When NHL Network ranked the top 20 centers in the league last month, they placed Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins at number seven and Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues at number 12. But that doesn’t mean you should draft them in that order in your fantasy league.
There’s no doubt that Bergeron and O’Reilly are two of the most talented and valuable centers you can add to your fantasy rosters. The two squared off in the Stanley Cup Final when O’Reilly won the Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy. But as a new season dawns, who should you prioritize in your upcoming drafts?
In our Fantasy Faceoff series, we’ve prioritized difficult matchups between top players to help you make some of the toughest choices on your draft board. We’ve already looked at:
Now, which of these two top faceoff winners can carry your team to the fantasy championship like they aided their own to the Stanley Cup Final last season?
For our standard scoring settings, we will base the stats off of goals (G), assists (A), penalty minutes (PIM), game-winning goals (GWG), and power-play points (PPP).
Goals and Assists
Bergeron finished last season with 79 points in 65 games, 32 of them goals. That was a point per game pace of 1.22. O’Reilly finished with 77 points, but he did that in a full season, and it was a career-high. The pair had similar expected goals (xG) totals, which could mean some regression for Bergeron. Even with that, and with the fact that he’s struggled to stay healthy the last two seasons, Bergeron has consistently outperformed O’Reilly in points throughout their careers.
You shouldn’t be drafting either of these players because of their penalty minute contributions. But Bergeron is the clear winner here. He consistently averages double-digit PIMs and has precisely 300 more than O’Reilly in his career. O’Reilly, on the other hand, plays legendarily penalty-free hockey. He’s finished two different seasons with just one minor penalty, and he’s a two-time Lady Byng Trophy runner up and one-time winner. Last year’s shocking crest of 12 PIMs feels like an anomaly.
Game-Winning Goals are hard to predict. If it was as simple as “the player who scores more goals gets more game-winners,” then we’d give the nod to Bergeron. But O’Reilly finished with two more GWGs last season, thanks in part to his better health. There’s a good chance Bergeron will take this category, but with his health concerns, it’s a coin flip.
Bergeron plays on a line so good it’s known as “the Perfection Line.” Though Bergeron’s pairing with David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand hasn’t always been controversy-free, they make a dynamic power play line as dangerous as any in the league.
The Blues are turning to a former Bruin, Marc Savard, to revitalize their power play. But O’Reilly already carried the unit last season, with 22 PPP. Could the new coach make him even more potent? Even if Savard made O’Reilly better, Bergeron is the safer bet in this category.
For advanced scoring formats, we will factor in short-handed points (SHP), shots on goal (SOG), time-on-ice (TOI), hits, and blocks.
Time on Ice
O’Reilly is an absolute workhorse, and there are few forwards who play more minutes a game than he does. He finished 17th amongst forwards last season with 20:46 average time on ice. Bergeron ranked 50 spots lower at 18:28. O’Reilly has surpassed Bergeron in TOI every season since 2012-13.
Bergeron had an impressive four shorthanded goals and three more assists last season, numbers O’Reilly didn’t come close to matching. SHP are fickle, and you shouldn’t prioritize them in your draft, but if you’re simply differentiating between these two players, Bergeron is the surer thing.
Shots, Hits, Blocks
For the other three categories, Bergeron has a narrow edge. He took fewer shots last season but played decidedly fewer games. He has consistently had more hits, as O’Reilly isn’t much of a physical player (see also: PIMs). Blocks are about even, but Bergeron won two of the three categories, so he takes it.
Faceoffs, particularly important for centers, are an increasingly popular fantasy category, and both of these players are legendary at it. O’Reilly led the league in faceoff wins (FOW) each of the last two seasons. But who led the four seasons before that? Bergeron, who edged out O’Reilly in 2016-17 by 47 FOW.
O’Reilly’s health has been a factor in giving him the nod the last two seasons. But take nothing away from him: he set a record in 2017-18 for the most FOW ever in a single season. With his consistent health and his youth relative to Bergeron, we’ll give him the edge, but you can’t go wrong either way.
Who to Pick
A full evaluation of all of these categories shows that Bergeron is the more consistently impactful player in most measures. And as such, all things being equal, you should draft him first. But that isn’t the end of the story. O’Reilly and Bergeron are valued as two of the most versatile two-way centers in the game, but in fantasy, one is drastically undervalued.
Recently, NHL.com ranked Bergeron 26th and O’Reilly 97th. The difference is not that severe, particularly if you are playing in a league that values faceoffs. Granted, O’Reilly had a career performance last season, but there’s no reason to expect him to drop off much with his central role on the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
Moreover, Bergeron has struggled to stay healthy. He’s missed considerable games each of the last two seasons, and while there’s no obvious injury concern, expecting a full season seems risky, too. Plus, age is bound to become a factor at some point. He’ll be 34 entering the season, and no one outruns Father Time forever.
With that said, there’s no question Bergeron is the better overall player for almost any fantasy roster. He is a better producer in a better situation. But if injury is a concern for you or you like another player when it’s your turn to pick, you can’t go wrong waiting for a few rounds (or spending a few fewer auction dollars) and grabbing O’Reilly instead.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.