When I rank left and right wings, I mention that I like to draft them early and often. Well, with centers, I tend to wait. The only problem with that strategy comes when I have one of the top three picks in the draft. In that case, I’m going to have to take one from among Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, or Evgeni Malkin. They are just too good to pass up.
Those are my three best overall players. How I would rank them would depend upon the scoring system — if it’s a system that weighs goals heavily, specifically power play goals, then Stamkos would be my choice. Crosby would be the best overall player, but if you’re worried about injury history, then I wouldn’t debate if you decided to go the safe route with Malkin.
In conclusion, although I would prefer to wait on a center because they are deep, I’m not passing up on one of the best players in the league because I can get value at the position later. Here are our centers:
- Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: Was there every really any doubt that Crosby would be number one? As I mentioned above, if you’re worried about his concussion history and want to make a safer choice, then I wouldn’t knock you for taking Stamkos, but Sidney can not only score 50-plus goals, he could also approach 100 points. I just can’t pass him up if I have the opportunity.
- Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: Stamkos is the best pure goal scorer in the NHL. He is the only player that I would feel comfortable saying he will score at least 50 goals. Will he have a boatload of assists? No, but that is not what you’re drafting him for. Yeah, his plus/minus won’t be great either, but those one-timers from the slot are a thing of beauty.
- Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: Has anyone else ever noticed how much better Malkin seems to play when Crosby is out of the lineup? Not that this matters, as Crosby is 100% healthy this season, but I do find it interesting. Malkin and James Neal have formed a powerful goal scoring duo and I don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t continue this season.
- John Tavares, New York Islanders: Tavares is the best player the Islanders have had since Pierre Turgeon and the best forward they have drafted since Pat LaFontaine. The one knock on Tavares when he came into the league was his skating, but he has worked on that non-stop and it is no longer an issue. Tavares could very well score 40 goals this season and should once again be in consideration for league MVP. Don’t sleep on him because of what you may or may not think about the Islanders.
- Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes: Staal was on pace for his best season point-wise since 2007-08 last year. Unfortunately for Fantasy owners, the points seem to come in the form of assists rather than goals nowadays. One more point of concern should be that his power play goal production has also faltered, as he was only on pace for five PPGs last season and only scored seven the year before.
- Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings: Datsyuk may be the best all around player in the NHL, and if he’s not, he’s certainly close. At 35 years of age, he’s no longer a 90-plus point per season player, but he is still a near-lock to score 70. If Datsyuk can stay healthy and play a full season, 30 goals, 40 assists, and double-digit PPGs are well within reach.
- Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: ‘Don’t Toews Me Bro’ is the name of my nephew’s Fantasy hockey team. This should tell you how popular a player Toews should be this Fantasy season. If a full campaign would’ve been played last year, he almost certainly would’ve set a career-high in goals, possibly even potting 40. The only question for Toews will be how quickly new wing Bryan Bickell adjusts to life on the top line.
- Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks: Couture is one of the best young players in the NHL. Although Thornton is still regarded as the Sharks top center, it’s really on Couture that teams focus their attention. If there is one part of his game that could use work, it would be in the helper department, as he only had 16 in 48 games. I’m pretty sure Fantasy owners are okay with that, however, as long as he keeps pumping in the goals.
- Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks: Like his twin brother Daniel, Henrik will also have more defensive responsibilities this season under new coach John Tortorella. Tortorella believes in playing from the goaltender on out, so he will expect Henrik to play a strong defensive game down low. He also demands that his players block shots. Now, this isn’t something Daniel will normally have to worry about playing wing, but I’m not sure it’s the greatest course of action to have one of your best offensive weapons purposely getting in the way of a frozen rubber disc traveling at speeds of over 100 mph.
- Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks made their feelings about Getzlaf known last season by signing him to an eight-year, $66M contract. He responded well to the new deal with the best season of his career. Can he keep it up? He has never had many problems dishing the puck off to Corey Perry or Bobby Ryan, but scoring has been an off again-on again problem during his career. He’s not elite, but could be if can continue to threaten the 30 goal plateau.
- Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: Giroux would be much higher on this list, perhaps Top 5, if not for a freak golfing injury. He suffered tendon damage in his hand/finger when a club exploded (I’ve played golf plenty, and never had a club explode unless I wanted it to). Anyway, I’m wary of any kind of hand, finger, or wrist injury when it comes to a top offensive player. Especially when it’s questionable whether he will be 100 percent ready to start the season. Will Giroux have the same shot? I don’t know, and neither do you.
- Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks: The only thing that has stopped Kesler from being one of the best players in the NHL has been his inability to stay healthy. He’s had multiple injuries and surgeries over the past couple of years, which has prevented him from duplicating his 41 goal season from 2010-11. He could be a boom or bust type of player; but he is a hard worker, one who should do well in Tortorella’s system.
- Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: It took a little bit for Kopitar to get into the groove last season, as he underwent knee surgery just before the season began. So for this reason I would excuse his subpar goal total from last season. It wasn’t a totally lost campaign, as he still had 32 assists, but 10 goals certainly wasn’t what Fantasy owners were looking for.
- Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: Bergeron has come a long way since overcoming a severe concussion that cost him most of the 2007-08 season. When it comes to concussions there is always some worry that he is just one hit away from IR. But Bergeron has been able to avoid that fate, as he has only missed 18 games over the past four seasons.
- Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars: Why was Seguin, a potential superstar, traded out of Boston? Well, that depends upon whom you believe. Boston will tell you they dealt him because he was playing out of place on wing rather than his natural center, but there have always been plenty of rumors that Seguin needs to grow up, that his immaturity is preventing him from becoming the player he should be. If this last part is true, then Dallas may be getting more than they bargained for.
- Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators: Spezza might be a few spots higher if not for the fact that he missed just about all of last season with a back injury. The back is fine and he has a new toy in Bobby Ryan to play with. With a return to health, Spezza should go back to his 30-goal scoring ways.
- Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks: Thornton’s Fantasy value has decreased along with his goal totals over the past four to five seasons. He has become a better NHL center than a Fantasy one. Sure he will pile up the assists, and plays on a line with Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, but his average of less than two shots on goal over the past five seasons will prevent him from ever becoming a top Fantasy asset again.
- Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals: Backstrom is pretty much a Thornton clone. He’s not big on letting the puck fly either, but at least he has an excuse. Playing on a line with Alexander Ovechkin, his first rule is to get the puck to AO. As a matter of fact, those are his first, second, and third rules too.
- Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning: Lecavalier was a salary cap casualty in Tampa. He gets new life in Philly; he could even get some top line time if Giroux isn’t ready for the start of the regular season. Lecavalier will never be confused with some of the top skaters in the NHL, but he can shoot, and knows where to be to score goals. One question that has yet to be answered, however, is whether or not he will play on the top power play line. If so, 30 goals is a possibility.
- David Krejci, Boston Bruins: Krejci had a pretty magical playoff run last season. Can he carry that over into this regular season? He will have a new winger in Jarome Iginla. Another question – how quickly can they gel together?
- Matt Duchesne, Colorado Avalanche: The Avs can score goals, they can’t stop them, but they can dent the twine.
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers: RNH is likely to miss the first month of the season. Does he get his top line job back when he returns?
- David Backes, St. Louis Blues: Sooner or later the line of Backes, T.J. Oshie, and David Perron has to produce.
- Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs: Kadri was selected in the same draft that produced Tavares and Duchesne. It takes some longer than others to make their mark.
- Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers: Gagner went from almost being traded to getting a multi-year deal. He could be the beneficiary of RNH being out of the lineup.
- Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings: Richards is not quite the scorer he was with Philly, but he and Jeff Carter still work so well together.
- Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild: I keep waiting for Koivu to break out every year. He has no more excuses, that’s a pretty good line he’s on with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville.
- Patrick Berglund, St. Louis Blues: Berglund is not much of a passer, but when he shoots, he tends to score.
- Mike Ribeiro, Phoenix Coyotes: Ribeiro will find life a lot tougher for the offensively challenged Coyotes than he did for the Capitals.
- Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils: The baby on a team trying to survive this season with quite a few grizzled veterans.
- Jordan Staal, Carolina Hurricanes: Staal’s first season playing with his brother in Carolina was inconsistent. Sure he had 10 goals and 31 points, but he was also a team worst -18.
- Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche: Stastny is another player who should put up better numbers than he does.
- Stephen Weiss, Detroit Red Wings: Weiss has to be thrilled to get out of the jail that is Florida.
- Brad Richards, New York Rangers: I’m still surprised that the Rangers didn’t buyout Richards and send him packing along with Tortorella.
- Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs: Bozak is the top line center for now but it would seem to be just a matter of time until Kadri replaces him.
- Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning: Filppula may have gotten paid but he’s going to find life a little different in Tampa, he won’t be playing with Stamkos.
- Derek Stepan, New York Rangers: There are some that have him as the next big thing, but I just don’t see it.
- Daniel Briere, Montreal Canadiens: December 15, that is the over/under for when he ends up on the IR.
- Cody Hodgson, Buffalo Sabres: This team is in plenty of trouble.
- Tomas Plekanac, Montreal Canadiens: Their playoff disaster may be a sign of things to come for Les Habitants.
Feel free to follow me and ask any Fantasy related questions you like on twitter, @georgekurtz.
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