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Ranking the Top 20 Centers for Fantasy in 2020/21 (6-10)

Welcome back for my third installment in this series as I rank the top 20 centers for fantasy hockey in 2020/21. You can view my previous post on centers 11-15 here. These projections and rankings may vary over time as the draft/free agency/coaching changes come down, but at least this should give everyone a place to start. Before we get started, I just want to clarify that I am using Yahoo’s position eligibility to determine who qualifies as a center for 2020/21. Let’s kick it off with #10:

#10: Brayden Point

Brayden Point was a fantasy darling in 2018/19, posting 92 points and shooting at an unconscious 21.5% rate. It was easy to predict a regression for him in 2019/20 and it did come, but Point maintained his underlying stats and kept a high shooting percentage at 17.7%. I’m predicting a still lower shooting percentage in 2020/21 but he’s also due for a positive IPP regression of about 8% which will more than offset that difference. Skating on a line with Nikita Kucherov for most of his career has certainly helped, but there’s no sign that the duo will be broken up any time soon and riding shotgun with a former Art Ross winner is an enviable spot for anyone. If Point could get the 21 minutes/game he deserves he would be closer to top 5 than top 10, but until then I’ll keep him here.

Brayden Point 2020/21 Projections
#9: Elias Pettersson

I have to be honest, I was not on board with the Elias Pettersson love train I saw on all forms of social media at any point during his first two seasons. But once I started diving into the underlying stats I started to see the full picture: a maturing two-way center who drives play and who improved leaps and bounds over his rookie year in every metric except actual point production. I don’t think it’s outlandish to project Pettersson at a 85+ point pace in 2020/21; he took a 13% IPP hit in 2019/20 that I think he’ll get most of back next year. J.T. Miller’s emergence as a legit top-line winger and a full season of Brock Boeser would do wonders for Pettersson to take the next step as a top-10 NHL center. I’m betting on Pettersson getting up to 19 minutes a game next season; anything more than that would be gravy.

Elias Pettersson 2020/21 Projections
#8: John Tavares

John Tavares had a down season by his standards with 60 points in 63 games just a year after setting career highs with 47 goals and 88 points. Like many of the top Maple Leafs players, Tavares saw a significant increase in playing time once Sheldon Keefe took over as coach. Getting 20 minutes/game should do wonders for his point totals in 2020/21, and he should get a slight positive regression on IPP. His underlying stats took a hit from that career high 2018/19 season, but we’re still talking about a player who had the 8th most individual scoring chances for in the league in 2019/20. Betting against Tavares seems like a fool’s errand, especially since Keefe’s high-flying offensive philosophy appears to have taken hold in Toronto. Tavares also dealt with a revolving carousel of wingers in 2019/20 and didn’t appear to mesh particularly well with his most consistent linemate in William Nylander. Tavares is one of the most bankable 80-90 point producers in the league in my opinion.

John Tavares 2020/21 Projections
#7: Evgeni Malkin

Evgeni Malkin dominated when on the ice in 2019/20, ranking third in the league in points/60. Malkin would be my unquestionable #4 on this list if I knew he was going to play a full season, but he has only played in 70+ games once in the past eight seasons. I don’t like projecting injuries for players, but at this point you have to assume Malkin will miss ten games or so and carries massive risk to be out for more than that. I have Malkin at 71 games for 2020/21 with 87 points; his top 5 point production potential will keep me coming back at this point regardless of the injury risk – if he’s healthy come fantasy playoff time, he’s good enough to be a league-winner. I can’t advise anyone to spend a first-round pick on him, but if you can find a good value for him I’ll be taking the plunge.

Evgeni Malkin 2020/21 Projections
#6: Jack Eichel

I’m sure the Jack Eichel truthers are going to roast me for this ranking, but I can’t get behind a higher ranking, and frankly I’m not even sure he deserves this one. He gets extra value from his shot volume (Yahoo! leagues) and average time on ice (ESPN leagues), but his biggest accomplishment in 2019/20 was turning Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson into decent players. I’m not doubting Eichel’s talent or potential to one day score 100 points, but if you look at the other players in that realm, they all have at least one star linemate to play off of. Eichel has no one and I can’t get behind the unsustainable pace he played at for the first part of 2019/20 as his new normal. His shot rate cratered while he set a career high in shooting percentage by 5 points, and he set new career lows in all individual chances for rates. His newfound 22 minutes/game was a saving grace, but even if he gets that extreme level of usage once again I can’t predict a similar level of point production. It is a serious concern for me that the high workload wore Eichel down over the course of the season and was a major factor in his late season lack of production. If the Sabres go out and get Taylor Hall in the offseason, let’s talk. Until then, Eichel remains an immense talent kneecapped by his organization’s incompetence. If you want even more on Eichel, you can read my previous article here.

Jack Eichel 2020/21 Projections

Now that centers 6-10 have been revealed, let’s put them side by side and I’ll explain the rankings a little bit:

Fantasy Centers #6-10 2020/21 Projections

Pettersson and Point sit a little lower here for me due to the decreased shot production and time on ice opportunity. If either were to receive a significant boost in ice time I’d be even more bullish on them. I have Pettersson over Point just because I think he’s more likely to get that increased usage as his career progresses and I think he has higher upside potential. Tavares gets the middle slot here due to his bankable production, increased ice time, and his enviable position in the Maple Leaf offense and top powerplay unit. He lacks the potential league-winning ability of Malkin which keeps Malkin above him for me. Malkin is hard to slot since my only reservation with him is injury risk, but if I can slot him in here while still projecting him to miss eleven games, that seems as good a spot as any. I have Eichel above Malkin since we’ve seen him produce at this top-10 level now, but I do have reservations about his upside unless the Sabres find him some new linemates. The shot volume is still there as is the ice time, so I’m not ready to drop him lower, at least not until we see what the offseason holds.

If you’ve enjoyed this content I hope that you’ll take a minute and fill out my five-question survey here as I explore the possibility of doing this full-time. Make sure you follow Apples & Ginos on Twitter for more content and to ask any fantasy hockey questions you may have.

Thanks for reading, you are much appreciated!

NGN

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Apples & Ginos Fantasy Hockey Advice

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