There is no position with more depth in fantasy hockey than center. Every year big name centers like Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Tyler Seguin, and John Tavares are singled out as players that fantasy managers must take in the first round. But little thought is given to several undervalued centers that are available later in the draft that can be taken when other managers have moved on to defenders and goalies.
Here are four centers to keep an eye on when planning your draft during the offseason.
Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars
When it comes to waiting on centers on draft day, there are few options better than Spezza. The main thing holding him back from having his name mentioned with fantasy hockey’s top centers are his modest plus-minus totals over the last few seasons.
Since coming over from the Senators, the spotlight has been off of Spezza and it seems that has suited him just fine. Spezza now has two consecutive 60 point seasons under his belt in Dallas as the Stars’ second-line center and as a puck-mover on an amazing top power play unit. There’s little controversy in stating that he is a lock for 60 points and 20 power play points if he can stay healthy.
Spezza’s 24 power play points and 33 goals with just 16:31 time on ice per game last season had him finish just outside of fantasy hockey’s top-75 players in standard scoring categories. His days of scoring 80 points in a season may be behind him, but Spezza is still a dependable counting stats producer at in all situations.
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
Young, talented, and coming off of a fantastic season, Scheifele finished just outside of the top-25 players in standard scoring categories with 61 points in 71 games. After Bryan Little’s injury, Scheifele stepped into the role of the Jets’ top-line center and showed a knack for getting the puck on net.
Playing in 11 fewer games than he did in 2014-15 Scheifele nearly doubled his goal total and put 24 more shots on net.
After finishing last season as the 28th most valuable player in fantasy, Scheifele’s pre-season rank by fantasy providers will be something to keep an eye on. There are precious few players who hit the 30 goal mark at the age of 23 which is why Scheifele has been named to Team North America for the World Cup and could be a huge steal on draft day.
Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
In 79 games Huberdeau had 59 points in his fourth NHL season. He’s predicted to one day be an elite playmaker because of his speed and vision, and playing on Florida’s top line with Jaromir Jagr and Aleksander Barkov, he scored 20 goals and 39 assists.
All of the counting stats are trending in the right direction for the 23-year-old Huberdeau. Despite being underappreciated and far from 100-percent owned this past fantasy season, Huberdeau finished as a top-50 player in standard scoring categories. Not bad for a player that was, on average, the 147th pick in most leagues last fall according to fantasypros.com.
There are plenty of centers that should and will be picked before Huberdeau on draft day, but there are very few that have the potential to break out and join the elite players at his position. Both Huberdeau and Barkov should be players you have your sights on after the first two rounds.
Derick Brassard, New York Rangers
With the Derek Stepan trade rumors heating up, Brassard could go from sharing the role of top center to having sole ownership of it. If that were to happen, his already considerable fantasy value for where he is likely to go in draft day would increase significantly given what he accomplished with the Blueshirts in 2015-16.
Brassard’s chemistry with winger Mats Zuccarello helped him set career highs in goals, power play assists, and shots while seeing an average of 17:53 time on ice per game last season. Whether or not a bigger role awaits Brassard next season remains to be seen, but finishing the season as the 45th most valuable player in standard scoring categories speaks volumes about his fantasy value.
Brassard is entering the statistical prime of his career and could prove to be a steal late in the draft regardless of whether or not Stepan has new laundry next season.