Ranking the Fantasy Centers

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With the NHL season just a few days away, we continue our five-part series, ranking the best fantasy players by position. In the first two installments of the series we evaluated the goaltenders and defensemen. Today we will look at the heart of the front line - the centers.

Skaters contribute to six of the 10 fantasy categories - Goals, Assists, Plus/Minus Rating, Penalty Minutes, Power Play Points, Shots on Goal.

Let's evaluate the top-10 centermen

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh - You can't go wrong with any of the top few centers, but if you have a choice why not pick the best? A league-leading 51 goals to go along with 109 points in an "average" Crosby season. His Team Canada play may elevate his game to another new level. "Sid the Kid" is only 23-years-old and 140 points is not out of the realm of possibility.

Henrik Sedin, Vancouver - Sedin led the league in scoring (112 points) last year an increase of 30 points from his previous best. So was that a career year, or his new production level? While he may not hit last year's totals, he should crack the 100-point mark and combined with a superior plus/minus total is worthy of the second spot behind Crosby.

Nicklas Backstrom, Washington - There are three things to like about Backstrom; his continued improvement, durability and plus/minus rating. He has raised his points total from 69 in 2007-08 to 88 to 101 last season. Backstrom also hasn't missed a game in three years. He also owns a +37 rating putting him in the league's elite. Make that four things - he plays next to Alex Ovechkin.

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh - Malkin played hurt for much of last season (foot, shoulder) but still managed to score more than a point-a-game for the 67 contests he played (77 points). If healthy, he can match Crosby point for point and will even give you an added bonus of 100 penalty minutes.

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay - When you lead the league in goal scoring (51) and power play goals (24) in just your second season, a lot is expected of you from there on out. He'll get extra attention from the opposition this year, but he should still be able to duplicate last year's production.

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit - Datsyuk's numbers suffered last season because the Red Wings just didn't score as much as in previous seasons (295 vs. 229). He still posted 70 points, but with improved play around him those numbers will rise, particularly if he is on the line with Henrik Zetterberg.

Joe Thornton, San Jose - Though Thornton won't likely ever approach 125 points again (2005-06), he's certainly good for 90 or more. He's been very consistent over the past three seasons with 20+ goals and 60+ assists. Being on a line with Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley should make those numbers a sure thing.

Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim - Getzlaf was a disappointing selection last year as injuries and poor team play led to a sharp drop in production. His ankle seems to be fine now and it's "his" club to run so he could return to the 100-point level.

Jeff Carter, Philadelphia - Carter's numbers took a major hit in 2009-10, but much of that can be blamed on a foot injury. Assuming he is healthy, and those are the reports, Carter should return to his 2008-09 level which included 46 goals, 38 assists and a +23 plus/minus rating.

Mike Richards, Philadelphia - Like Carter, Richards' numbers took a hit last season, from 80 to 62, but he did post a career-high 31 goals. He did step up his game in the Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup Finals (7 G, 16 A) so we know he still have the talent. Richards will need to post 50+ assist and get his plus/minus rating back into the positive numbers and he'll once again be a top-10 center.

Just missed: Jonathan Toews, Chicago, Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.