Eastern Edge: Centres to target in your drafts

Brennan Des



This week we’ll take a look at where Centers are being drafted in the average Yahoo Fantasy Hockey League. For the most part, I’ve noticed a few names going later than they should be, but there’s also one name ranked a little bit too high for my liking.


Sebastian Aho – Overrated (Average Yahoo Pick: 36.1)

Put down your pitchforks and hear me out for a second. Sebastian Aho is an elite forward who is probably going to post a point-per-game pace next season (if not better), but I think he’s being drafted a liiiiiitle too early in Yahoo Leagues. Aho’s triple eligibility status last year made fantasy rosters much more flexible because you could start him at the center, left-wing or right-wing slot. However, this year he’s only listed as a center – so you don’t have the same luxury. Now, it’s important to mention that Yahoo updates their position eligibility during the season, so there is a chance that Aho is granted C/LW or C/RW status at some point. But let’s consider the existing scenario, where Aho is only a center. There’s one person being drafted after Aho who really stand out to me – Brayden Point. Point posted 92 points in 79 games last season while Aho had 83 in 82. I’ll also go out on a limb and say that Point is surrounded by more offensive talent in Tampa Bay, which might help him tally goals and assists even when he’s not playing his best – something I can’t confidently say about Aho.


Mika Zibanejad – Underrated (Average Yahoo Pick: 78.3)

The Rangers forward tallied 74 points last season with a pretty lacklustre supporting cast. So, what happens when Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko and Jacob Trouba join the squad? Zibanejad’s draft stock has to rise, right? Well my friends, in the average Yahoo fantasy league, Zibanejad is currently being drafted 79th overall. Drafting a point-per-game player outside of the top-75 seems like a sweet deal to me. I can understand if you’re apprehensive because Zibanejad has only one stellar season of play on his resume. However, you have to remember he’s only 26 years old and last season marked the first time in his career he was trusted with big minutes. He averaged 20:34 of ice time per game last year – that’s two and a half minutes more than his previous high of 18 minutes per game back in 2017-2018. Add in the fact that Artemi Panarin is probably the most talented winger Zibanejad has ever played with, and I think you have a recipe for success.


Sean Couturier – Underrated (Average Yahoo Pick: 114.9)

Couturier had posted back-to-back 76-point seasons and is still being drafted after William Nylander and Brayden Schenn in Yahoo Leagues. Can we put some respect on this guy’s name? Maybe some fantasy GMs are concerned about the arrival of Kevin Hayes in Philadelphia, as they think Hayes will eat away at Couturier’s minutes. My dear friends, Sean Couturier is a much better player than Hayes and will be granted every opportunity to put forth another campaign of near point-per-game production. The Flyers’ wealth of winger talent ensures that Couturier will play alongside some combination of Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek and Travis Konecny – at both even strength and on the top power play. He saw over three minutes of ice-time with the man-advantage last year and averaged about 22 minutes of action a night. Modest reductions to both of those totals should still leave him with plenty of chances to produce offensively.


Dylan Larkin – Underrated (Average Yahoo Pick: 131.1)

A really good way to maximize value in your fantasy draft is to target good players from bad teams. Dylan Larkin is the first good example of that on this list, with Andreas Athanasiou soon to follow. Larkin is being taken outside of the top-100 in the average Yahoo League this year, which is straight up disrespectful if you ask me. The 2018-2019 campaign marked Larkin’s fourth season in the NHL, and he broke out in a big way with 73 points in 76 games. He saw two more minutes of ice-time than in his third season of play, where he managed an impressive 63 points in 82 games. While Detroit’s forward core is underwhelming enough that Larkin will continue to see big minutes going forward, it also features a couple of really talented pieces. Anthony Mantha – who will presumably play alongside Larkin during this year – managed 33 points in 38 games to close out last season, a 71-point pace! At 24 years of age, Mantha is still young enough that it wouldn’t be shocking to see him break out this year – which would be great news for Larkin’s production going forward. Yahoo’s draft rankings have William Nylander, Brayden Schenn, Matt Duchene and Jack Hughes being taken ahead of Larkin in fantasy leagues. Larkin is going to outscore all four of those guys, so maybe give him a little more respect on draft day. 


Ryan Johansen – Underrated (Average Yahoo Pick: 171.3)

One-hundred and seventieth. That’s the average pick being used to draft Ryan Johansen in Yahoo Leagues.  You could get a proven 60- to 70-point player outside of the top-150 picks of your draft. I’ve mentioned this before on Eastern Edge, but I feel like all the media coverage of the Matt Duchene sweepstakes inflated Duchene’s perceived fantasy hockey value, which in turn made people forget about Ryan Johansen. Look, I get it. You’re worried that Duchene’s arrival will take some minutes away from Johansen, but let me remind you of the chemistry that Johansen has displayed alongside Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg on Nashville’s top line. Over the past two seasons, the trio has played together for over 1000 minutes – a number which would be even higher had Forsberg and Arvidsson not suffered significant injuries. Nevertheless, that line has controlled an impressive 57.5% of the shot-share, 53.9% of scoring chances and 55.3% of high-danger opportunities (via NaturalStatTrick). All while outscoring the opposition by a tally of 66 to 39! Coach Pete Laviolette isn’t just going to forget about Johansen because Duchene is in town, Johansen will still have plenty of opportunities to put up his 60 points. What makes me even more excited about Johansen this year is his potential production if Forsberg and Arvidsson manage to stay healthy for the whole season – both of those guys are capable of scoring 40 goals.


Jonathan Drouin – Underrated (Average Yahoo Pick: 173.5)

Media coverage in Montreal has really focused on Drouin’s desire to improve and willingness to develop his game. Drouin will be quarterbacking the Habs’ power-play which is something the team has been working hard on during the offseason. I know I just provided you with a bunch of arbitrary and maybe even meaningless anecdotes, but I think you can spare one of your last draft picks on a guy who has shown great offensive potential and always seems on the verge of breaking out.


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