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Turn Left Here: Nash, Burrows moving up in LW ranks

Thursday, 10.13.2011 / 1:27 PM / Fantasy Hockey Draft Rankings, Advice and Analysis

By Matt Cubeta - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Turn Left Here: Nash, Burrows moving up in LW ranks
Some players haven't come out of the gate as quickly as might be expected, but the pool of talent is so strong at left wing the the top of NHL.com's rankings remain the same.
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.

As stated in our 'Center Stage' story Wednesday, fantasy owners must not start panicking about players they invested in on draft day. While several under-the-radar players like Milan Michalek, Joffrey Lupul, Pascal Dupuis and Jason Chimera rank among the top 15 fantasy left wings in Yahoo! Leagues, the usual suspects like Alex Ovechkin, Daniel Sedin and Zach Parise will all be there at season's end.

In fact we're confident enough in this group of left wings that our top three rankings didn't even change a bit since our original release on Aug. 30 -- the top five players would have remained the same as well had we not factored in dual-position eligible players. Even if these elite players get off to a slow start, odds are they will finish the season where they belong -- they're that good.

Of course there is the rare occurrence that a player slumps to start the season and never fully recovers. Take Ilya Kovalchuk from last season. As we all know, Kovy started the 2010-11 season in a dreadful slump -- recording just 3 goals and 3 assists in 11 games in the month of October and following that up with just 1 goal and 3 helpers in 12 November contests. However, Kovalchuk eventually found his groove and closed out his season with 31 points in his final 33 games.

While no fantasy owner likes to see their superstars slump like that, a player with Kovalchuk's kind of talent will eventually get their numbers back to respectable levels -- he still managed to post his 8th straight 30-plus goal season. Granted it was a far drop off from his previous seasons, but it's a good bet to think Kovy could reach that 40-goal plateau again this campaign.

The most important thing to do just a week into the season is to be patient with the players you drafted and have confidence in them. If you spent a seventh-round draft pick on a player that hasn't recorded a point in their first five games, don't go dropping him -- there was a reason you selected him in the seventh round and you should have faith that they'll reward you. You can always stash a player away on your bench until they snap out of their funk. Of course if that streak gets extended to past ten games or so, you might want to consider other options.

TOP 30 FANTASY LEFT WINGS

These modified re-rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward (including injuries). The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings from preseason. (NR means not ranked in previous rankings). Note: positions are now dictated by how they're labeled in Yahoo! Fantasy Leagues.
*dual position eligibility in Yahoo! Leagues

- players signified with an NR were previously ranked at other positions to start the season

Players that dropped out of our previous rankings: Dany Heatley (RW only in Yahoo! Leagues), Chris Kunitz, Dustin Penner, Matt Moulson, Brad Marchand (C only in Yahoo! Leagues), Ville Leino, Rene Bourque, David Booth, Andrew Ladd, Nikolai Kulemin, Alex Tanguay
When looking over our updated left wing rankings, you'll notice several new players joining the list. We've decided to include players that possess dual position eligibility in standard Yahoo! Leagues. You'll also notice guys like Ryane Clowe, Milan Lucic, Brenden Morrow and others taking significant drops -- this is not because of their performance, but because other players have joined the new rankings. With these new players added to the rankings, the left wing position quickly becomes extremely talented and deep.

Let's take a look at some of the more noticeable changes in our first set of re-rankings:

TRENDING UPWARD

Rick Nash -- The Columbus captain seems to be finding immediate chemistry with newcomers Jeff Carter and Vinny Prospal on his top line. Through the team's first four games, Nash has posted 2 goals, 3 assists, a plus-2 rating and 12 shots on goal. While Nash's points and goals have declined over the last three seasons (bottoming out at 32 and 66 respectively last season), it seems he may be back on track to surpass the 70-point mark again. Nash has yet to record a power-play point but they are getting their chances (the Blue Jackets are 0-for-20 with the man advantage so far), and the return of James Wisniewski should help that unit from the point. Regardless, Nash seems more motivated this season with his new linemates and that should result in plenty of production from the power forward.

Alexandre Burrows -- The Canucks agitator is doing exactly what his fantasy owners hope for: providing production in all categories. In three games Burrows has totaled 1 goal, 2 assists, a plus-4, 8 PIMs, 1 PPP and 13 SOG. The 30-year-old winger is currently skating on the top line with the Sedin brothers and is averaging 21:42 of ice time per game -- what's most noticeable is that he's also seeing 4:32 of PP ice time (last season he saw just 1:00 of PP time per game). While the return of Ryan Kesler could diminish his role with the man advantage, Burrows is certainly showing what he's capable of doing when given the opportunity. Burrows started the season listed within our RW rankings (he does play RW with Daniel on the left and Henrik at center), but in Yahoo! Leagues he's listed at just LW -- you should expect Burrows to crack the top-10 LW ranks soon enough if he can continue at this rate.

James Neal -- Neal technically dropped two spots in our rankings, but again, that's only because of the added players to our new LW rankings. When Neal was dealt from the Stars to the Penguins, everyone hoped he would see a big fantasy boost, joining forces with players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. Unfortunately he struggled mightily -- just 1 goal and 6 points in 20 contests with Pittsburgh. However, his 2011-12 campaign is off to a much better start with 2 goals, 1 assist and 12 shots on goal in his first four games. Neal started the season on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Steve Sullivan which is a good sign, but as long as he lines up with either Malkin or Crosby, the talented youngster should be a lock for 30-goals and 60 points this season.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Brenden Morrow -- The Dallas captain had a tremendous season last year with 33 goals (career-high) and 56 points, while also contributing a solid 76 penalty minutes, but Morrow is off to a slow start in 2011 -- he has yet to register a point in 3 games. Not only is Morrow not producing, but he also has just one shot on goal. His 13 penalty minutes are providing his fantasy owners with something positive, but we certainly hope the loss of Brad Richards doesn't affect Morrow all season long. While it's only a small sample size, Morrow's playing time is down from 19:14 last season to 16:54 this year. It's too early to panic with a complete player like Morrow, but be cautious and know that Jamie Benn might be stealing the offensive reigns from this Stars group.

Michael Cammalleri -- Cammalleri dropped 11 spots in our rankings mainly due to his injury -- the Canadiens forward suffered an ugly knee laceration in Sunday's game against the Jets. Fortunately for his fantasy owners, the injury is only supposed to sideline Cammalleri for about 10-14 days. The 29-year-old forward actually scored his first goal of the season prior to the injury, but it's important for his owners to know that even when Cammalleri returns to action, expectations should not be too high. Cammalleri hasn't appeared in more than 67 games in each of the last two seasons (and three of the last four) and he is slowly being tagged with that "injury-prone" label. He has also struggled a bit since leaving Calgary with just 19 goals in 67 games last year and only 26 in 65 games the season before -- that's a far cry from the 39 goals and 82 points he had in 2008-09 for the Flames. Cammalleri makes for a solid No. 2 left wing on most fantasy teams, but the key with him will be whether or not he can stay healthy. And as of now, things are clearly off to a rough start.

Scott Hartnell -- The 6-foot-2 power forward might be one of those players that is more valuable in real life than on your fantasy team. He plays the role of pest to many opponents and provides solid leadership for the Flyers, but for his fantasy owners, third-line duties just aren't cutting it. The 29-year-old is currently skating on a line with youngsters Sean Couturier and Matt Read as a solid checking line with some skill, but Hartnell is only averaging 11:12 of ice time per game -- even further, Hartnell is seeing just 40 seconds per game on the power play. If his playing time doesn't significantly increase in the near future, it's safe to expect he won't come close to his 30-goal, 60-point season from 2008-09 -- look more to his 14-goal, 44-point campaign from 2009-10 as a more reasonable comparison for this year.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Of all the left wings that have gotten off to hot starts this season, we believe in Milan Michalek's more than any other. But let's make one thing very clear: his value depends solely on Jason Spezza. If Spezza stays healthy and continues to display his talent the way he's capable of, then Michalek should be in line for a big season. In three games so far, Michalek has registered 2 goals and 2 assists to go along with an even rating, 2 penalty minutes, 3 power play points and 13 shots on goal. His hot start is not the only reason we like him. Michalek is a former first-round draft choice from 2003 (6th overall) that has had loads of potential -- as displayed by his three solid seasons in San Jose before he joined the Senators. Michalek is averaging 19:55 of ice time per game and 3:46 of power play ice time, and despite Ottawa's slow 1-2-0 start, Michalek's line seems to producing on a consistent basis. He's currently owned in just 31 percent of Yahoo! Fantasy Leagues, but he's worth owning in more than that for as long as Spezza stays healthy.
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