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Turn Left Here: Kovalchuk rises in ranks, Lupul drops

by Matt Cubeta
Every Thursday during the season, 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.

It's never easy trying to decide which player to start at a certain position on a night when you have a full roster playing. Who do you bench? What about your utility spot? Should you go with the hot hand or the player that's performed better over the full season? These are just a few questions fantasy owners deal with on a nightly basis -- especially on Saturday's when most NHL teams are in action.

The answers to these questions depend on several things -- what kind of league you're in (head-to-head, rotisserie, points), what stats you need to improve in, who your opponents are and many others.

In order to try and help gauge the value of your players, we're going to play a little game called, "Fantasy Face-off" -- it's basically a shortened version of our fantasy face-offs we ran in the preseason. Here's the idea: We'll list left-wing eligible players that are very comparable and then decide who we believe we'd rather start/have on any given night. Let's give it a shot:

Jamie Benn vs. Brad Marchand -- Marchand provides better plus/minus and penalty minutes, but Benn is the centerpiece of the Stars offense and could reach 80 points this year.

Mike Richards vs. Michael Cammalleri -- Richards has just returned from injury and the Kings are on fire, while Cammalleri just got traded to a team he had great success with in the past. We like Richards for now.

Patrik Elias vs. Milan Michalek -- Everyone loves that Michalek has 23 goals, but other than his 119 SOG, he doesn't help much elsewhere. Elias has 44 points in 44 games and is a consistent fantasy player -- he's our pick.

Max Pacioretty vs. Chris Kunitz -- Kunitz plays on an elite line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, but Pacioretty has turned into Montreal's most valuable forward -- we'll give Max-Pac the edge.

Gabriel Landeskog vs. Nick Foligno -- Both under-the-radar forwards provide sneaky value, but Foligno's ability to post a few more points and a lot more PIMs earn him the nod.



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
** recently gained dual position eligibility in Yahoo!

Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Ryan Smyth

Players on IR: Patrick Sharp, Matt Duchene, James van Riemsdyk, Jordan Staal, Alexander Steen
Ilya Kovalchuk -- Could we finally be seeing the Kovalchuk of old? We think so. Coming into the season Kovalchuk was rated 35th in Yahoo!, now he's at 41, almost exactly where he was expected to be -- this all coming after his brutally slow start. The Russian sniper has scored at least one goal in five of his last six games (7 G, 3 A during that time) and is clearly playing with tons of confidence -- he has averaged 5.5 shots per game since the start of January. It wouldn't shock us in the least bit if Kovalchuk ended up leading all left wings in goals scored.

Bobby Ryan -- Speaking of performing up to expectations, Ryan seems to be joining Kovalchuk in that group. There may not have been a greater fantasy disappoint in the first half of the season than Ryan, but he's starting to come alive (along with the entire Ducks team) under Bruce Boudreau's new system. Ryan has 3 points in his last three games and 7 goals in his last 11 contests. His point production is slowly increasing, but it's more in watching him play that you can see him starting to come around. He won't reach his totals from last year (34 G, 71 points), but we'll still lock him in for 30-plus goals this campaign.

Alexandre Burrows -- By now every fantasy owner should know that Burrows skates on Vancouver's top line with the Sedin twins. Because of his talented linemates, Burrows is a must start every time the Canucks play. He has posted 18 goals and 31 points in 45 games to go along with an outstanding plus-20, 48 PIMs, 4 PPP and 115 SOG. Burrows has a modest three-game point-scoring streak (2 G, 2 A) and has seen his power play ice time increase throughout the course of the season (now averaging 2 minutes per game).


Joffrey Lupul -- For the first time all season, Lupul will be separated from Phil Kessel's line in tonight's game against Minnesota. Lupul has been a tremendous fantasy player this season, but this is definitely not the best move from a fantasy standpoint. They did combine to score a pretty goal on Tuesday (Lupul finished off a nice one-timer from Kessel), but that was Lupul's first point after being held without one in three straight games. We expect the two players to be reunited when the Leafs get their act together, but in the meantime don't expect Lupul to be quite as dominant.

Thomas Vanek -- Vanek is still an elite left winger (especially considering there aren't too many elite players at this position this year), but having been held pointless with a minus-3 rating in the previous three games, Vanek dips a bit in the rankings. He has also been held without a goal in the past six games and has just 2 points in his previous nine games. We'll consider this his first rough patch of the year, but look for him to snap out of this skid soon.

Ryan Smyth -- Smyth finally drops from our rankings, as he hasn't recorded a point in his last seven games and has just 6 points in his past 19 contests. At 35 and coming off a season with just 47 points last year, we should have expected this drought to happen. The problem was Smyth teased us all by getting off to such a hot start. However, he seems to be back to reality and shouldn't be relied on for steady production going forward.


Todd Bertuzzi -- Bertuzzi has 3 goals and 2 assists in his last three games and has been a plus-4 with 12 shots on goal during that span. The biggest reason for his hot streak is the line he's skating on -- Bertuzzi is currently playing the wing on the top line with Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen. He provides well-rounded fantasy value with a stat line of 9 goals, 14 assists, a plus-21, 37 PIMs and 66 shots on goal -- the only category he won't help you in is power play points (he has just two). He's available in 79 percent of Yahoo! Leagues, so if you're in need of some depth, Bertuzzi's your guy.
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