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Fantasy center rankings for 2016-17

Connor McDavid could challenge safe bets Sidney Crosby, Tyler Seguin for NHL scoring title

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / NHL.com Fantasy Insider

Time and time again, strong centers are the foundation of a winning fantasy roster. It's the position that needs to be your priority in early rounds.

Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars are the highest-scoring centers in the NHL over the past three seasons, covering the power-play-points and shots-on-goal categories at high rates along the way. But it may be only a matter of time before Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers closes the gap between him and the fantasy elite at his position.

FANTASY RANKINGS: TOP 250LW | RW | D-MAN | GOALIE

McDavid, who scored 48 points (14 PPP) in his injury-shortened rookie season (45 games), could compete for the scoring title as early as this season and is worth taking first overall in any keeper format. Even in one-year leagues, McDavid is worth drafting ahead of consistent performers like John Tavares of the New York Islanders, Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins because of his high ceiling.

As you venture deeper into NHL.com's center rankings, there's plenty of value. Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers, Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets and Sean Monahan of the Calgary Flames should be there for the taking in the fourth round or later, with each having a shot at 70 or more points playing with elite linemates. Factor in young players Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and rookie Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and you'll have plenty of opportunity to nail down two or three high-end centers in the early stages of your draft.

Video: Fantasy hockey analysis with Pete Jensen

And never underestimate veterans such as Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks and Jason Spezza of the Stars, who each continues to be undervalued despite his recent and career performance.

Here's a complete center outlook and fantasy draft guide to help you prepare for this season.

BARGAIN HUNTING - Well-known centers in position to outperform their current Yahoo rank

Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim Ducks

The return of coach Randy Carlyle for a second stint as Anaheim coach means Getzlaf could reunite with longtime linemate Corey Perry. If that's the case, Getzlaf has a chance to finish among the top 15 overall fantasy assets. Even if the Ducks stick with young Rickard Rakell on Perry's line at even strength, Getzlaf, who is tied for fourth in the NHL in assists since 2010-11 and covers five of the six standard categories, is a lock for at least 60 points. Getzlaf also plays on the first power-play unit with Perry for the Ducks, who quietly finished first in the NHL in conversion percentage last season. The best part is Getzlaf could be available in the fourth or fifth round based on his low Yahoo pre-rank (54).

Matt Duchene, C, Colorado Avalanche

A system change under new Avalanche coach Jared Bednar could help Duchene return fantasy value if he is drafted outside the top 20 centers and ends up scoring 70 points. He was inconsistent in Patrick Roy's offense and bounced around the lineup last season, playing with either Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog or Jarome Iginla and Mikhail Grigorenko. Duchene, 25, was one of 20 players with 30 goals, 15 PPP and 200 SOG, and had the same points-per-game average (0.78) as Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens, Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators and Monahan. The fact the Avalanche play in the tough Central Division could scare many fantasy owners away, but Duchene should be prioritized if available after the fifth round of a 10-team draft.

Ryan O'Reilly, C/LW, Buffalo Sabres

Dual eligibility will be a focal point in fantasy drafts this season after Yahoo refined its position eligibility landscape, and O'Reilly is one of three players in NHL.com's top 60 with multiposition eligibility (Joe Pavelski, MacKinnon). Eichel should be drafted higher on average, but many forget O'Reilly led the Sabres in scoring last season (60 points in 71 games) despite missing time because of injury. Buffalo's even-strength play should improve with added depth and talent, and O'Reilly will have a strong right wing on his line; the Sabres signed Kyle Okposo and also have Sam Reinhart, who scored 23 goals as a rookie. O'Reilly also could pad his already strong PPP total (22) on one of the most improved first power-play units in the League.

POTENTIAL STEALS - High-upside centers who should be available outside top 100 overall

Adam Henrique, C, New Jersey Devils

Taylor Hall, one of the biggest movers of the offseason and best even-strength point-producers in the League, could raise the bar for the entire Devils offense. Henrique, who reached 50 points for the first time since he had 51 as a rookie in 2011-12 and scored an NHL career-high 30 goals last season, has a realistic chance of jumping to the 60-65 point range even if his high shooting percentage (20.1; second in NHL among players with at least 65 games) dips. Even if Henrique doesn't play on the same line as Hall at even strength, he could find himself on a line with Michael Cammalleri and/or Kyle Palmieri, and also might see significant power-play time.

Video: Pete Jensen previews the top fantasy hockey picks

Mika Zibanejad, C/RW, New York Rangers

The Rangers have a crowded forward picture, but no center on their roster has a higher ceiling than Zibanejad, who was acquired from the Ottawa Senators on July 18 in the Derick Brassard trade. His point total improved each of his four seasons with Ottawa, and now he'll get prime minutes and a chance to play with steady Mats Zuccarello and bounce-back hopeful Rick Nash. Look for Zibanejad to jump from 51 points to at least 60 with his new team and to resemble the playmaker who stepped right in for injured Kyle Turris last season (15 points in final 20 games). He also has a chance to do some damage in Brassard's place on the Rangers' first power-play unit. Reach for Zibanejad as early as the 13th round of a 10-team draft, but you could probably land him even later (Yahoo pre-rank: 180).

Dylan Strome, C, Arizona Coyotes

Strome has a clear path to the No. 1 center job if he makes the Coyotes roster out of training camp, especially after they bought out the contract of veteran Antoine Vermette this offseason. In a best-case scenario, Strome would be on the top line with Anthony Duclair and Max Domi, and on the first power-play unit with defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He had two straight seasons of at least 110 regular-season points and averaged more than a point per game in the playoffs for Erie of the Ontario Hockey League. Target him any time after the 14th round in a standard format and even higher in keeper leagues. He could easily be this season's Dylan Larkin.

ROOKIE WATCH - Underrated first-year centers who can find fantasy relevance

Mathew Barzal, C, New York Islanders

After Frans Nielsen, a second-line center and first-unit power-play fixture, signed with the Detroit Red Wings, the Islanders are hoping Barzal can crack the top six out of training camp. Barzal, 19, scored 88 points in 58 regular-season games and 26 points in 18 postseason games for Seattle of the Western Hockey League last season, and it's feasible he could center Anders Lee and Ryan Strome on the second line to start the season. If Barzal sees power-play time, he'll have a chance to surpass 50 points, something Nielsen did in two of the past three seasons.

Nick Schmaltz, C, Chicago Blackhawks

Last season, we saw Blackhawks forwards Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin break out to finish as the top point pair in the NHL, but their frequent center, Artem Anisimov, barely was fantasy relevant. Chicago has traded Teuvo Teravainen and Andrew Shaw, so they could shift Anisimov down to the third line over time, opening the door for a touted prospect like Schmaltz. There's also a chance Schmaltz could move to wing and get a trial alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, two fantasy bounce-back candidates. Schmaltz averaged better than a point per game at the University of North Dakota last season and should at least crack Chicago's roster as a third-line center in his first NHL season.

Video: A look at the 2016-17 fantasy sleepers and bargains

Mitchell Marner, C, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs have plenty of center depth with Matthews, Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak, but Marner still has a real shot to crack the top nine this season. Marner, 19, has scored more than 115 points in each of the past two seasons with London of the OHL. He may need an injury to someone ahead of him in the Toronto lineup to get an opportunity to make an immediate fantasy impact, but his goal-scoring ability (39 in 57 games in 2015-16; 44 in 63 games in 2014-15) could catapult him to a spot on one of the first two lines in a best-case scenario. There's also a chance he could play wing and excel on a line with Matthews. Marner is more than worth a late-round flier in a deep fantasy league and should be taken in the middle rounds of a keeper format.

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CENTER RANKINGS

The players below have center eligibility in Yahoo leagues and are ranked among NHL.com's top 200 overall. Center is the primary position of any dual-eligible forwards on this list. ... Standard Yahoo categories include goals, assists, plus/minus, penalty minutes, PPP and SOG for skaters. NOTE: These rankings have been updated Oct. 10.

1. Sidney Crosby, C, PIT - INJ.
2. Connor McDavid, C, EDM
3. Tyler Seguin, C, DAL
4. John Tavares, C, NYI
5. Claude Giroux, C, PHI
6. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, WSH
7. Steven Stamkos, C, TBL
8. Evgeni Malkin, C, PIT
9. Anze Kopitar, C, LAK
10. Joe Thornton, C, SJS
11. Logan Couture, C, SJS
12. Patrice Bergeron, C, BOS - INJ.
13. Nicklas Backstrom, C, WSH
14. Ryan Getzlaf, C, ANA
15. Aleksander Barkov, C, FLA
16. Jack Eichel, C, BUF - INJ.
17. Nathan MacKinnon, C/RW, COL
18. Mark Scheifele, C, WPG
19. Sean Monahan, C, CGY
20. Ryan Johansen, C, NSH
21. Jason Spezza, C, DAL
22. Ryan O'Reilly, C/LW, BUF
23. Matt Duchene, C, COL
24. Jonathan Toews, C, CHI
25. Dylan Larkin, C/RW, DET
26. Tyler Johnson, C, TBL
27. Jeff Carter, C, LAK
28. Alex Galchenyuk, C, MTL
29. Auston Matthews, C, TOR
30. Vincent Trocheck, C, FLA
31. Ryan Kesler, C, ANA
32. Mika Zibanejad, C/RW, NYR
33. Henrik Sedin, C, VAN
34. David Krejci, C, BOS
35. Derick Brassard, C, OTT
36. Adam Henrique, C, NJD
37. Tomas Hertl, C, SJS
38. Dylan Strome, C, ARI
39. Bryan Little, C, WPG
40. Rickard Rakell, C, ANA - RFA
41. Leon Draisaitl, C, EDM
42. Derek Stepan, C, NYR
43. Eric Staal, C, MIN
44. Kyle Turris, C, OTT
45. Frans Nielsen, C, DET
46. Paul Stastny, C, STL
47. Mikko Koivu, C, MIN

Just missed: Sam Bennett (C, CGY), Victor Rask (C, CAR), Brandon Dubinsky (C, CBJ), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (C, EDM), Alexander Wennberg (C, CBJ), Alex Killorn (C, TBL), Tomas Plekanec (C, MTL), Nazem Kadri (C, TOR), Nick Bonino (C, PIT), Sean Couturier (C, PHI), Jordan Staal (C/LW, CAR), Mitchell Marner (C, TOR), Andreas Athanasiou (C, DET), Travis Konecny (C, PHI), Bo Horvat (C, VAN), Mikael Granlund (C, MIN), Travis Zajac (C, NJD

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