports is availability, and that is not a skill Kesler always possesses. You also have to be concerned that he will once again be a second line center. Will he get top power play minutes? Maybe, but it will be on the wing, and we don’t know if Anaheim will be as willing to do that as Vancouver was.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals: If you’re looking for a player that you can grab in the mid-rounds with high upside that could be under the radar, look no further than Kuznetsov. He made his debut last season and has the ability to be a dangerous offensive player. The skills are there and he is likely to see some time playing with Ovechkin, although not full-time.
David Backes, St. Louis Blues: The Blues are loaded with talented forwards and Backes is one of them. Only question for Backes may be how he reacts to playing with two talented, but young players in Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, one of the more interesting trios to watch this season.
Kyle Turris, Ottawa Senators: Well, someone has to score for Ottawa. They have lost Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza in back to back off-seasons so there will be plenty of ice time to go around.
Bryan Little, Winnipeg Jets: Little is another player you can grab later in your draft who should outperform his draft slot. Its players like this that can win you leagues when injuries arise.
Brandon Dubinsky, Columbus Blue Jackets: I’m not quite as high on Dubinsky as some others, but he’s still a useful reserve center. I just don’t see the upside.
Derek Stepan, New York Rangers: After scoring 18 goals in 48 games during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, Stepan was on everyone’s list of breakout players heading into last season. Well, that didn’t really work out, as he only tallied 17 goals in 82 games. So, which one is it? I’ll let someone else select him and wonder about the answer.
Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs: Kadri is another upside player on a team that can score goals. There is plenty of pressure to go around this organization, so it’s either put up or shut up this season. New team president Brendan Shanahan will not hesitate to make changes if he believes that is what it will take to win.
Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning: Filppula finally had the season last year that he could never produce in Detroit. The problem is he will see very little power play time or top minutes playing behind Stamkos.
Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild: Koivu has been said to be a poor man’s Pavel Datsyuk for quite a few years now. That’s nice and all, but how about some goals? Minnesota is a good team and someone playing on a line with Zach Parise should be able to do more. I’m tired of waiting.
Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs: Bozak is in the same boat as Kadri, both have talent and we’re just waiting for one or both to put it together. I wouldn’t want either starting for me but wouldn’t mind either on my bench or as a flex, they both have upside.
Brad Richards, Chicago Blackhawks: You can say all you want about how bad Richards has played the past few years for the Rangers, but the pressure is off of him now in Chicago and he is likely to play beside Marian Hossa, or Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad. I may just have to give him one more chance.
Mike Ribeiro, Nashville Predators: Ribeiro is once again probably not a threat to score 20 plus goals but he is someone who excels at finding the sniper on his team. That sniper this year is James Neal. Ribeiro once again could approach 40 helpers.
Tomas Plekanac, Montreal Canadiens: Just because he’s the top line center doesn’t make him the player to go after on Montreal. I’m just not a big fan of any of their offensive players other than Max Pacioretty.
Derek Brassard, New York Rangers: Brassard could end up on a line with Martin St. Louis or Rick Nash, along with one of the team’s young guns in Chris Kreider or Carl Hagelin. That is enough for me to take notice later on in my draft.
Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild: There is some upside here and he is worth a flyer late in your draft.
Brayden Schenn, Philadelphia Flyers: If Schenn had better talent on his line I would be more interested.
As always feel free to follow me on Twitter and ask any questions you like, @georgekurtz.