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Turn Left Here: Neal takes over the top LW ranking

Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:05 PM / Fantasy Hockey Draft Rankings, Advice and Analysis

By Matt Cubeta - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Turn Left Here: Neal takes over the top LW ranking
James Neal might have been an afterthought to some fantasy owners before the season, but in 2011-12, he's been a top-tier performer.
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.

While the center position has seen the same three players atop our rankings for the past seven weeks, the left wing's top players have been juggled relatively often throughout the 2011-12 season.

At the start of the season NHL.com agreed that Alex Ovechkin was the top choice at left wing (and the top player overall -- we expected him to bounce back and we were sadly wrong) with Daniel Sedin and Zach Parise closely behind him. Here we are now, over eight months later, and Ovechkin currently resides in the nine spot in our most recent rankings. Clearly, the left wing position has been unpredictable.

In fact, it has been so unpredictable that in our new rankings, James Neal finally takes the top left wing spot for the first time all season after starting the season ranked 19th. Neal has surpassed our wildest expectations and deserves to be the No. 1 left wing, having been the most dominant player at his position over the last 30 days and the No. 3 overall fantasy player on the season, behind only Evgeni Malkin and Henrik Lundqvist.

TOP 40 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. (NR means not ranked in previous rankings). Note: Positions are dictated by how they're labeled in Yahoo! Fantasy Leagues.
*dual position eligibility in Yahoo! Leagues
** was listed on IR in last week's rankings

Players that dropped out of previous rankings: None

Injured:
Johan Franzen (DTD), Taylor Hall (DTD), Joffrey Lupul (DTD), Andy McDonald (DTD), Nikolai Kulemin (DTD), Michael Cammalleri (DTD), James van Riemsdyk (IR), Alexander Steen (IR), Simon Gagne (IR)
Among left wings, Neal's 35 goals are tied for the most with Scott Hartnell; his 37 assists are tied for eighth best and his 27 power play points and 293 shots on goal are tops. Let's also not forget that his 74 penalty minutes are extremely significant and a plus-10 rating isn't exactly hurting his fantasy owners.

Neal broke out on Tuesday night for his first four-point game of the season (3 G, 1 A) and skating on a line with Malkin should continue to make him a reliable producer. Plus with Sidney Crosby back in the mix on the power play, Neal could actually gain even more fantasy value. Add in the fact that he has left wing and right wing eligibility in Yahoo! Leagues and you'll quickly realize Neal deserves to be considered for fantasy MVP on the season. He has provided value in every single category and should come into next season as a top-10 overall player.

Dethroned from the top left wing rank was Ilya Kovalchuk. The Devils' forward has bounced around in the ranks all season long -- he entered the season at No. 4 and after a slow start, fell as low as No. 12 back on Dec. 8. Now Kovalchuk finds himself behind only Neal. Kovalchuk's stat line isn't as shiny as Neal's, but that's mainly because of the rocky start he had to the season -- he had just 5 goals and 14 points in his first 18 games to go with a minus-8 rating. However, once December kicked in, the Kovy of old returned. Since December, Kovalchuk has recorded 26 goals, 60 points and a plus-2 over the past 51 games. Despite the slow start, by season's end, Kovalchuk's stat line will look like what you expected, and he should be among the leaders again next season.

The third spot currently belongs to Daniel Sedin, but it may be short lived if the injury he suffered last night turns out to be as serious as it looked. Sedin was the No. 1 left wing for the majority of the season, but because of some recent struggles and his injury he falls to No. 3 with just a few weeks remaining on the schedule. Sedin looked to be headed for his usual dominant season after three months of play, but once the New Year came around, Sedin's production took a major dip. He posted just 8 points in 11 January games and then 12 points in 14 February games before slumping even more with just 3 points in nine contests so far in March. Sedin remains in the upper echelon of left wings because he still has 30 goals and 67 points in 72 games overall, but he'll need to get healthy and finish with a bang if he wants to get back atop the left wing rankings entering next season.

TRENDING UPWARD

Bobby Ryan -- Outside of Neal, Ryan has been the most valuable fantasy left wing over the last 30 days. During that time, his point production has been solid (6 G, 8 A) but it's his plus-5 rating, 26 penalty minutes, 4 power play points and 44 shots on goal that have made him so valuable. Ryan has 4 points in the past two games and with 27 goals on the season, he appears to be headed for his fourth consecutive 30-plus goal campaign.

Evander Kane -- Kane was held off the scoresheet against the Penguins on Tuesday, but prior to that he had posted a point in 13 of his last 14 games (9 G, 10 A) showing he has become a consistent and reliable player for his owners. With 28 goals and 51 points in 65 games overall (not to mention 260 shots on goal and a solid 47 penalty minutes), Kane looks like he could be headed down the road of stardom for years to come.

Dustin Brown -- While the goals aren't flowing, he's still racking up assists and helping in the peripheral fantasy categories. Brown has at least one point in 12 of his last 14 games (5 G, 12 A) and has been a plus-10 during that span. The Kings have been scoring a lot more of late and Brown's resurgence has been a major factor to that. He's been the fifth most valuable fantasy LW over the last 30 days in Yahoo! Leagues and should be started regularly down the stretch.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Zach Parise -- Like Kovalchuk, Parise's season has been a bit of a roller coaster. He struggled out of the gate with just 13 points in his first 23 games, but then started to heat up in Decemeber with 17 points in 14 contests. After that he seemed to level out at about a point-per-game pace, but he appears to be in a bit of a slide right now, with no points in the past five games while posting a minus-4 during that time. Parise is an elite player with 28 goals and 62 points on the season, but his owners are certainly hoping he catches fire before the regular season ends.

Johan Franzen -- Franzen missed his third straight game last night due to a back injury and as of now there's no timetable for his return. For that reason, he has been placed on the injured list in our rankings. Knowing the Red Wings, there's a definite chance they decide to rest Franzen and have him ready for the playoffs, which would make him useless for fantasy owners. Monitor his situation and if he returns, make sure you plug him into your lineup, but it wouldn't be the worst idea to drop Franzen outright if we hear any news that Detroit might shut him down.

Dany Heatley -- March has not been kind to Heatley. While he scored a goal on Mar. 1, he has been held pointless in every game since then -- a span of eight games. What's even worse is that he's been a minus-5 during that span and has been held without a shot in three of the eight games. Heatley simply cannot be counted on for much production for the rest of the way. We'd look to drop him for someone else if we had him on our team (see below)...

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Jamie McGinn -- Here we are, Jamie McGinn, a perfect pick-up if you want to drop Heatley. McGinn certainly doesn't have the name Heatley has, but he's available in 85 percent of Yahoo! Leagues and has been far more productive than the Wild forward of late. Since being traded from San Jose to Colorado, McGinn has notched 7 goals and 3 assists in 11 games for the Avs, while also adding a plus-3 rating, 9 penalty minutes, 3 power play points and 34 shots on goal. Even if he doesn't post a point on any given night, at least he's good for a healthy amount of shots -- he's had four or more shots on goal in three of his last five contests.

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