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Center Stage: Kane up, Toews down in center ranks

by Matt Cubeta
Every Wednesday during the season, 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.

It's time to shake things up.

With so many players now possessing dual-position eligibility in Yahoo! fantasy hockey leagues, we have decided to expand our weekly forward rankings. That's right, we're bumping it up from 30, to 40 for each position. Going forward, our updated rankings will list the top 40 Yahoo!-eligible centers, left wings and right wings.

Simply put, there were just too many good players being left off the rankings because of so many of them being listed in multiple sets of forward rankings -- Chicago's Patrick Sharp is listed at C, LW and RW, despite the fact he has stated he does not want to play in the middle this season (hence Patrick Kane's emergence at the center position).

We want to put Sharp in each set of rankings because it is valuable to you if you have him on your fantasy team -- it will help you gauge his value at each position, because only you know where you want him to be on your roster. Maybe Sharp's a center for one owner, but for another, he could be a starting left wing, so we feel continuing to put him in each set of rankings is useful for everyone.

We've also decided to make one other slight change to our weekly forward rankings: Players that are IR-eligible in Yahoo! Leagues will be excluded from the top-40 rankings -- instead they will be listed at the bottom of the ranks in an IR category.

With that said, let's have a look at how things shape up in our new and improved center rankings:



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 from last week. (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

NOTE: David Backes recently gained C eligibility in Yahoo! Leagues

Players on IR: Sidney Crosby, Jeff Carter
Patrick Kane -- He may not line up at center every game for Chicago, but his fantasy owners are surely happy about his added position eligibility. Kane has been a bit streaky this season, but he still sports an extremely well-rounded stat line through 11 games: 4 G, 7 A, plus-6, 8 PIMs, 2 PPP, 40 SOG. Kane started this season with a four-game point scoring streak, was held pointless in his next three, followed that with 2 assists on Oct. 25 and then went pointless in his next two contests before breaking out with 2 goals and 1 assist on Monday against Nashville. With this season being Kane's fifth in the NHL, people tend to forget that he's just 22 years old with loads more potential. The Blackhawks forward registered a career-best 88 points in 2009-10, but he may be able to top that if he can stay focused and play to his full potential this season.

Vincent Lecavalier -- Despite less total ice time and power-play ice time (down from 18:27 to 17:33 and 3:59 to 3:10 on the PP), Lecavalier has been more than productive in the young season. In 12 games the Lightning captain has posted 5 goals, 4 assists, a plus-4 rating, 10 penalty minutes, 3 power-play points and 38 shots on goal. After a relatively down season last year (25 goals and 54 points in 65 games), Lecavalier seems rejuvenated in 2011-12 and has really stepped up his game after a slow start -- he has 7 points in his previous seven games. Start the 31-year-old regularly and hope for him to stay healthy.

Logan Couture -- Since the return of Martin Havlat to the lineup six games ago, Couture's fantasy value has quickly risen -- last year's Calder Trophy candidate has points in all six of those games (4 G, 2 A). The 22-year-old got off to a slow start with just 1 assist in his first four games, but clearly the return of Havlat is leading to more scoring opportunities for Couture. Couture might not see a ton of power-play ice time with that top unit being weighed on quite heavily, but centering a line with Havlat and Ryane Clowe should lead to another solid season -- there's a very good chance Couture exceeds last season's 32-goal, 56-point performance.


Jonathan Toews -- While the Patricks of Chicago (Kane and Sharp) are off to hot starts in 2011-12, their captain is struggling a bit out of the gate. In his first 11 games Toews has 4 goals and 3 assists, with just 1 point in his last 4 games after a quiet three-game point-scoring streak. Fantasy owners need not panic however, as Toews will be just fine. He remains on the outside of the top 10 for now, but by season's end you should expect him to crack that list again.

Henrik Zetterberg -- Zetterberg continues to nose-dive in the center rankings, coming in at a season-low 18th this week. Despite skating on Detroit's top line with Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Cleary, Zetterberg continues to struggle to find the score sheet -- he has just 2 goals and 2 assists on the season. Not only is his scoring down, but so are his peripheral numbers: Zetterberg has yet to record a power-play point this season while averaging nearly four minutes of man-advantage ice time per game. The Red Wings forward still leads the NHL in shots per game by a large margin (4.7 per game -- Andy McDonald is second with 4.3, but has only appeared in three games; Marian Hossa and Ryan Callahan are next at 4.1), so you should expect Zetterberg to turn things around at some point, but he continues to drop until he proves he's out of this slump.

Matt Duchene -- While Duchene has registered a point in each of his last two games, the fact that he has just 2 goals and 4 assists in 11 games speaks a lot about his poor start. Not only is he struggling on the score sheet, but he has also found himself riding the bench in some games and is only averaging 15:39 of ice time per game (down from 18:56 last year). Fantasy owners shouldn't be surprised by his slow start and they should definitely show patience with Duchene, as he scored just 2 goals in his first 18 games last season before exploding to finish with a team-high 27 goals and 67 points. He has been shuffled around quite a bit with different line combinations, but his latest game against the Kings saw him skate on a line with David Jones and Joakim Lindstrom -- while this isn't exactly the greatest fantasy trio in hockey, Duchene did finish the game with a goal.


Jussi Jokinen -- The Hurricanes forward has been pretty productive through 12 games (3 goals and 6 assists), but on Tuesday he suffered a leg injury and will be sidelined for 3-4 weeks. This is rough news for his fantasy owners, but it's also an opportunity for leagues where Jokinen is still available (he's only owned in 37 percent of Yahoo! Leagues, so a lot of you should read on).

If you have room for him on your roster or on your IR, grab Jokinen and stash him away. The 28-year-old winger has been more than productive in all facets of fantasy hockey so far with a solid 10 penalty minutes and a plus-4 rating. (You probably thought his plus/minus would be rough knowing Eric Staal is at a League-worst minus-12!) Jokinen has also contributed 4 power play-points while receiving 4:15 of power play ice time per game (17:01 total ice time).

The bottom line is that Jokinen should be owned in a lot more fantasy leagues than 37 percent, despite his recent injury -- he should be good for 50-60 points this season.
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