NHL

BOTP Draft Prep – Centers

October 3, 2016

In preparation for the draft (to be held Wednesday, October 5th), I’m doing a series of posts to help you strategize. ESPN has released their projected stats for next season, and we’ll be using those numbers as the basis for analysis. Next in the series: Centers.

Overview

In hockey, the center is traditionally the most important position on the ice; he takes the faceoff to start the play, he’s expected to play a big role in both the offensive and defensive zones, and more often than not, is the captain of the team. It’s no surprise that in 2016, 7 of the top 10 most valuable fantasy players were centers – only Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn, and Alex Ovechkin managed to break in from the wings.

Your fantasy centers will be your powerhouse point-producers. Here’s a look at the top 25 from last season, and a closer look at some of the best available centers that could break out this year.

Rating2016 - Total2016 - AVG2017 ESPN Projected Total
1Sidney Crosby - 386.4Sidney Crosby - 4.8Sidney Crosby - 314.6
2Patrice Bergeron - 374.6Patrice Bergeron - 4.7Connor McDavid - 296.8
3Claude Giroux - 348.1Claude Giroux - 4.5Tyler Seguin - 282.8
4Anze Kopitar - 331.7Tyler Seguin 4.4John Tavares - 277.1
5Joe Pavelski - 326.6John Tavares - 4.2Artemi Panarin - 271.1
6Tyler Seguin - 317.9Evgeni Malkin - 4.1Joe Pavelski - 270.0
7Sean Monahan - 309.2Anze Kopitar - 4.1Steven Stamkos - 258.4
8Evgeny Kuznetsov - 291.4Joe Pavelski - 4.0Evgeny Kuznetsov - 257.4
9Jonathan Toews - 290.7Aleksander Barkov - 4.0Claude Giroux - 252.2
10Steven Stamkos - 286.5Connor McDavid - 3.9Jack Eichel - 243.3
11Jason Spezza - 285.1Sean Monahan - 3.8Evgeni Malkin - 242.1
12Nicklas Backstrom - 284.6Jason Spezza - 3.8Nicklas Backstrom - 238.7
13Mikko Koivu - 281.0Nicklas Backstrom - 3.8Anze Kopitar - 233
14Joe Thornton - 276.8Bryan Little - 3.7Patrice Bergeron - 229.7
15Derick Brassard - 275.1Steven Stamkos - 3.7Sean Monahan - 226.0
16Ryan Kesler - 274.2Jonathan Toews - 3.6Joe Thornton - 220.8
17Aleksander Barkov - 262.9Mark Scheifele - 3.6Jason Spezza - 220.9
18Ryan Johansen - 261.4Pavel Datsyuk - 3.6Filip Forsberg - 215.5
19Ryan Getzlaf - 261.2Evgeny Kuznetsov - 3.6Nathan MacKinnon - 211.0
20Tomas Plekanec - 259.1David Krejci - 3.5Mark Scheifele - 210.2
21Mark Scheifele - 257.2Nathan MacKinnon - 3.5Ryan Getzlaf - 210.0
22Jack Eichel - 254.5Ryan Kesler - 3.5Logan Couture - 209
23Matt Duchene - 253.4Derick Brassard - 3.4Auston Matthews - 207.9
24David Krejci - 252.6Mikko Koivu - 3.4Jonathan Toews - 207.9
25Nathan MacKinnon - 252.0Ryan Getzlaf - 3.4Dylan Larkin - 206.0

There are 4 starting slots for centers, but I imagine most of you will carry at least 6 on your roster. Centers are generally the highest scoring players on the team, and have the benefit of earning extra fantasy points for faceoff wins. It makes sense to stack your roster with one or two extra.

Because centers are generally more valuable that wingers, (and because many of the top 25 were designated as keepers), you’ll find that you will be able to draft some pretty good centers with the late round picks as teams choose from other positions to round out their rosters. For that reason, you may not want to fill up all your center slots right away.

Rounds 1-8: I’m anticipating the expansion teams to pick up 2 centers in the pre-snake rounds.
Rounds 9-12: As the original teams start picking trying to fill out their rosters, I imagine we’ll see only a handful of centers go off the board during these rounds.
Rounds 13-19: At this point, teams will likely have 2 players in each position, so it’ll get harder to ignore the centers at the top of the draft ranking board. After round 19, all teams will likely have 4 centers locked up.
Rounds 20-26: As we get into the late rounds, we will see the final starting slots filled and a few extra centers in the bonus bench slots. I anticipate seeing some promising rookies and future keeper candidates going off the board as well, and these tend to be centers more often than not.

Here’s how the center depth could look:

Team 1 – Expansion

Joe Thornton – Round 3
Tyler Johnson – Round 7
Mikko Koivu – Round 8
Brayden Schenn – Round 15
Mike Ribeiro – Round 20
Sean Couturier – Round 22

Thornton remains an absolute beast despite getting pretty damn old for a hockey player, and ESPN is projecting him to have another monster year. On the other side, Tyler Johnson had a disappointing season after his incredible playoff performance in 2014, and is due to rebound this year. Koivu is one of those quietly brilliant fantasy players, and Brayden Schenn keeps slowly making his way up the depth chart in Philadelphia. Ribeiro will have another 45-50 point season like he always does, and Couturier is a great bet to breakout for 50+ points this season if he can stay healthy.

Team 2 – Original

Connor McDavid – Keeper
Niklas Backstrom – Keeper
Claude Giroux – Keeper
Jordan Staal – Round 13
Victor Rask – Round 19
Travis Zajac – Round 23

If not this year, soon: Connor McDavid will be the best player in the world. Along with Backstrom and Giroux, this team has 3 of the top 10 best projected centers in the lineup, so he can afford to wait until later in the draft to pick up Jordan Staal, a dependable 45 point player in Carolina. His teammate Rask is young, picking up 48 points in his second NHL season, and is poised to take another jump this year. Will he hit 60 this year? 65? Lastly, Zajac is a great sleeper if Taylor Hall doesn’t rekindle his chemistry with Adam Henrique in New Jersey this year.

Green Lights

Artemi Panarin is projected to be the 5th best center this season, behind only Crosby, McDavid, Seguin and Tavares. He was phenomenal last year as a secondary scoring threat behind Kane, but…he actually played on the wing. It’s curious that ESPN is listing him as a center, and depending on his deployment, Panarin may be designated as a dual-position player after a dozen or so games. This would make him even more valuable. Frankly, he doesn’t need any more value, as he’s a no-brainer option for the first overall pick this year.

Matt Duchene is a tremendous talent that seems to have been hindered by an adversarial relationship with Patrick Roy. Now that Roy is out of the picture, Duchene could take a massive jump this year. The one-two punch of Duchene and MacKinnon in Denver means that defensive pressure will be split up between the two lines, and a run-and-gun style would suit Duchene very very well. He’ll probably disappear before the keeper rounds are through.

For several years, we’ve been expecting Nazem Kadri to be the next big Leafs star, but last year was another disappointing season for the 25-year-old pivot. His 45 points was marginally better than 39 the year before, but still off of his 50 in 2013-2014, and much worse than the 44-in-48 he collected during the shortened 2012-2013 season. Could 50 points just be the cap for Kadri? Maybe…but there are promising signs. Last year was his first under Mike Babcock, and his possession stats, faceoff winning percentage, and shot totals skyrocketed. So why didn’t he produce? A PDO of 97.3, and an anemic shooting percentage of just 6.5% suggest he was just categorically unlucky. If he gets to his career shooting percentage of 10.5% at his current shot rate, he could crack 25, maybe even 30 goals this season. He’s well worth the risk, and if he drops below Round 15, snap him up.

Red Flags

Before the signing of David Backes this offseason, David Krejci is the clear number 2 center in Boston behind Bergeron. Now it’s not so clear. Krejci’s 3.5 fantasy points per game last season was 20th among centers, and when healthy, he’s good for 60+ points a season. But those are some big ifs. He turns 30 this season, so age is becoming a factor, and the addition of Backes could take away some opportunities. On the other hand, Krejci plays the type of game that could see him contributing for several more years at a fairly high level. I don’t expect him to drop too far in the draft, but keep this in mind when his name floats up.

ESPN current lists Henrik Sedin as the 37th best available center at the draft, which seems insane. He’s ranked around Carl Soderberg and Ryan Spooner, two players that have no business being in the same discussion as Sedin, not to mention teammate Bo Horvat. And yet, maybe it’s not so crazy. In our league, goals count more than assists, and while Daniel is still an elite left winger, the quality of centers is much better. However, there’s no doubt that Henrik can play, and the chemistry that Daniel, Henrik and new winger Loui Eriksson have is incredible. He’s bound to out perform expectations…right?

Thomas Plekanec had a terrific 2015-2016, finishing with 259.1 fantasy points. ESPN has him estimated for only 194.7 this year, which should give pause. I suppose Galchenyuk may see increased usage this year, and perhaps Andrew Shaw could get some playing time in the Top 6, but there’s really no reason to suggest Plekanec will be upseated as the top center option for the Canadiens. Sure, he’s getting older, but the playing time needs to be filled by someone. And at the end of the day, even if last year was a bit of an outlier, Plekanec is still a good fantasy player.

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