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Fantasy center rankings for 2017-18

McDavid, Crosby top two overall picks; Matthews, Eichel each has high ceiling

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / NHL.com Senior Fantasy Editor

With the 2017-18 NHL season inching closer by the day, NHL.com is previewing each of the five positions (center, left wing, right wing, defenseman, goaltender). From top-tier players to underrated options at each position, these guides will prepare you for your upcoming draft. Remember to also keep NHL.com's fantasy cheat sheet handy for top 250 rankings, stat projections, team previews and more.

 

FANTASY RANKINGS: Top 250 | Top 100 'F' | C | LW | RW | Top 50 'D' | Top 25 'G'

DRAFT GUIDES: Standard mock draft 2.0 | Keeper / dynasty | Hits | Faceoff wins

2017-18 PROJECTIONS: Forward points | D-man points | Goalie wins | Team previews

LISTS: Forward bargains | D-man bargains | Breakouts | Sleepers | Deep sleepers | Rookies

 

STARTING AT THE TOP

Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers led the NHL with 100 points last season at 20 years old. Sidney Crosby , who turned 30 on Aug. 7, is the reigning League leader in goals (44 in 75 games) and fresh off back-to-back Stanley Cup titles. These are the most valuable fantasy players in the game and will be taken first and second in most drafts for good reason. McDavid has the slight edge because of his youth and breakout linemate Leon Draisaitl, but Crosby has an emerging sidekick of his own, left wing Jake Guentzel, and remains a threat for the scoring title when healthy.

Video: Connor McDavid takes the No. 1 spot

That said, the gap is closing because of young centers Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres). Eichel (on a per-game basis) and Matthews covered goals, points, power-play points and shots on goal at elite levels, making each well worth a first-round pick in any format. The center position remains extremely deep, with Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg Jets), John Tavares (New York Islanders) and Tyler Seguin (Dallas Stars) attainable in the second round with top 10 overall upside.

And fantasy owners should never sleep on Evgeni Malkin (Penguins) or Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning), each proving over the years they can hang with the best point producers in the NHL when healthy. Malkin finished 11th in Yahoo last season despite missing 20 games, and Stamkos (20 points in 17 games before a season-ending knee injury) could be a fantasy bargain (Yahoo average draft position: 30.2) in a coveted spot next to top-ranked right wing Nikita Kucherov.

 

BARGAIN HUNTING

Ryan Johansen, C, NSH (ADP: 103.7) -- It's fair to be concerned about Johansen's season-ending thigh injury, but his ongoing recovery didn't stop the Nashville Predators from signing their No. 1 center to an eight-year, $64 million contract July 28. With Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson on his wings in 2016-17, he scored at least 60 points (61) for the fourth straight season. Take full advantage of his low ADP; he's somehow going outside the top 100 on average in Yahoo right now. 

Aleksander Barkov, C, FLA (ADP: 96.7) -- The Florida Panthers' top center has been a high-end point-producer when healthy over the past two seasons (0.87 points per game; T-19th among players with a minimum of 125 games played), but he has been limited to 127 of a possible 164 games in the span because of injuries. The Panthers lost Jaromir Jagr among other top-six wings this offseason but signed Kontinental Hockey League product Evgeny Dadonov and Radim Vrbata in free agency. Barkov's ceiling makes him a fringe top 50 fantasy asset, but he's been available much later in drafts so far.

Video: CHI@FLA: Barkov picks the corner with sharp wrister

Anze Kopitar, C, LAK (ADP: 102.0) -- He's coming off the least productive full season of his NHL career (52 points) but could benefit from a fresh start after the Los Angeles Kings replaced coach Darryl Sutter with John Stevens. The six-time 70-point producer doesn't have a strong supporting cast, but he should at least bounce back to produce in the 21-25 PPP range on the Kings' first unit with center Jeff Carter and defenseman Drew Doughty. If Marian Gaborik or Michael Cammalleri stays healthy and Adrian Kempe emerges, Kopitar could maximize the production of those linemates and finish among the top 50. He's also bound for better shooting fortunes (8.0 percent last season; lowest of NHL career).

 

POTENTIAL STEALS

Alexander Wennberg, C, CBJ (ADP: 163.6) -- The Columbus Blue Jackets made a huge splash by trading for left wing Artemi Panarin, who thrived alongside Patrick Kane in his first two NHL seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. This upgrade is great news for Wennberg, who's Columbus' top center. He could form a stellar trio with Panarin and either right wing Cam Atkinson or Nick Foligno, and also play with Panarin and defenseman Zach Werenski on the first power-play unit. Wennberg doesn't offer strong category coverage but could easily improve on his NHL career-high 59 points (13 goals, 46 assists) and 23 PPP from last season.

Mika Zibanejad, C, NYR (ADP: 167.4) -- The New York Rangers opened the door for Zibanejad to be their No. 1 center when they traded Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes on June 23. Zibanejad, who had an NHL career-high 51 points in 2015-16, was limited to 56 games last season because of a broken fibula but was on an 82-game pace of 54 points. Playing alongside scoring defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk for a full season on the Rangers' first power-play unit could help Zibanejad break out for 60 or more points.

Video: NYR@CBJ: Zibanejad buries Skjei's feed to tie game

Vadim Shipachyov, C/LW, VGK (ADP: 165.9) -- The Vegas Golden Knights landed wings James Neal (23 goals in 2016-17) and Jonathan Marchessault (30) in the NHL Expansion Draft, and Shipachyov is the leading candidate to reap the benefits as their top center. He was a dominant point-producer in the KHL and remains in his prime at 30 years old. He could be a plus/minus liability for this expansion team, but he should cover at least three of the six standard categories (goals, assists, PPP). He's dual eligible and has untapped potential, making him well worth a late-round flier.

 

ROOKIES TO WATCH

Nico Hischier , NJD (ADP: 160.4) -- With the New Jersey Devils trading for forward Marcus Johansson and signing defenseman Will Butcher (2017 Hobey Baker Award winner as top NCAA player) in the offseason, their future is looking much brighter than in years past. With center Travis Zajac (torn left pectoral muscle) possibly out the first four months of the season, Hischier likely will play either on the first line with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri or on the second line with Johansson. Fifty points didn't seem possible when Hischier was selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, but it sure does now.

Clayton Keller, ARI (ADP: 174.8) -- Speaking of teams that have improved this offseason, the Coyotes acquired Stepan, goaltender Antti Raanta and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Keller, who followed a similar path to Eichel with a stellar freshman season at Boston University last season, leads an exciting pack of rookies and could slot in behind Stepan as Arizona's second-line center and find chemistry with young wings Anthony Duclair, Tobias Rieder and/or Christian Fischer. He could be a Calder Trophy finalist if he sees time on the first power-play unit with Stepan, forward Max Domi and defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Nolan Patrick , PHI (ADP: 160.8) -- Injury concerns continue to surround Patrick, who had a second abdominal surgery prior to being selected with the No. 2 pick in the draft. The Philadelphia Flyers reportedly are not going to rush the young center into the lineup, but he could feasibly be their second-line center and see time on the first power-play unit with Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere after Brayden Schenn was traded to the St. Louis Blues. He should be drafted after Hischier and Keller in a one-year league but may have the highest keeper ceiling of the bunch for a more competitive team.

Other notable rookie centers: Tyson Jost (COL), Mathew Barzal (NYI), Dylan Strome (ARI), Colin White (OTT)

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TOP 50 CENTER RANKINGS

Standard Yahoo categories include goals, assists, plus/minus, penalty minutes, PPP and SOG for skaters. ... Value has been quantified based on factors including but not limited to past production, line combinations, power-play usage, team's offseason changes, injury history, age, sleeper, bounce-back or breakout potential, anticipated regression, contract status, Yahoo ADP and overall upside for this season. ... Pending restricted free agents and any players with injury concerns (INJ.) are noted. ... Center is the primary position of the dual-eligible forwards on this list.

1. Connor McDavid, C, EDM
2. Sidney Crosby, C, PIT
3. Auston Matthews, C, TOR
4. Evgeni Malkin, C, PIT
5. Jack Eichel, C, BUF
6. Nicklas Backstrom, C, WSH
7. Tyler Seguin, C/RW, DAL
8. Mark Scheifele, C, WPG
9. John Tavares, C, NYI
10. Steven Stamkos, C, TBL
11. Ryan Getzlaf, C, ANA
12. Patrice Bergeron, C, BOS
13. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, WSH
14. Ryan Johansen, C, NSH
15. Sean Monahan, C, CGY
16. Aleksander Barkov, C, FLA
17. Claude Giroux, C, PHI
18. Jeff Carter, C, LAK
19. Jonathan Toews, C, CHI
20. Anze Kopitar, C, LAK
21. Brayden Schenn, C/LW, STL
22. Logan Couture, C, SJS
23. Jason Spezza, C/RW, DAL
24. Alexander Wennberg, C, CBJ
25. Eric Staal, C, MIN
26. Nathan MacKinnon, C, COL
27. Ryan O'Reilly, C, BUF
28. Nazem Kadri, C, TOR
29. Kyle Turris, C, OTT
30. Henrik Zetterberg, C/LW, DET
31. Alex Galchenyuk, C/LW, MTL*
32. Mika Zibanejad, C, NYR
33. Bryan Little, C, WPG
34. Tyler Johnson, C, TBL
35. Joe Thornton, C, SJS
36. Mikko Koivu, C, MIN
37. David Krejci, C, BOS
38. Matt Duchene, C/RW, COL
39. Vadim Shipachyov, C/LW, VGK
40. Bo Horvat, C, VAN
41. Derek Stepan, C, ARI
42. Clayton Keller, C/LW, ARI
43. Nico Hischier, C, NJD
44. Vincent Trocheck, C, FLA
45. Nolan Patrick, C, PHI
46. Brayden Point, C/RW, TBL
47. Artem Anisimov, C, CHI
48. Mikael Backlund, C, CGY
49. Tyler Bozak, C, TOR
50. Mathew Barzal, C, NYI

*NOTE: Galchenyuk (C/LW) has played mostly center in his NHL career but is likely starting the season at left wing given Jonathan Drouin's move to center. J.T. Miller (LW/RW, NYR) has also been moved to center in training camp. Drouin and Miller are not (yet) center-eligible in Yahoo. ... Rickard Rakell (C/LW, ANA) has been moved to center with Ryan Kesler (recovery from hip surgery) out indefinitely.

Key injuries: Ryan Kesler, C, ANA; Brandon Dubinsky, C, CBJ; Martin Hanzal, C, DAL; Derick Brassard, C, OTT; Colin White, C, OTT; Travis Zajac, C, NJD

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