Fantasy Hockey Draft: Center Depth A Plus

In any fantasy hockey draft, there are plenty of centers to choose from. It could depend on what kind of league you’re in. If it’s head to head, you’re bound to pick up more guys through the waiver wire. In a rotisserie league, you have to draft well and show patience. With it being an 82-game season, there will be plenty of options to bolster your center depth. I’m going to break it down into three separate categories.

CREAM OF THE CROP: These are your bonafide studs. Established stars who will go quickly. Depending upon how many teams are in your league, it’ll help determine who you select. Sidney Crosby should be the first player off the board. Evgeni Malkin is right behind. It all depends on health with the game’s two best. No one can argue with the production. Steven Stamkos is the best finisher in the game. He continues to improve and will challenge for the Art Ross. If you want the best pure goalscorer who should double your value on the power play and approach 100 points, he’s your guy. He should also be up there in game-winners. An important category in any format.

THE ELITE: After that trio, you have elite centers who are just as capable of putting up big years. Claude Giroux is right behind. The question is how will he recover from finger surgery following a golf mishap. The Flyers expect him to be ready for the season start. Does Vinny Lecavalier’s addition impact his production? That remains to be seen. If you’re hesitant, John Tavares is a pretty good bet. The Islander superstar was arguably league MVP carrying his team into the playoffs. He shows no signs of slowing down. Entering his fourth year, he should hit 40 goals and could reach 90 points. Already a potent power play guy, he’ll be good for double digits. Is Henrik Sedin still capable? Sure. We just don’t know how productive he’ll be under John Tortorella. Jonathan Toews is a safer bet. He plays on a better offensive team. Though he won’t blow you away, he’ll put up steady numbers and get you shorthanded goals and plus/minus. Pavel Datsyuk is our favorite player. Easily the most breathtaking, the Russian star can score and set up goals. In any format, he’s a good asset. You could always go for Swedish running mate Henrik Zetterberg. Health is a factor. If you want to aim higher, you can go with Ryan Getzlaf, who’s in his prime. Anze Kopitar is the King of kings in Hollywood. He forms a great 1-3 with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. If you’re looking for goal production, go with Carter. Otherwise, Kopitar who will fill out other categories. Richards is more of an injury risk. Eric Staal is still productive in Raleigh. He’s a bit streaky but the elder Staal is usually a good fantasy player. Nicklas Backstrom was once considered the next superstar. He’s still pretty good but sometimes leaves us scratching our heads. As long as he plays with Alex Ovechkin, he can’t be counted out. You can’t go wrong with Jason Spezza. As long as he’s on the ice, he’s a point-per-game performer who should benefit from the addition of Bobby Ryan.

HIGH RISERS: These are younger pivots who are on the verge of busting out. While Joe Thornton gets most of the accolades in San Jose, Logan Couture continues to rise. This could be his breakout year. It’s why I’m keeping him. Jamie Benn is a similar type who could qualify for both center and wing. He plays chippy and will get you penalty minutes. Benn has help in ex-Bruin Tyler Seguin, who should be motivated following his trade. Out of the shadow of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, expect 30-plus goals and 70 points. Matt Duchene is very much in this category. He isn’t quite Tavares but doesn’t need to be in Colorado. However, he is coming off a good season and should be the Avs’ top point getter. Derek Stepan’s third season on Broadway was a coming out party. He led the Rangers in scoring and was second in goals  while posting one of the best plus/minuses. Already a good shorthanded player, he should continue to improve. If only he produced more on the power play. Perhaps Alain Vigneault can fix that. Either way, Stepan must prove he can be consistent over a full 82. Buffalo’s Cody Hodgson might be ready for the next step. Already their top pivot, he plays with Thomas Vanek. A good play maker, 60-70 points are possible. Can Nazem Kadri duplicate his 2013 success? There will be more pressure in the hockey capital. He has the tools to be a power forward. If there is one Devil to pick, it could be Adam Henrique. The 2012 playoff hero was inconsistent in his sophomore year following an injury. A talented player with good hands, he could benefit if Jaromir Jagr or Michael Ryder see time with him. Like Stepan, he remains unsigned. But not for long. Edmonton has Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Both are on the upswing. Gagner faces more pressure with a new contract while Nugent-Hopkins is hoping to bounce back. RNH has a higher ceiling in keeper leagues. Jonathan Huberdeau already has a Calder. Entering his second season with Florida, he’s similar to Toews in style. Very flashy and a future captain. The sky is the limit for this future star.

BARGAIN BASEMENT: You don’t have to always go for the best. You want to get at least one big name and build accordingly. You can always find bargain basement steady types such as Tomas Plekanec or Mikko Koivu. While they won’t put up as many points, it’s important to have good depth at any position. Particularly down the middle.  I deliberately left Ryan Kesler and Jordan Staal out from above. Of course, they’ll go higher. But buyer beware. Kesler is one of the most talented players capable of 40 goals. He can’t stay healthy. Staal had a down first year in Carolina. Expect improvement. There are similar types like Stephen Weiss, who now plays with Detroit. Or perhaps Travis Zajac will bounce back in Newark. Frans Nielsen is a decent second option on the Island. The Rangers also boast Brad Richards and Derrick Brassard if you’re willing to gamble. Take a shot in the dark. You could be rewarded.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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