With the All-Star festivities behind us and fantasy hockey playoffs inching nearer for those of you in head-to-head leagues, it's time to get back into the swing of things with our weekly "Center Stage" feature that covers everything related to fantasy hockey centers.
And who better to lead with than Islanders center John Tavares, who was just announced earlier today as the No. 1 star for January. In fact, Tavares has been so unbelievably good lately that he is the only player we're going to talk about as our "Trending Upward" player. Usually we discuss three guys, but Tavares has been good enough to equal three players in January.
Tavares was drafted in Yahoo! Fantasy Leagues with an average pick of 55.5 coming into the season. He is currently rated as the 12th most valuable fantasy player, with Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux and Steven Stamkos being the only other centers rated higher. On the season his stat line looks like this: 22 G, 53 points (4th in NHL), plus-4, 14 PIMs, 16 PPP and 184 SOG (4th in NHL). His January was quite remarkable.
TOP 40 FANTASY CENTERS
- 1. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins* (same)
- 2. Steven Stamkos, Lightning (same)
- 3. Claude Giroux, Flyers* (same)
- 4. Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings* (+1)
- 5. Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks (+1)
- 6. Henrik Sedin, Canucks (-2)
- 7. Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks* (NR)**
- 8. Patrick Kane, Blackhawks* (-1)
- 9. John Tavares, Islanders (+5)
- 10. Jason Spezza, Senators (-1)
- 11. David Backes, Blues* (+2)
- 12. Anze Kopitar, Kings (-4)
- 13. Tyler Seguin, Bruins* (-3)
- 14. Jamie Benn, Stars* (+1)
- 15. Ryan Kesler, Canucks (-3)
- 16. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (+3)
- 17. Brad Marchand, Bruins* (same)
- 18. Patrick Marleau, Sharks* (-2)
- 19. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings* (-8)
- 20. Brad Richards, Rangers (same)
- 21. Eric Staal, Hurricanes (-3)
- 22. Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks (-1)
- 23. Joe Pavelski, Sharks* (-1)
- 24. Logan Couture, Sharks (same)
- 25. Vincent Lecavalier, Lightning (+2)
- 26. Patrik Elias, Devils* (-1)
- 27. Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes* (-4)
- 28. Joe Thornton, Sharks (+2)
- 29. David Krejci, Bruins (+2)
- 30. Danny Briere, Flyers* (-4) (DTD)
- 31. Stephen Weiss, Panthers (-3)
- 32. Mike Richards, Kings* (-3)
- 33. T.J. Oshie, Blues* (same)
- 34. Valtteri Filppula, Red Wings* (-2)
- 35. Derek Stepan, Rangers (same)
- 36. Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens (same)
- 37. Olli Jokinen, Flames (-3)
- 38. Mikhail Grabovski, Maple Leafs (NR)
- 39. Ryan O'Reilly, Avalanche (+1)
- 40. Rich Peverley, Bruins (NR)
** was listed on IR in last week's rankings
Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Adam Henrique, Matt Read, Brandon Dubinsky
Players on IR: Sidney Crosby, Nicklas Backstrom, Jeff Carter, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Matt Duchene, Mikko Koivu, Jordan Staal, Alexander Steen
Other than a rough November in which Tavares registered just 1 goal and 5 points in 13 games, Tavares has been an elite fantasy player. Playing for the Islanders, we tend to expect his plus/minus to suffer quite a bit, but even that has been on the plus side this season. He is truly one of the most talented players in the NHL and will continue to put up point-per-game type numbers, but can we really expect him to be as dominant as he was in January for the rest of this season? Probably not.
He centers the Islanders' top line with Matt Moulson on one wing and Kyle Okposo recently on the other side. While both wingers are solid players, they're not exactly elite playmakers or goal scorers. Tavares is what makes that unit -- and that team -- go. His points total has increased from 54 in his rookie season, to 67 last year and he's already closing in on that number through his first 49 games this season.
Expect him to finish with around 35 goals and 80-plus points, but remember this: as the Islanders slowly continue to improve, Tavares will surely continue to grow as well. He may have been selected in the fifth round of fantasy drafts this season, but next year, he could end up being a first-rounder.
Henrik Sedin -- Sedin is an elite playmaker, if not the best in the game, but he lacks dominance in the peripheral fantasy categories, and that keeps him out of our top-five for the time being. Sure Sedin will likely finish with his fourth straight season of point-per-game numbers, but he's also on pace to finish with just 121 shots on goal, which would be the lowest he's had since recording 113 in 82 games for the Canucks in 2005-06.
Henrik Zetterberg -- Sure the Red Wings are cruising along, but it definitely hasn't been because of the play of Zetterberg. The veteran forward hasn't scored in his last six games (despite the Wings winning five of them) and is still in search of his 10th goal of the season. Zetterberg also has just 1 assist in his last five games and his 6 power play points on the season aren't helping his fantasy owners. At this point, if you still have him on your squad, you're likely stuck with him and there's no sense in trying to deal him with so little value -- you have to just hope he turns things around.
Mike Richards -- We were all hoping for more than 26 points in 42 games out of Richards in his first season out West. But the bottom line is the Kings play a defensive-styled game, and that means Richards won't be scoring the 30 goals we got used to expecting in his days in Philadelphia. Richards still has all-round fantasy value because of his 52 PIMs and he doesn't exactly hurt you in any one specific category, but he has no points in his last five games and seems to be struggling now more than ever. Look for him to snap out of this skid soon, but don't expect anything more than 25 goals and 50 points by season's end.
KEEP AN EYE ON...
David Desharnais -- The 5-foot-7 forward centers Montreal's most effective scoring group with Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty on the wings. While everyone was expecting Tomas Plekanec to be the elite playmaker on the team, it's Desharnais who has stepped into that role, compiling 26 helpers in 50 games so far. Desharnais hardly shoots the puck more than once a game, but his 35 points, a solid plus-11 rating and 10 power play points have given his fantasy owners plenty to like. He's available in 84 percent of Yahoo! Leagues, and if you're in need of assists out of the center position, you could certainly do worse.