Every Thursday during the season, NHL.com fantasy hockey expert Matt Cubeta will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy left wings in our weekly segment: "Turn Left Here." From updated left wing rankings to guys you should keep a close eye on and much more, Cubeta will be your fantasy left wing expert all season long.
The left wing position has been as unpredictable as any in fantasy hockey this season. From the fall of Alex Ovechkin to the rise of James Neal, we've seen a number of different names atop our rankings each week.
While the elite players at this position aren't quite as deep as at center or right wing, the left wings have provided stable depth throughout the 2011-12 season. With players like Scott Hartnell and Milan Lucic, fantasy owners were able to get penalty minutes in addition to solid point production. Neal, Milan Michalek, Max Pacioretty and Evander Kane all emerged for their first 30-goal seasons, and under-the-radar players like Matt Moulson and Erik Cole also scored at least 30.
Patrik Elias and Thomas Vanek provided owners with solid power-play production, among other contributions. Brad Marchand, Patrick Sharp, Ray Whitney, Alexander Steen and Alexandre Burrows all have contributed a plus-25 rating or better to this point. No matter where you looked, a number of left wings have given fantasy owners plenty to be grateful for.
On the other side, we did see several left wings players struggle early. Bobby Ryan had just seven goals and 12 points in his first 24 games -- he now stands with 28 goals and 54 points; Henrik Zetterberg had five goals and 13 points in his first 23 games, but rebounded strongly and has 68 points in 80 games now; Zach Parise posted six goals and 13 points in his first 23 games, and like Zetterberg found his game in December and currently has 31 goals and 68 points.
Some superstars, like Ryan, never quite lived up to their expectations. Rick Nash has a minus-21 rating and his 27 goals and 56 points are his lowest since 2006-07, when he had 27 goals and 57 points. Dany Heatley slipped last season with 26 goals and 64 points, and things have been worse with his move to Minnesota this season -- he has 23 goals and only 51 points, the full-season output of his 10 NHL seasons.
Like every position, there were some definite steals on draft day and a few disappointments. The one thing the left wing position has helped with was its solid consistency in the middle of the pack. The fact that we have players like Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Ryane Clowe at the bottom of our final rankings shows the amount of depth the position contains.
THE MOST VALUABLE LEFT WING
If you're looking at our most recent rankings, then you won't be too surprised to see that James Neal earns the MVP award among left wings. Neal has blossomed into a superstar while lining up on the left wing for Evgeni Malkin all season. He has set career highs in every single fantasy category except for plus/minus (he is currently a plus-6; his best was a plus-7 last season, so there's a chance he tops that as well). His 40 goals are 13 more than he's ever had; his 41 assists are 13 more; his 87 penalty minutes are 23 more; his 30 power-play points are 20 more; and his 329 shots on goal are 129 more. Simply put, Neal has been a dominant force in every category and likely will be a first-round pick in fantasy drafts next season.
THE BIGGEST SURPRISE
Neal certainly could qualify in this category considering most of us probably didn't expect a 40-goal, 80-point season, but there was potential since we knew entering the season that he'd be playing on a line with either Malkin or Sidney Crosby. Joffrey Lupul may have earned this award had he not got hurt, so instead, this one goes to Ray Whitney -- and deservedly so. He's currently No. 6 among left wing in Yahoo! leagues and has been an unsung hero to every one of his fantasy owners this season. Coming into the season he was rated the 256th-best player by Yahoo!, and now is No. 21. No left wing has more than his 51 assists, and the fact that he has near point-per-game numbers (75 points in 80 games), an outstanding plus-25 rating and 20 power-play points has made him an unbelievable asset at the age of 39.
THE BIGGEST UNDERACHIEVER
Many left wings have disappointed this season, but in our opinion, none more than Alexander Semin. Ryan, Nash and Mike Richards all could have fallen into this category, but Semin's inconsistency set him apart. He slumped early (five goals and 10 points in his first 22 games), but in December he rebounded slightly with 10 points in 12 games. However, he was unable to sustain that momentum into the New Year and had just two goals in January. Semin hit his best hot streak with 13 points in 14 February games, but in March he again struggled, with two goals. He not only was inconsistent, but he had just one multi-goal game -- he had two against the Rangers on Dec. 28. Semin has 20 goals and 52 points in 75 games, but as many were expecting a return to his 40-goal, 84-point season from 2009-10, you have to consider this season a big underachievement.
THE ROOKIE STANDOUT
Rookies always are the most difficult to project from a fantasy viewpoint, but Gabriel Landeskog made it worth it for owners to draft him back in September. While his point-per-game numbers aren't as high as Ryan-Nugent Hopkins (.64 to .85, respectively), Landeskog has been outstanding in every other category and the best fantasy rookie this season -- his plus-23 rating and 264 shots on goal have been tremendous and are among the League leaders for left wings. He is No. 11 left wing in Yahoo! leagues and could be a 30-goal candidate with top-10 left wing potential at the start of next season.
THE NEXT BIG SLEEPER
Despite missing over a full season of action since suffering a concussion in November 2010, David Perron has returned and flourished for the Blues this season. There's no hole in his game for fantasy owners -- he has 20 goals, 41 points, a plus-21 rating, 28 penalty minutes, nine power-play points and 109 shots on goal in 55 games. Perron is the Blues' most offensively skilled player and his unbelievable hands and quickness could result in a major breakout season in 2012-13. He's low in our final set of rankings, but make no mistake -- Perron has unbelievable upside and a 30-goal season with around 70 points next season wouldn't surprise us at all.
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