The center position is where you make your money, so you want to be sure and snag a superstar here. The position is also very deep, so you won't see a horrible drop off beyond the top ten. The other good news here, is that compared to other positions, the top centers are fairly predictable from year to year. With few exceptions, you can draft these guys with confidence that you'll get a great return on that early round investment. Here are the top 10 to target at your draft:
1. Steven Stamkos (TB)
Stamkos was well on his way to collecting all the hardware last season when he stumbled significantly in the 2nd half. Just remember, this kid is still 21 years old and has another 15+ seasons to dominate the NHL. He's arguably the best sniper in the league and still has plenty of talent around him in Tampa to set up those one-timers. He should recover just fine and challenge for those trophies again this season.
2. Sidney Crosby (PIT)
The biggest question at this year's draft table will what to do in round 1 with Crosby. Don't expect much clarity from the Pens to help your decision making. You just have to choose if the benefit of getting the top talent in the league is worth the risk of getting nothing if he doesn't return, or returns too late to help you. It's a gamble, but in this case, it's probably one worth taking pretty early on.
3. Evgeni Malkin (PIT)
Another Penguins center, another potential first round gamble to consider. He's reported back to full health and ready to return to dominance, entering his 6th NHL season. As with Crosby, you have to weigh crazy potential against a history of injury. As with Crosby, if he falls to me in the 2nd round, I'll take my chances.
4. Henrik Sedin (VAN)
If your league is bullish on goals, you may be looking at the wrong Sedin. Otherwise, Henrik is as safe a bet as any to lead your fantasy team to victory this season. He hasn't missed a game in six straight seasons. He's topped 60 assists in the last five seasons. And when Daniel gets a goal, he's sure to tally a point (which is often).
5. Ryan Kesler (VAN)
Kesler offers the complete package when it comes to fantasy value. Goals, assists, +/-, PIMS... he's even become a power play demon, with 15 goals. You need game winners - how about 7 last season? He's now turned in perfect attendance for 3 straight seasons. What's not to like here?
6. Eric Staal (CAR)
Staal has been a lonely superstar in Raleigh. If only he could find a superstar partner to work with, he could challenge for a scoring title or two. Perhaps Jeff Skinner will emerge as that man in the years to come, though Skinner's currently lining up as the #2 center. For now, sleep easy drafting Staal, knowing you're guaranteed about 30 goals and 70 points, with the potential for much, much more.
7. Anze Kopitar (LA)
The Kings are making steady progress each season, and Kopitar is a huge part of that story. The arrival of Mike Richards should take some of the pressure off of Kopitar's line, as opponents will have to worry about two lines instead of one. His season was cut short last spring with an ankle injury. He is expected to be fully healed, along with linemate Justin Williams, but monitor his status before drafting him too early.
8. Niklas Backstrom (WAS)
After three seasons of steady progression up to the 100 point plateau, Backstrom's stats took a dramatic tumble last season. Was/is the new Washington system too restrictive on the creative center? Expect a return to stardom for both him and Ovechkin. 90 points are well within reason. He should slide to round 3. If you find him there, take him.
9. Jonathan Toews (CHI)
Following his dream season of 2010-11, Toews went out and set a new high in points (76), maintained his stellar +/- rating (+26), added 10 power play goals, and 8 game winners. Hard to beat what he brings in terms of consistent fantasy value. Look for a new set of highs as he enters his 5th NHL season. Target 30 goals and 80 points.
10. John Tavares (NYI)
Islander fans have patiently awaited the breakout of their overall #1 pick from two years back. At times he has shown himself to be a top-tier goal scoring threat, but then he goes cold for games at a time. He's just 20 years old and the talent around him is getting better along with him. Expect that breakout season to come in 2011-12. Start the bidding at 40 goals.
• Joe Thornton (SJ)
• Matt Duchene (COL)
• Ryan Getzlaf (ANA)
• Jeff Skinner (CAR)
• Brad Richards (NYR)
To see the rest of my top 40 center rankings, visit: http://www.landsharkhocke.../tools/DraftRankings.aspx
. You can also customize your own list there and practice with our free mock drafting system.