Best in the West: Center (16-17)

by Doran Libin on August 22, 2016

 

The 10 best centermen in the Western Conference for fantasy hockey.

 

Best of the West: Centers

As always this is the deepest category, and this year is no different as even the honorable mentions should at worst come close to 60 points, whereas the wingers and defensemen were barely scratching 50 points by number 10. The center position is deep enough that the honorable mentions feature some big names. The criteria for the ranking remain the same as they have been the last two weeks for the wingers, as such ice time, usage, shot rate and positive trends will relied upon heavily.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Jonathan Toews misses the top 10 mainly due to concern about the direction in which Marian Hossa is heading. Toews points per 60 minutes at even strength fell by 0.60 largely due to the fact that he was on for one fewer goal per 60 minutes last year than in previous years. Without a return to form by Hossa it will be tough for Toews to crack 60 points as he will be the lone elite two-way player on the line. The Kings lost a lot from their top six forwards meaning there is a lot depth up front to spread between their top centers Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar. The good news is that Daryl Sutter likes to juggle his line a lot and Carter gets regular first unit power play time. With the hit the Kings’ depth has taken Carter will finish between 55-60, not a huge hit but enough to keep him from the top 10. All of Nathan Mackinnon’s numbers are trending in the wrong direction and they have been for the last three years. His scoring chance rate, shooting percentage are all moving in the wrong direction, The shooting percentage trend would almost be a hopeful sign if the quality of Mackinnon’s shots were not trending down at the same time. MacKinnon will bounce back a bit but there is work to be done to regularly break 60. The final honorable mention is Henrik Sedin. It is hard to see Sedin cracking 60 points in a big way even if Loui Eriksson serves as huge upgrade on their wing.  The big impediment to the Sedins putting up big numbers is the Canucks’ struggling power play. The struggling power play costs the Sedins roughly 10 points per season and will make it especially tough for either of them to break, never mind 70.

 

10. Matt Duchene

The Avalanche are an especially tough team to forecast as Roy had some weird ideas and there is no new coach to speak of as of yet. The lack of a new coach makes it tough to predict how Duchene will be used but as long as he plays with offensively talented players he will have a good season. Three of the four lines on which Duchene played over 50 minutes averaged over 2.8 goals per 60 minutes of even strength ice time. Duchene averaged at least 1.75 points per 60 minutes on each of those lines, topping out at four points per 60 minutes in the 74 minutes he played with Mikhail Grigorenko and Nathan Mackinnon. The new coach will see the benefits of using Duchene in a consistent offensive role in which he will flourish while using John Mitchell and Carl Soderberg in the defensive roles to which they are better suited should see Duchene break 60 points.  

 

9. Logan Couture

Couture gets a bit of a short shrift as the Thornton line gets much more favorable usage while Couture’s line gets similar usage to that of Jonathan Toews in Chicago. Basically Couture is expected to take on the other team’s best and in doing so take on more defensive zone starts. That would suggest that Couture should probably be left off of this list but the deadly Sharks power play, and Couture’s place on it, is a huge boost for him. Last year in 52 games Couture racked up 15 points on the power play, that would put him on pace for 24 power play points over a full season. That question then becomes how many points can Couture produce at even strength.  While he was only on pace for 56 points last season he had considerably more success in the playoffs than he did during the regular season. Given the success Couture and Joonas Donskoi had in the playoffs it is entirely reasonable to think that Couture will see a bump in his scoring rate in this year, it will not hit 1.25 points per game, but it will get him over 60 points.

 

8. Mark Scheifele

Scheifele finally got a chance to be the Jets’ number one once Bryan Little went down with an injury and he went off as a result. Part of the reason Scheifele went off was because he posted shooting percentages of 21 and 18% in March and April respectively. While Scheifele regularly scores on more than 10% of his shots those percentages are extremely high even for him. The big change for Scheifele was the elevated shot rate as during the months when he had a high shooting percentage he also averaged an extra shot per game. The problem for Scheifele coming back this year is that Little is healthy again and could reclaim the number one center job. Given Scheifele’s late season performance he should at least be given a shot at more favorable usage as well as more power play time, both of which were sorely lacking for much of the early season when Little was healthy. The Jets are also deeper and more talented so Scheifele’s boat should rise with the tide.

 

7. Sean Monahan

Monahan’s production has remained constant the last two years even as the lineup has changed around him. The one constant though has been Johnny Gaudreau who has shone as the real star as while Monahan hovers around 60 points Gaudreau nearly hit 80 last year. Monahan and Gaudreau look a little like a poor man’s Toews and Patrick Kane except that the presence of Mikael Backlund makes it unnecessary to split them up onto a line 1a and 1b. While Monahan’s production has remained constant his underlying numbers have improved consistently. He has gone from 1.75 to 3.15 scoring chances per 60 minutes even as his actual shots have remained fairly level, and unsurprisingly has seen his individual expected goals per 60 minutes rise in concert with his scoring chance rate. With his underlying numbers going up Monahan should come close to 70 points.

 

6. Ryan Getzlaf

Getzlaf had a horrible October and generally no luck putting in the net on his own over the season as a whole. Last season was only the second time in his career that Getzlaf has not posted a shooting percentage over 10%. In fact his career shooting percentage is basically 12%, which suggests that Getzlaf should see his goal totals rise significantly. There is a disturbing trend though behind Getzlaf’s numbers his expected goals per 60 minutes as well as his scoring chance rate has dropped consistently over the last three seasons. That would partially explain his lower shooting percentage last season, but not to the extent that it actually dropped last season. The trend behind Getzlaf’s numbers does mean that even if Getzlaf’s shooting percentage rebounds he will not hit previous heights. As it is something around 70 points is likely, probably just on the underside of 70.

 

5. Ryan Johansen

Johansen finds himself in the best situation of his career. After moving from Columbus to Nashville he produced a point pace that would have been good for basically 70 points over a full season.  While he generally does not get to play with Filip Forsberg he does still get James Neal as a linemate, which makes this the most talented line on which he has played. Johansen has some weird underlying trends as his shots the last two years have been constant but they are down over the last three seasons. His expected goals rate is down as well even though his scoring chance is down overall but was up last from the previous year. That is not enough of a trend off of which to make any hard predictions but it is a little concerning. Given that Johansen is on a relatively new team it would seem to make more to go off his production rate while with that team than the trends that are largely based on his time with Columbus. With that in mind Johansen looks set to break 70 points for the second time in his career.

 

4. Joe Thornton

The Eastern Conference has Jaromir Jagr and the Western Conference has its own seemingly ageless wonder in Joe Thornton. At 36 Thornton put up his first season of more than 80 points in five years as he racked up nearly 20 goals and more than 60 assists. It has been written many times before in this column that Thornton is able to stay around despite partly because he never depended on speed to begin with and because he is an elite passer who is the best in the league at setting up his linemates for scoring chances. This can be seen in the consistent scoring chance rate the Sharks have sported at even strength with Thornton on the ice. Only three teams have a scoring chance over 10 in any of the last three seasons, Thornton has managed it in each of the last three seasons. There is not much to say about Thornton that has not been said before, expect 70-75 points.

 

3. Anze Kopitar

Kopitar has put up more than 70 points in three of the last five seasons and four of the last six. One of the two seasons in which Kopitar failed to put up 70 points was the lockout shortened 2012/13 season, and that season Kopitar came very close to averaging a point per game. Kopitar has not had consistent linemates since he played much of 2011/12 and 2012/13 with Justin Williams. Ever since Kopitar’s wingers have been in a proverbial revolving door with many years featuring only winger who played even half the season with Kopitar. This makes Kopitar a largely recession proof option as his linemates do not seem to matter in the least to his production. While it is a little concerning that Kopitar’s shot rate is so low it did go back up in the right direction last season. Either way with Kopitar’s heavy cycle game and his ability to drive play his shots may not matter as much as they otherwise would. Chalk him up for another 75 points.

 

2. Tyler Seguin

The only risk in putting Seguin at number two in the top 10 is that he has missed 10 games in each of the last two seasons. While he is a shoe in for 70-75 points if he plays close to 80 games he will get more than 80 points. His shot rate alone virtually guarantees him 30 goals per year, as he has taken the fourth most shots in the league over the last three years despite playing a minimum of 10 fewer games than those ahead of him. His shooting percentage would need to fall to nine percent for him not score 30 over a full season. His role on the Stars power play as their big shot, in a quasi-Ovechkin role ensures that he will see plenty of quality scoring opportunities. His place as one half of the Stars’ dynamic duo means that he is not wholly dependent on power play production for big seasons. In the three seasons prior to 2014/15 Seguin missed a total of three games, meaning that a full season from him is not a stretch, as such look for 80+ points.

 

1. Connor McDavid

There are no trends to go off of in the case of Connor McDavid. His rookie season was halved by a nasty injury so even the one season in which he played the sample size is relatively small. When he was on the ice the Oilers had one of the highest goals per 60 minutes at even strength.  He was one of only eight players to play more than half the season and average at least a point per game. That put him in some pretty impressive company with Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and four others. If McDavid was able to put up a point per game in his rookie season, after some relative struggles very early on, he should be able to do it again making 90 points within reach.