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Center Stage: Malkin, Seguin among award recipients

Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 2:29 PM / Fantasy Hockey Draft Rankings, Advice and Analysis

By Matt Cubeta - NHL.com Staff Writer

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 most interesting thing about updating our forward rankings and breaking down each position throughout this season has been how to handle all of the players that possess multiple positions in fantasy hockey leagues. While it's a great benefit to fantasy owners, it's not easy determining which player is more valuable than the other.

Patrick Sharp has center, left wing and right wing eligibility in Yahoo! Fantasy leagues, which provides tons of flexibility to his owners, but does the fact that he has those three positions make him more valuable than a guy like Marian Gaborik, who has better overall stats but is only listed at right wing? That is the question that all of us have struggled to answer throughout the season. It is a great dilemma to have if you own a guy like Sharp, but in the end, the guy with the better overall stats is likely more valuable than the player with multiple position eligibility.

While many of you wondered why a guy like Evgeni Malkin was listed in our right wing rankings in addition to the center ranks, it was simply because most fantasy owners had that option to start him as a center or a right wing. We wanted to help you gauge each player's value at each position they could be used for. Obviously it doesn't matter quite as much with your superstars because you would start those guys regardless, but a player like Andy McDonald got an added boost because you can use him at left wing instead of center -- and left wing is a thinner position than center.

The bottom line with all of these multiple-position-eligible players is it was definitely a nice addition for fantasy owners to have the extra flexibility, but it wasn't vital to a team's success.

Looking further into the center position, you were more than likely to have one elite center on your team. Usually known to be the deepest position in fantasy hockey, the center position again delivered for owners throughout the 2011-12 season. While it may have been outdone by the right wing group this year, the centers still contain some impressive talent.

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.
  • 1. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins* (same)
  • 2. Steven Stamkos, Lightning (same)
  • 3. Claude Giroux, Flyers* (same)
  • 4. Sidney Crosby, Penguins (same)
  • 5. Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings* (same)
  • 6. Jason Spezza, Senators (+2)
  • 7. Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks* (-1)
  • 8. Anze Kopitar, Kings (-1)
  • 9. Henrik Sedin, Canucks (same)
  • 10. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings* (+2)
  • 11. John Tavares, Islanders (same)
  • 12. Eric Staal, Hurricanes (-2)
  • 13. Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals (NR)**
  • 14. David Backes, Blues* (+1)
  • 15. Tyler Seguin, Bruins* (-2)
  • 16. Patrick Kane, Blackhawks* (-2)
  • 17. Brad Richards, Rangers (+5)
  • 18. Joe Pavelski, Sharks* (+2)
  • 19. Jamie Benn, Stars* (-1)
  • 20. Patrick Marleau, Sharks* (-4)
  • 21. Joe Thornton, Sharks (-4)
  • 22. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (+1)
  • 23. Logan Couture, Sharks (-4)
  • 24. Ryan Kesler, Canucks (-3)
  • 25. Brad Marchand, Bruins* (+2)
  • 26. Patrik Elias, Devils* (-2)
  • 27. Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks (-2)
  • 28. Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes* (-2)
  • 29. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers (same)
  • 30. Vincent Lecavalier, Lightning (NR)**
  • 31. T.J. Oshie, Blues* (+1)
  • 32. Mike Ribeiro, Stars (-1)
  • 33. Olli Jokinen, Flames (-3)
  • 34. Jordan Staal, Penguins* (same)
  • 35. Mikko Koivu, Wild (NR)**
  • 36. Andy McDonald, Blues* (NR)**
  • 37. Matt Duchene, Avalanche* (-4)
  • 38. Stephen Weiss, Panthers (-3)
  • 39. Valtteri Filppula, Red Wings* (-2)
  • 40. Derek Stepan, Rangers (-4)
*dual position eligibility in Yahoo! Leagues
** was listed on IR in last week's rankings

Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Mike Richards, Mike Fisher

Injured: Jonathan Toews (DTD), Jeff Carter (DTD), Danny Briere (DTD), Mikhail Grabovski (DTD)
As we stated a couple of weeks ago, there are three centers that set themselves apart from everyone else -- Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Claude Giroux (there probably would have been a fourth player in that group had Sidney Crosby played all season long). These three guys and Crosby combine to formulate the elite tier -- while Crosby has been unreliable due to injury, we still believe he belongs among this group going forward.

After that elite tier, there was still plenty of high-end production to be found. Ten centers are currently among the top-25 overall Yahoo! fantasy ratings -- Malkin, Stamkos, Giroux, Jason Spezza, Sharp, Henrik Sedin, John Tavares, Anze Kopitar, David Backes and Tyler Seguin.

We also saw plenty of surprises from the center position this season, with guys like Patrice Bergeron, Jamie Benn, Patrik Elias and Olli Jokinen delivering in ways we didn't expect. On the other hand, there were some underachievers that included players that struggled on the ice, or players that dealt with injuries and weren't of much use for their owners -- Nicklas Backstrom was expected to bounce back, but injuries slowed him down; Mike Richards didn't find success with his new team in his first season in Los Angeles; Jeff Skinner didn't exactly build off his impressive rookie campaign. There were others too, but year after year, it's nearly impossible to predict these types of drop-offs from players we've come to rely on.

All in all, the center position still was one that provided plenty of depth with a few elite scorers throughout the 2011-12 season. Let's look at a few specific awards for the position:

THE MOST VALUABLE CENTER

Who else could it be? Evgeni Malkin. We'll give the most valuable RW award to someone else so as to not duplicate the award, but Malkin (being a natural center) earns today's honor. While he has proved in the past to be an unbelievable player, this season may be his most impressive considering what he's done for the Pens. With Sidney Crosby out for most of the season and star defenseman Kris Letang on the sidelines for significant stretches, Malkin has been a rock for the Pens and his fantasy owners. He already has a career-high 48 goals and every other stat has been just as impressive.

THE BIGGEST SURPRISE

While Jason Spezza certainly gave more than most of us expected, we never really doubted his talent, so it wasn't too much of a shock. But Tyler Seguin's improvement was more than anyone expected this season. Seguin was rated 215th in Yahoo! Leagues coming into the season and is now the 24th overall fantasy player. When many of you were awaiting a drop-off from the sophomore forward, Seguin continued to put up a healthy amount of points (27 G, 38 A in 79 games) while adding an unreal plus-31 rating. As he continues to develop, just imagine what he'll do next season.

THE BIGGEST UNDERACHIEVER


Many superstars struggled early this season (see Eric Staal, Henrik Zetterberg and many others), but Jeff Carter is the only one that never came around. Carter had a history of success with three straight 33-plus goal seasons coming into 2011-12, but he got off to a rough start in his first go-around with a new team. He also dealt with multiple injuries and finished his Blue Jackets tenure with just 15 goals and 10 assists in 39 games (and a minus-11 rating). He then got traded to the Kings at the deadline and has struggled there as well with just six goals and three assists in 16 contests. What's even worse is that Carter has had two hat tricks this season -- meaning six of his 21 total goals came in two games. He could be a good buy-low player next season, but there's clearly some risk.

THE ROOKIE STANDOUT

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has only appeared in 60 games this season, but his production has been so extremely solid when healthy that he deserves this award. While Matt Read and Adam Henrique have been big surprises for fantasy owners this season, Nugent-Hopkins is still in a class of his own for rookie centers. As of right now, he has 18 goals, 33 assists and 23 power play points in just 60 games. Nugent-Hopkins is a superstar in the making and it could be as early as next season when we see him ranked among the top centers.

THE NEXT BIG SLEEPER

When the Sabres acquired Cody Hodgson many of their fans expected an immediate impact. Unfortunately, he got off to a slow start with no points in his first 10 games with his new team, but he has started to come alive recently. Over his last eight games he has three goals and 5 assists and is starting to show off the talent we knew he had. Hodgson could end up being the most productive center for the Sabres next season (especially if Buffalo's current No. 1 center Derek Roy ends up getting traded before becoming a UFA) and should be a No. 1-2 fantasy center for years to come. Make no mistake, he's as good a sleeper pick you'll find on the draft board next year.

TOP 100 FANTASY FORWARDS

RANK TEAM PLAYER
1. Sidney crosby
2. Steven Stamkos
3. Corey Perry
4. Alex Ovechkin
5. Evgeni Malkin

CUBETA'S COMPLETE TOP 100 FORWARD RANKS