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Center Stage: The return of Crosby inches closer

Wednesday, 03.07.2012 / 2:45 PM / Fantasy Hockey Draft Rankings, Advice and Analysis

By Matt Cubeta - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Center Stage: The return of Crosby inches closer
Sidney Crosby's return could be the perfect late-season acquisition for fantasy owners
Every Wednesday during the season, NHL.com fantasy hockey expert Matt Cubeta will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy centers in our weekly segment: "Center Stage." From updated center rankings to guys you should keep a close eye on and much more, Cubeta will be your fantasy center expert all season long.

The NHL trade deadline is behind us and the playoffs are inching closer. That means fantasy leagues are drawing even closer to an end. Most fantasy league trade deadlines have passed, meaning the team you've got right now likely is the squad you're going to battle with in the most important time of the season.

That is, unless you have Sidney Crosby.

If you've got Crosby in your fantasy league, then you'll likely get a boost for the final run that no one else in your league is going to get. Sure, Pavel Datsyuk is only a week or two away from returning from a knee injury, but the owner of Datsyuk has had him in his lineup more times than not, so that boost won't be much different from their usual roster. Crosby has appeared in your lineup just eight times all season.

Back in November, we provided you with a game-by-game breakdown of Crosby's first five games in which he recorded 2 goals and 9 assists. Fantasy owners were ecstatic to have him back in the lineup and to see his elite production; however, just three games later, he again found himself on the sidelines due to a recurrence of his concussion symptoms.

TOP 40 FANTASY CENTERS

These modified re-rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward (including injuries). The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings. (NR means not ranked in previous rankings). Note: Positions are dictated by how they're labeled in Yahoo! Fantasy Leagues.
*dual position eligibility in Yahoo! Leagues
** was listed on IR in last week's rankings

Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Sam Gagner

Injured: Pavel Datsyuk (DTD), Jonathan Toews (DTD), Sidney Crosby (IR), Nicklas Backstrom (IR), Matt Duchene (DTD), Mikko Koivu (IR), Alexander Steen (IR)
While no concussion case is the same, Crosby's is among the most interesting. He has been in recovery mode for more than a year, but fantasy owners have to be excited about the timing of his potential return.

Generally it takes a couple of games for a player returning from a long-term injury to get back up to full game speed, but could Crosby be the exception?

Starting with Wednesday's game against the Maple Leafs (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN), the Penguins have 17 regular-season games remaining. Crosby won't play in all those games -- he said the soonest he could play would be Sunday's game against the Bruins.

If that's case, here are our fantasy projections for the rest of Crosby's season: 14 games - 6 goals, 9 assists, plus-6 rating, 10 penalty minutes, 5 power play points and 49 shots on goal.

TRENDING UPWARD

Eric Staal -- Outside of Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos, no other forward has been more productive than Staal during the last 30 days. He's finally producing the way his fantasy owners expected him to when they likely drafted him in the first or second round. Staal currently has a 12-game point-scoring streak that's seen him record 7 goals and 14 assists, and he should be relied on as a No. 1 center for the rest of the season.

Henrik Zetterberg -- Zetterberg has had his ups and downs this season, but as we gear up for fantasy playoffs, it looks like the real Zetterberg has arrived for the stretch run. The Red Wings forward has 3 goals, 6 assists and a plus-4 rating in his last five games. His 16 goals this season are a far cry from his 43-goal campaign in 2007-08, but Zetterberg still has an outside chance at reaching the 70-point mark for the fifth straight season.

Mike Ribeiro -- Ribeiro quietly is approaching the 71 points he scored last season -- in 60 games, he has 16 goals and 52 points, putting him on pace of 20 goals and 65 points. If he continues to perform the way he has recently, than 70 points should be expected. Ribeiro has recorded at least a point in 10 of his last 11 games and has 5 goals and 10 assists during that span. Toss in the fact that he produces a solid amount of penalty minutes (46), and Ribeiro again is proving to be an underrated fantasy player.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Henrik Sedin -- His 66 points in 67 games doesn't sound too bad, but if Sedin stays below a point per game, it would mark the first time since 2007-08 he would do so. What's even more alarming is that Sedin has gone six games without a point, and he's a minus-3 during that time. He also has fired more than two shots on goal only twice in his last 10 games. Sedin remains an elite center, but make sure you understand that he won't be a major asset for goals, penalty minutes or shots on goal.

Patrick Marleau -- While Marleau has an extremely solid stat line across the board (65 games: 26 goals, 26 assists, plus-6, 22 penalty minutes, 19 power-play points, 193 shots on goal), he has struggled recently, with no points in his previous four games. Expect him and the Sharks to rebound from their current slump and look for Marleau to be a good source of fantasy production for your championship run.

Tomas Plekanec -- When looking at Plekanec's stat line, the first thing that jumps out at you is his minus-22 rating. Add in the fact that he has just 13 goals and 43 points in 66 games and you'll quickly realize that this probably will end up being Plekanec's worst season of the past three. He has just 1 goal and 3 points in his last nine games and shouldn't be relied on for much for the finish to this season.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Bryan Little -- With Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd on his line, Little has been centering one of the League's hottest trios. Little has 5 goals and 6 assists in his last eight games, and if the Jets are going to continue their playoff push, they'll need this line to continue to produce at rates like this. Little is owned in just 27 percent of Yahoo! Leagues, so grab him while you can.

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