In fantasy hockey, the most abundant position on the ice is the center. The drawback of this fact tends to be that the center position is usually assist heavy and lacking on goals. With the entry of the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and recently Nicklas Backstorm and Henrik Sedin, the position has morphed into one that is a threat on both the goal and assists columns.
These players, and other budding NHL stars, have transformed the position and given it more relevance in recent years. Therefore, I present the following lists to provide helpful advice to win your pool with the top 10 centers in the game, risers, fallers, a look at the sophomores, and rookies to watch in the upcoming season.
# 1 – Sidney Crosby, Penguins
• 2009-2010: 81 GP, 51 G, 58 A 109 Pts (34 PPP)
• 3 year average : 71 GP 36 G 59 A, 95 Pts (34 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj.: 82 GP, 46 G, 68 A, 114 Pts (34 PPP)
Sid “the Kid” Crosby has been a dominant force in the NHL since he entered the league back in 2005-2006, when he scored 102 points in his rookie year. That year, he was beat out by constant rival Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.
Early in his career, Crosby was considered an assist machine, but in 2009-2010, he ramped up the production of lighting the red lamp, notching a career high 51 goals and totaled his second best career mark in points with 109. Crosby is the model of durability, missing no less than 77 games in four of his five seasons in the league. For 2010-2011, look for more of the same elite production as the Penguins are poised to compete at a high level once again in the Steel City.
Crosby is one of those players that not only excels himself, but also makes those around him valuable as well. The likes of Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, and Chris Kunitz could all see time lining up with Crosby throughout the season. With the man advantage, Crosby will mostly likely be the pivot alongside Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin, Paul Martin, and Jordan Staal.
# 2 – Evgeni Malkin, Penguins
• 2009-2010: 67 GP, 28 G 49 A 77 Pts. (28 PPP)
• 3 year average: 77 GP, 37 G, 62 A, 111 Pts. (37 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj.: 82 GP, 35 G, 64 A, 109 Pts. (36 PPP)
Evgeni Malkin, or “Geno”, to his teammates and fans, is another premium talent that graces the ice in the Steel City. Malkin has been the model of consistency throughout his tenure with the Penguins and 2010-2011 should not be any different. Malkin missed 15 games last season and played through a number of ailments that plagued his production throughout 2009-2010. Recent news suggest that Malkin could be shifted to a wing position, but that is dependent on the health of centerman Jordan Staal.
If he in fact does change positions, it could be a spark that could reignite his scoring touch, leaving the 2009-2010 season a distant memory. Malkin should rebound back to his normal production after an off year last year, at least for the likes of the talented forward. If he remains at center, Malkin will most likely skate with Dupuis, Cooke, and maybe even rookie Eric Tangradi at times. Malkin is fully entrenched into the top power play unit as well.
• 2009-2010: 82 GP, 33 G, 68 A, 101 Pts (37 PPP)
• 3 year average: 82 GP, 23 G, 63 A, 86 Pts (35 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj.: 82 GP, 37 G, 72 A, 103 Pts (36 PPP)
Nicklas Backstrom has one of the best gigs in the National Hockey League – he gets to play on the same line with one of the best in the game, left wing Alexander Ovechkin. For the early part of his career, Backstrom was an assist machine thanks to Ovechkin. Last year, something happened that upped the ante for Backstrom – he began to score goals. He scored 33 goals for the Capitals last season, setting a career high and raising expectations even higher for the young Swede.
If Backstrom can continue to improve his scoring touch, he will become a perennial top scorer that should threaten the 100 point barrier each year. Backstrom also skates with rugged veteran Mike Knuble and is gifted with supreme play-making ability. On the man advantage, look for Backstrom to skate on the top unit with Ovechkin, Knuble, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green.
# 4 – Steven Stamkos, Lightning
• 2009-2010: 82 GP, 51 G, 44 A, 95 Pts (41 PPP)
• 2 year average: 81 G, 37 G, 34 A, 71 Pts (29 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj.: 82 G, 40 G, 53 A, 93 Pts (36 PPP)
Stamkos was heralded as one of the top young players to come to the NHL before his rookie year in 2009-2010. In his first season with the Lightning, he started off slow but eventually caught fire and finished strong, tallying 19 points in the last 20 games. Noone could have expected the season that Stamkos had in 2010-2011. Stamkos took the momentum from the last 20 games of his rookie season and tripled it in his sophomore season, scoring 51 goals on the season.
Stamkos was at least a point per game or more player for every month in 2010-2011, with the exception of December, when he scored just 8 points in 15 games. Temper expectations in year three, but there is no doubt that Stamkos will be one of the top centers in the league. He regularly skated with superstar veteran Martin St. Louis and the gritty Steve Downie on most nights. On the man advantage, look for Stamkos to skate with St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier (baring injury), Pavel Kubina, and newcomer and former Flyer Simon Gagne.
# 5 – Henrik Sedin, Canucks
• 2009-2010: 82 GP, 29 G, 83 A, 112 Pts (27 PPP)
• 3 year average: 82 GP, 22 G, 68 A, 90 Pts (27 PPP)
• 2010-2011: 82 GP, 33 G, 67 A, 100 Pts (30 PPP)
If it was considered that Sedin had a career year in 2009-2010, it would be considered an understatement. Sedin set career highs in goals (29), assists (83), points (112), and shots (166) en route to the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, impressively beating out Ovechkin and Crosby. Sedin is firmly entrenched alongside his twin brother Daniel and right winger Mikhael Samuelsson, who benefited from skating with the Sedin twins by scoring a career high 30 goals himself. Sedin began the season by scoring 28 points in 26 games, maintaining his point-per-game pace.
Over December and January, Sedin vaulted himself toward the top of the leaderboards, scoring an amazing 50 points (11 G, 39 A) in December and January. Sedin surged the Canucks to the playoffs in March, scoring 24 points (4 G, 20 A) in 15 games. Just as he is a fixture on the top line in Vancouver, he is also a fixture on the power play, where he is joined by his brother Daniel, Samuelsson, fellow center Ryan Kesler, and defenseman Chrsitian Ehrhoff.
# 6 – Anze Kopitar, Kings
• 2009-2010: 82 GP, 34 G, 47 A, 81 Pts (38 PPP)
• 3 year average: 82 GP, 31 G, 44 A, 75 Pts (32 PP)
• 2010-2011: 82 GP, 36 G, 52 A, 88 Pts (36 PPP)
Kopitar has quietly crafted a name for himself in Los Angeles, producing at least 25 goals and 60 points in the past three seasons. Last season, Kopitar started off hot, registering 21 points (10 G, 11 A) in just fourteen games. He followed that up with a respectable November (12 pts, 4 G , 8 A). He did bottom out in December, posting just 6 points (2 G, 4 A) in 14 games.
In January, he picked his production back up his production and remained a good source for points for the rest of the season. Kopitar skates on the first unit with left wing Ryan Smyth and right wing Dustin Brown. He is also part of a Kings power play unit that ranked seventh in the NHL, executing 20.8 % of opportunities. He is joined on the man advantage by Brown, defenseman Drew Doughty, fellow center Jarret Stoll and Smyth. Look for a continued progression toward the 90 point mark in 2010-2011 from Kopitar.
# 7 – Jonathan Toews, Blachhawks
• 2009-2010: 76 GP, 25 G, 43 A, 68 Pts (22 PPP)
• 3 year average: 74 GP, 28 G, 36 A, 64 Pts (24 PPP)
• 2010-11: 82 GP, 31 G, 52 A, 83 Pts (32 PPP)
Toews has slowly evolved into one of the elite young centers in the NHL and his legend was cemented last season as he led the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup championship since Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull hoisted the Cup in the 1960-61 season. The Blackhawks have recently re-emerged in relevance in the Windy City thanks to the performance of Toews and linemate Patrick Kane. Toews has progressed rather well in his first three seasons in the NHL and look for him to break through the 80-point plateau in 2010-2011.
In 2009-2010, Toews started out well, collecting 15 points in 19 games.. His best month was December, when he scored 18 points in 15 games, including seven on the power play. Toews is the focal point of the offense, as he skates with Kane and left wing Patrick Sharp. On the man advantage, he is joined by Kane, Sharp, right wing Marian Hossa, and defenseman Duncan Keith.
# 8 – Eric Staal, Hurricanes
• 2009-2010: 70 GP, 29 G, 41 A, 70 Pts (23 PPP)
• 3 year average: 78 GP, 36 G, 40 A, 76 Pts (28 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 82 GP, 42 G, 45 A, 87 Pts (37 PPP)
Staal continues to be a great source of point production along Tobacco road despite the limitations of his Hurricane linemates. Last season, left wing Jussi Jokinen broke through with a 30 goal season to give Staal someone to look for to set up goals in front of the net. Staal himself has been a constant threat to score as well, scoring at least 25 goals and 35 assists since his break out 2005-2006 campaign when he netted 45 goals and added 55 points.
Staal did miss 12 games last season with an upper body injury, but that is a mere aberration. Staal was considered an bastion of durability, having missed only 13 games through six years in the league. Look for Staal to skate with left wing Erik Cole and right wing Tuomo Ruutu on most nights. On the man advantage, Staal lines up with Jokinen, Ruutu, Cole, and defenseman Joni Pitkanen.
# 9 – Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings
• 2009-2010: 82 GP, 31 G, 66 A, 97 Pts (40 PPP)
• 3 year average: 81 GP, 30 G, 58 A, 88 Pts (34 PPP)
• 2010-2011: 82 GP, 32 G, 57 A, 89 Pts (38 PPP)
Don’t look for any rough stuff from Datsyuk, as he has average just 19.6 PIMs throughout his eight year career. Datsyuk’s points were down last season, as the Detroit offense was down on a whole, ranked just 14th overall with 2.72 goals per game. Although the powerplay still ranked in the top 10, Datsyuk’s line was not up to par, as he only contributed just 25 points with the man advantage. If the Detroit brass choose to skate Datsyuk and Zetterberg together, look for right wing Tomas Holmstrom to crash the net often for Datsyuk. Datsyuk and Zetterberg will be together on the man advantage, joined by stalwart defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom on the point and Holmstrom and right wing Todd Bertuzzi.
# 10 – Joe Thornton, Sharks
• 2009-2010: 79 GP, 20 G, 69 A, 89 Pts (29 PPP)
• 3 year average: 81 GP, 25 G, 66 A, 89 Pts (34 PPP)
• 2010-2011: 82 GP, 23 G, 64 A, 87 Pts (32 PPP)
Joe Thornton slips on this list for only one reason – goal scoring. Traditionally, it is not considered the job for the center to score all the goals. The best centers, however, tend to score upwards of 25-35 goals a season. In the past 3 seasons, Thornton has seen his goal production slip from 29 in 2007-2008, to 25 in 2008-2009, to a mere 20 in 2009-2010. Thornton continues to be a boon for assists, however, having achieved the 60 mark in helpers since arriving in San Jose in 2005-2006 season.
Throughout his tenure with the Sharks, however, he hasn’t necessarily been a focal point of the goal scoring. Teammates Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley tend to help Thornton’s assist total to stay robust. Thornton is the main play maker with the man advantage as well, usually skating with Heatley, Marleau, defenseman Dan Boyle and either wingers Devin Setoguchi or Joe Pavelski.
1. Ryan Kesler, Canucks (’09-’10: 25 G, 50 A, 75 Pts) – Kesler has grown into his role as the second line center in Vancouver. He also has shown a fiesty side to his game, amassing 104 penalty minutes last season. Look for Kesler to continue to skate among the top six in Vancouver and improve upon his 26 points with the man advantage in his march to 80 points in 2010-2011.
Projection: 32 G, 44 A, 76 Pts (28 PPP).
2. Mikko Koivu, Wild (’09-’10: 22 G, 49 A, 71 Pts) – Being the top center in Minnesota, Koivu has depended on the development of his teammates. In 2007-08, Koivu only had 11 goals, but accounted for 31 assists skating mostly with Marion Gaborik. When Gaborik left, the Wild acquired left wing Guillame Latendresse early in the season and the two found chemistry. A full season with Latendresse could lead to Koivu producing more than 80 points for the first time in his career.
Projection: 26 G, 52 A, 78 Pts (30 PPP).
3. Travis Zajac, Devils (’09-’10: 25 G, 42 A, 67 Pts) – Zajac has become a dependable source of points over the past two seasons. Since 2008-2009, he totaled 62 and 67 points respectively. With recent news that the Devils want to try sniper Ilya Kovalchuk at right wing, the Devils have the makings of a potent top line with the inclusion of Zach Parise. If the line of Kovalchuk, Parise, and Zajac can stick, Zajac’s numbers could rise north of the 80 point mark in the new season.
Projection: 28 G, 58 A, 86 Pts (31 PPP).
1. Jason Arnott, Devils (’09-’10: 19 G, 27 A, 46 Pts) – Arnott was traded over the summer from Nashville back to where he had much success in the Meadowlands with the Devils. The reunion in New Jersey however will come with a reduced role where the team will rely more on intangibles than production for the aging and injury-prone forward. Projection: 18 G, 28 A, 46 Pts.
2. Chris Drury, Rangers (’09-’10: 14 G, 18 A, 32 Pts) – Drury, the Rangers captain, was hampered with injuries and ineffectiveness through the 2009-2010 campaign. A broken left index finger suffered in camp blocking a shot will put the captain out four weeks. Look for a second line role, but the offense will struggle to score, making the 35 year old a risky investment.
Projection: 17 G, 25 A, 42 Pts.
3. Saku Koivu, Ducks (’09-’10: 19 G, 33 A, 52 Pts) – How can a 50 point scorer be considered falling? Koivu is not getting any younger and the news of Bobby Ryan possibly being moved to second line center will push the 36 year old to the third line with much more inferior linemates. Look for the goal totals to stay about the same, but the assists to drop tremendously should the Ryan experiment work.
Projection: 17 G, 27 A, 44 Pts.
SOPHOMORES – SHINE OR SLUMP?
1. Tyler Bozak, Maple Leafs (’09-’10: 37 GP, 8 G, 19 A, 27 Pts) – Bozak comes into his first full season with high expectations, as he will look to build on his 27 point effort in 37 games as a rookie. In 2010-2011, Bozak is expected to center the top line alongside left wing Nikolai Kulemin and right wing Phil Kessel.
Projections: 24 G, 41 A, 65 Pts (22 PPP).
2. Matt Duchene, Avalanche (’09-’10: 24 G, 31 A, 55 Pts) – Duchene started slow in his rookie season, with just 14 points in his first 28 games. In December, Duchene established himself as a regular contributor with 13 points (5 G, 8 A) in 14 games. Duchene will center the second line with veteran Milan Hejduk and either fellow sophomores Brandon Yip or Ryan Stoa.
Projection: 26 G, 45 A, 71 Pts (24 PPP).
3. John Tavares, Islanders (’09-’10: 24 G, 30 A, 54 Pts) – Tavares came into 2009-2010 with well deserved high praise, and delivered early with 21 points in 27 games in October and November. Tavares only recorded one point in February, but he finished strong with 20 points in 20 games. Tavares will skate with left wing Matt Moulson and right wing Kyle Okposo.
Projection: 30 G, 42 A, 72 Pts (28 PPP).
1. Mikael Backlund, Flames (’09-’10: 54 GP, 15 G, 17 A, 32 Pts in AHL; 23 GP, 1 G, 9 A, 10 Pts in NHL) – Backlund had an extended look in 2009-2010, appearing in 23 games for the Flames, scoring a goal and nine assists playing on the bottom two lines. Backlund is expected to garner more playing time in 2010-2011 and expand his role with Calgary. He could push Ollie Jokinen for the spot on the top line alongside Jarome Iginla.
Projection: 82 GP, 15 G, 38 A, 53 Pts.
2. Jordan Eberle, Oilers (’09-’10: 57 GP, 50 G, 56 A, 106 Pts in WHL; 11 GP, 6 G, 8 A, 14 Pts in AHL) – With the press that Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi have received this offseason, Eberle could be the Oiler rookie to make the biggest impression. Eberle is expected to skate with Hall and Paajarvi, so it could be a learning curve for all three. It may be best to split the trio up and pair them with veterans. Eberle, though, could be the best of the bunch.
Projection: 82 GP, 22 G, 37 A, 59 Pts.
3. Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs (’09-’10: 56 GP, 35 G, 58 A, 93 Pts in OHL) – Kadri is a supreme talent who has a chance to make the team on the third line out of camp. Kadri could get key minutes in 2010-2011 and valuable experience. Kadri will get acclimated with the NHL in his rookie season and build up toward full time minutes in 2011-2012. Projection: 82 GP, 17 G, 22 A, 39 Pts.