Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals warm up before the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Verizon Center on November 26 2010 in Washington DC.
Yesterday we counted down the Southeast Division's top centers. Today we'll rank the fellas who flank 'em - the Division's top ten wingers. Let's dive right in...
Ruutu set career highs in assists and points in 2010-11 and played in all 82 games for the first time since his rookie year of 2003-04. He also finished second in the League in hits, but you didn't need that dubiously kept stat to tell you he's a pain to play against, did you? His versatility (he played plenty of center last season) adds to his value.
Speaking of versatility, the Caps' Mr. Everything got a new six-year, $27-million deal this past summer because he can play down the middle or on the wing in a scoring or checking role and log big minutes on both special teams (only Jordan Staal and Ryan Kesler got more power-play and penalty kill time than Laich among NHL forwards in 2010-11). Laich's offensive production dipped last season and may not rebound much depending on his role in 2011-12. But if he continues to do everything the team asks of him - and do it well - no one in Washington will care.
Yes, that Steve Downie, who may very well be the League's premiere agitator - only one other player in the League has averaged more than half a point per game and 150 penalty minutes in either of the last two seasons (Scott Hartnell in 2009-10), something Downie's done twice. But here's the kicker - at even strength, he drew more penalties than he took last year. Oh, and 14 points in 17 playoff games didn't hurt his cause, either.
After playing just 28 games in 2009-10 due primarily to post-concussion symptoms, Booth played all 82 in 2010-11, which is quite an achievement in and of itself. But he also led the Panthers in goals (hey, someone had to) and shots on goal (where he finished 12th in the League), but that plus/minus... yikes.
Do this, make the list for life. That's just a rule. But beside that, Kane improved his production in his second season in the League and led the Thrashers in hits, all at the age of 19. Kane is good and only getting better.
5. Andrew Ladd (Winnipeg Jets)
After a trio of seasons with goal totals in the teens, Ladd had his breakthrough year thanks in part to the League's 8th-highest shooting percentage (among players who registered as many shots as he did). His 29 goals and 59 points led the Thrash and no forward who was there all last season played more on either the penalty kill or the power play.
4. Jeff Skinner (Carolina Hurricanes)
Skinner made the leap directly from the OHL to the NHL and met with success instantly, topping 30 goals, being named to the All-Star team (coincidentally enough in his home arena... ahem) and picking up the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year all before his 19th birthday (well, technically he was awarded the Calder after his 19th birthday, but that's neither here nor there). Theoretically, he can play some center... but why fix what isn't broken?
3. Alexander Semin (Washington Capitals)
Ah, Sasha. On the one hand, there's the puck possession dynamo with other-worldly skill who has led the Caps in goals since early February, 2010. On the other hand, there's the injury-, mistake- and disappearance-prone version who couldn't make this list if we tripled the size. Contrary to popular belief, however, the former Semin is around more often than the latter, and that's why he is where he is here (hey, it's September, not April).
2. Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay Lightning)
If there's a player who is more begrudgingly adored by opposing fans than Martin St. Louis, there shouldn't be - at his age and at his size to still be playing at the level at which he's playing is simply amazing, and he's always done it the right way. St. Louis - who hasn't missed a single game in the past five seasons, and only two since 2001-02 - set a career-high in assists last year and finished third in voting for the Hart Trophy as League MVP.
1. Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)
He's still the best, and if you think otherwise, you're wrong.