If you think I sounded crusty in the center preview when I was hating on fantasy leagues that split forwards into center and wing positions for rosters, just wait until I get going on leagues that delineate right wing versus left wing.
I’ll try to spare you (but I’ll inevitably fail to do so).
Let’s ease into this by talking about players eligible at both wing and center. Should some of them be? No. Not at all. On one side of the coin, Leon Draisaitl and Elias Lindholm take way too many faceoffs to be considered even a part-time winger. They finished first and third in the league last season in faceoffs. If that’s not a full-time center, what is? On the flip side of that, Drake Batherson took only 43 faceoffs, Troy Terry only nine, Jordan Kyrou only 15 and Blake Wheeler only 21. They are clearly and completely wingers. I don’t know what the cut-off should be, but I think Brady Tkachuk taking a faceoff in one of every four shifts sounds about right. So, depending on ice time, anyone with fewer than 400 faceoffs probably shouldn’t be a center.
Of the top 100 players ranked on their projections for the coming season, 16 of them are eligible at both center and wing. In that same group, 11 players are eligible at both left and right wing. Of those 11, two are eligible at all three forward positions (and they both play for the Los Angeles Kings now and might play on the same line).
If your league still breaks out these positions — and especially if your league goes as far as left and right wing for roster sports — you are going to want to give some added value to players that give you a little flexibility out of the gate. While the game devs (at ESPN or wherever you may play) may add or subtract some position eligibility during the season, there isn’t a science to it and you should only rely on what currently exists.
There isn’t a lot to consider here for strategy other than taking the best player and looking for flexibility if your league forces you to roster and start left wing or right wing players.
I don’t come to this conclusion without merit.
Taking the top 250 forwards in fantasy points from last season, breaking them out by all their eligible positions and looking at the output from each position paints a picture of almost pure equality.
The range in average goals from centers, left wings, right wings and wingers goes from 20.7 to 21.9. Barely a single goal separates the average output from each position. For the record, of the top 250 forwards for fantasy scoring last season, 130 of them are eligible at center, 144 at left wing, 141 at right wing and 201 are eligible at wing.
Points range from a low of 48.2 from right wingers to a high of 51.3 from centers. Even the ranges of things like special teams points (11.9 to 13.7), shots (164.2 to 168.2) and hits (79.9 to 85.4) isn’t large enough to consider any kind of special strategy or tactic for drafts.
At the end of the day, right wingers averaged 116.1 fantasy points, left wingers averaged 119.2, wingers averaged 120.2 and centers averaged 123.7. It really isn’t enough to move the needle when it comes to targeting one position over another.
That said, one thing caught my eye when looking at the distribution of the players when we break down all the way to left versus right wing: the left wing position is top heavy. While the total of right wingers and left wingers in the top 250 forwards and even the top 100 forwards (50 versus 49) is a complete wash, when you drill down to the top 50 players you start to get a difference that matters.
Using stats in hand, there were 22 eligible left wingers among the top 50 fantasy scorers in the 2021-22 season, compared to just 19 right wingers. When it comes to stats projected, I have 16 left wingers in the top 50, but only 10 right wingers. As it stands starting September, they start to even out in the ranks around No. 120.
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Top-tier guys I like
Obviously, if you can snag one of the guys with roster flexibility, that is important for leagues that require the different forward positions. Draisaitl, J.T. Miller, Jack Hughes and Steven Stamkos are the wingers also eligible at center that could push past 200 fantasy points. While Matthew Tkachuk and Chris Kreider could do the same and are eligible at both left and right wing.
There isn’t one of the top wingers that stands out as particularly underrated, but there is one I would take a little sooner than the current average draft position (ADP) suggests.
Matthew Tkachuk, LW/RW, Florida Panthers (ranked 11th overall, fourth among wingers): It doesn’t matter who Tkachuk plays with, he creates fantasy points all on his own. So while there may be some concerns over him moving away from his two linemates that helped build the best line in the NHL last season (72 goals), I don’t share that concern. The Panthers have an elite center lined up for Tkachuk in Aleksander Barkov and that alone should be enough for him to repeat his value. His current ADP has Tkachuk going behind Mitch Marner and Mikko Rantanen, but I’d take him over those two.
Mid-tier guys I like
Because teams will have so many active forward, whether they be right wing, left wing, wing, center or just plain forward, the mid-tier for this group is a big one. Basically anyone not in the upper echelon of the league that is destined for an active roster spot could be considered mid-tier.
There are a lot of them that stand out as potential value picks, but I’ll stick with two of my favorites.
Tyler Toffoli, LW/RW, Calgary Flames (ranked 71st overall, 33rd among wingers): Don’t forget we are one year removed from Toffoli putting up an elite 2.07 fantasy points per game and finishing seventh in the Rocket Richard Trophy standings. When they Flames acquired him last season, he had precisely zero chance of top line minutes. Now, however, he has the inside track to complete the top line with Elias Lindholm and Jonathan Huberdeau, and join them on the power play that has been bolstered by Nazem Kadri.
Evander Kane, LW, Edmonton Oilers (ranked 85th overall, 39th among wingers): Based on his current ADP of 83.0, fantasy managers are incredibly wary of Kane. And rightfully so, as he’s been his own worst enemy when it comes to settling in for success in the NHL. But this feels different. He’s getting clear opportunity to play with the best playmaker in the NHL on a nightly basis. His production in the regular season was very good, but in the playoffs was even better. In fact, his 9.66 fantasy points per 60 minutes was second only to Connor McDavid in the NHL playoffs. If Kane can stay focused and stay on the ice, he has the potential to pay off as an elite-tier winger.
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Sleepers I will live and die by
Alexis Lafreniere, LW/RW, New York Rangers (ranked 257th overall, 108th among wingers): A recent first-overall draft pick slated to play on a contender’s top line with a 50-goal winger and 50-assist pivot — what’s not to love here? Frankly, it would be Lafreniere’s mediocre track record for points. While playing with Mika Zibanejad and Kreider is a massive opportunity, he’s already had it and done nothing with it. Lafreniere spent more than 260 minutes on this same line last season. But if he’s going to pop and get to the next level, this is the season. He now has plenty of NHL experience to lean on and will turn 21 shortly after the season begins. With an ADP of 217.1, Lafreniere is a basically a free pick at the end of drafts, but with top pedigree and opportunity.
Emergency back-end pick who might work out
Anthony Mantha, RW, Washington Capitals (ranked 390 overall, 175th among wingers): Written off completely due to the injury derailments throughout his career, now is the perfect time for a healthy season from Mantha. The other injuries up front for the Caps leave plenty of breathing room for wingers to find opportunity, and Mantha will be locked into top-six consideration to start the campaign. He’s only on 4.5 percent of rosters starting September, so he’s being overlooked at the moment. He’s already shown he has 30-goal stuff in previous shortened campaigns.
Bust concern I am avoiding in every draft this season
Chris Kreider, LW/RW, New York Rangers (ranked 22nd overall, 10th among wingers): I feel a little silly drawing my sleeper and bust from the same line. But if you follow the logic, there is some traction there: If Lafreniere is going to improve his output, some of the goals that used to be Kreider’s will start going his way. It’s not as if Zibanejad will start having 100 assists in a season, so they can’t both score at will. But even without Lafreniere in the picture, Kreider repeating anything close to his 52-goal campaign just wasn’t going to be in the cards. His previous high during the course of nine seasons was 28 goals. Kreider’s 26 power-play goals last season was the most anyone has scored in the NHL since 2005-06 (Ilya Kovalchuk, 27) and simply won’t be repeated.
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