And so we’ve come to the end - goalies, defense, centers, right wings, all in the books. Now all that remains before the season gets underway is to take a look at the best left wings in the Metro.
Honorable Mention: Jimmy Vesey (NYR), Andre Burakovsky (WSH)
10. Marcus Johansson (NJD)
Last Year’s Rank: 6
It’s probably safe to say that Johansson - and Devils fans - were hoping for a better result from his first season in New Jersey. Unfortunately, he ended up appearing in just 29 games after a series of concussions and an ankle injury sidelined him for most of the season (although he did return in time to play in the final three playoff games). Prior to last year, however, Johansson was somewhat known for his durability - so there’s no reason to believe that, once healthy, he can’t return to the 20-goal player he’s become in recent years.
9. Jakub Vrana (WSH)
Last Year’s Rank: NR
After a brief but promising intro to the NHL back in 2016-17, Vrana’s first full season with the club was one with some ups and downs but also plenty of flashes of the skill that defines him as a player. While battling a minimal role and limited ice time, he still managed to put up 13 goals - 12 of which came at even strength - and added another three in the playoffs (including one in the Cup-clinching Game 5 in Vegas). And while there may be some room for improvement in the defensive side of his game, early returns and underlying stats show that Vrana is a promising young winger who should (hopefully) enjoy a bigger role for the reigning champs this year.
8. Teuvo Teravainen (CAR)
Last Year’s Rank: HM
The other half of Carolina’s young Finnish duo, Teravainen’s second season with the ‘Canes resulted in a new career high in points - an improvement of 22 over his previous season - and a team-leading 41 assists. The speedy, skilled winger also put up 23 goals, another career high and his first 20-goal campaign, and appears poised to be part of a lethal one-two Finnish punch with Aho for years to come.
7. Jake Guentzel (PIT)
Last Year’s Rank: 5
Expectations were fairly high for Guentzel after he scored 16 goals in 40 games in his rookie campaign back in 2016-17, and to some extent he fell short last year, with “just” 22 goals in 2017-18 and only a 15-point improvement in 42 more games. But any conversation of what Guentzel has brought to the table for the Penguins really has to begin with what he’s managed to do in the postseason, which to some extent defies explanation. In his first outing two years ago, he put together a very impressive 13 goals and 21 points en route to a Cup in 2017; this past spring, however, he topped that (albeit with a less shiny ending) scoring the same number of points in roughly half the games and leading the League in points long after the Penguins were eliminated.
6. Anders Lee (NYI)
Last Year’s Rank: 8
How do you follow a surprise 34-goal season? Easy - score an even more surprising 40 goals the next season. That’s exactly what Lee accomplished this year, and he did so in a fairly quiet way - despite the fact that he was one of just eight players in the entire League to crack the 40-goal mark in 2017-18. 74 goals in two seasons is pretty darn good, and a positive sign for a fanbase with not a lot to cheer about at the moment. He’ll be heading into a contract year this season, and the Islanders will need him to step up his game even more now that Tavares is gone - but whether he can produce at the same rate without Tavares by his side remains in question.
5. James van Riemsdyk (PHI)
Last Year’s Rank: N/A
After six seasons with the Maple Leafs, van Riemsdyk is back in the Metro and back with the team that drafted him, signing a big free-agent contract that should keep him in Philly for the next five years. That big payday came about after a career season with Toronto, one that saw him put up 36 goals - edging out Auston Matthews for the team lead despite playing on the third line for most of the season. 25 of his 36 goals were even-strength tallies, 17th-best in the NHL, and his goals-per-60 rate is one of the best in the League (even narrowly beating out the best goal-scorer of the day). His skills are sure to provide an offensive punch to an already skilled group of Flyer forwards.
4. Claude Giroux (PHI)
Last Year’s Rank: N/A
After scoring just 14 goals and putting up his lowest point total since 2012-13, it seemed as if Giroux was headed into a decline... that is, until his coaching staff made the crucial decision to move him from center to wing heading into 2017-18. The results far exceeded expectations, as Giroux put up 34 goals and added 68 assists to finish with his first 100+ point campaign. No one in the division had a higher point total last season than Giroux, and he finished just six points shy of McDavid for the Art Ross. As always, he got a significant boost from his power-play work, his 36 points with the extra man tied for fifth-most in the League - but he continued to excel at five-on-five play, as well, and practically dragged his team into the playoffs. Decline? Not even close.
3. Artemi Panarin (CBJ)
Last Year’s Rank: 3
When Panarin arrived in Columbus via trade last summer, there was some question as to whether he would be able to excel without skating alongside some of Chicago’s high-octane scorers. After a career year, that question is no longer being asked. All Panarin did during his debut with the Jackets is put together an 82-point season, followed by an insane seven points in the first three games of Columbus’s opening-round series against the Caps. He was quieted after that, and suffered a knee injury in Game 5, but no part of that diminishes what was another strong season for an extremely talented young man.
2. Taylor Hall (NJD)
Last Year’s Rank: 2
While Hall’s skill has never been in doubt, at times the results haven’t always been on display - prior to 2017-18 he’d only had one season with more than 65 points and had yet to crack the 30-goal mark. That all changed last year, when he not only put together a career year and perhaps the best season by any Devils forward in franchise history but also earned himself his first Hart Trophy honors and appeared in his first postseason. Granted, Hall’s playoff debut was short-lived, but that doesn’t diminish what he managed to do last year - and you can bet he’ll be itching to follow it up with an even better outing in 2018-19.
1. Alex Ovechkin (WSH)
Last Year’s Rank: 1
There’s no limit to the number of superlatives one could use to describe Ovechkin, whether talking about his performance in 2017-18 or his career as a whole. He just continues to amaze, and impress, and even surprise. At a fresh-faced 32 years old, he captured his seventh career “Rocket” Richard Trophy with 49 goals, led his team to yet another Metropolitan Division title, propelled them through the second round for the first time in his career, scored more playoff goals than any other Cap in franchise history, and earned the Conn Smythe en route to his very first Stanley Cup. That’s a hell of a season, and a hell of a high note in a career full of them. Now that the celebrations are over... he’s got his sights set on winning it all again.