NHL Countdown: Top 10 Left Wingers

Jamie Benn and Alexander Ovechkin are practically deadlocked for the coveted top left wing spot in the NHL.
Jamie Benn and Alexander Ovechkin are practically deadlocked for the coveted top left wing spot in the NHL.

They are the snipers, the power forwards, and overall the goal scorers.  Centers around the NHL look for these guys all night long; they are the left wingers.  While the center is the linchpin of any line, the left wingers are critical, winning battles in the corners and unleashing wicked wristers on the opposing netminders. Here’s Overtime’s Top 10 NHL Left Wingers.

Honorable Mentions:

James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs:

Ever since breaking in with the Philadelphia Flyers, there has been immense hype for burly power forward James van Riemsdyk.  While he had his moments in Philly, he has really come into his own in Toronto.  van Riemsdyk has scored 25 goals in all of his seasons with Toronto and is a rare plus player in defensively-challenged Toronto.

Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings:

Gaborik has the talent of a 40-goal scorer (he has accomplished the feat 3 times), but constantly struggles with injuries and is not strong defensively, meaning that while he is a legit sniper, he isn’t a top 10 overall left wing.  Still, Anze Kopitar sure is glad to have a guy like Gaborik on his line.

Mike Cammalleri, New Jersey Devils:

As one of New Jersey’s only scoring threats, it’s even more amazing that Cammalleri is able to post his high scoring totals while being targeted by the opposition.  Another guy who struggles with injuries and defense but is a sniper’s sniper, Cammalleri is a perfect fit for the Devils.

Brandon Saad, Columbus Blue Jackets:

A surprising blockbuster saw Saad become a Blue Jacket after 5 successful years in Chicago.  Saad is a strong power forward who has a nose for the net.  Look for him to have a breakout year playing beside Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno under John Tortarella.

10. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames:

The diminutive one, Johnny Hockey himself squeezes in on this list at number 10.  A 5’9″ 157 lb (sure) dynamo from South Jersey, Gaudreau takes over games he plays in.  Gaudreau has puck skills among the best in the league and is developing defensively.  Gaudreau posted 24 goals in his rookie year; expect at least 35 in the near future.  Gaudreau almost never gets hit due to his blazing speed, reducing injury.

9. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues:

Schwartz, a former 14th overall pick, had a slow start to his professional career but is now firmly entrenched as one of St. Louis’ key cogs.  Schwartz is a bit undersized but has a great scorer’s touch (14.0 average shooting %) and makes highlight reel assists routinely.  He is relied upon heavily on the power play and the penalty kill, a trait that helps boost his ranking here.  Coming off of a 63 point season, Schwartz certainly would have had one heck of an encore if he didn’t injure his ankle.

8. Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues:

Steen is the perfect combination of two-way play and goal-scoring finesse, much like his aforementioned teammate Jaden Schwartz.  Steen is often injured, but is a lock for 25 goals with a couple of those coming shorthanded.  He plays a big role on the power play as well; he scores about 1/4 of his goals with the man advantage.  The speedy Steen can play all over the lineup and is easily one of the Blues’ most important and underrated weapons.

7. Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks:

The Sedin twins have always been models of consistency.  While Henrik is busy racking up the assists, Daniel is the sniper of the duo.  He has scored around 30 goals a season for quite some time now, and has even posted a 100 point season in the past.  Daniel is just so consistent, even his down years see him post 70 points.  He is a left winger any GM would covet, and yes, he would be just as good without his brother at center.

6. Patrick Sharp, Dallas Stars:

Sharp is primarily a left winger but can play all three forward positions at a high level.  A mid round pick originally from the Flyers, Sharp took his game to a whole different level after he was traded to the Blackhawks for virtually nothing.  He plays the point on the power play and has one of the league’s best shots.  Sharp may be 33, but he is showing no signs of slowing down, in fact he looks rejuvenated playing beside such young studs as Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin in Dallas.

5. Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers:

One of the few Edmonton Oilers first overall picks that has bore fruit yet, Hall is the Oilers’ most important player right now.  A power forward, Hall has yet to play a full season but has come knocking on the 30-goal marker’s door numerous times already.  Hall is a major power play weapon and is just as good at dishing out the puck as he is at putting it in the back of the net.  Together with the developing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers are looking at a Gretzky-era core in the future.

4. Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild:

Parise is doing his best to justify his lofty cap hit; the hometown hero returned to his native Minnesota at a price of over $100 million in 2012 but has lived up to expectations.  Parise was a 40-goal scorer in New Jersey in his early days before becoming a more complete Minnesota Wild player.  Parise is a bit small by NHL standards, but he combats this with excellent skating ability and one of the NHL’s best wrist shots.  Parise will be sidelined for a couple of weeks after taking a hit from behind courtesy of James Neal, but that doesn’t affect his rating at all; he is still a stud when healthy.

3. Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens:

Pacioretty is a perfect example of why patience is a virtue.  Despite a slow NHL start and a devastating injury after a high hit by Zdeno Chara, Pacioretty has emerged into an all-situations, 40-goal scoring captain.  Pacioretty is a fine skater despite his 6’2, 213 pound frame, something he likes to show off when he’s killing penalties. Pacioretty is a beast in the slot on the power play and generates shorthanded chances, making him a complete player that is capable of leading the Canadiens to the promised land one day.

2. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals:

That’s right, Alexander Ovechkin is no longer the NHL’s premier left winger.  But it’s not his fault at all; number 1 is just too good!  But back to Ovechkin, what is there not to like offensively?  In fact, Ovie is probably still the league’s finest offensive player regardless of position.  Ovechkin gets almost half of his goals on the man advantage, where he is totally unstoppable.  He went though a dry spell from 2010-2012, but Ovie is a better player now than he ever was when he was taking the league by storm in his early career.  While his defense has improved, I still would not want Ovechkin out there in the defensive zone, which hurts his ranking here.  He is the best player in the world in the offensive zone, but there’s one left winger better at playing a complete, 210 foot game.

1. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars:

Boy is it gutsy to say that Benn has surpassed Ovechkin as the league’s preeminent left winger.  But it is true.  Benn is a guy that wears many hats on the ice.  Need a power forward?  Benn can use his 6’2″, 210 pound frame to mosey on into the high slot.  Need a sniper?  Benn has back-to-back 34+ goal seasons and is on his way to his first 40 goal year this season.  Need a playmaker?  Benn won the Art Ross Trophy last year; his 87 points led the league.  Need a defensive specialist?  Perhaps most amazingly, Benn can do this too.  He is a regular penalty killer, can take faceoffs, and is trusted defensively by head coach Lindy Ruff.  Benn may not be the NHL’s best in any area, but he combines a little bit of everything into one monster of a man.

Conclusion:

The strength at left wing around the NHL is quite high.  The top 10 left wingers in the game are a mix of two-way stars, pure snipers, power forwards, and playmakers.  This parity lets each team choose the best winger for its respective style, and makes for some entertaining hockey.

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