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 right wingers in the NHL:
Keeping the above rule in mind, I have compiled a list of the top ten keeper league right 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.
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. A number of natural left wingers have made the move over to the right side in the past few years, including Rick Nash, Ilya Kovalchuk, and James Neal. And it looks like Alex Ovechkin may be the next one to make the full time transition.
1. Corey Perry – Anaheim Ducks
- Rank in 2012: 1
- Rank in 2011: 1
- Rank in 2010: 2
Perry maintains his position as the top right winger in the NHL for the third straight year, even though his offensive production has regressed over that time. He is slated to hit the open market this summer, and the Ducks will have a lot of teams to outbid if they are unable to get Perry to ink a new contract before July 1st. The 27-year-old is one of the best players in the league. He can score goals, run a power play, pass the puck, and agitate the opposition with regularity. There may not be a bigger sore loser in the league than Perry – opposing players and fans loathe him, but Ducks fans and players love having him and his short temper on their side.
Perry will be in tough to match the offensive production of the next few guys on this list, but he more than makes up for it with his overall game. He is a solid even strength player, which generally leads to a good plus/minus. He racks up the PIM, he shoots the puck a ton, and he produces on the power play. He probably won’t score 50 goals in the NHL again (unless he signs with a team that gives him more of an offensive role – the Ducks lean on him and Ryan Getzlaf to do it all), but he should still be expected to light the lamp at least 35-40 times each season.
2. James Neal – Pittsburgh Penguins
- Rank in 2012: 3
- Rank in 2011: Not Ranked (considered a LW)
- Rank in 2010: Not Ranked (considered a LW)
Think the Dallas Stars would like a mulligan on the James Neal for Alex Goligoski trade? Not only did they trade away Neal, one of the best forwards in the NHL, but they also moved defenseman Matt Niskanen, who has found a home for himself on Pittsburgh’s back end. Imagine Neal on the wing with Jamie Benn up the middle? Alas, that potentially dominant young duo was not meant to be.
Instead, Neal has come to Pittsburgh and turned on many goal lights over the past few years. He and Evgeni Malkin were far and away the best scoring duo in the NHL last season, and Neal has continued his goal scoring ways this season. Neal also shoots the puck a ton, which helps boost his fantasy value even more. And when his linemate Malkin was out with a concussion, he was forced to line up with Sidney Crosby instead. How is that for a second option?
3. Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks
- Rank in 2012: 4
- Rank in 2011: 2
- Rank in 2010: 1
Through the first month of the 2013 regular season, there haven’t been many players who have looked as dominant on a consistent basis as Kane has for the Blackhawks. He is nearly impossible to hit, and he never seems to make the wrong play when the puck is on his stick (which is often). It isn’t surprising that he looks much more comfortable back on the wing – Chicago experimented with him at center last season, but Kane is clearly better offensively when he is on the right side. He has been playing on a line with Dave Bolland and Patrick Sharp at even strength, and that trio gives Chicago a very balanced attack with Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews together on the other top scoring unit.
Kane seems to have something to prove this season – perhaps he wants to move past his reputation as an immature party boy. Wherever he is getting his motivation from, it is working. Kane is almost impossible to stop without taking a penalty – he shifts, slips, and slides around, through, and behind opposing players with ease. There isn’t a player in the league with a better arsenal of one-on-one moves than Kane.
Here is Kane abusing Vancouver goaltender Cory Schneider during the lockout:
- Rank in 2012: 2
- Rank in 2011: Considered a LW
- Rank in 2010: Considered a LW
Kovalchuk has successfully made the move over to right wing from the left side, where he spent the majority of his career before coming to New Jersey. Kovalchuk thrived on the left side because it allowed him to set up for his one-timer, and he is thriving on the right side as it gives him more room to skate with the puck. He still sets up on the left side of the Devils power play. Kovalchuk is so talented and skilled that it doesn’t really matter what wing he lines up on – he is going to find a way to produce.
Oates’ theory, that he backs up with videotape evidence, is that left-handed players need to play on the left side and right-handed players on the right side because it’s more important than ever in the faster, modern NHL that wingers be moving north-south with the puck, rather than cutting into the middle of the ice as many players who skate on their off-wing are prone to do.
He was phenomenal during the 2012 postseason for the Devils, leading the NHL in playoff scoring while playing through excruciating back pain. Kovalchuk turns 30 this year. He would likely have 500 career goals if not for the two lockouts he has endured, and he has a lot of hockey left in him.
5. Tyler Seguin
- Rank in 2012: 7
- Rank in 2011: Considered a C
- Rank in 2010: Not Drafted Yet
A natural center, Seguin has made the move to the right side in order to find a way into Boston’s top six. David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron are both phenomenal two-way centers, and Seguin wasn’t going to unseat either of them in the top six (even though he is arguably a better offensive player than both of them).
Seguin will probably move back to center in the near future (depending on what happens with Boston’s centers), as it allows him to spend more time with the puck on his stick. Playing on the wing has given him more offensive freedom though, as the centers in Boston’s system have to be very involved defensively. That isn’t to say Seguin is a bad defensive player, but Bergeron is one of the best in the league, and Krejci is very solid in his own zone as well.
Seguin’s slow start in 2013 came as a surprise to many after we saw him dominate the Swiss league during the lockout (25 goals and 40 points in 29 games for Biel). He was a solid producer across the board in 2011-12 (except for only 30 PIM). Seguin only recently turned 21 – the sky is the limit for him from an offensive production standpoint.
6. Phil Kessel
- Rank in 2012: 6
- Rank in 2011: Honourable Mention
- Rank in 2010: Honourable Mention
Arguably the most lethal first-shot scorer in hockey, Kessel is one of the best players in fantasy hockey for goals, power play goals, and shots on goal. He has looked good this season skating with Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk on the top line in Toronto (an early season scoring slump notwithstanding). What will happen when Joffrey Lupul is ready to return? Kessel and Lupul were great together last year, but Kessel has been benefitting from the open ice created by van Riemsdyk’s size and strength on the puck.
Kessel has also embraced a new role of sorts this season – playmaker.
“You have to think shoot-first all the time, because the goalie has to respect that. But you got to be willing to dish it off if the guy’s open,” said Kessel, who is tied for the team lead with 15 points. “I don’t think I’m making more plays than I normally do.”
I’d expect Kessel to take a step forward with his point totals if he can continue to dish the puck like he has been this season. His shot is lethal and he will always be a threat to score 40 goals in a given season, and because of that defenses have to play him tight. If he can find his linemates in scoring situations, his ability to put points on the board will increase significantly.
- Rank in 2012: 5
- Rank in 2011: Honourable Mention
- Rank in 2010: Not Ranked
There aren’t many players in the NHL who can find the back of the net with a wrist shot like Eberle can. He isn’t as impressive physically as teammates Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov, and he doesn’t have Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ pedigree. He reminds me a bit of Claude Giroux in terms of having that “it” factor. Eberle puts it all together like few NHL players can – he isn’t fast but he is elusive and hard to hit. He isn’t big but he is hard to knock off the puck. He knows where to go to make plays, and his hands around the net are ridiculous.
His fantasy value is hurt a bit by his lack of production in peripheral areas, but he will be an offensive machine for the next 10+ seasons (especially if the young Oilers figure out how to win with some consistency).
8. Rick Nash
- Rank in 2012: Honourable Mention
- Rank in 2011: Considered a LW
- Rank in 2010: Considered a LW
Nash isn’t going to be a 90+ point producer, but he seems to have found another gear since coming over from Columbus to New York. He is producing at a point-per-game clip, something he had done only once in Columbus (79 points in 78 games in 2008-09). The big issue with Nash has always been consistency. He has been dominant for Canada against the best players on the planet, while at the same time looking average while floating around the ice in a Columbus sweater.
So far so good in the Big Apple, but the sample size of a few months of hockey has to be taken into consideration as well. Nash will see an improvement in his career minus-62 rating (as of March 1st) playing in front of Henrik Lundqvist instead of Steve Mason, but his PIM numbers have been declining in recent seasons. He turns 29 this summer, but the best may still be yet to come from the ultra-talented winger.
9. Martin St. Louis
- Rank in 2012: 9
- Rank in 2011: 5
- Rank in 2010: 4
St. Louis holds firm at the number nine spot. Even though he is approaching his 40’s, he continues to produce at an elite level. A large reason for that is his dedication to health and fitness (you can read more about it in this interview with his trainer Ben Prentiss).
St. Louis missed five games last season (he finished with 74 points in 79 games), and it was the first time he had missed an NHL game since the 2005-06 season (where he missed two games). He has broken the 90-point mark four times in his career, and he would be on pace to do the same in 2013 if not for the lockout.
His playoff track record is even more impressive – in 63 career postseason games, St. Louis has scored 33 goals and added 35 assists. He has won the Art Ross, the Hart, the Lester B. Pearson, and two Lady Byng Trophies (with only 268 career PIM in 951 games, don’t expect him to help much in that department).
He remains one of the best right wingers in hockey, and he continues to prove that age really is just a number.
10. Jakub Voracek
- Rank in 2012: Honourable Mention
- Rank in 2011: Honourable Mention
- Rank in 2010: 9
Voracek’s spot on this list may come as a surprise to a few of you, but he’s a player I have been quite high on for several years now. And he is making the most of his opportunity to play top line minutes with Claude Giroux in Philadelphia. There are many reasons to like Voracek – he sees the ice really well, he is a solid two-way player, and he is incredibly powerful. He’s a disciplined player (and his career-high of 44 PIM in a season is a testament to that), but he has the opportunity to become one of the better offensive wingers in the game over the coming years.
Voracek’s developmental path hasn’t been a straight one (they rarely are). He struggled a bit to adjust to the NHL as a rookie with Columbus, and he had his fitness and conditioning questioned on more than a few occasions. However, he has trained with Jonathan Chaimberg in recent years (Chaimberg used to train Georges St. Pierre, and he works with Kris Letang each summer in Montreal). Suffice to say fitness is no longer a concern with Voracek.
Voracek never took that next step in Columbus. After a 50-point sophomore season, he had 46 and 49 points in the next two seasons. And he had 49 points in his first year with the Flyers, averaging 16:17 of ice time per contest.
Voracek had a fantastic postseason in 2011-12, scoring twice and adding eight assists in 11 games. He carried that strong play over to the KHL during the lockout (20 points in 23 games), and he has done the same this season in Philadelphia. His ice time is up a bit (16:47 per game), and I’d expect it to approach the 18 or 19 minute-a-night mark soon.
Nail Yakupov – his upside is through the roof, but I’m not sure how long it will take him to get there. Another year? A lot depends on how quickly the young Oilers can figure out how to win with consistency.
Marian Gaborik – still one of the most lethal snipers in hockey, Gaborik is on the wrong side of 30. He could find his way back into the top 10 with a strong finish to 2013.
Marian Hossa – when he is “on,” there aren’t many players in the NHL who are as dominant as Hossa is. Injuries have to be a concern, and like Gaborik, his best days are behind him. So much of what makes Hossa great (puck possession, defensive ability) isn’t quantifiable in fantasy hockey.
Teemu Selanne – the ageless Selanne could play until he is 50 (and he just might do that). He will go down as one of the best players in the history of the sport, and one of the classiest guys off of the ice, too.
Dustin Brown – Brown was the most impactful hockey player on the planet for a few months, but he isn’t an elite player. He does a lot of things very, very well though.
Blake Wheeler – big, talented, Wheeler doesn’t do enough outside of tallying assists to qualify for the list.
Alex Burrows – the gritty two-way winger has fit in seamlessly with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Without the Sedin twins he is a solid 15-20 goal guy who contributes in other areas. With them, he has the potential to score 25-30 in any given season.
Alex Semin – he’s been great this season in Carolina, and he has become a playmaker for the sniping Eric Staal. Semin will be on this list if he re-ups with the Hurricanes – he is set to become a free agent this summer, but he has fit in quite well with the team, and I’d expect they want him back. He does things with the puck that can’t be taught.
Joe Pavelski – a natural center, Pavelski has shifted over to the right side to make room for Logan Couture in San Jose. He’s not big or fast, but he is a smart and skilled player. He plays with some grit, too.
Jeff Carter – Carter is now four years removed from his big 46-goal, 84-point season with the Flyers. Was that season a blip in the radar of what has been a solid career for a 25-35-goal scorer?
Loui Eriksson - Mr. Everything is about as consistent as it gets in terms of point production. He is a fantastic hockey player with zero weaknesses.
Don’t forget to check out Fantasy Hockey Power Play, an App I have developed along with Ryan Ma. The App is available for both Apple and Android. Read more about it here.