Welcome back for my fourth and final 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 6-10 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 #5:
Steven Stamkos might be the most underrated superstar in the league ever since Nikita Kucherov exploded for back-to-back 100 point seasons and an Art Ross Trophy. And make no mistake: Steven Stamkos is a superstar. This is a player with the ninth highest points/60 rate in the league last year, sandwiched nicely between Mika Zibanejad and Nathan Mackinnon. Stamkos is held back by coach Jon Cooper’s peculiar obsession with playing his stars at even an average level, but the production level is elite. Stamkos has produced at a 90+ point rate in each of the last three seasons despite averaging just 18:30/game over that time span. Tell me honestly if you think that any of the previously discussed centers have a 90-point floor at this level of usage. If Cooper finally wakes up and gives Stamkos just an extra minute per game a 100-point season could be well within reach. Stamkos’ IPP matched the previous year and his career average very closely, the 16.5% shooting percentage is actually below his career average, and all his underlying stats have been very consistent over the last three years. I’m projecting Stamkos to skate 18:37/game next year and to put up 95 points at that level of usage:
Auston Matthews actually compares very similarly to Stamkos in a lot of ways: an elite goal-scorer with a fantastic supporting cast who generates a metric ton of chances for his team. A big difference: Matthews is set to get 21-22 minutes a night under new coach Sheldon Keefe for the foreseeable future. Let’s run through a few league-wide ranks for Matthews: ninth in shots/60, seventh in individual chances for/60, fifth in individual scoring chances for/60, third in team scoring chances for/60. Now factor in that Matthews played more minutes than anyone else above him on those lists and had a higher shooting percentage than them as well, and you get the picture: he’s a stat monster. I found it shocking that he actually had a career low IPP in 2019/20 at 70.8% after holding down a high 70s percentage through the first three seasons of his young career. He was running at a 94-point pace through 70 games this season; if he gets some positive regression on IPP I don’t see 100 points as out of reach. If you want to read more about Matthews, you can find my full article on him here.
Nathan Mackinnon represents an easy pick at #3. This is a player who has produced at a 100+ point pace in two of the last three years, and in the third he finished with 99 points in 82 games. He’s a top-5 shot and chance-for generator in just about every definable category, and is the driving engine of a Colorado offense that ranked fourth in the league in goals per game. If your league has shots as a category, Mackinnon is of particular interest as he has led the league in shots the past two years. I won’t be betting against Mackinnon any time soon, and I have him projected to finally break that 100-point barrier in 2020/21. If you want to read more about Mackinnon, you can find my full article on him here.
I’ve heard some people make arguments for Leon Draisaitl over Connor McDavid in 2020/21 fantasy drafts with the first pick, but that’s a leap I’m not ready to make. A good portion of that argument is predicated on the fact that Draisaitl carries LW eligibility in most leagues, and while that flexibility is a big asset, when ranking the top centers for fantasy purposes that obviously can’t sway the results. Draisaitl had an unbelievable 2019/20 season, ranking fourth in the league with 4.11 points/60 while playing an incredible 22:36/game. That kind of volume would sustain his position near the top of these rankings even if he gave up half a point per 60 minutes. His position on the Oilers’ #1 ranked power play makes him an even better play in PPP leagues, and he just seems like money in the bank after back-to-back 105+ point seasons. If you want to read more about Leon Draisaitl, you can find my full article here.
Connor McDavid. What can we say about this guy that hasn’t already been said? We’re talking about a guy whose floor appears to be 110 points, gets 22 minutes a game, and is widely accepted by players and pundits alike as the best player in the game right now. His ceiling is still yet to come which is a terrifying thought. He will score 120 points in a season soon, and I wouldn’t bet against 130 – the talent is there and he has a superstar running mate in Leon Draisaitl while the supporting cast is starting to fill out in Edmonton. I’ve seen junior hockey games where one dominant player is playing at a different speed than everyone else, but McDavid is the only player I’ve seen in my lifetime to do that at the NHL level. If you want to read more about McDavid, you can find my full article on him here.
Now that centers 1-5 have been revealed, let’s put them side by side and I’ll explain the rankings a little bit:
If I’m being honest these rankings were pretty easy for me. Stamkos is hamstrung by the lack of minutes which clearly keeps him below the top four. Matthews could get into the 100-point realm but I’ll always pick the guy who’s been averaging a 100-point rate over the past three seasons first in Mackinnon. It’s hard to believe but Mackinnon is still a clear tier below Draisaitl and McDavid, who seem hell-bent on making the NHL their own. Draisaitl still falls below McDavid because I believe McDavid hasn’t reached his full potential yet which as I mentioned above is just a ridiculous thing to think about given what he’s already accomplished in the league.
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