Discounting the great Alexander Ovechkin, who will probably be taken first overall in most Fantasy Hockey league this year, the first round of the draft should belong almost exclusively to centers. Thus finding the right center to select in the first or second round of the draft should be a top priority for any Fantasy Hockey team this year. To help with the process, here is a list of the top ten centers available this season.
Sidney Crosby (Penguins)
Last season Crosby (pictures) went over the 50 goal barrier for the first time in his career. Incredibly enough, Sid the Kid picked up speed after his Winter Olympic heroics and tallied 15 points over the last 5 games of the season. A great player with his best years still ahead of him, Crosby will help your team across the board in all categories including power play points, plus/minus rating and penalty minutes. In any league Crosby should be the second player chosen, but you probably knew that already.
Evgeni Malkin (Penguins)
Forget last season. Malkin ended up missing 15 regular seasons game last year and his numbers suffered because of it. Look for Evgeni to be a +100 points scorer again this season, and for him to get there by scoring +40 goals and +60 assists. Malkin will collect plenty of his points on the power play, and the fact that he plays for high scoring Pittsburgh should make it that much easier to draft him.
Steven Stamkos (Lightning)
Stamkos is a tremendously talented player who reached the 50 goal plateau in just his second season in the league. Out of the 51 goals he scored, 24 of them came on the power play, which was six more than anyone else in the league. Stamkos ended last year on a high note scoring 5 goals in the last 4 games of the season. So what can he do for an encore this season? With a little help from his linemates this year (St. Louis and Downie) Stamkos should breach the 100 point barrier. After Crosby and Malkin, few centers come with as much upside, which should make drafting him a no-brainer.
Nicklas Backstrom (Capitals)
Centering Ovechkin’s line definitely comes with benefits, and Backstrom rode those perks to a 101 point season. Will Backstrom see another 100 point season again this year, not likely, but he should not be far from the mark, and a +30 goals, +60 assists season should be in order for him this season. Having said that, Nicklas is a highly reliable player who has not missed a game over the past three seasons, a fact which should help him get him drafted in the first round.
Joe Thornton (Sharks)
Thornton was off to an amazing start last year scoring 55 points in first half of the season, before slowing down over the last two months, which left him 11 points short 100. Joe should be good for +95 points this year, but would need to increase his power play output before he reaches 100 points again in a season. Still, Thornton is strong enough to anchor any Fantasy Hockey team.
Henrik Sedin (Canucks)
Sedin is coming off a career year in which he scored a league leading 112 points, which means he is due for a slight drop off this season. As good as the Swede is he will not score more than 25 goals this season, while hovering around the 60-65 assists mark. That aside, Henrik will help your power play tremendously and should once again be among the league leaders in plus/minus ratings.
Patrick Kane (Blackhawks)
Kane improved his scoring last year notching a career high 88 points in 81 games for the Blackhawks. This year the talented 21 year old should pick off where he left off in the playoffs, which means he has an outside shot at scoring 100 points, though most likely his production will top out at the +90 point level. Another player who will contribute to power play points and plus/minus ratings, though in leagues that count penalty minutes he becomes a small liability, as he only racked up 20 penalty minutes last season.
Pavel Datsyuk (Red Wings)
After flirting with the 100 point barrier for two seasons, Datsyuk had an off year with only 70 points last year. Look for the Red Wing star to be rebound this season and get his numbers back into the +30 goals and +60 assists range this season. As always he will help out with your team’s plus/minus rating significantly, but don’t look for him to contribute much in terms of penalty minutes.
Anze Kopitar (Kings)
Kopitar got off to a hot start in October scoring 21 points in the first 14 games of the season, before tailing off slightly for the rest of the year. Still, his 34 goals and 47 assists were a career high, and this season should see him among the scoring leaders in the league. Teaming up with Doughty and Smyth on the power play will help, and with a little luck, Kopitar could probably crack the 90 point barrier this season.
Eric Staal (Hurricanes)
Injuries kept Staal’s numbers down last season, but the 6-4 Carolina center is far too talented to suffer through another off year. Most likely Eric will be back to being a 40 goals, 60 points Fantasy Hockey star this season. Along the way he will help your power play points and even pick up a few penalty minutes for you. If he drops in your draft because of past injuries, go ahead and pick him up.
John Tavares (Islanders)
Tavares posted decent numbers as a rookie last season, scoring 54 points for the Islanders last year. Most likley this former first pick overall will see a steep increase to those totals. Look for him to improve in the same manner that Steven Stamkos improved last year and for Tavares to score +70 points this season.
“The Hockey News Magazine: Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide,” (Oct. 2010), Transcontinental Media G. P.