One of the first things you will notice when you open up the DFO Top 300, is how many centres have a case for being drafted in the first round.
While there are many elite centres, it is also the deepest position in fantasy hockey and one you can fill-out in the middle rounds if you so choose. Breaking the position down into tiers will allow you to navigate the draft more easily, especially if you pass on an elite centre in the first few rounds and take a Mikko Rantanen and Johnny Gaudreau.
Identifying tiers can often help you find value on draft day, because you may be able to find a potential No.1 centre in the third or fourth round and allow you to stockpile elite-level players at shallower positions.
- 1. Connor McDavid
Outside of Nikita Kucherov, McDavid has no challengers at the centre position. Even with a lingering leg injury, McDavid should be the first player and definitely the first centre off of the board in all draft. McDavid is one of the only players that you can safely say “he will break 100 points” this season. While many players may accomplish this feat this season, McDavid is the safest bet. He’s in a league of his own, so he certainly deserves a tier all to himself.
- 2. Nathan Mackinnon
- 3. Sidney Crosby
Crosby is the best forward in NHL history from Nova Scotia but MacKinnon may not be far behind when it’s all said and done. No one would blame you for taking Crosby or MacKinnon with the No.3 overall pick, in fact, I have MacKinnon ranked as my No.3 overall player. He had a slow start to his NHL career, but led the NHL in shots (365) and was sixth in goals (41) and seventh in points (99) last year. He is one of three players with more than 195 points and one of five players with 80-plus goals over the last two years combined. With the Avalanche adding to the depth around MacKinnon, he could improve on his point total from the previous year for the fifth consecutive season.
Crosby is now on the wrong side of 30 but is coming off of his first 100-point season since 2014. He has never even come close to falling below a point-per-game throughout his career and with durability concerns behind him—played in 96.1 percent of games since ’14—he is a great bet for 90-plus points with Art Ross winning upside.
- 4. Steven Stamkos
- 5. John Tavares
- 6. Evgeni Malkin
- 7. Aleksander Barkov
- 8. Auston Matthews
All five of these players have close to or the same upside of Crosby and MacKinnon but they just aren’t as likely to reach it.
Stamkos plays on the NHL’s most high-powered offense and power-play and made his much-anticipated return to 40 goals with a career-high 98 points last season. Blessed with one of the best shots in the world and a role next to Kucherov puts Stamkos in-line for another 40-goal, 90-point season.
Tavares’ first year in Toronto couldn’t have gone much better, setting a career-high in goals (47) and points (88). There are regression concerns in the goal department and Mitch Marner’s lingering contract dispute plays a big role in Tavares’ early-season value. However, he put together 80-plus point seasons with Josh Bailey on his wing, so he can probably do the same with William Nylander or Kasperi Kapanen replacing Marner if it comes down to it.
Malkin is a point-per-game machine but his durability has become a huge red flag. Malkin has averaged 95 points per 82-games over the last three seasons but has missed 15.5 percent of the games. You draft Malkin for the elite upside and pray that he can play in 75 games and give you 90 points. If you can’t stomach that risk, move down the tier to Barkov or Matthews.
Barkov comes with his own set of risks though. Sure, he had a career-best 35 goals and 96 points last year but his shot volume decreased and SH% skyrocketed to 17.0 percent. Additionally, an inflated 11.5 on-ice SH% is due to regress as well. However, even if he comes back to earth a little, he is still going to score 30-plus goals with 50-plus assists.
If you are worried about Malkin’s health concerns, Matthews hasn’t exactly been a model of durability either. The budding centre has missed 34 games over the last two years but is still tied for third in goals since his rookie season. The 21-year-old was on a 303 shot pace last year, which translates to 47 goals at his career 15.5 SH%. He has obvious 50-goal and Rocket Richard potential but not when he’s routinely missing 20 percent of the games.
- 9. Tyler Seguin
- 10. Mark Scheifele
- 11. Jack Eichel
- 12. Brayden Point
- 13. Sebastian Aho
- 14. Patrice Bergeron
Most of these players lack the elite upside of the players above them or just haven’t shown capable of reaching yet.
Seguin is a perfect example of that. Sure he has a 40-goal season but has eclipsed 80 points just once since 2015. With that said, he has been consistently between 72-to-80 points in those seasons and as reliable as they come. While he hasn’t shown it yet, he has posted 40 goals and nearly 50 assists in separate seasons, so he has 90-point upside in a perfect world.
More than ever, Scheifele will be tasked with carrying the Jets in 2020. They were gutted this offseason but the 26-year-old is coming off of a career-highs in goals (38) and points (84). He has not shot below 18.4 percent in the last three seasons, so Scheifele is a clear 35-goal threat if he maintains his shot volume—180 per 82 games. Being tied to Blake Wheeler’s hip doesn’t hurt that floor either.
Eichel is the one exception in this tier. He could very well explode in 2020 and break into the elite tier. His shot volume is among the league’s best—319 per 82 games since 2017—and that makes him an easy pick for 30-plus goals if he’s healthy. On another positive note, Eichel has averaged just 9.7 SH% in his young career, which means he’s just a few bounces away from being a 40-goal threat. Pair that with the 54 assists from last year, and he has breakout written all over him.
Point broke his way into that elite tier in 2019 but regression should drag him back into this tier in 2020. He shot an insane 21.5 percent and scored 20 of his 41 goals on the power-play. No, the Lightning’s PP didn’t suddenly get worse this off-season, but Point should see that number drop a little bit. He’s still a great No.2 fantasy centre with No.1 upside, but we have to temper our expectations. Think 35 goals and 45 assists on draft day.
I’ve been the conductor of the Aho train for a few years and it finally pulled into the station in 2019. Aho managed 30 goals and 53 assists and there’s nothing to suggest that that was a fluke. The Hurricanes should collectively take a step forward in 2020 and that makes Aho a 90-point candidate and a relatively inexpensive draft pick. He’s the type of centre you can hang your hat on in the third line, adding two wingers in the early round.
Bergeron biggest bugaboo is staying healthy. He has played 64 and 65 games the last two seasons but scored at a 39-goal, 90-point per 82-game pace. He centres one of the best lines in hockey and has tremendous upside, but asking for 82 games out of the 34-year-old may be too much. He’s a worthy draft pick at a discounted price.
- 15. Sean Monahan
- 16. Evgeny Kuznetsov
- 17. Dylan Larkin
- 18. Sean Couturier
- 19. Elias Pettersson
- 20. Nicklas Backstrom
I mentioned “90 points” a couple of times in the previous tier but you probably won’t hear that again from here on out. The fifth tier is loaded with great playmakers and point-per-game potential.
Monahan is the lone exception to “great playmakers” as Johnny Gaudreau assumes that role on the Flames top-line and Monahan puts the puck in the net. Monahan is a low-maintenance fantasy pick that will give you 30 goals every year. He has scored at least 27 goals in five straight seasons and hit a new career-high in assists (48) last year. That was aided by an 11.4 on-ice SH% though, so just take your 30 goals and consider any assist over 35 a bonus.
Kuznetsov could be looking at a suspension to begin 2020 after getting banned by the IIHF for testing positive for cocaine. Assuming he plays the entire season, Kuznetsov is a safe pick for 20 goals and 50 assists—he’s done it three out of the last four years. He’s also one of the best sources of PP production, ranking in the top-20 over the last two seasons.
Larkin should be a huge bargain on draft day. His current ADP is 130 and the 29th centre off of the board. He should be significantly more productive than that. He tallied 73 points (32G / 41A) with a modest 11.1 SH%, 8.7 on-ice SH%, and just 15 PPP. His 55 even-strength points put him tied for 28th in the NHL, just one behind Stamkos and Eichel. Detroit isn’t going to be good again, but they didn’t get worse and Larkin should be able to build on last year as a result. He has elite shot volume and will be a reliable source of goals and assists. People will be scared of an ugly plus/minus (if your league still counts it) but he was just a minus-6 last year and Detroit finished 28th in the NHL.
Couturier has thrived in a first-line role in Philadelphia for the last two seasons. He has posted back-to-back 76-point campaigns, topping 30 goals in both. Playing with Claude Giroux has been a blessing for Couturier and there’s little to suggest he can’t repeat those numbers for the third straight season.
Injuries derailed a potentially great rookie season for Pettersson, but he still did enough to win Rookie of the Year. At just 20-year-old, Pettersson was a force for the Canucks and the club did him some favours this off-season, picking up some more talented wingers in free agency. It’s hard to envision him shooting 19.4 percent again, but he should be able to match the 28-goals in a full season and the assist total still has room for growth if the Canucks’ power-play improves as expected.
Speaking of power-plays, few rack up PPP quite like Backstrom. His numbers have dropped off a bit in recent years, but he is first in that category since 2014. Backstrom has four straight seasons of 20-plus goals and 50-plus assists, so while there’s not tremendous upside, good luck finding a more stable floor for a No.2 centre.
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