Two of the toughest positions in hockey to fill for a fantasy hockey pool are the wing positions. If a league uses the specific assignments of left wing and right wing, the situation gets even more complicated. The issue with the wing positions is the scarcity of talent and the top-heavy production.
Left wing tends to be difficult to find after the elite talents of Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, and Dany Heatley. The drop-off from the elite isn’t overwhelming, but they are just not on the same level.
With this in mind, here are the top LW’s for 2010-2011, along with risers, fallers, a look at sophomores
# 1 – Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
• 2009-2010: 82 GP, 50 G, 59 A, 109 Pts (36 PPP)
• 3 year average: 78 GP, 57 G, 54 A, 110 Pts (40 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 82 GP, 62 G, 53 A, 115 Pts (42 PPP)
Alexander Ovechkin is the quintessential undisputed number one pick in virtually all fantasy hockey drafts. That does not mean that the uber-talented left winger is without flaws. Last season was an interesting one for Alex the Great, as he faced suspensions and injury in 2009-2010. The first incident was a knee-to-knee hit to Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason that left Ovechkin with a day-to-day sore knee and a two-game suspension. The second incident was in March against the Blackhawks in which Ovechkin pushed Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell hard from behind into the boards. That hit ended Campbell’s season and gave Ovechkin another two-game suspension. The Great Eight’s reputation, already known as a rough customer and not another European lightweight, became even more edgy as the season came to a close.
In 2010-2011, Ovechkin will still be among the top 3 of scorers, but teams may target him more so than in the past for his rough play last season. The Capitals, though, know that Ovie can take care of himself. Expect Ovechkin to line up with center Nicklas Backstrom and right wing Mike Knuble on most nights and a be fixture on the power play with Backstrom, Knuble, right wing Alexander Semin, and defenseman Mike Green.
• 2009-2010: 76 GP, 41 G, 44 A, 85 Pts (27 PPP)
• 3 year average: 78 GP, 45 G, 42 A, 88 Pts (31 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 82 GP, 46 G, 52 A, 98 Pts (41 PPP)
There was a time this past offseason when no one knew where Ilya Kovalchuk would play in 2010-2011. At some point, even Kovalchuk himself was unsure. Would he go to the fledging Kontinental Hockey League in its attempt to compete with the NHL? It was certainly possible since the KHL had wooed Russian goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, formerly of the Sharks, away. State-side, speculation was that Kovalchuk would either play for the Devils, or as a long shot, the Los Angeles Kings. The Devils originally struck a deal in July with Kovalchuk, only to have the NHL reject the deal on the claim that the frontloaded structure circumvented the salary cap. In the end, Kovalchuk signed a 15-year, $100 million contract in late August and it was upheld finally by the NHL. Whew!
Now on to the hockey… Kovalchuk is one of the most prolific scorers in the league and was a point-per-game producer for the Devils after coming from Atlanta in a February trade. In 27 games, he notched 10 goals and 17 assists. In 2010-2011, word out of Devils camp is that Coach John MacLean is toying with the idea of sliding Kovalchuk to right wing to form one of the most dynamic lines in the NHL with left wing Zach Parise and center Travis Zajac. If the line sticks, then all three are due to have a huge season.
# 3 – Dany Heatley, Sharks
• 2009-2010: 82 GP, 39 G, 43 A, 82 Pts (30 PPP)
• 3 year average: 78 GP, 40 G, 39 A, 79 Pts (33 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 82 GP, 42 G, 45 A, 87 Pts (35 PPP)
Heatley came over to the Sharks with high expectations and he delivered throughout 2009-2010. He started off fast with his new teammates and center pivot Joe Thornton, scoring 30 points (18 goals, 12 assists) in the first two months of the season. Heatley continued from there throughout the rest of the season, as he was exactly a point-per-game performer in 2009-2010. There isn’t much more to say about Heatley, other than the fact that he produces at a superstar level for one of the best offenses in hockey.
In the new season, the Sharks will be in a transition in goal and that could hurt the team’s overall +/-, including Heatley, as he was only +14 on the season last year. Heatley does provide extra leverage in fantasy pools as he may qualify at both left and right wing. Expect Heatley to be joined by Thornton and either left wing Ryan Clowe on the top line or converted center Patrick Marleau should Heatley slide to the right side. On the mad advantage, Heatley will be joined by Thornton, left wing/center Patrick Marleau, defenseman Dan Boyle, and either right wing Joe Pavelski or Clowe.
# 4 – Zach Parise, Devils
• 2009-2010: 81 GP, 38 G, 44 A, 82 Pts (26 PPP)
• 3 year average: 81 GP, 41 G, 42 A, 81 Pts (26 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 82 GP, 43 G, 48 A, 91 Pts (32 PPP)
The second Devil to appear on this list, Parise has skyrocketed up the rankings of left wings in the league since his rookie season in 2005-2006. In his first few years, Parise was regarded as one of the up-and-coming scorers in the league, with point totals of 62 and 65 in his second and third year combined. In 2008-2009, Parise boosted his stats with career highs across the board with 45 goals, 49 assists, 94 points, a +30 rating, and 30 power play points. Last season, Parise maintained his point-per-game performance, scoring 38 goals and 44 assists, totaling 26 points with the man advantage.
With the possibility of the Devils moving fellow high scorer Ilya Kovalchuk to right wing, the Devils could have one of the most prolific scoring lines in the league to go along with excellent pivot man Travis Zajac. On the man advantage, Parise will skate with Kovalchuk, Zajac, defenseman Andy Greene and most likely captain Jamie Langenbrunner.
# 5 – Daniel Sedin, Canucks
• 2009-2010: 63 GP, 29 G, 56 A, 85 Pts (21 PPP)
• 3 year average: 76 GP, 30 G, 51 A, 81 A (26 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 82 GP, 32 G, 53 A, 85 Pts (31 PPP)
Daniel Sedin and his brother Henrik entered the NHL with a lot of fanfare in 1999 when then GM of the Canucks Brian Burke drafted the twins. Over their nine seasons, the twins have combined for 346 goals and 773 assists while skating mostly together for that entire period. While Henrik is regarded as more of a better passer, Daniel is the better shooter, and in turn, the better goal scorer. Last season, despite missing 19 games with a foot injury and dealing with back spasms, Daniel still tallied 85 points, including a career high 56 assists.
Daniel could threaten the 90-point mark if he stays healthy the entire season. It is very possible that Vancouver could have two 100-point scorers on their team between the twin brothers. Vancouver has had issues finding someone to line up with the duo, but they may have solved that last season with Mikhael Samuelsson. On the man advantage, the Sedins are joined by Samuelsson, center Ryan Kesler and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.
# 6 – Rick Nash, Blue Jackets
• 2009-2010: 76 GP, 33 G, 34 A, 67 Pts (22 PPP)
• 3 year average: 78 GP, 37 G, 35 A, 72 Pts (21 PPP)
• 2010-2011: 82 GP, 40 G, 37 A, 77 Pts (27 PPP)
The 2009-2010 season was a season of transition for Nash and the Blue Jackets. In February, the team abandoned the defensive style of Ken Hitchcock when the team relieved him of coaching duties. This change resulted in a more dynamic offensive game in Columbus and Nash responded in February, March, and April with 16 points (9 goals, 7 assists) in 19 games under interim coach Claude Noel. With the new season approaching, the Blue Jackets hired former Manitoba Moose coach Scott Arniel as their new head coach.
Arniel is supposed to continue the up tempo style of offense that Noel put into place and that should bode well for Nash and his fellow linemates Antoine Vermette and R.J. Umberger. Nash continues to be one of the most efficient goal scorers in the league, never scoring less than 27 goals in a year since his sophomore season. On the man advantage, Nash is joined by Vermette, Umberger, fellow left wing Kristian Huselius, and defenseman Anton Stralman.
# 7 – Patrick Marleau, Sharks
• 2009-2010: 82 GP, 44 G, 39 A, 83 Pts (25 PPP)
• 3 year average: 79 GP, 34 G, 34 A, 68 Pts (23 PPP)
• 2010-2011: 82 GP, 36 G, 42 A, 78 Pts (30 PPP)
Back in 2007-08, it was not clear if Marleau would be the same player. He was supposed to be entering his prime in that season, but he only totaled 48 points (19 goals, 29 assists) and a horrid -19 rating in 78 games played. He also found himself regulated to the third line at times in that season. In 2008-09, Marleau rebounded with 71 points (38 goals, 33 assists) in 76 games. Last season, Marleau continued to reinsert himself among the elite scorers in the league. Marleau was near the top of the leaderboards for much of the season in goals and ended up finishing fourth in the league with 44 goals while adding 39 helpers in 82 games.
Originally a center, Marleau played a lot of left wing last season in order to split up the production in San Jose. Look for the Sharks to utilize both Marleau and left wing/right wing Dany Heatley on the top line with star pivot Joe Thornton. Marleau is usually on the top power play unit with Heathley, Thornton, right wing Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle from the blueline.
# 8 – Bobby Ryan, Ducks
• 2009-2010: 81 GP, 35 G, 29 A, 64 Pts (21 PPP)
• 3 year average: 56 GP, 24 G, 20 A, 44 Pts (16 PPP)
• 2010-2011: 82 GP, 37 G, 42 A, 79 Pts (28 PPP)
In just his second full season in the NHL, Ryan established himself as one of the top goal scorers on one of the most dynamic young lines in the NHL in Anaheim. The line, centered by Ryan Getzlaf and flanked also by Cory Perry, combined for 209 points in 2009-2010. Ryan himself scored a career high 35 goal and added 29 assists to total 64 points for the season. In training camp, there is talk of the Ducks trying Ryan and center to spread out the scoring for the Ducks.
If this is the case, Ryan could be asked to pass more than he shoots. This situation is one to monitor to see how Ryan handles the transition to center alongside wingers Jason Blake and Teemu Selanne. The Ducks have faith in Ryan, as they signed the budding star to a five year extension worth $25.5 million. Ryan will still be called upon to contribute to the power play, where he will join Getzlaf, Perry, defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky and potentially left wing Matt Beleskey or Blake.
# 9 – Patrik Elias, Devils
• 2009-2010: 58 GP, 19 G, 29 A, 48 Pts (11 PPP)
• 3 year average: 70 GP, 23 G, 37 A, 60 Pts (17 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 82 GP, 35 G, 38 A, 73 Pts (26 PPP)
Elias is expected to line up on the second unit for the Devils, where he will be reunited with one-time teammate Jason Arnott and sparkplug right winger David Clarkson. Elias will have a role on the power play, but it is unclear whether he will crack the top unit or be on the second power play unit. Either way, look for a productive bounce back season for Elias barring the reoccurrence of injuries.
# 10 – Simon Gagne, Lightning
• 2009-2010: 58 GP, 17 G, 23 A, 40 Pts (19 PPP)
• 3 year average: 54 GP, 19 G, 25 A, 44 Pts (18 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 76 GP, 33 G, 36 A, 69 Pts (22 PPP)
Gagne had a year to forget in 2009-2010, a year that turned out to be his last in Philadelphia. After a productive and relatively healthy season in 2008-2009 – a year that saw him score 34 goals and tally 40 assists – Gagne dealt with injuries once again in his career. He was diagnosed with a double hernia in his groin in late October and had subsequent surgery that cost him 24 games. Gagne was mostly injury-free for the rest of the regular season campaign that saw him score 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists) in 58 games. In mid-July, Gagne was dealt to Tampa Bay for defenseman Matt Walker and a 2011 fourth round pick.
In Tampa Bay, look for Gagne to be motivated to reestablish his reputation as one of the best offensive players in the league. He will have a chance to rejuvenate his career with the Lightning, as Tampa Bay sports two of the best centers in Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos. Gagne should rebound to respectable numbers with his new linemates and should find a home on the second line with Lecavalier and right wing Teddy Purcell. Gagne will also play a key role on the power play with Stamkos, Lecavalier, right wing Martin St. Louis, and defenseman Pavel Kubina.
1. Brooks Laich, Capitals (’09-’10: 25 G, 34 A, 59 Pts) – Laich found his niche in Washington on the second line last season, skating on most nights with Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin. Laich has the potential to reach 30 goals and he could reach that plateau in the upcoming season. Laich should remain on the second line, lining up with Fleischmann and young center Mathieu Perreault. Projection: 31 G, 36 A, 67 Pts.
2. Guillame Latendresse, Wild (’09-’10: 27 G, 13 A, 40 Pts) – Latendresse surprised many in the hockey world upon his arrival to Minnesota from Montreal in a November trade. In just 23 games with the Canadiens, Latendresse scored just three points (two goals, one assist). In Minnesota, something clicked and he scored 37 points (25 goals, 12 assists) in 55 games with his new team. Latendresse found chemistry with pivot Mikko Koivu and he may finally be tapping the potential he always had in Montreal. Projection: 32 G, 28 A, 60 Pts.
3. Mason Raymond, Canucks (’09-’10: 25 G, 28 A, 53 Pts) – Raymond found a home on the second line in Vancouver with center Ryan Kesler and scored career highs in goals (25), assists (28) and points (58). Raymond signed a two-year contract extension in late July and will be looked upon to continue his rise in scoring on the team. He has the potential to reach 30 goals and 30 assists in the upcoming season. Projection: 32 G, 35 A, 67 Pts.
1. Jason Blake, Ducks (’09-’10: 16 G, 25 A, 41 Pts) – Blake continued his descent from fantasy relevancy as his recent play is a far cry from his career year in 2006-07 with the Islanders that saw him score 40 goals and add 29 assists. Since that plateau season, Blake has only averaged 18 goals 34 assists, good for only 52 points. Blake was dealt from Toronto to Anaheim in late January with goaltender Vesa Toskala for goaltender J.S. Giguere. With his new team, Blake was bounced between the second and third line. Don’t expect a lot of production from Blake in 2010-2011 as he stays outside the top-six for the Ducks. Projection: 16 G, 25 A, 41 Pts.
2. Brian Rolston, Devils (’09-’10: 20 G, 17 A, 37 Pts) – Prior to the 2008-2009 season, Rolston enjoyed a very productive tenure in Minnesota, averaging 32 goals and 35 assists with the Wild from 2005-2006 through 2007-2008. When Rolston was dealt to Tampa Bay and failed to sign with the Lightning in the summer of 2008, he became a free agent and signed a four-year deal with New Jersey worth $20 million. The Devils expected Rolston to be a source for scoring, but a sprained ankle cost Rolston 18 games and he managed just 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists) in 2009-2010. Rolston’s production plummeted in 2009-2010 (20 G, 17 A, 37 Pts in 80 games) and was buried by more superior talent in New Jersey. Projection: 14 G, 17 A, 31 Pts.
3. Alex Tanguay, Flames (’09-’10: 10 G, 27 A, 37 Pts) – Tanguay’s 2009-2010 season was a disaster from the onset, as the effects of offseason shoulder surgery in 2008 continued to linger in 2009. Tanguay spent the 2009-2010 season with Tampa Bay, but he never mustered enough offense to be the steady point producer he was with Colorado from 1999-2000 to 2005-2006 and Calgary from 2006-2007 to 2007-2008. Tanguay agreed to return to the Flames for a second stint in the hope to rejuvenate his scoring touch. Projection: 15 G, 28 A, 43 Pts.
SOPHOMORES – SHINE OR SLUMP?
1. Jamie Benn, Stars (’09-’10: 22 G, 19 a, 41 Pts) – in his first full season with the Stars, Benn contributed at times on all lines. Benn will be looked upon to be a good source for scoring on the second or third line in Dallas. With more consistent production, Benn could earn a steadier role in among the top six and powerplay for the Stars. Projection: 27 G, 30 A, 57 Pts.
2. Evander Kane (’09-’10: 14 G, 12 A, 26 Pts) – Just 19 years old, Kane posted modest numbers in his first season, scoring 14 goals and recording 12 assists while spending most of his time near the bottom lines. With the trade of Kovalchuk, the Thrashers have placed a lot of faith in their youngsters. Kane is expected to be on the top line in Atlanta with Niclas Bergfors and Bryan Little. If this line sticks, expect Kane’s numbers to rise. Projection: 25 G, 28 A, 53 Pts.
3. James van Riemsdyk, Flyers (’09-’10: 15 G, 20 A, 35 Pts) – James van Riemsdyk started the 2009-2010 season with a bang, scoring 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) in just nine games in October. He added nine more points (4 goals, 5 assists) in November and 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists) in 15 games in January. December, February, March and April only saw van Riemsdyk score just a mere five points (four goals, one assist) in 43 games. Van Riemsdyk will look to find consistency in the new season as he lines up with center Jeff Carter and Nikolai Zherdev on the second line for the Flyers. Projection: 23 G, 33 A, 56 Pts.
1. Zach Boychuk, Hurricanes (’09-’10: 52 GP, 15 G, 21 A, 36 Pts in AHL; 31 GP, 3 G, 6 A, 9 Pts in NHL) – Boychuk received an extended audition in 2009-2010, scoring nine points (three goals, six assists) in 31 games. Boychuk is expected to compete for a roster spot in training camp, either on the third or fourth line. The Hurricanes, however, may want Boychuk to continue to refine his game at AHL Charlotte. Projection: 52 GP, 15 G, 18 A, 33 Pts.
2. Nikita Filatov, Blue Jackets (’09-’10: 26 GP, 9 G, 13 A, 22 Pts in KHL; 13 GP, 2 G, 0 A, 2 Pts in NHL) – Filatov is one of the many Blue Jacket players that will not miss the uber-defensive hockey style of former Ken Hitchcock. The dispute about playing time between Hitchcock and Filatov led Filatov to play in the KHL on “loan” last season. Filatov is an elite talent and is expected to fill a top-six forward role in the upcoming season for Columbus. Projection: 82 GP, 23 G, 31 A, 54 Pts.
3. Taylor Hall, Oilers (’09-’10: 57 GP, 40 G, 66 A, 106 Pts in OHL) – Hall, the much hyped # 1 pick in the amateur draft by Edmonton, is expected to be one of many rookies that will crack the Oilers lineup in 2010-2011. Hall will find himself among the top six in Edmonton and could play with fellow rookie Jordan Eberle in the upcoming season. The Oilers hope Hall can be the leader of the youth movement in Edmonton. Projection: 82 GP, 25 G, 30 A, 55 Pts.