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Who Is The Best Left Winger In The NHL?

For several years the answer to that question had been Alexander Ovechkin.  Ovechkin moved to right wing last season.  Actually it's not quite that simple.  He often lined upon the power play at left wing and at even strength on right wing.  He made all star teams at both last year.  However since he isn't a dedicated left winger anymore, he is a poor choice as best left winger in the NHL.

If we look at the top scorers in the NHL, we see Patrick Sharp leads left wingers with 59 points.  Taylor Hall is next with 56 points.  Last year's first team all star left winger, Chris Kunitz has 55 points.  The other man worthy of mention is Henrik Zetterberg with 48 points, but in only 45 games played.  Those are the candidates to be top left winger in the NHL.  It isn't the same quality of players you would get if you ranked the top few players in any other position.  This is a problem that has existed throughout history.  The top left wingers of all time pale in comparison to the top players at any other position.

If I had to pick a top left winger in the NHL, I would go with Taylor Hall.  He has succeeded despite little help from his teammates.  He is the bigger gamebreaker of this bunch of left wingers and his game appears to be improving as he gains NHL experience.  I think Hall is the most hidden talent in the NHL.  He has been the MVP of the old Northwest Division so far this year and that hasn't been good enough to get him a spot on the Canadian Olympic Team. 

It is hard to pick a top left winger in the NHL now that Alexander Ovechkin no longer plays there.  There is no clear standout.  I think Taylor Hall is the best left winger in the NHL.  He leads a field without any front runners.  At only 22 years old, his best is yet to come.

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Comments

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What do you think the reasoning is for the lack of truly elite LW talent?

Posted by Robert on 02/11/14 at 11:38 PM ET

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Historical bias.  Your centreman is a play maker.  The right winger is a sniper.  The left winger grinds.  That is something most coaches have believed over the years in North America.  You don’t take your best forward and turn him into a left winger. 

Russia hasn’t agreed with that bias.  They produced Sergei Makarov, Pavel Bure and Alexander Ovechkin.  The final two were moved when they got to North America - though it took years before Ovechkin was moved.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 02/11/14 at 11:52 PM ET

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Due to the universal nature of change isn’t the thought of a global change in strategy ready to transpire? If there has been a historically constant consistent trend wouldn’t it signal an evolution in the way the game is going to be coached in the coming years? The human race thrives from contuininginnovation. If this is the case, is the emergence of strong, offensively minded skaters like E. Karlsson and P.K. subban a sign of things to come?

Considering the fact that they are the reigning Norris trophy winners is it fair to say a fundamental evolution to the way the game is coached, and the way it is played has already occurred? These past two seasons could be anomalies, but if not it should be fair to say the emergence of high-end left wing talent will emerge if a new adaptation is properly utilized.

Posted by Robert on 02/12/14 at 01:31 AM ET

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If you’re going to disqualify Ovechkin for not playing enough actual left wing anymore, you’ll have to disqualify Zetterberg too. The NHL still lists him as a LW because of course it does, but any Red Wings fan will tell you he’s been primarily a center for years now. (I think the NHL is intentionally reluctant to switch somebody’s “position” in their database because it affects all their statistics tracking—if you go to NHL.com and look up the Capitals’ stats year by year you’ll notice Ovechkin is now globally listed as a RW, even if you just want to pull up statistics from years ago when he exclusively played LW.)

Anyway, I don’t know if the traditional position breakdown really holds up anymore. It seems like over the last several years the trend has been that there are fewer and fewer players who play a dedicated wing position, with lots of guys willing and able to line up on either side. It’s created a lot of havoc in the all-star team voting over the last several years, which clings to the old LW - C - RW distinctions even though an increasing number of the league’s best players play multiple forward positions.

I think the idea of choosing something like “best LW” is becoming increasingly academic and irrelevant as those lines begin to blur. Sure, Taylor Hall is probably the best NHL player who exclusively plays LW, but what does that even really mean anymore?

I suppose it matters as long as the PHWA and the NHL continue to make the distinction between LW and RW for the postseason all-stars, but recent embarassments should be more than enough to convince them to switch to either a 3 forward (regardless of position) or at the very least 1 center/2 winger (either side) ballot instead of the current mess. PSH, I think you have argued this in the past.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 02/12/14 at 09:34 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

Zetterberg has always primarily been a center, but has played LW semi-regularly his entire career because A) he and Datsyuk have great chemistry and B) until the last couple years, the Wings have generally been deep enough through the Zetterberg/Datsyuk years to be able to afford stacking them on the same line.

I don’t harp on this point just because I’m a Wings fan—I think it is a emblematic of the issue with LWers (and RWers, even). Especially post-lockout (2004), the game has been all about centers. The more capable two-way centermen you have, the better you’re likely to be. It seems to be a lot easier to load up on players like that in the draft and then figure out later how to get some of them to shoot the puck from the wing.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 02/12/14 at 10:02 AM ET

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you’ll have to disqualify Zetterberg too.

I think this might be the worst year to make that argument.  If the Wings had managed to stay healthy this year then the only draws Zetterberg would be taking would be when Datsyuk gets kicked out of the faceoff circle.

Posted by Garth on 02/12/14 at 10:09 AM ET

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Posted by Garth on 02/12/14 at 09:09 AM ET

Even in the worst year to make the argument in a while, it’s still a pretty strong argument. Zetterberg has lined up at center for slightly more than half of his even strength shifts this season. It’s hard to say the guy is a “left wing” this season when that’s the case, regardless of the circumstances that led to such a deployment. And it’s hard to call him a left wing in the last couple of seasons either considering he’s usually been centering his own lines even when Datsyuk has been healthy.

Regardless, the point is that a lot of players play multiple positions for a variety of reasons, so answers to questions like “who is the best left wing?” become blurry. Who counts as a left wing? Only players who play a large majority of their minutes at left wing? Players whose “preferred” spot is left wing in ideal circumstances but may play large portions of their ice time elsewhere due to injuries? Players with no permanent set position but happen to play at least some left wing?

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 02/12/14 at 10:42 AM ET

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This could be a more interesting discussion if, instead of “I would pick Taylor Hall” and calling him “the biggest gamebreaker” - essentially a content-free description—you shared your reasoning.  Is there of analysis or argument for Hall being the best left-winger that you could present?  Like “he has easily the best Corsi Relative Qual C of anyone on the Oilers” or “he has an incredible wrist shot” or “I think Patrick Sharp and Chris Kunitz have numbers inflated by playing with all-world talent” or “Unlike Zetterberg who consistently has to work hard to score off the cycle, Hall is a natural scorer”—something like that?

It would also be interesting to hear how it is that Steve Yzerman et al. overlooked taking the best left wing in the NHL to Sochi.  Do they also believe left wingers have to grind?  Did they misjudge Taylor Hall?  Is there a hole in Hall’s game that legitimately concerned them?

Posted by captaineclectic on 02/12/14 at 12:07 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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