Every Friday during the season, NHL.com fantasy hockey expert Matt Cubeta will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy right wings in our weekly segment: "Right of Way." From updated right wing rankings to guys you should keep a close eye on and much more, Cubeta will be your fantasy right wing expert all season long.
Welcome to the world of right wings -- the position that provided the most elite group of players for fantasy owners during the 2011-12 season. While many players possess that multiple-position eligibility in Yahoo! Leagues, there were still more right wings among the top-25 overall fantasy players than any other position.
Eleven right wings currently find themselves within the top 25 in Yahoo! Leagues, just narrowly edging the center position, which had 10 players. The left wing position had six skaters, while four goalies (Jonathan Quick, Henrik Lundqvist, Brian Elliott and Mike Smith) and two defensemen (Erik Karlsson and Zdeno Chara) appeared in the top 25.
We've discussed these three guys plenty over the course of the last two days of forward awards, but Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Claude Giroux are the No. 1, 2 and 3 ranked right wing-eligible players. Malkin and Giroux are primarily centers, but since they played a little wing last year, they were able to carry over that dual-position eligibility into this season -- which was a nice bonus for fantasy owners. Neal earned our left wing MVP award on Thursday, but after these three guys, we start to see some household right wing names.
Several right wings bounced back in a big way after having a down season last year. Marian Gaborik returned to his dominant scoring ways to register one of the three current 40-plus goal seasons from right wings (along with Malkin and Neal). Ilya Kovalchuk also rebounded in a big way after posting just 60 points last season -- he has 35 goals and 81 points in 76 games this season. Same goes for Marian Hossa, whose 77 points are the most since he posted 100 back with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2006-07.
Just like every other position, we've also seen a few disappointments. We discussed Jeff Carter's and Alexander Semin's underachieving seasons on Wednesday and Thursday because both players possessed that added position eligibility. Many of us had high hopes for guys like Jeff Skinner, Ryane Clowe and Nathan Horton, but unfortunately they were either derailed by injuries or struggled when healthy.
Regardless of whether you stole a player like Jason Pominville on draft day or took a reliable player like Corey Perry, the one thing you've probably realized by now is that the right wings were as dominant as ever this season, even with a few underachievers.
THE MOST VALUABLE RIGHT WING
Being that Malkin earned MVP at center and Neal at left wing, we felt Marian Gaborik deserved the honor. As stated previously, he's one of only three 40-plus goal-scorers at the position. But it's not just the goals that have been there for fantasy owners. Gaborik has 35 assists to go along with a plus-16 rating, 34 penalty minutes, 21 power-play points and 270 shots on goal. He was extremely consistent all season long, recording at least one point in 48 of his 81 games this season and posting 22 multi-point games -- which were tied for eighth in the NHL. Gaborik was also held without a shot on goal only four times in all 81 games so far. This is his third 40-plus goal and 75-plus point season of his 11-year career, and he should be a lock as one of the top right wings off the board for next year's fantasy drafts.
THE BIGGEST SURPRISE
There are many contenders for this award -- Neal, Tyler Seguin, Radim Vrbata, Teemu Selanne, Milan Michalek and Jason Pominville all could have taken it home -- but David Clarkson really did come out of nowhere this season. Known for his toughness, Clarkson added goal-scoring to his repertoire with 30 on the season to go along with his usual 138 penalty minutes. The Devils forward came into the season rated 260th in Yahoo! Leagues and is currently the 53rd overall player. While his minus-8 didn't help, he did contribute 16 power-play points and 228 shots on goal. Clarkson had never scored more than 17 goals in his career (back in 2008-09), and while it may be hard for him to replicate, he should still be one of the highest "tough guys" drafted next season.
THE BIGGEST UNDERACHIEVER
We already mentioned a few guys that disappointed a bit, but none have underachieved as much as Chris Stewart. While the Blues have been extremely successful as a team this year, Stewart hasn't done much for his fantasy owners other than contributing 100 penalty minutes. When acquired by the Blues from Colorado last season, Stewart went on a tear with 15 goals and 23 points his final 26 games with his new team -- but in 77 games this season, the power forward has just 15 goals and 29 points. Stewart was a player many of us had down for at least 30 goals this season, but going into next season we'll be happy if he reaches 20.
THE ROOKIE STANDOUT
Most of us had no idea who Matt Read was coming into this season, but the undrafted rookie worked his way onto Philadelphia's opening night roster and hasn't looked back. Read got off to a fast start with 6 points in his first five games and then even had a stretch during November when he posted a five-game goal-scoring streak. On the season Read has 24 goals, 23 assists, a plus-12 and 11 power-play points -- he only had 12 penalty minutes and 154 shots on goal, but he still deserved the honor and many owners will draft him next year with high hopes.
THE NEXT BIG SLEEPER
Martin Havlat isn't a sleeper-like name, but he will be extremely undervalued in fantasy drafts next season. Coming into this year, many of us had high hopes for Havlat now that he joined the San Jose Sharks. However, he started the season on injured reserve and then battled more injuries from December through March. And when Havlat did play, he wasn't his typical self, recording just 7 goals and 25 points in 38 games. But this is a player with a tremendous amount of skill, and if he can just stay healthy for a full season with the Sharks, big things could be coming -- target him on draft day.
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