The left wing position is quickly proving to be quite deep.
While some of the typical superstars are still struggling in the early parts of the 2011-12 season, several unlikely players are stealing the headlines in fantasy leagues everywhere. Guys like Kris Versteeg, Joffrey Lupul and Milan Michalek may be playing over their heads a bit right now, but who's to say they can't keep this up?
Versteeg received a fresh opportunity playing for his fourth NHL team and is on Florida's top line -- maybe his fast start is legit and he's happy with his new team. Is it that far-fetched to think he can't score 30 goals and post 60-plus points?
Lupul has teamed up with the hottest player in the NHL in Phil Kessel to formulate one of the League's most deadly combinations after about three weeks of action -- maybe he stays healthy for the full season and helps Toronto to a winning season.
Michalek might play for a struggling Senators team, but playing alongside Jason Spezza is doing wonders for the 2003 first-rounder -- maybe this is the year we've all been waiting for from the talented winger.
Jamie Benn is proving to be one of Dallas' most valuable players early on this season after putting up tremendous numbers in the WHL in years past -- maybe this is his coming out party and he finishes as a top-10 winger.
Vinny Prospal has found a new home in Columbus, and despite the team's slow start, the aging veteran is still playing at a high level -- maybe he continues to remain on the team's top line with Rick Nash (and Jeff Carter when he returns to the lineup) and reaches the 60-point mark again.
We don't know if any of these things will come true, but the point is that they are all realistic possibilities. With each team approximately 8-9 games into the season, some of these early trends may end up turning into a reality for these players.
If you were lucky enough to snag any of these surprise starters on draft day, you have a few options: you can hold onto them and ride it out all season; you can drop them and go with someone that has a more established and proven career; or you can trade them while their value may not get any higher.
It's a difficult decision to make, but at least you've put yourself in a position to make that choice by grabbing them before anyone else did. And regardless of what you decide, it sure is nice to have these guys on your roster while they're hot, isn't it?
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 last week. (NR means not ranked in previous rankings). Note: positions are now dictated by how they're labeled in Yahoo! Fantasy Leagues.
- 1. Daniel Sedin, Canucks (+1)
- 2. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals (-1)
- 3. Zach Parise, Devils (same)
- 4. Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings* (same)
- 5. Rick Nash, Blue Jackets* (+2)
- 6. Ilya Kovalchuk, Devils* (-1)
- 7. Bobby Ryan, Ducks (-1)
- 8. Thomas Vanek, Sabres (+1)
- 9. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings* (-1)
- 10. Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks*(+1)
- 11. James Neal, Penguins (+2)
- 12. Alexander Semin, Capitals* (-2)
- 13. Alexandre Burrows, Canucks (-1)
- 14. Patrick Marleau, Sharks* (same)
- 15. Jamie Benn, Stars (+1)
- 16. Johan Franzen, Red Wings* (-1)
- 17. Taylor Hall, Oilers (+1)
- 18. Ryane Clowe, Sharks* (-1)
- 19. Loui Eriksson, Stars* (same)
- 20. Shane Doan, Coyotes* (+1)
- 21. Milan Lucic, Bruins (+1)
- 22. Michael Cammalleri, Canadiens (+3)
- 23. Joffrey Lupul, Maple Leafs* (+3)
- 24. Brenden Morrow, Stars (-4)
- 25. Simon Gagne, Kings (-1)
- 26. James van Riemsdyk, Flyers (-3)
- 27. Kris Versteeg, Panthers (+3)
- 28. Jordan Staal, Penguins* (same)
- 29. Milan Michalek, Senators* (NR)
- 30. Patrik Elias, Devils* (NR)
Joffrey Lupul -- As stated earlier, Lupul and Kessel have combined to be one of the League's most lethal scoring pairs. Looking a little more closely, the two players have both recorded a point on a goal eight times this season, which is tied for third in the NHL. Lupul, who went primarily undrafted in fantasy leagues, has seen his Yahoo! League ownership rise to 69 percent, and it should continue to increase as long as he remains healthy. The 2002 first-round draft choice appeared in just 54 games last season and 23 the season before, so there is some definite injury concern. However, fantasy owners should love what they're getting from Lupul in his first eight games: 4 G, 5 A, plus-4, 14 PIMs, 3 PPP and 24 SOG.
Milan Michalek -- Guess who the Lupul-Kessel combination is tied with? That's right, Michalek and his teammate Jason Spezza. Wednesday's "Center Stage" looked into the rejuvenation of Spezza, but a large part of his success has come from the scoring ability of his left wing. Similar to Lupul, Michalek's major issue in the past has been staying healthy. He, too, was a first-round draft choice, but has only played in 66 games in each of the last two seasons. There seems to be a bit more worrisome in Michalek's game than Lupul's simply because he is playing on a worse team to start the season, which will likely result in a rough plus/minus rating. Currently Michalek is a minus-3, but he's still finding ways to be extremely productive for his fantasy owners with 6 goals and 10 points -- with 6 of those points coming on the power play. Start him regularly and hope he remains healthy.
Bobby Ryan -- The New Jersey native has as much talent as anyone in the League, but the new season hasn't treated Ryan too nicely. In eight contests, the Ducks forward has just 2 goals and 3 points, with no production on the power play. Ryan skates on Anaheim's top line with superstars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry (who also haven't entirely got going this year), but he doesn't see the power-play opportunities because the Ducks use Teemu Selanne as their third forward on the top unit with Lubomir Visnovsky and Cam Fowler primarily on the point -- Ryan is only receiving 1:48 of power-play ice time per game. Ryan is too talented to be held to this kind of production all season long, so expect him to rebound shortly, but for now he takes a little hit in our updated rankings.
James van Riemsdyk -- Everyone had JVR pegged as a major breakout candidate this season after he potted 7 goals in 11 playoff contests for the Flyers last season, but so far the 22-year-old has been a bit of a disappointment. Through nine games he has just 2 goals, 2 assists and an alarming minus-5 rating despite the Flyers' 5-3-1 start. At the start of the season van Riemsdyk was skating on Philadelphia's top line with talented playmakers Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr, but on Wednesday night he eventually found himself on a line with Matt Read and Jakub Voracek -- not exactly equal to the Giroux-Jagr combo. If this trend continues, you can expect JVR's production to be extremely limited this season. To this point, van Riemsdyk is receiving just 14:50 of total ice time and only 3:15 of power-play ice time. He is still extremely young and possesses loads of potential, but his fantasy owners might be wise to bench him until he shows signs of snapping out of his current four-game pointless streak.
Dustin Brown -- The Kings captain has gotten off to a bit of a streaky start to his 2011-12 season. He opened the campaign with an assist in his first game, and then was held pointless in his next three. He followed that up with 3 points in his next two contests and has since been held pointless in two games. What should you make of all this? Accept it. Brown is a streaky player and always has been. He'll still end up finishing the season with his usual 25-or-so goals and 50-60 points. The fact that he's skating on a line with newcomer Mike Richards and Dustin Penner shows there may be potential for a few more points this season, but for now we'll have to wait and see if they can find some chemistry together.
KEEP AN EYE ON...
Max Pacioretty -- You'll never guess who is second in the NHL in shots per game, behind only Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg? Well, maybe you will considering we're leading with the player's name, but yes, it is indeed Pacioretty. Max-Pac is averaging 4.3 shots per game, just behind Zetterberg's 4.4. If you're thinking it's early and 4.3 shots per game isn't that many, you should know that Alex Ovechkin led the NHL last season with 4.6 per game, so it's right on par. Last season, Pacioretty averaged 3 shots per game, so there's a definite possibility that his 4.3 number will regress a bit, but for now he's firing away at free will. He's had two games with at least 8 shots on goal and as long as he continues to receive over 16 minutes of ice time, you should be happy with the shots you receive from the 22-year-old.
Left Wing - MTL
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 9
SOG: 39 | +/-: 2
SOG: 39 | +/-: 2
The physical winger is currently owned in just 23 percent of Yahoo! fantasy leagues despite his solid production. That number needs to increase by the time the Canadiens begin their home-and-home series with the Bruins tonight. Even if he doesn't record a ton of points for you (although the potential is there), one thing looks like a guarantee with Pacioretty: He'll get you tons of shots on goal.