This week we will be covering the top 10 left wingers in the Eastern Conference for the 2016-17 season. The focus will be put on points-only leagues. Multi-category leagues will be ignored for rankings purposes because of the increasing availability of categories. Even for forwards, your scoring setup can have a tremendous impact on player value.
As we will see, this list contains more star power at the top than we saw last week in the ranking of right wings. Additionally, this list is very deep with some honorable mentions having more risk but also plenty of potential to make an impact this upcoming season.
Previous lists for 2016-17:
Honorable mention – Mike Cammalleri (New Jersey)
The injury-prone Cammalleri has appeared in 68 or fewer games each year since 2009 which makes him highly unlikely to make his way up the list this year. With that said, his points-per-game totals are consistently impressive, including 38 points in 42 games last year. A repeat performance is unlikely with the recently-acquired Taylor Hall being the new primary focus at left wing in New Jersey. Still, he should be a good bet to produce and his age (34) along with his lack of durability are likely to cause him to be overlooked on draft day.
Honorable mention – Jussi Jokinen (Florida)
Jokinen is coming off a 60-point campaign, the second-highest mark in his career. At the same time, he has been incredibly inconsistent over the years, especially as a goal-scorer. Case in point, prior to his recent solid year, he had just eight goals and 44 points. Ice time really matters for Jokinen, as he responded well to receiving top-six minutes last year. The upside is there and the talent in Florida is strong enough for him to once again push the 60-point mark, but given his unreliability throughout his career and his age of 33 there is some risk in drafting Jokinen. With that said, he would be a nice consolation prize if you fail to land some of the more appealing names at left wing on draft day.
Honorable mention – Dylan Larkin (Detroit)
As a rookie, Larkin showed potential to become a future star with 45 points at just 19 years of age. A breakout year could be coming up but unfortunately the environment in Detroit is not going to help facilitate such a jump. The team finished 23rd in the league with just 211 goals and lost its best offensive player in Pavel Datsyuk. Larkin’s most frequent center, Henrik Zetterberg, is in fairly rapid decline. While he has a solid chance to reach 50 points this year, expecting a major step forward is unlikely due to a lack of talent around him in Detroit. Do not reach for him assuming big things, but rather take a gamble on him in one of the final rounds if he is still on the board.
Honorable mention – Rick Nash (New York Rangers)
Nash has been an enigma throughout his career. On a few occasions he has met expectations offensively, including 42 goals and 69 points in 2014-15, but most years he leaves us wanting more. Last year he missed 22 games due to injury and produced at a 49-point pace. He is certainly capable of more but he had great chemistry with Derrick Brassard who has been traded to Ottawa. He could easily push for 60 points this year but injuries and inconsistency are concerns at this point.
Honorable mention – Brandon Saad (Columbus)
With three years in a row finishing between 47 and 53 points Saad has been a very reliable forward. Plus, he is still just 23 years old, so he may have additional untapped potential. However, since the trade of Ryan Johansen, the Blue Jackets have been lacking a top-end playmaking center which limits the upside of forwards like Saad. Saad did well to find chemistry with Alexander Wennberg, the team’s most talented center, as any breakout year for Saad will rely on the two finding a higher level of magic.
10) James van Riemsdyk (Toronto)
For the past four years, van Riemsdyk has produced at the rate of a 60-point player. Not even the rebuild in Toronto could slow him down as he had 29 points in 40 games last year before being shut down with a foot injury. The addition of Auston Matthews certainly helps, as it gives the Leafs a level of talent at center that was not present previously. It will help van Riemsdyk a lot, especially on the power play. He has a chance to challenge 60 points this year and could slide a bit on draft day if more casual poolies are focusing too much on last year’s stats to build their draft board.
9) Andrew Ladd (New York Islanders)
After signing a lucrative long-term contract with the Islanders, Ladd will obviously be lining up often next to superstar center John Tavares and on the team’s top power-play unit. This alone should give plenty of optimism that he will return to meeting expectations. Keep in mind Ladd’s totals over the last five years give him a pace of 57 points over 82 games. Additionally, with the Islanders’ core of young forwards failing to solidify spots at the top of the roster, Ladd’s spot as the top winger in the organization will not be challenged for the foreseeable future.
8) Brad Marchand (Boston)
Last year, Marchand was given top-line minutes (18:36) for the first time in his career, and he responded with career-highs of 37 goals and 61 points. Clearly, the Bruins relied on the pesky winger more than ever after making some major changes last summer. While this trend is expected to continue, his great year has to be viewed as an anomaly, especially in the goal-scoring department, after Marchand developed some special chemistry with Patrice Bergeron during the year.
7) Ondrej Palat (Tampa Bay)
After back-to-back years in the 60-point range, Palat took a bit of a step back last year with 40 points in 62 games, an 82-game pace of 52 points. Given his constant linemate Tyler Johnson had such a bad year, any bounce back is going to reflect positively on Palat’s point total. In addition, the return of Steven Stamkos is also beneficial because in the event the “triplets” line is broken up during the year Palat will likely end up with Stamkos, one of the top centers in the league. Either way, Palat should be fine in terms of linemates. Look for a return to 60 points this year.
6) Brayden Schenn (Philadelphia)
Schenn is finally starting to fulfill his high potential now that he has found a home on Claude Giroux’s wing. Amazingly, Schenn has improved his point total every year since playing his first NHL game back in 2010. This gives optimism for continued growth while a potential bounce-back campaign from Giroux following a down year offers additional hope. The biggest knock against Schenn is his lack of top-line minutes as he averaged just 16:54 last year.
5) Mike Hoffman (Ottawa)
In his second full NHL campaign, Hoffman saw his role increase in all areas, and he responded with 59 points. He is a high-volume shooter, so his high goal totals should be safe. Meanwhile, there is potential for growth as the acquisition of Derick Brassard from the Rangers along with the return to health of Kyle Turris, which gives Hoffman better options down the middle for the year to come. Look for him to clear 60 points for the first time and perhaps push for 65.
4) Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida)
Huberdeau took another step forward in his development last year with 59 points in 76 games after earning top-line minutes for the first time in his career. Still just 23 years of age, there is room for improvement, and the Panthers have added some strong veterans to help support their young core. With a better start to the year (he had just four points in October), Huberdeau should have no trouble clearing 60 points for the first time and could even challenge 70.
3) Max Pacioretty (Montreal)
You know a player is established as a high-end producer when 30 goals and 64 points is considered a down year. During the last four full NHL seasons, Pacioretty has finished between 60 and 67 points. It is very difficult to envision him improving upon those numbers until the Canadiens finally pair him with a true top-line center. However, very few are capable of producing at this level on a yearly basis. Also, there is some optimism as there is a possibility the arrivals of Alexander Radulov and Shea Weber help bring the power play to life which would feed a few extra points to Pacioretty.
2) Taylor Hall (New Jersey)
Moving away from Edmonton and the potential to play alongside Connor McDavid certainly hurts Hall’s upside. Having said that, he is head and shoulders above any forward in New Jersey and will be given every opportunity to succeed offensively. There is some risk in drafting Hall due to his history with injuries and lack of star-quality linemates, but he has a solid track record of putting up great numbers and has much better odds than Pacioretty of crossing 70 points.
1) Alexander Ovechkin (Washington)
Even after posting just 71 points last year, Ovechkin remains the yearly champion of the Eastern Conference at this position. There is some concern with his low assist totals as goal-heavy players tend to run into trouble keeping their points up. However, as long as Ovechkin is able to hit the 50-goal mark every year, there is nothing to worry about in points-only leagues. Simply put, if any left wing is going to have a point-per-game performance this year it will be Ovechkin.
Follow me on Twitter @DH_EricDaoust.
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