NHL News

Draft guide: Left and right wingers

If your league still uses RW and LW roster positions, I’ll put an “F” in the chat for you — as in, turn those roster positions into forwards (not center, not left wing, not right wing) for the enjoyment of all.

That said, only one person controls the settings for most leagues, so you may need a breakdown on how the port and starboard wings square up with each other.

Luckily, the broad answer is “pretty evenly”: There are three RW eligible and four LW eligible players in the top 10 for fantasy points from last season; 10 RW and 12 LW in the top 50; 24 RW and 27 LW in the top 100; and 59 RW and 56 LW in the top 250.

While those last two totals sum to 115, there are actually only 89 wingers in the top 250 from last season, as multi-wing eligibility throws you a curveball. Exactly how is it determined that some players should get LW, RW or both wings as eligible positions? I believe it has something to do with a spinning top, Stonehenge and the alignment of Saturn.

I mean, when exactly when did J.T. Compher have time to play both RW and LW last season in between finishing sixth in the NHL in total faceoffs? If the guy who finishes sixth in the entire NHL in faceoffs isn’t a pure center, then who is? Why is he eligible at all three positions?

Elias Lindholm was seventh in the NHL with 1,538 faceoffs last season and was third the season prior with 1,592, so, logically, he’s a right winger and not eligible at center. Surely he’ll get center eligibility added at some point, but him having RW makes no sense, but he’ll have it nonetheless.

Breathe. Sorry, I was getting derailed again. Serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Serenity now.

We must live with the positional eligibility we are given and there are some nuances on the wing worth watching.

If you play in a league that uses a delineation between C, LW and RW, there is an obvious advantage when a player counts toward all three. Roster flexibility can be extremely handy when navigating injuries, making trades and adding free agents that deserve everyday usage.

Who are the triple threats? Among the top 100 fantasy scorers last season, it was J.T. Miller (23rd), Clayton Keller (55th), Rickard Rakell (74th) and Jared McCann (79th). Going as deep as the top 250, you can add Compher (142nd), Pavel Buchnevich (149th), Scott Laughton (158th), Ivan Barbashev (202nd) and Yanni Gourde (204th).

Additional flexibility can come from the many double threats at both RW and LW (but not C), not the least of whom are Matthew Tkachuk (ninth), William Nylander (39th), Timo Meier (41st), Zach Hyman (50th), Adrian Kempe (58th), Jordan Kyrou (65th) and Alex DeBrincat (73rd).


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Strategy

From a roster-construction perspective — and setting aside the wonky eligibility assignments — there is some different strategical approach to a player that is a winger on the ice versus a center. And it’s just the flip side of the argument made in the centers preview about stability: Centers usually get locked into their depth chart position, but wingers can come and go.

If a line isn’t clicking, it’s easy to swap around the wings for a coach to try to spark something.

For roster-building, that means there is some volatility to whether a player can stay locked in to the top six once the season gets going. If you are hemmed in by a league with C, W or C, LW, RW roster positions, consider targeting those centers a little sooner and taking a chance or two on a late-round winger.

Offseason recap speedrun

There are a lot more changes on the wings than down the middle, so we’ll try to keep this focused at the top of depth charts.

Some grit on the wings at the top of the lineup was a theme for a few clubs, with the Toronto Maple Leafs adding Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi, and the Carolina Hurricanes adding Michael Bunting.

Finding a new fit with new teammates are Alex DeBrincat with the Detroit Red Wings, Tyler Toffoli with the New Jersey Devils, Blake Wheeler with the New York Rangers and Vladimir Tarasenko with the Ottawa Senators.

Players that have a chance to earn a better depth chart position with new teams include Taylor Hall with the Chicago Blackhawks, Connor Brown with the Edmonton Oilers, James van Riemsdyk with the Boston Bruins, Jonathan Drouin with the Colorado Avalanche and Yegor Sharangovich with the Calgary Flames.

There is a lot more, including where Patrick Kane lands, but this touches on most of the new faces, new places that are relevant.

Top-tier guys I like

Elias Pettersson, C/W, Vancouver Canucks: If I could pick my draft slot in a league, I’d take third overall every time. You can be confident Pettersson will still be there and I’d be confident in taking him there. Still just 24 years old, he finished last season ranked sixth for fantasy points. He should be stepping into his prime seasons now and the Canucks will have to be a strong offensive club to make waves this campaign.

Timo Meier, W, New Jersey Devils: Locked in with term on a club on the rise, Meier should finish closer to the 19th-overall fantasy finish he had in 2021-22, rather than 41st last season. Meier was on a tanking Sharks squad and was a late addition to the Devils at the deadline. Now he has a whole offseason to prepare for his top-six role and power-play duties with a club that will have its eyes on the prize this season.


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Mid-tier guys I like

Alex DeBrincat, W, Detroit Red Wings: Ranking 32nd and 18th in the two seasons prior to last season’s 73rd place for fantasy points, DeBrincat screams right player, wrong fit when it came to his time with the Senators. Now with Detroit, there are even some suggestions of late that Patrick Kane is going to engineer a reunion. Either way, DeBrincat is a top finisher who should benefit from the change of scenery.

Brandon Hagel, W, Tampa Bay Lightning: Signed long-term with the club now, Hagel is the fourth-best forward on a team with three that stand head-and-shoulders above the rest. But being the fourth is a good spot on the depth chart. The Lightning won’t keep the big three on a line together all season, so Hagel is prime for looks on the top trio at times. He’s also the natural choice for fourth-forward on the power play, especially with longtime specialist Alex Killorn now on the west coast.

Sleepers I will live and die by

Matias Maccelli, W, Arizona Coyotes: Am I allowed to have a winger sleeper from the same team where I picked my center sleeper? Do I just think the Coyotes offense is going to be slept on? Did you happen to see any highlights on Maccelli’s 38 assists last season? If so, do you also think he might be a wizard in disguise when it comes to passing? Can I get through this entire blurb with only questions and still have it be useful? Did you also like the Coyotes offseason in which they added some skilled players at all positions, but seemed to do so with players that can also get out of the way if the kids start taking off? Did you know Maccelli had 19 assists in his final 22 games of the 2022-23 season?

Emergency back-end pick who might work out

Taylor Hall, W, Chicago Blackhawks: I wanted to put Connor Brown and/or Lukas Reichel here, but it seems the secret is out, with both players on rosters in around two-thirds of the early-drafting leagues on ESPN.com. So why not apply the same logic to an old friend instead. Hall, like Brown with Connor McDavid and Reichel for the same reasons as Hall, has a very good chance of superstar-adjacency for the entirety of the season. Who else is going to play with Connor Bedard? An MVP once upon a time in his own right, Hall has been a little slower and a little less savvy in recent campaigns, but nothing can get your juices flowing like playing next to the next anointed one.

Bust concern I am avoiding in every draft this season

Carter Verhaeghe, C/W, Florida Panthers: I just don’t like the purchase price for a repeat of the 42 goals. Maybe he does it again, sure, but with an early ADP in the 60s, you are paying for all 42 of them up front. Even with the gaudy totals last season, Verhaeghe was only 67th in total fantasy points. The Panthers are still a dangerous squad and Verhaeghe will likely stick with the top six, but remember that wings are the easiest place to mix and match to find mojo in a slump. So I am not even sure we’ll get the repeat required for his likely draft value.

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