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Fantasy Five: Plenty of breakout players at left wing

by Matt Cubeta /
Thirty centers currently rank among the top-100 overall fantasy players in standard Yahoo! Leagues, while 25 left wings, 23 right wings, 16 goalies and just 14 defensemen find themselves in that same group.

What does this all mean?

Basically that center, surprisingly or not, is the most dominant position in fantasy this season, with left wing just slightly behind. The left wing position is finally establishing itself as the second-most powerful fantasy position behind center. However, of the 25 left wingers, only 10 of them ranked among the top 100 at preseason. That means that there have been plenty of pleasant surprises at the position in 2010-11. Let's take a slightly more in depth look at our left wings.

1. Left wing provides great value

First we'll start with the top: Daniel Sedin, Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Zetterberg (in that order) all rank within the top-10 overall fantasy rankings in Yahoo! Leagues. Including Zetterberg (who is eligible at both C and LW), there are five centers in the top-10. Seven of the top-10 fantasy players this season are either centers or left wings. Typically, center is the runaway top fantasy position, but this year, left wings have certainly made a case for being the strongest group.

What's even more surprising are the players that have had such great seasons from the left wing position. Of course we see our usual aces, but Patrick Sharp has done wonders this season while Ryane Clowe, James Neal, Ryan Malone, Milan Lucic, Chris Kunitz, Clarke MacArthur and several others have all become valuable commodities. A lot of the aforementioned players are grinders, meaning they've helped you in penalty minutes as well as the points categories.

All in all, the left wing position has done great things for fantasy owners this season, and we should all be grateful for that.

2. Updated left wing rankings

These modified re-rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward (including injuries). The plus or minus for each player is based on our last set of rankings from Nov. 18. (NR means not ranked in previous rankings.) NEW: These rankings now include players that possess dual position eligibility.

Rick Nash (same)
* was previously ranked with centers only

Left wings that dropped out of last segment's top-25: Andrei Kostitsyn, Brooks Laich, Andrew Ladd, Simon Gagne, Alexander Frolov

3. Trending Upward

James Neal -- Neal might not get you a ton of assists (16 on the season), but he sure has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to score plenty of goals for the Stars. The 23-year-old has 5 goals in his last five games, including two on the power play, and is on pace for 33 goals on the season.

Chris Kunitz -- Despite the absence of linemate Sidney Crosby, Kunitz has continued to put up solid numbers: 3 goals and 1 assist in his last four contests. Hopefully Crosby will be back soon and Kunitz's numbers will be even more productive going forward.

Ryan Malone -- The Lightning power forward has become a power-play machine this season with 17 of his 33 points coming while on the man advantage. Malone will help fantasy owners in nearly all categories, with his minus-8 rating the exception. He's only owned in 66 percent of Yahoo! Leagues, so if available, jump on him right away.

4. Trending Downward

Patrick Marleau -- While he's still on pace for 30 goals this season, Marleau certainly won't be coming close to his 83 or even 71 points from his previous two seasons. What's most disappointing about Marleau (and several of his Sharks teammates) is his alarming minus-19 rating. Half of Marleau's 34 points have come on the power play, so he'll help you there, but understand that when Marleau and his linemates are skating at even strength, they are getting significantly outscored.

Michael Cammalleri -- Cammalleri sees a significant drop in the rankings due to his shoulder injury that occurred on Tuesday night against the Sabres. While details haven't been provided on how long he'll be sidelined for, the Canadiens have placed the left wing on injured reserve, and it's been speculated that he suffered a separated shoulder, which could mean he'll be out for about a month. Cammalleri has 13 goals and 31 points to go along with a plus-6, 29 PIMs, 14 PPP and 126 SOG in 44 games, but for now he drops in the ranks because of his injury.

Brooks Laich -- Laich has been a fairly consistent performer this season, but that doesn't mean he's having a good year. While he contributes a point nearly every other game, Laich just hasn't had any of those big performances -- he only has four multi-point efforts on the season, and all of them came prior to Nov. 20. It looked like Laich was going to build off three straight improving seasons (21 goals and 37 points in 2007-08, 23 goals and 53 points in 2008-09 and 25 goals and 59 points last season), but this year it appears he's had a bit of a setback, like several of his teammates.

5. Player to keep an eye on

Newly acquired left wing Wojtek Wolski has looked comfortable in his first six games since joining the New York Rangers. Wolski, who found himself sitting in the press box at the end of his tenure in Phoenix, has 2 goals and 3 assists since being shipped off to Broadway. What's most intriguing about the talented 24-year-old is that he seems to have found some chemistry with his new linemates, Derek Stepan and speedster Mats Zuccarello.

This energetic line was first put together by coach John Tortorella midway through the Rangers' game against the Flyers on Jan. 16. It produced two goals in the third period and has been together since. Torts changes his lines frequently, so who knows how long this trio will last, but for now Wolski is a good guy to take a flyer on.

Another thing going for Wolski is he'll likely see an increase on his current 15:01 of ice time per game, including frequent opportunities on the power play due to all the injuries the Rangers are experiencing (Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko, Vinny Prospal and Erik Christensen are all currently sidelined). Let's also not forget that Wolski totaled 18 points in 18 games for the Coyotes last season after he was dealt there at the trade deadline, and he is a former first-round draft choice by the Avalanche back in 2004 -- we love his upside in New York, and you should too.

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