So before I wrote this post I went back and looked at the Top 30 and realized 13 of the 30 are Centers. At first I questioned my own logic for ranking players, but then I rationalized that (almost always) the guys with the most talent and playmaking ability end up as top line Centers. Every player in the NHL dominated their competition when they were younger, so in an effort to maximize scoring smart Coaches move them to Center. They handle the puck the majority of the time, they take face-offs and in general are the leaders of their line. And if you have a brain in your head you realize handling the puck more than anyone on the ice will lead to points. Thus their high value in fantasy (good logic eh?).
14) Brad Richards – C (NYR): The 60 million dollar man is expected to be THE MAN in the big apple. It’s undoubtedly a good move for his wallet, but I’m not sure this is a good move for his fantasy value. Despite what Ranger fans will say, having Gaborik and fill in the blank is not a huge upgrade over Loui Eriksson and James Neal (I know Neal was traded to Pittsburgh but he was in Dallas for the first 60 games). Yes Gaborik is probably the most talented wing-man Richards has ever had, but he’s also the least likely to have a healthy season. And Richards isn’t exactly an iron man either. It wouldn’t shock me if the 2 of them are on the ice at the same time for more than 65 games this year, but 15 total wouldn’t shock me either.
15) Anze Kopitar – C (LA): Kopi and Anthony is seen by many as one of those “breakout” candidates. He’s only 24 and he’s already established himself as a point-per-game guy. And when you’re 24 and doing that with minimal help from your linemates, adding a couple top line guys should increase production. But before you go falling in love, keep in mind that Mike Richards may not even end up on Kopi’s line and Simon Gagne plays about as often I play anything that involves effort.
16) Joe Thornton – C (SJ): It felt wrong ranking Jumbo Joe here but its time to face the facts: A) Last year was the worst of his career. B) Dany Heatley is gone (although Havlat was a nice signing he’s still a downgrade) and C) He looked old, slow and fat last year. His player profile says 6’4″ 235 and I call BS on that. He’s north of 250 easy. Still the passing ability is there so if you can get him in round 4 or 5 he could give you 2nd round value.
17) Derek Roy – C (Buf): Along with Zack Parise this is the guy who I completely ommitted from my rankings when I first did them. He’s just kind of a boring player playing for a tiny market who got hurt in December and then made it back for the last game of the year. But still he’s pretty consistent when healthy and he’s got the most underrated goal scorer in the NHL on his wing (Thomas Vanek). An 80 point season with 30PPP’s and 200 plus shots is the upside.
18) John Tavares – C (NYI): Here is one of those guys who I had originally ranked much higher but upon further review had to drop in my rankings. He’s got the talent and youth on his side (he was born the same year I was busy playing the original John Madden Football … And how sweet is the image of Madden on that cover? Forget current players, I vote that the next installment of Madden uses that for the cover.) Okay back to Tavares – I love him this year. Like I’ve already said a few times the Islanders will be much improved in 2011-2012 and J.T. will be a big reason why.
19) Mike Richards – C (LA): Am I the only one who is relieved he’s no longer with the Flyers? (I used to get him and Jeff Carter confused all the time). Expect a slight downgrade in his production in LA, but if he ends up clicking with Kopitar he could return to the 80+ point level he was at 3 years ago. But I consider the odds of that happening at not so great.
20) Mike Ribeiro – C (Dal): Alright so he may look like that one friend you have from high school who you try to avoid at all costs because he’s addicted to meth and has no job, money, ambition or future - but I assure you Ribeiro is not that guy. Now the top Center in Dallas, the potential for increased production is there (as in a point-per-game guy) which makes him worthy of being a Top 20 Center. He is as boring a pick as you can possibly imagine, but if you decide to wait on a #2 Center getting Ribeiro in the 8th or 9th round will provide value. And in some leagues you may be able to get him later than that as your #3 Center, which would be ideal.
Okay that rounds out the Top 20. And on top of that I’ll throw in some bonus advice: I would draw a line at #16 Joe Thornton if I were doing “tiers”. Brad Richards, Kopitar and Jumbo Joe are the last 3 guys in what I would consider the “2nd tier”, so keep that in mind when drafting. And I have many more Centers left to talk about but stopping at #20 seems ideal (plus it was a long weekend and I’m up way past my bedtime).