Left wing. Right wing. Center. Many fantasy hockey leagues still separate the forward positions in some capacity. As such, it has to play into your strategy. But for fantasy purposes, position eligibility is a royal pain. Let’s set aside the idea that a player can be listed as either “right” or “left” wing, which is, frankly, almost silly with the way the game is played. Instead, let’s decide what determines whether a player is only a wing or a center.
With no bungee cords attached to the rinkboards to determine who strays from the fringes, we have to rely on depth charts and faceoff stats. If we assume four centers per team, that’s 124 in the league. Ranked 124th for faceoffs last season was Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson with 8.1 draws per game. Is that the cutoff? By that definition, Logan Couture and Mathew Barzal are wingers, while Gabriel Landeskog is a center — which is the opposite of their eligibility on ESPN and other major fantasy providers.
This isn’t supposed to be overly critical, but illustrative. The NHL does a terrible job tracking position eligibility, so anyone doing so from the outside is handcuffed by a lack of data. My point is that being a “winger” is subjective enough on its own, God forbid your league still uses “left” and “right.”
But, your league probably does, which is why you’re here.
I stressed the consistency at the center position in that positional preview, the keywords for wingers are bounty and volatility.
Bounty because, well, in theory we have two wingers for every center. But beyond that, 39 of the top-100 players on the ESPN rankings are wingers and a further 12 have eligibility there, giving you just over half of the top 100 ready to plug in at wing.
Volatility because, unlike center, you’re going to see more depth chart changes on the flanks all season. Even wingers who are performing well all season long will get moved around to “spark” someone else. While there are only a handful of teams in the NHL with a center spot up for grabs on a scoring line, there are arguably no NHL teams with all four wing spots sewn up ahead of the season. And, even if those wing spots are locked up on the depth chart, where each player lines up can still change and have an impact. For example, there’s no doubt Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson, T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana round out the wingers for the Washington Capitals scoring lines, but who they end up skating with most often will have a big impact on their fantasy value. The winger playing opposite Ovechkin is going to rack up points at a much higher rate the the others.
Lines will be somewhat fluid through the season, so don’t put too much stock into players that are projected to be on a line they haven’t been on before – whether it’s with a new team, new teammate or anticipated promotion. Who doesn’t love the sleeper potential of Nikita Gusev, but we have no history of how he meshes with whom on the Devils depth chart.
The same goes for players like Mats Zuccarello, Corey Perry, J.T. Miller, Gustav Nyquist, Wayne Simmonds, Alexander Kerfoot or rookie Kaapo Kakko. New faces in new places don’t always pan out. I’m not saying avoid them, just don’t overpay. Coaches can be fickle with their depth charts.
Taylor, Hall, W, New Jersey Devils (No. 41 ESPN ranking): See the center positional preview for more details, as Hall is eligible there, too. In brief: He was the MVP two seasons ago and appears to be back to health.
Johnny Gaudreau, W, Calgary Flames (No. 19 ESPN ranking): Just 26 years old and with 99 and 84 points in the past two seasons, Gaudreau returns to an offense with zero question marks after it dominated the Western Conference last season. Gaudreau and Sean Monahan remain one of the top-five even strength combos in the league, playing more than 1,000 minutes at five-on-five together last season. Gaudreau had the primary assist on 13 of Monahan’s even-strength goals, while Monahan assisted on 10 of Gaudreau’s (23 total). While that trails the Mitch Marner–John Tavares connection (25), it tops the Nathan MacKinnon–Mikko Rantanen, Connor McDavid–Leon Draisaitl and Sidney Crosby–Jake Guentzel connections.
Vladimir Tarasenko, W, St. Louis Blues (No. 42 ESPN ranking): It’s easy to forget the St. Louis Blues were a hot mess until January last season. So taking Tarasenko’s season totals for projections overlooks the fact that this was a different team in 2019 and will be the same team heading into the 2019-20 campaign. Tarasenko had 46 points in 39 games after Jan. 1 and another 17 in 26 playoff games. Only 12 players had more points and only 13 players had more shots in that timeframe, even though Tarasenko missed six games.
Jeff Skinner, W, Buffalo Sabres (No. 80 ESPN ranking): He’s been around so long its easy to forget that this veteran of nine NHL seasons – with four 30-goal campaigns – is only 27 years old. Since he entered the NHL in 2010-11, Skinner is 13th in goals scored and eighth in shots on goal. His pairing with Jack Eichel looks to be a mid-career revival and allowed him to tie a career-high with 63 points last season. Here’s betting with an improved Sabres team he sets a new bar this season.
William Nylander, W, Toronto Maple Leafs (No. 86 ESPN ranking): Let’s give Nylander a mulligan for last season, in which he sat out the first two months with a contract dispute. In the previous two seasons, he had 61 points on Maple Leafs teams that weren’t nearly as good as they are now. His ice-time per game took a massive hit from the contract issues, but he’s got a clean slate for this season. Nylander is only 23, will play with one or both of John Tavares and Auston Matthews, and can finally build off his 2017-18 results. He should be a steal in drafts.
Max Pacioretty, W, Vegas Golden Knights (No. 134 ESPN ranking): It’s a shame that Pacioretty didn’t find his game until the postseason in his first season with the Golden Knights. But he did find it and here’s betting he remembers where he left it in April. Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Mark Stone turned into the top line that they are on paper in the playoffs. And while the Knights didn’t escape the first round, it’s encouraging to know this combination could come into this season with an established groove. Pacioretty is one of my favorite picks to have a bounce-back campaign. From 2011-12 to 2016-17, he had six consecutive 30-goal seasons (2012-13 prorated for lockout).
Wayne Simmonds, W, New Jersey Devils (No. 211 ESPN ranking): Simmonds is the consummate “protector” linemate and the Devils now have two superstars that could use someone with skill and toughness to watch their backs. Whether he plays with both Taylor Hall and Jack Hughes or just one of them, Simmonds can pile up the points when he’s with strong linemates. And don’t forget about his potential power-play presence on a unit that also added P.K. Subban on the point.
Anthony Cirelli, Oskar Lindblom, Alexander Kerfoot, Mikael Backlund, Andre Burakovsky, Tanner Pearson, Mathieu Perreault, Mason Appleton (Most ranked quite low or not at all): Why this group? If the restricted free-agent saga continues, this is a short list of candidates who will have significantly elevated roles while any or all of the big-name RFAs remain unsigned. That list includes some pretty big guns in pretty roles: Mikko Rantanen, Brayden Point, Matthew Tkachuk, Brock Boeser, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and Travis Konecny are all represented in this list of potential fill-ins. Not all of those power roles will fall to one player and not all of them will fall to the player I have listed here, but power vacuums are opportunities in the NHL. If these guys opt to play contract chicken into the regular season, there will be value in their absence.
Gabriel Landeskog, W, Colorado Avalanche (No. 15 ESPN ranking): Landeskog’s boost in production last season was fueled by the Avalanche power play. While I don’t believe that is something that will be taken away from him, I don’t think there is any room left here for improvement to his overall production. The Avalanche power play has been fantastic the past two seasons (both are top-20 seasons in the NHL since 2010-11 for power-play goals), so it’s not like the unit is going to score more than it has. Meanwhile, Landeskog hasn’t hit 50 even-strength points in either of the past two seasons, and his opportunity to do so is not likely to increase with the Avs loading up on potential scoring-line wingers to share the load. I’m OK with Landeskog as a top-50 (maybe even top-40) fantasy play, but I fail to see how his career arc is pushing him into the second-round conversation. He is what he is, a point-per-game winger with a massive power-play boost to his totals. That’s late-third, maybe fourth-round material.