Top 10 Left Wingers in the NHL

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Vancouver Canucks

My look at the 10 best left wingers in the NHL. Where does Alex Ovechkin rank? How about Daniel Sedin? Any surprises? Read on to find out…

I have a few general rules when it comes to building a team in a fantasy hockey keeper league. One of the more important ones is to not plan beyond a two or three year window. You are not building a real NHL club, and too often we place an emphasis on age, upside, and potential over proven veterans with gas still left in the tank. So using my general rule, take a look at your team(s). Can you realistically say you will have a shot at winning the league at some point within the next two or three seasons? If not, time to scrap the rebuild and start adding proven NHL talent.

Here are my past lists ranking the best left wingers in the NHL:

Keeping the above rule in mind, I have compiled a list of the top ten keeper league left wingers to own (assuming standard keeper league rules and scoring categories). Using the two or three season scope, I had to balance proven production with young players who are making a name for themselves in the NHL.

Clarifying what “standard categories” means, here is the league format that I am basing my selections on:

  • 12 to 15 teams
  • Start 4 C, 4 LW, 4 RW, 6 D, 2 G (5 Bench)
  • G, A, +/-, PIM, PPP (power play points), GWG (game winning goals), Hits, SOG (shots on goal)

I put an emphasis on offensive categories. They are harder to find on draft day – it is much easier to scoop up a PIM/HITS type of player on the waiver wire than it is to get a player who fills the G/A/PPP categories nicely.

This was the first time that Alex Ovechkin wasn’t at the top of my left winger list. He can easily play his way back up to the top, but his game has really fallen off over the past three or four years. There have been many reasons for that (more on Ovechkin below) – team dynamic, compete level (an overused term, I know), expectations with a big money contract, and other non-hockey related distractions, to name a few.

Heck, Ovechkin may find himself on the right winger list next year (he has been playing primarily on the right side under head coach Adam Oates).

Anyway, enough talking about the artist formerly known as the best left-winger in hockey – let’s get to the list.

And one final note – this isn’t the be-all, end-all of lists. I watch a lot of hockey, but many of my readers see these guys on a more frequent basis than I do (especially if it is for a team that you follow closely). I am always open to feedback, ideas, suggestions, and thoughts. I did my best to slot players into the correct positions, but in some cases, I had to make a judgement call.

1. Zach Parise – Minnesota Wild

  • Rank in 2012: 2
  • Rank in 2011: 4
  • Rank in 2010: 4

Parise isn’t the most talented player on this list. He isn’t as big or strong as Ilya Kovalchuk, James Neal, or Alex Ovechkin. He can’t skate like Taylor Hall, and he doesn’t have a twin brother to play with. However, what Parise does is fill up a number of scoring categories with great consistency.

Often times there is a big letdown when a player signs a massive contract (cough, Ovechkin), but Parise is not the type of player or person to let the money go to his head. His playing style is immune to slumps – he works his tail off every game, and even when he isn’t scoring, he is generating a lot of scoring chances and shots on goal.

2. Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals

  • Rank in 2012: 1
  • Rank in 2011: 1
  • Rank in 2010: 1

Ovechkin’s tumble from the top isn’t a far one (for now). I am cutting him some slack because the coaching/philosophical changes in Washington have messed with his head a bit, and because he fills so many scoring categories even when he isn’t scoring like he used to. If you play in a salary or money league, Ovechkin is an overpriced asset with a $10 million annual cap hit (approximately). But his salary can be ignored if you don’t (unless you are Ted Leonsis).

However, I am still holding out hope that he regains some of his earlier offensive success – at the very least he should be a consistent 35-45-goal threat each season. Don’t trade him if you own him, unless you can somehow find a way to get fair value for him. What is fair value? Well that depends on your league categories, but I wouldn’t move Ovechkin for anything less than a similar player with more consistency (Daniel Sedin, for example) or for a package of young talent (Vladimir Tarasenko and another top prospect, for example). Ovechkin’s value has nowhere to go but up.

3. Taylor Hall – Edmonton Oilers

  • Rank in 2012: 6
  • Rank in 2011: 6
  • Rank in 2010: Not Drafted

Hall moves up three spots from last year. Now that he has his shoulder injury fully behind him, he is able to play his reckless/dynamic game with more consistency (I mean reckless in the good sense – perhaps fearless would be a better word). Hall can take almost any NHL defensemen one-on-one, and he will win many of those battles because of his skill, power, and speed. He is still only scratching the surface of his NHL upside.

Some may question why he ranks so high on this list, as he doesn’t supply a lot in the way of peripheral stats, but I place an emphasis on the offensive stuff (goals, assists, power play points, shots on goal) first when I evaluate players. In my experience, it is easier to fill the other categories through in-season trades or free agent/waiver wire acquisitions.

Thus far in 2013, Hall has been a scoring chance-generating machine for the Oilers.

(Stick tap to David Staples for compiling the above data)

4. Evander Kane

  • Rank in 2012: 4
  • Rank in 2011: 10
  • Rank in 2010: Honourable Mention

Kane has been a lightning rod for criticism over the past year or so in Winnipeg (some of it deserved). At the end of the day, he is simply acting like many other 20-somethings would. However, most 20-somethings aren’t highly-paid professional athletes expected to help carry a new franchise towards the postseason. Kane struggled to adapt to life in the KHL during the lockout, and he was criticised by his coach over there for his lack of fitness.

Kane is the total package as a hockey player – he can skate, score, pass, hit, fight, and play away from the puck. His effort level isn’t always there, but that consistency takes time to develop, especially in young power forwards. Kane has been around for a little while, but he is still only 21 years old (he turns 22 this summer).

And for a really insightful read on Kane and the issue of race, I’d recommend reading this piece from Puck Daddy’s Harrison Mooney.

Like Ovechkin and Parise, Kane does a lot more than just score goals. He shoots the puck a lot, he will put up decent PIM numbers, and he is good on the power play. The Jets aren’t quite there as a team yet, but I’d expect a strong second half of the season from Kane and Olli Jokinen.

5. Bobby Ryan

  • Rank in 2012: 5
  • Rank in 2011: 3
  • Rank in 2010: 6

The trade winds have died down regarding Ryan (for now, at least). The big winger has been a very consistent producer over the past few years, and consistency is a very valuable (and overlooked) ability. Consistency is especially valuable in weekly leagues, as it is nice to know what you can expect from your players, within reason of course.

Ryan is playing less than 17 minutes per contest this year, as Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau has done his best to spread the scoring talent out on Anaheim. And it is the least amount of ice time Ryan has received since the 2008-09 season (where he scored 31 goals in only 64 games).

His future in Anaheim is still uncertain, especially with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry set to become free agents this summer. Ryan has four straight 30+ goal seasons, he has missed only one game since 2009, and he shoots the puck a lot, too.

If he were to get traded out of Anaheim, I’d bump him up a spot or two on this list. He simply needs another two or three minutes per game to have his production really take off.

6. Daniel Sedin

  • Rank in 2012: 3
  • Rank in 2011: 2
  • Rank in 2010: 3

After a relatively slow start to 2013, the Sedins are coming on as of late. They turn 33 this September, but should remain as point-per-game players for at least another two or three years. Why? Well, first off, they take great care of themselves in terms of training and fitness. And two, they don’t rely on physical attributes as much as other players do. Speed, strength, and size, generally tend to decline/break down faster than skill and instincts do. Look at Selanne, Ray Whitney, and Jaromir Jagr as examples of skill not declining much – if at all.

Daniel and Henrik (who is now the Canucks all time leader in points) have been very good players for close to a decade now, but they became elite players after Alex Burrows was put on their wing. Burrows is the straw that stirs the drink for that line, and his impact on Daniel and Henrik cannot be overstated. Like Hall, Daniel doesn’t fill up the peripheral categories as well as some guys who rank below him on this list, but he is as consistent as they come.

One of the best regular season goals you will ever see:

7. Gabriel Landeskog

  • Rank in 2012: 7
  • Rank in 2011: Not Drafted
  • Rank in 2010: Not Drafted

After sustaining a head/neck injury earlier this season, Landeskog appears close to a return to the Colorado lineup.  The 20-year-old captain had a very impressive rookie season in 2011-12, leading Colorado in hits, plus/minus, shots on goal, and goals. It will be interesting to see where he slots in – do the Avs place him on a line with the dynamic Matt Duchene? Landeskog formed a potent scoring duo with Ryan O’Reilly last year, but it doesn’t sound like O’Reilly will suit up for the Avalanche again.

Landeskog may not have the offensive upside of a Hall or a Kane, but he is going to be one of the most well-rounded players in the league for a long time. And now that many hockey pools include statistics to measure some of these other attributes, he will get the recognition he deserves from the fantasy hockey world.

He will also take over from Nick Lidstrom as the weakest accent of any Swedish player in the NHL.

8. Thomas Vanek

  • Rank in 2012: Honourable Mention
  • Rank in 2011: Honourable Mention
  • Rank in 2010: 9

Vanek has proven in 2013 that he can score goals as well as anybody in hockey. And after two years off of this list, he makes his triumphant return. Consistency has been lacking from his game over the past few years, and as a goal scorer that is never a good thing. Vanek gets decent SOG totals, and he racks up points on the man advantage, too. He is still only 28 years old, but it seems as if he has been around for a long longer than that.

The Sabres have really struggled as a team this year, but Vanek’s line (along with Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville) has not. Vanek probably wouldn’t crack the top 10 if the likes of Kovalchuk, Nash, and Neal were still considered left wingers, though.

9. Scott Hartnell

  • Rank in 2012: 8
  • Rank in 2011: Not Ranked
  • Rank in 2010: Honourable Mention

The rugged 6-2 winger has really found a home in Philadelphia, and the Flyers have missed him a lot this season as he remains out with a broken foot. Hartnell doesn’t have as much natural talent as the other guys on this list (or as a few of the honourable mentions, either), but he fills a lot of categories that other guys don’t, and his offensive production is pretty comparable, too. Playing with an elite center in Claude Giroux helps, and it will be interesting to see who the Flyers stick on the right wing with those two when Hartnell does return to the lineup.

Hartnell’s fantasy season in 2011-12 was one for the ages – 37 goals, 67 points, plus-19, 136 PIM, 232 SOG, and 16 power play goals. Add in a well-timed Dion Phaneuf insult to top things off, and you have the markings of a career season:

10. Patrick Sharp

  • Rank in 2012: Honourable Mention
  • Rank in 2011: 9
  • Rank in 2010: Honourable Mention

Sharp doesn’t have the same name/star power as his trio of talented teammates in Chicago (Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Kane), but he is arguably as important to the success of Blackhawks as any of them. He is one of the few players with dual eligibility on Yahoo! And other pool sites who actually plays more than one position – his versatility allows Chicago to try out different line combinations. Sharp has played on the left wing for the most part in 2013 after spending time at center and on the right wing in the past

He has been playing almost exclusively this season on a line with Dave Bolland (who has finally been promoted to the top six) and Kane.

Sharp has scored over 30 goals in three of his last five seasons, and he shoots the puck a ton (as evidenced by his 282 SOG from last season). He has a Vinny Prospal thing going on with his plus/minus, as his total from the last four years reads as plus-6, plus-24, minus-1, and plus-28 (if the Prospal reference confuses you, check out his career point totals – if graphed out it would look like an extremely volatile stock).

Honourable Mentions:

Milan Lucic – arguably the toughest/most intimidating forward in the league, Lucic has proven that he can do a lot more with his fists than just fight. If you are looking to rebuild/retool your fantasy team, he is a better option than a few of the guys above him on the list, as he is only 24 years old.

Max Pacioretty – I have no doubt that Pacioretty will be on the top 10 list next year (and possibly quite high on it). He is an impressive player who can do everything, but I don’t see a big offensive breakout coming until Montreal’s team matures talent-wise a bit. Pacioretty is one of the strongest guys in the league, and his comeback from a broken neck/severe concussion was inspirational and impressive. I profiled him in depth last summer, and you can read that here.

Patrick MarleauMarleau has cooled off after a strong start to the season. He is still a very productive player.

Chris Kunitz – Kunitz is a sneaky-good in most pool formats, but he gets ignored because people assume he produces because of who he plays with. Don’t get me wrong, being out there on the PP with Crosby, Malkin, Neal, and Letang would help anyone’s production, but Kunitz brings a lot to the table that those other guys don’t. He is gritty, is a great finisher in close, and can function as a top line winger.

James van Riemsdyk – the sky is the limit for the rangy winger. JVR has a ton of talent, and he is starting to figure out how to play with it on a more consistent basis.

Jeff Skinner – Skinner is out with a reported concussion right now – scary stuff, considering he has already had some concussion issues early on in his NHL career. He is an absolute beast on the puck, and in terms of overall skating ability, there aren’t many players in the NHL who are able to do more on two blades. Skinner is a powerful skater, and incredibly agile, too. Skinner has bounced between right and left wing at the NHL level, but he has been playing mostly left wing this season with Jordan Staal as his center. Let’s hope he gets back soon and can get past the concussion problems.