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Center Stage: Lots of depth from fantasy middle-men

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.

With so much depth at the center position, it becomes more and more difficult to rank the League's top 30 middle men. Throw in the fact that there are several players who also possess dual-position eligibility, and the rankings begin to look even stronger each week.

That's why today's "Center Stage" will take a look at a few players that didn't crack this week's top 30 rankings -- we'll also explain why these guys are performing so well. They're worthy of ownership in several fantasy leagues at this point, and at the very least deserve mentioning for their hot starts. They could possibly make an appearance in the ranks at some point during the season (if they haven't already), but for now, they're on the outside looking in.

Steve Ott, Stars (ranked 16th overall in Yahoo! Leagues -- owned in 30 percent)
The former first-round pick in 2000 has been an all-around fantasy stud so far. He has recorded a point in five of his six games and has his usual 20 PIMs to go along with a solid 16 shots on goal.
Key to success: Currently skating on a line with Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.

David Legwand, Predators (ranked 31st overall in Yahoo! Leagues -- owned in 41 percent)
Legwand is tied for third in the NHL with 8 points in just five contests and has notched at least one point in four of those five games. He doesn't record too many shots and won't spend time in the sin bin. Your best bet is to try to sell high and trade him now if you grabbed him earlier.
Key to success: Capitalizing on power-play opportunities -- 4 of his 8 points have come on the PP.

Brad Marchand, Bruins (ranked 32nd overall -in Yahoo! Leagues -- owned in 62 percent)
Through six games, last year's playoff hero has posted 2 goals and 2 assists with solid peripherals (plus-2, 20 PIMs, 1 PPP, 16 SOG). He's skating on Boston's second line with Patrice Bergeron and Rich Peverley (all whom can play center) and should continue to produce all season long.
Key to success: His 10-minute misconduct on Tuesday might not be the last one he records this season -- expect him to contribute plenty of PIMs.

Vinny Prospal, Blue Jackets (ranked 41st overall in Yahoo! Leagues - owned in 44 percent)
Before Jeff Carter was injured, Prospal was skating on a line with Rick Nash and Carter and producing quite well with 3 goals and 5 points in five games. However, with Carter out, Prospal lined up with Antoine Vermette and Alexandre Giroux on Tuesday -- he posted 5 shots on goal in just over 20 minutes of ice time.
Key to success: Benefits from skating on a line with two superstars; he'll do so again once Carter is back in 7-10 days.

Matt Read, Flyers (ranked 42nd overall in Yahoo! Leagues - owned in 7 percent)
Read has impressed early on with 2 goals and 6 points in his first five NHL games, including a big breakout performance on Tuesday with 1 goal and 3 helpers. As a rookie you can't expect Read to continue at this rate, but ride him while he's hot.
Key to success: He's skating on Philadelphia's third line with Scott Hartnell and fellow rookie Sean Couturier -- clearly a hard-nosed, grind-it-out line, but they're producing early on.



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 now dictated by how they're labeled in Yahoo! Fantasy Leagues.
*dual position eligibility in Yahoo! Leagues

Players that dropped out of our previous rankings: Logan Couture, Mikko Koivu
Ryan Kesler -- Welcome back to the lineup, Mr. Kesler -- we've missed you. After putting together a monster season in which the Canucks forward posted 41 goals and finished as the sixth-ranked overall fantasy player, Kesler made his 2011-12 season debut on Tuesday against the Rangers. While he didn't record a point (no one did despite 40 shots on goal against Henrik Lundqvist), Kesler clearly showed he is healthy and at 100 percent. The 27-year-old (we love that prime age!) did record a minor penalty and 3 shots on goal while receiving 19:07 of ice time. Even more notable was that he saw an outstanding 7:21 of power-play ice time (most of it coming on a unit with the Sedin brothers and Alexander Edler and Mikael Samuelsson on the point). Those of you that drafted Kesler should expect him to pick up right where he left off last season and finish as a top-10 fantasy center at the very worst.

John Tavares -- After recording no points, a minus-2 rating and just 3 shots on goal in his first two contests, the Islanders phenom woke up in game three of the 2011-12 season. The No. 1 draft pick in 2009 erupted for 2 goals and 2 assists against the Lightning (also adding 4 PIMs and 4 SOG) and then followed up that performance with a hat trick and a helper against the Rangers. Now that's the Tavares we hoped for! While Tavares' ice time only stands at 16:18 per game (the Isles like to roll all of their lines), he is seeing 3:45 of power-play time and clearly taking advantage -- 2 of his 5 goals have come on the PP. Perhaps what's most shocking about Tavares' stat line is that he's a plus-4 after being a minus-16 and minus-15 in the last two seasons. The Islanders are an improved team and are clearly showing that early on -- it won't be long before we see Tavares' name closer to the top of the center ranks.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- RNH started the season on a line with Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky and scored a goal in his first game. Then the No. 1 draft pick from this past summer was switched to a line with Hall and Jordan Eberle and erupted for a hat trick in a loss to the Canucks -- the following game, RNH set up Hall for his first goal of the season. Nugent-Hopkins and Hall have clearly found some early chemistry, and that's a definite good thing for fantasy owners everywhere. While Hall was scratched on Wednesday, you can safely expect RNH to stick in the NHL all season and on a line with his new buddy Hall. Expectations are clearly through the roof for the talented 18-year-old, but remember just that: he's only 18 -- you have to know there will be some dry spells and point-scoring droughts, as there almost always is with NHL rookies.


Henrik Zetterberg -- Ranked as the 22nd overall fantasy player in Yahoo! Leagues coming into the season, Z-Berg has stumbled out of the gate so far -- through four games he has just 1 goal. One positive note is that he's recorded 20 shots on goal, which ranks ninth in the NHL. Zetterberg is receiving just under 20 minutes of ice time, with 4:23 of power play time, so you can safely expect him to wake up soon enough. The Swedish forward is skating primarily on Detroit's top line with Pavel Datsyuk and Danny Cleary, and it's only a matter of time before he works his way back towards the top of the center rankings.

Jeff Carter -- In his first five games in Columbus, Carter registered three assists, a plus-1, no PP points, 4 PIMs and 20 SOG -- not the worst stat line, but we'd expect the former 40-goal scorer to have at least a goal by now. With news that Carter had been placed on injured reserve Tuesday after sustaining a hairline crack on his right foot, his fantasy value takes an even larger hit. While it's expected that the former Flyer will only be out for 7-10 days, this definitely hurts his fantasy owners. For those of you that don't have IR spots on your roster, be sure to save a spot on your bench because he's clearly worth keeping -- look for him to find his form on his new club when he returns from his injury.

Logan Couture -- After busting out for 32 goals and finishing last season as a Calder Trophy finalist, the Sharks forward is also off to a slow start in his sophomore season. In his first four games of 2011-12, Couture has just 1 assist to go along with a minus-2 and 9 shots on goal. The former first-rounder is currently centering San Jose's second line with Ryane Clowe and Tommy Wingels on his wings and averaging 17:09 of ice time per game, with just 2:46 of power-play time. The Sharks are loaded on their top power-play unit and will likely ride them all season long. However, expect Couture and Clowe both to get fantasy boosts with newcomer Martin Havlat expected to return to the lineup and their line in the near future -- Havlat is a very talented player and his presence alone should certainly help out Couture's production going forward. There's a very good chance Couture will be back among the top-30 centers once he heats up.


Patrik Berglund
Center - STL
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 4
SOG: 15 | +/-: 0
Patrik Berglund -- Owned in just 42 percent of Yahoo! Leagues, the talented Swedish center has posted 2 goals and 2 assists in six games. Berglund has been skating on a line primarily with Chris Stewart and T.J. Oshie, which could obviously result in a big season if the line sticks together -- Stewart is a potential 40-goal scorer in the making and Oshie is a playmaker with great hands. Berglund posted 22 goals and 52 points in 81 contests last season, while receiving 17:11 of ice time per game and 2:53 of power-play ice time. This season, Berglund is seeing comparable overall ice time, but he's averaging 3:37 with the man advantage. The 23-year-old forward was mentioned as a key sleeper in our fantasy story and he should reward those that drafted him in their fantasy leagues. He may be streaky at times, but stick with the kid and you should see at least 60 points with a chance for 25-30 goals.
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