This week we will be covering the top 10 centers in the Eastern Conference for the 2016-17 season. The focus will be put on points-only leagues. Multi-category leagues will be ignored for rankings purposes because of the increasing availability of categories. Even for forwards, your scoring setup can have a tremendous impact on player value.
As we will see, this list contains plenty of star power from top to bottom. Even more interesting is the value of offensive stars with questionable durability. While their time on the sidelines is always problematic, they can still be quite valuable in shallow leagues that lack strict rules on in-season adds and drops. When the player goes down, he can be replaced with a solid free agent and the overall production from that roster spot will remain excellent. However, in head-to-head leagues these same players can single-handedly sink their teams with an untimely injury come playoff time. Having said that, their upside is still extremely high should they find a way to play a full schedule.
Previous lists for 2016-17:
Honorable mention – Patrice Bergeron (Boston)
Last year, Bergeron surprised many by posting a career-best 32 goals and 68 points, his highest total since 2007. This was helped by his 25 power-play points (very high compared to his career numbers) as the Bruins were on fire early with the man advantage. This success was certainly unsustainable and the team eventually came back down to earth. Bergeron should not be expected to repeat his success on the power play which will in turn negatively affect his point total. Look for him to fall back around 60 or lower.
Honorable mention – Tyler Johnson (Tampa Bay)
Johnson followed a remarkable 72-point effort in 2014-15 with a disappointing 38 points in 69 games last year. He suffered a few short-term injuries during the season and never seemed to get back on track. There are plenty of reasons for optimism. His spot in the top-six is very secure, as he most often centers Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, the team’s two best wingers. Also, his 17 points in 17 playoff games showed he has not simply fallen off the map as an NHL player. He may not return to his elite-level numbers but should be a solid fantasy contributor moving forward. Given the talent in Tampa Bay and the quality of his linemates, he should be able to hit the 60-point mark with the upside for more if his line can find its magic again.
Honorable mention – David Krejci (Boston)
With significant injuries in each of the last two years, the once-reliable Krejci is becoming more of a risk to own, as he has missed a combined 45 games during that span. He has a track record of producing 60 or more points most years and should be able to continue this pace. The concern is his injury-proneness could become a major problem in many fantasy leagues. Another problem is fellow center Patrice Bergeron having developed such great chemistry with Brad Marchand, the team’s top winger. This leaves Krejci with the best of the rest – last year he played mostly with the now-departed Loui Eriksson and David Pastrnak.
10) Ryan O’Reilly (Buffalo)
Last year, O’Reilly hit the 60-point mark for the second time in his career and did so in just 71 games. While there is enough talent in Buffalo, especially on the top power-play unit, to get him back to 60 points this year, it is difficult to envision him having additional upside even if he avoids the injury bug. Golden boy Jack Eichel is going to be the team’s top center and will be given the best opportunities to succeed offensively. O’Reilly, an excellent two-way forward, will play more difficult minutes and is more likely to get the shorter end of the stick in terms of linemates.
9) Jack Eichel (Buffalo)
Expectations were high for Eichel after being hyped as one of the top prospects of the last decade. He did not disappoint as a rookie with 56 points. In his second year, he has a strong chance of taking the next step towards stardom and the addition of Kyle Okposo should help in that regard, especially on the power play. Even as a rookie, Eichel was logging over 19 minutes per game which is on par with top-line forwards. He should be able to clear 60 points with ease and should challenge for 70.
8) Aleksander Barkov (Florida)
Last year, Barkov broke out as an offensive star with 59 points in 66 games. Unfortunately, he has shown a proneness to injury during his short NHL career which makes him less appealing to own. Another concern is his shooting percentage which was over 16 percent, as he netted 28 goals last year. Even if his goal-scoring frequency drops he should be able to produce at a 70-point pace. The only question is whether or not he can suit up every night.
7) Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay)
For the second straight year, Stamkos’ production has slipped below the point-per-game mark. As stated, the best two wingers the Lightning have to offer have typically formed a line with Tyler Johnson, leaving Stamkos with mostly leftovers. This has no doubt hurt his production. Thankfully the team has a pair of young forwards in Jonathan Drouin and Vladislav Namestnikov who will give Stamkos a boost on the wing but both are young and will experience more growing pains. For now, look for him to finish around 70 points along with a return to 40 goals.
6) Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh)
It goes without saying Malkin has been a major injury risk throughout his career. With that said, the appeal remains, as he constantly produces at a point-per-game pace or better which gives him the upside to win the Art Ross if his body can hold up over a full schedule. Prior to last year’s 58 points he cleared 70 the prior two years while missing a total of 60 games during those three seasons. This limits his appeal to leagues that allow you to easily replace him with a quality player off the waiver wire. Otherwise he will likely be picked too high because of his name value.
5) Evgeny Kuznetsov (Washington)
Last year, Kuznetsov was one of the most pleasant surprises when he finished with 77 points, more than double his total as a rookie. Amazingly, he did so without having the benefit of consistently being on Alexander Ovechkin’s line at even strength. He also was not relying too heavily on inflated power-play production where he notched just 18 points. However, a lot of things went well for the Capitals during their dream season. Many players are going to see their numbers suffer a bit and Kuznetsov, the second center on the depth chart, could be one of them. It will be extremely difficult to repeat last year’s success without being the top pivot in all situations.
4) Claude Giroux (Philadelphia)
Coming off a disappointing 67-point campaign, Giroux finds himself in buy-low territory. His five-on-five shooting percentage was very low, as was his personal shooting percentage. A bounce-back showing in either area will add several points to his total. He could also benefit from a return to form from Jakub Voracek who was a major letdown last year. With high upside and strong durability, Giroux could hit 80 points if it all comes together but should be a safe bet to at least match the 73 points he posted in 2014-15.
3) Nicklas Backstrom (Washington)
A regular in the point-per-game range, Backstrom’s production dipped to 70 points due to missing seven games to injury. Prior to his time on the sidelines, he had not missed any games the prior three years which makes him very reliable. Plus, unlike Kuznetsov, Backstrom has the benefit of being Alexander Ovechkin’s running mate in all situations, which is a perfect fit for Backstrom's assist-heavy game. Look for Backstrom to get back above 75 points this year barring another unexpected ailment.
2) John Tavares (New York Islanders)
Tavares is coming off a frustrating 70-point effort after finishing well above a point per game the previous two years. The main culprit was production on the power play where his point total dipped from 32 to 19. Another problem was several of the team’s young players posting disappointing numbers which gave Tavares a lack of support. The Islanders were busy this summer adding veterans Andrew Ladd and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau which will create new combinations on the top unit. Consider last year’s setback an anomaly – Tavares should be safe for at least 80 points.
1) Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh)
After struggling early in the campaign, Crosby bounced back following the Penguins’ coaching change and eventually finished third in the league with 85 points. He has now been in the mid-80s in consecutive seasons but with a full year under a coaching system fitting his style better there is certainly potential to produce even more. However, this will be difficult to achieve if the Penguins continue rolling three scoring lines as they did during their run to the Stanley Cup. Spreading out the scoring talents impacts everyone individually.
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