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Fantasy Hockey 2014-15: Left Wings are an X-Factor

Continuing on with our Fantasy Hockey Draft Kit, Troy Langefeld provides left wing rankings for the upcoming NHL season.

Jonathan Drouin is coming into the season as the most highly regarded rookie, a favourite to win the Calder Cup. Where should he go in drafts this year? Can he meet expectations? - Photo Credit
Jonathan Drouin is coming into the season as the most highly regarded rookie, a favourite to win the Calder Cup. Where should he go in drafts this year? Can he meet expectations? - Photo Credit
Joel Auerbach

Our fantasy hockey draft kit here at Fake Teams is humming right along. We've already introduced our plan for the rest of the offseason, showed you how to set up an effective league, outlined the offseason changes, and provided our center rankings for the upcoming season. If you missed anything, you can find it all here:

Fake Teams 2014 Fantasy Hockey Draft Kit

I'm not going to go into the process in which I rank players, I've already wrote about it once. You can read about it in the intro to my center rankings: Fantasy Hockey 2014-15: Centers Will Anchor your Team. I will say though that there may be differences between ranks in different positions for dual eligible players and the individual rankings might not always be consistent. As I continue to do research, my thoughts will change. Always use the most recent article when there are differing opinions. You've been warned.

The top end talent for left wings is quite thin; the first tier of left wings is comparable to the third tier of centers. That said, the position is quite deep still with numerous options in the mid range. This means that if you miss out on one of the elite left wings, don't fret - you can wait a little bit and still get a decent stable of wings. It also means that similar to tight ends in football, if you do spend early to get one of the elite left wings, you're at a sizable advantage over your peers - they can be your x-factor. Let's bring out the first tier of left wings:

Tier One:

1 Jamie Benn Dal LW
2 Chris Kunitz Pit LW
3 Patrick Sharp Chi C,LW
4 Taylor Hall Edm C,LW

You'll recognize a couple familiar names from my center rankings just a couple of days ago; Sharp and Hall debuted in tier three of our center rankings. And no, I didn't change anything in regards to what I think about either of them, left wings are just lacking behind centers enough that a tier one left wing is equivalent to a tier three center. There is a shortage of elite left wing talent in the NHL currently. Benn is a great power forward that has even more value in customized leagues with shorthanded points, hits, and blocks. That said, he and Seguin were electric last year and I'm worried about some regression in standard leagues. Kunitz is forever undervalued because everyone thinks he's simply riding Crosby's coattails. Don't forget that he played on team Canada last year and is a legit talent in his own right. Also, you wouldn't initially think so, but Kunitz hits a lot. I won't get into Sharp and Hall, you can find them in the center rankings. Benn and Hall are your upside plays here and Kunitz and Sharp are your safe floors.

Tier Two:

5 Matt Duchene Col C,LW
6 Joe Pavelski SJ C,LW
7 Zach Parise Min LW
8 Patrick Marleau SJ C,LW
9 Pavel Datsyuk Det C,LW
10 James Neal Nsh LW,RW
11 Logan Couture SJ C,LW
12 Henrik Zetterberg Det C,LW

The second tier is actually mostly centers with wing eligibility and so I'll just touch on it briefly. Parise was once the apple of our eye and a surefire first or second round pick prior to his knee injury at the beginning of the 2010 season. He hasn't quite been the same since, but he's certainly no slouch either. He has value with hits and blocks as well and if he finds that elite scoring ability that he showcased back with the Devils, he is an easy candidate to move up into the first tier once again. Neal is probably the biggest question mark in the group due to the offseason trade that sent him to Smashville. He remains an elite talent, but on a team known for being cautious and defensive, he is already being dropped considerably in many rankings. Ex-coach, and defensive wizard, Barry Trotz is no longer with the team and Peter Laviolette has stepped in with the goal of making this a more offensive club. Additions Mike Ribeiro and Olli Jokinen support this new philosophy. Let's consider that the Predators might surprise some people this year.

Tier Three:

13 Max Pacioretty Mon LW
14 Daniel Sedin Van LW
15 Gabriel Landeskog Col LW
16 Brad Richards Chi C,LW
17 James van Riemsdyk Tor LW
18 Thomas Vanek Min LW,RW
19 Alexander Steen StL C,LW
20 Brandon Saad Chi LW,RW
21 Jeff Skinner Car LW,RW

The majority of actual starting left wings fall into the next two tiers and is the reason why barring the top talents, many fantasy starting left wings will actually be centers plugged into the left wing role. It also suggests that many borderline starting/bench left wings are interchangeable making the truly special ones, that much more valuable. This tier marks the tier where players are no longer elite in all categories and are rather just contributors everywhere or produce elite numbers in certain categories while being below average in others. Pacioretty is a goal scoring and shooting monster, but won't necessarily offer much outside of that. Sedin was a top tier left wing a couple years ago, but he and his team are on a major downswing. He still holds that upside and it was only 2011 when he won the Art Ross Trophy. Landeskog continues to build on his young career, but is a better player in real life than in fantasy; his value increases in hits and blocks leagues. JVR has really gelled on a line with Kessel and is an exciting young player. He very well could step up into the next tier with another good year. He also plays shorthanded and hits quite a bit. Vanek is a question mark in his new home with the Wild. I think we see some regression now that he has a new contract. Saad has been a favourite of mine in playoff leagues over the last couple years and I think it's about time to bump him up in regular season leagues as well. He should get consistent playing time on the top two lines which was what he was missing last year. Skinner is a great young player in a terrible situation. I don't like anything about Carolina right now and his hit in rating combined with the fact that he doesn't help much in anything but scoring has him dropping on my board.

Tier Four:

22 Rick Nash NYR LW,RW
23 Milan Lucic Bos LW
24 Evander Kane Wpg LW
25 Jonathan Drouin TB LW
26 Alex Tanguay Col LW,RW
27 Bobby Ryan Ott LW,RW
28 Scott Hartnell Cls LW
29 Loui Eriksson Bos LW,RW
30 Andrew Ladd Wpg LW
31 Jaden Schwartz StL LW
32 Ryan O'Reilly Col C,LW

There isn't too much differentiating tier three from tier four, it's basically the bottom end of the players that contribute a little bit in each category or can (but don't necessarily do) produce elite numbers in certain categories. It's highly likely that your second and third left wing's will wind up rotating on your starting roster through the year. Nash's play over recent years has dropped him from tier two to here, but I can't in good faith drop him any lower. He just has too much talent. But can he ever hit the high's that he used to back in Columbus? Lucic, Tanguay, and Eriksson should be your steady guys with Lucic being a good source of penalties and hits. Kane, Ryan, Hartnell, Ladd, Schwartz, and O'Reilly are your riskier plays. Kane, Hartnell and Ladd will contribute heavily in hits and penalties, with Kane being a great source of shots as well. I'd be looking for Kane and Ladd to put together a better year than last year on the Jets top line, but I don't think my expectations are too far from most other people. Ryan, Schwartz, and O'Reilly are a bit tougher to value. Ryan has had a lot of change on his line and with Spezza headed off to Dallas, I'm not as optimistic on Ryan to make as significant an impact this year. Schwartz and O'Reilly are on very young squads with many scoring options. This tends to have people shy away from them, but later in the drafts, this is what attracts me to them. They have the opportunity to score with almost any line combination and they will get their chances. I specifically left Drouin to the end. The top ranked player in this years rookie class, he is expected to make an immediate impact and to get some playing time with Stamkos. Playing with Stamkos alone basically gets him into this tier. The range of possible outcomes for Drouin is vast, but I expect something in the range of 50-60 points should he play on Stamkos' line this year, hopefully with a decent rating and a bunch of powerplay time. What are you expecting? Let me know in the comments.

Tier Five:

33 Chris Kreider NYR LW
34 Tomas Hertl SJ LW
35 Josh Bailey NYI LW
36 Pascal Dupuis Pit LW,RW
37 Alexander Semin Car LW,RW
38 Brandon Dubinsky Cls C,LW
39 Johan Franzen Det LW,RW
40 David Perron Edm LW,RW
41 Ondrej Palat TB LW
42 Brayden Schenn Phi C,LW
43 Joffrey Lupul Tor LW,RW
44 Matt Moulson Buf LW
45 Brad Marchand Bos LW

Tiers five and six have a bunch of high upside plays mixed in with some safe plays. Similar to the centers, what you need here will depend on what you've previously drafted. Kreider should benefit from a full time role on the top line with Nash, as will Hertl with the Sharks. I would normally have Dupuis and Semin much higher on this list, but I'm just not sure what to think about them. Dupuis should be playing with Crosby once again which increases his value, but his point production slipped last year, making me wonder if he is able to sustain a higher level of play anymore. Semin is maddeningly inconsistent. There will definitely be stretches of the year where he contributes at a starting left wing level, but he will disappear for long stretches of time as well. He's worth a shot as a bench player, but don't rely on him. It's a bit of a speculation ranking, but I expect Bailey to line up on Tavares' wing, in which case he has the potential to be an impact player. We'll see if Palat is on Stamkos' line of not. If he is, bump him up a tier.

Tier Six:

46 Colin Wilson Nsh C,LW
47 Dustin Brown LA LW,RW
48 Jakob Silfverberg Anh LW,RW
49 Curtis Glencross Cgy LW
50 Mats Zuccarello NYR LW
51 Jiri Hudler Cgy LW,RW
52 Beau Bennett Pit LW,RW
53 Alex Killorn TB C,LW
54 Shane Doan Ari LW,RW
55 Valtteri Filppula TB C,LW
56 Michael Cammalleri NJ C,LW
57 Patrik Elias NJ C,LW
58 Jonathan Huberdeau Fla C,LW
59 Alex Galchenyuk Mon C,LW
60 Milan Michalek Ott LW,RW

These guys in tier seven won't likely be owned at all, but are here for further consideration or deep pools. Mark them in your watch list through the year. I'll only talk about the ones that stand out to me here. I think Wilson will be on the Neal line in Nashville, making him worth looking at. Brown is a perennial disappointment unless your league includes hits. He'll be moved around the lineup so frequently to wherever is best for the team and will not accumulate many points for your squad. He's not on my draft board except in very deep leagues. Bennett has been given chances to play with Malkin in the past and I expect him to be first in line to get a shot there again this year.

If you want a Microsoft Excel version of my rankings, here's the link: Left Wing Rankings.

I'm new to the twitterverse, but I'd love to hear your feedback and questions. Follow me on Twitter @HockeyGauntlet for more of my thoughts and all of your fantasy hockey needs. #IsItOctoberYet