In the NHL, there are a number of players that can be classified as “fantasy hockey wingers”. These are players who have high potential to score goals and rack up points in a given season. They also tend to be very inconsistent from year-to-year.
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There’s no need to repeat the debate from the center position preview, but here’s a short recap: Your league should treat forwards as a single position for roster reasons, and if you must split them, use centers and wingers.
Separating players into right wing vs left wing is an even more problematic exercise for all of the same reasons as the centers versus wingers debate. The fantasy game’s real roster eligibility is faulty since the NHL’s position labeling system is also flawed. We’re left with labels for players that don’t play the recommended position or swap sides from shift to shift (while probably taking some shifts at center in between).
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However, we live in a game world, and many of us must follow the rules.
In 2020-21, 35 right wingers and 43 left wingers were among the top 250 fantasy points per game (FPPG) scorers. There are 39 right wingers and 48 left wingers in my top 250 for 2021-22.
If your league has been around for a long and still divides the forward positions into right, left, and center, you’ll need to account for some positional scarcity.
As previously said, there are fewer players that are eligible to play right wing. As a result, some of the best players are in high demand. As a first-round selection, Nikita Kucherov, Mikko Rantanen, and David Pastrnak will allow you to be more versatile later on.
When it comes to general strategy with wingers, you can typically wait a bit longer in the draft and risk some upside. When it comes to how teams distribute their lines, centers are much more established. The depth chart is constructed from the center outward. Coaches are eager to shuffle wingers around the lineup to create a spark, but it typically takes an injury or an uncommon circumstance to elevate a center to a scoring line over the course of a season.
That implies there will be more developing wingers than centers during the fantasy season. However, be aware that many NHL clubs just designate most prospects as centers, so you may be disappointed if a young kid is given a shot on the wing but isn’t eligible. This also stops me from saying that there are more hidden gems on the wing, which is true, but many of the elevated players are just classified as a center while they are still young, despite the fact that their first chance is on the wing.
At the end of the day, I’ve done enough math to know that there isn’t much of a difference between what you get from a left winger vs a right winger (let alone a winger versus a center), therefore when it comes to team construction, all forwards should be regarded as forwards.
I prefer top-tier men.
LW Max Pacioretty (ESPN rank: 83, my rank: 20) of the Vegas Golden Knights: Isn’t he underappreciated? Pacioretty was 31st in total fantasy points among skaters last season despite missing eight games (in a 56-game season). He finished 13th the previous season. With Mark Stone, the synergy is there, and the Knights’ power play is a force to be reckoned with. Pacioretty, even at 32, is going to give me another good year.
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Columbus Blue Jackets RW Patrik Laine (ESPN rank: 107, my rank: 33): Yes, I believe that having a coach who does not attempt to persuade this racehorse to behave more like a duck would be beneficial. Taking Laine so soon is obviously a risk. However, I think his difficulties over the last couple of seasons were coachable issues. This isn’t meant as a dig at John Tortorella, whose coaching abilities speak for themselves, but he and Laine were like oil and water. Laine should be given free reign in the attacking zone, defenses be damned. While new coach Brad Larsen spent his assistant coaching career with Tortorella, he’s optimistic about his plans for Laine (“We’re going to encourage him to be who he is, and I don’t believe I want to change him into someone he isn’t,” Larsen told Columbus’ QFM96).
Guys in the middle of the pack I like it.
Bryan Rust (ESPN rank: 110, my rank: 43) of the Pittsburgh Penguins: He still has direct access to Sidney Crosby, has proved his consistency with him, and when Crosby recovers from a wrist injury, the Penguins will put him back on the top line. During the previous two seasons, he has ranked 51st in total fantasy points.
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Carolina Hurricanes’ Andrei Svechnikov (ESPN rank: 115, mine rank: 65): Biggest contract in club history? Check. By the conclusion of last season, he’d established himself on the top line? Check. Isn’t he still just 21 years old, with his best years ahead of him? Check. Svechnikov is one place ahead of Rust at 50th in total fantasy points over the last two seasons.
Zach Hyman (ESPN rank: 129, my rank: 79) of the Edmonton Oilers (LW): There was basically just one spot in the NHL that Hyman could have improved his situation with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hyman goes from the bright lights of winging the second-highest fantasy scorer the previous two seasons to the even brighter lights of winging the greatest. His fantasy totals have been stifled by missing significant time in each of the last two seasons, but he’s perfectly on track for FPPG, and playing with Connor McDavid (or, in the worst-case scenario, Leon Draisaitl) will make him an excellent fantasy option.
Sleeper I’ll live and die by it.
Nick Ritchie, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs (ESPN ranking: unranked, my ranking: 124): Ritchie, along with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, seems to be the ideal replacement for Hyman on the Leafs’ top line. He possesses the physicality to play a tough game in the offensive zone, but he also has more offensive savvy than Hyman. If he stays on the top line, he may have a 30-goal, 30-assist breakout. When the chance arises, I will confess that I would hedge this gamble with a late-round selection of Michael Bunting.
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Back-end choice who may work out in a pinch
Gustav Nyquist, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets (ESPN rank: 191, my rank: 191): Nyquist was overlooked last season after missing the whole season due to shoulder surgery, but he’s the kind of experienced leader the Blue Jackets will need at the top of the lineup this season. Nyquist isn’t a Selke Trophy contender, but he has enough defensive ability to be a good match for Laine.
This season, I’m avoiding bust concerns in every selection.
Jonathan Huberdeau, LW, Florida Panthers (ESPN 12; mine 36): Huberdeau showed he could anchor his own offensive line last season without a question. Despite being separated from Aleksander Barkov at even strength, Huberdeau finished 32nd in fantasy points among all skaters. Even with new linemates, I believe he can do it again (Alex Wennberg is gone and Patric Hornqvist is unlikely to stay in the top six). But pushing him beyond his mid-30s makes little sense unless he’s reuniting with Barkov, which the Panthers don’t seem to be planning.