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Fantasy Spin: Rookie centers there for taking

by Pete Jensen

When it comes to rookie centers this season, it's been Nathan MacKinnon and the rest.

The No. 1 pick of the 2013 NHL Draft has been as good as advertised for the Colorado Avalanche. He's covered five categories (goals, assists, plus/minus rating, power-play points, shots on goal) for fantasy owners and is owned in more than 60 percent of Yahoo leagues as a result.

But if you missed out on MacKinnon (Yahoo average draft position: 154.3), first-year centers Tyler Johnson, Aleksander Barkov and Mark Scheifele are there for the taking in most leagues. While they don't offer dual-position flexibility, each is worth the attention of deep-league fantasy owners.

If you missed out on Nathan MacKinnon in fantasy hockey, take a chance on fellow rookie centers Tyler Johnson, Aleksander Barkov or Mark Scheifele before it's too late. (Photo: Getty Images, Bill Smith/NHLI, Joe Sargent/NHLI)

While injured center-eligible standouts (Alexander Steen, Logan Couture, Mikko Koivu, etc.) work their way back, picking up one of these youngsters can help your cause either on a temporary basis or in the future in keeper formats. These three rookies have improved over the course of the 2013-14 season and have a chance to sneak into the Calder Trophy discussion with sustained production.

Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning

Yahoo ownership: 9 percent

Johnson and fellow rookie Ondrej Palat have been the even-strength beneficiaries of Martin St. Louis during Steven Stamkos' absence. With 19 points in 29 games since Stamkos went down, Johnson has risen to the occasion to provide one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference with sufficient scoring depth. Heading into games Tuesday, MacKinnon (129) and Johnson (101) are the only rookies League-wide who have eclipsed the century mark in shots on goal. Johnson is third among all rookies with 26 points and first among rookie forwards in ice time per game (18:24). While Johnson has more short-term value than Barkov and Scheifele, he could be shifted down in the Lightning lineup after the Olympic break if Stamkos returns.

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

Yahoo ownership: 9 percent

It was unclear what role the No. 2 pick of the 2013 NHL Draft would have entering the season, but Barkov has moved to the top of the Panthers' depth chart. Barkov has developed chemistry with veteran Brad Boyes as Florida's best point pair (10 goals where both have a point). His other frequent linemate, Sean Bergenheim, has been a surprise with 10 goals this season, six of which have been assisted by Barkov. If your fantasy team could use a young player with a power-play presence, Barkov averages 2:40 per game with the man-advantage and has six power-play points, fourth among rookie forwards). For leagues that take faceoffs into account, Barkov leads all rookies with a 49.6-percent winning percentage.

Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Yahoo ownership: 7 percent

Scheifele made a great first impression on new coach Paul Maurice in Winnipeg's 5-1 win against the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday. His assist on Blake Wheeler's goal marked his 14th point in his past 16 games. Scheifele, one of my preseason sleepers, is on the fast track toward being the team's future top-line center. After a slow start he has risen to fifth in scoring among rookies with 24 points. While he's won 42.8 percent of his faceoffs and has won 10-plus faceoffs in a game four times this season, he's done it twice in his past three games (33 won, 25 lost in that span). He averages nearly a hit per game (45 hits, 48 games) and sees 1:57 per game on the power play (4 power-play points). Like Barkov, Scheifele should take his team's coaching change in stride and gain more fantasy ownership as the season progresses.


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