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 East.
As a reminder, here’s the Method Behind the Madness - To determine the overall ranking, each member of the Rink staff was first asked to create their own top 10 list by position. We then took the average of those scores to determine our final ranking below. Any player not making the overall top 10 but who was ranked by at least one of our Rink writers earns Honorable Mention honors, where applicable.
Honorable Mention: Jeff Skinner (BUF), Alexis Lafrenière (NYR), Nikita Gusev (NJD), Zach Aston-Reese (PIT)
10. Jason Zucker (PIT)
Last year’s stats: 20-21-41 (60GP); 49.3 EV SAT%
The speedy Zucker joined the Penguins at the deadline last year, with Pittsburgh finally getting the guy that they’d very publicly tried to swipe from Minnesota a year before. In his limited time with his new team, he continued doing exactly what he’s always done - consistently chipping in some secondary offense. With six goals and 12 points in 15 games with Pittsburgh, Zucker picked up yet another 20+ goal season (his fifth in the last six years) and seems to be fitting in just fine with his new team.
9. Anders Lee (NYI)
Last year’s stats: 20-23-43
Since putting up a surprise 40-goal season two years ago, Lee has seen his offense drop off a bit, going down to 28 goals last year and on pace for just 24 over a full season in 2019-20. Some of that can be chalked up to simple bad luck, as his shooting percentage was well below his career average; some could be a result of some power play struggles, where he’s chipped in 46 goals over the last five seasons and yet had just two this past year. Whatever it is, the Islanders’ captain is poised for a bounceback year in 2021.
8. Jake DeBrusk (BOS)
Last year’s stats: 19-16-35
Another player who took a bit of a step back last year - but is capable of much more - is the Bruins’ DeBrusk, whose third season wasn’t quite up to the level of his sophomore campaign. Still, he’s got the speed and the hands, the power play savvy and a knack for scoring game-winners. At just 24 years old, there’s plenty left in the tank for DeBrusk.
7. Jakub Vrana (WSH)
Last year’s stats: 25-57-72
Fresh off a new two-year deal, Vrana came into the season looking to move from a prospect with a lot of upside to a full-fledged NHL star - and he made great strides in that direction after his 2019-20 performance. By Thanksgiving, Vrana was generating offense at a rate that ranked him among not just the team’s best but the best in the NHL. 50 games in, he was sitting at 23 goals, one shy of his career high with (we thought) 32 games to go. And while his production slowed leading up to the pause - and fell off a cliff in the playoffs - Vrana’s performance last season was enough to show us that he’s capable of being included among the League’s best.
6. Jake Guentzel (PIT)
Last year’s stats: 20-23-43
A shoulder injury cut his season short, but that didn’t stop Guentzel from taking full advantage of what time he did have flanking Sidney Crosby and putting up another 20-goal season - his third in a row, in just his fourth “full” season. In fact, he only appeared in 39 games for the Pens before getting injured and still managed over a point per game - a 90-point pace over a full season. Luckily for him and his team, the long break after the pause allowed him to get healthy in time for last summer’s postseason... unluckily for both, his three points weren’t enough to get them past the powerhouse Canadiens. C’est la vie.
5. Claude Giroux (PHI)
Last year’s stats: 21-32-53
The Flyers’ captain has had some up-and-down seasons over the past few years - and while it would be tough to classify a 21-goal, 53-point outing in 69 games purely “down”, it certainly wasn’t up to the standards Giroux has set in the past. His effectiveness on the power play hasn’t dropped off much, however, as about a third of his offense was earned with the extra man - and there’s no question that he remains an effective leader for the Flyers and one of their best players, flaws and all.
4. Taylor Hall (BUF)
Last year’s stats: 16-36-52
Since being traded away from the team that drafted him, Hall has bounced around a bit, with a lengthy stop in New Jersey before heading out to Arizona. Now he’s back east and looking to recharge his career - and maybe help to finally get Jack Eichel some playoff experience - with his new team, the Sabres. If he can stay healthy, he’s shown that he can put up some impressive point totals; after all, he scored 27 points in 35 games with the ‘Yotes last year. He just needs to channel that energy with his new squad (and with Eichel centering him, it’s more than possible).
3. Brad Marchand (BOS)
Last year’s stats: 28-59-87
Marchand’s one of the biggest pests in the NHL and has been for many years - but don’t let that distract you from the fact that he’s also a very talented hockey player. Last year marked his fourth consecutive season with at least 85 points (and the second time he’s scored at least 85 points in 70 games or less). He was also on pace to score well over 30 goals for the fifth time when the NHL hit the pause button back in March. Of course, true to his pest-y ways, it was also the fifth time in six years that he’s racked up at least 80 PIMs... but he’s at his best when he walks the line between top-line talent and pain in the ass,
2. Artemi Panarin (NYR)
Last year’s stats: 32-63-95
He may have bounced around to three different teams in his first five seasons, but that hasn’t stopped Panarin from putting up some pretty impressive point totals - and improving on them each year. The world’s oldest “rookie” earned consideration for the Hart Trophy last season thanks to his performance with the rebuilding Rangers, an impressive 95 points in just 69 games. It’s actually somewhat surprising that, despite his abilities, he hasn’t injected himself into the goal-scoring race each year - but hey, who needs more than 30ish goals when you can help others get them?
1. Alex Ovechkin (WSH)
Last year’s stats: 48-19-67
Yeah, assists are all well and good (and this guy’s playmaking ability is one of his more underrated qualities)... but when it comes to scoring goals, aka the hardest thing to do in hockey, Alex Ovechkin is the king, now and forever. Forget that he just tied for the League lead in goals last season at the ripe old age of 34, which is impressive in its own right. Forget that he came close to scoring 50 goals, again, in a 68-game campaign. It’s all just part of the fact that Alex Ovechkin scored goal #700 (and 701, 702, etc.) last year and cemented his legacy as the greatest goal-scorer there ever was - whether he catches Gretzky or not.