Hello and welcome in to my second positional series, in this one I will break down my top 20 left wingers for fantasy hockey in 2020/21. These projections and rankings may vary over time as the draft/free agency/coaching changes come down, but at least this should give everyone a place to start. Before we get started, I just want to clarify that I am not allowing any overlap, so if a player made my Top 20 Centers or Right Wingers list he will not be on my Top 20 Left Wingers list even if he is eligible in most leagues. Let’s kick it off with #20:
Jason Zucker is my 20th ranked left winger for 2020/21, and it’s hard not to believe he could do even better. We’ve all seen what Sidney Crosby can do for his wingers’ production levels over the past decade-plus, and Zucker is one of the more talented players to ever assume the role. It’s hard to take much from Zucker’s abbreviated time with the Penguins into a projection for next year, but I do expect the ice time to stay constant in the 17 and a half minute range. It will be of note to see whether he or Patric Hornqvist get the 5th and final PP1 slot when Jake Guentzel comes back, but Hornqvist is a clearly declining player and I believe Zucker will outplay him for it. Put it all together and a 60-point season feels pretty reasonable for a Crosby winger who has scored at that level in the past.
Kevin Fiala is my #19 left winger for 2020/21 (although he will also be eligible at RW in most leagues), and he will easily be one of the most-discussed players come draft season due to his impressive 26 points in 19 games to end the season. I have reservations about Fiala, starting with career high IPP and S% numbers and the fact that he plays for Minnesota where talented linemates are harder to find than a snowball in summer. But the truth is the man took a huge step forward in individual chances for rates and looks like a true breakout player. Fiala does also represent a bit of an injury risk as he has dealt with injuries in each of the past three seasons, but I anticipate that the Wild will use him significantly more (he averaged just 15:24 of ice time in 2019/20, increasing dramatically over that last 19 games) and he will respond with a 60-point campaign.
Jakub Vrana comes in at #18 for me as another player who took a big step forward in 2019/20. Vrana’s 3.04 points/60 ranked 30th in the entire league, less than 0.1 back of huge names like Eichel, Rantanen, and Point. He did that on the strength of a 27% jump in individual chances for, a tremendous leap in driving play. Vrana has improved year by year and the best part is that it looks pretty sustainable. His IPP might be high by 5% or so, but his S% was lower than 2018/19 and his underlying metrics are all pointing in the right direction. Vrana’s ability to jump to the next level of production is capped by being the Capitals’ perennial LW2 behind the great Alexander Ovechkin and by a lack of PP1 time, but should the Russian Machine ever finally break, Vrana would be in line for an even bigger point share.
Filip Forsberg slots in at #17 for me after a disappointing 48-point season that mirrored the Predators’ underwhelming campaign. Forsberg was used 1:15 less per game in 2019/20, a mystifying decision for a team that was not in the upper echelon of league scoring. Beyond that, Forsberg actually posted very similar rates across the board to his 2018/19 season and was probably slightly unlucky shooting the puck (2% lower than 18/19). Forsberg’s most common linemates, Mikael Granlund and Matt Duchene, both posted subpar seasons and it’s a solid bet that all three will rebound to some degree in 2019/20. Forsberg in particular maintained an individual chances for rate that ranks him 9th in the entire league, up in Auston Matthews-type territory. While Forsberg certainly suffers from not having linemates at or above his level, he’s also the best bet on Nashville to have a bounce back season in 2020/21.
Gabriel Landeskog rounds out this group at number 16, carrying an enviable position as Nathan Mackinnon’s linemate. That distinction alone merits consistent 60 point potential, but Landeskog is only a year removed from a PPG season and is a tremendously skilled player in his own right. Landeskog posted a career high S% but not by enough to make it significant for projection purposes; his IPP was actually a little low compared to his most recent seasons. Interestingly, Landeskog’s on-ice xGF/60 improved from 3.4 to 3.7 in 2019/20 but his actual GF/60 dropped from 4.7 to 4.2. This is partially attributable to Mikko Rantanen’s injury, but also serves as a potential positive indicator for improved performance in 2020/21. Landeskog did shoot the puck less in 19/20 than 18/19, which certainly caps his PPG upside along with a 1 minute/game reduction in ice time. A full season alongside Mackinnon and Rantanen could put him right back on that pace, and outside of some injury history Landeskog is about as safe as they come.
Now that left wingers 16-20 have been revealed, let’s put them side by side and I’ll explain the rankings a little bit:
Zucker holds bottom spot here because we haven’t seen enough to say he’ll even stick on Crosby’s line full time; certainly that was the reason the Pens acquired him but sometimes things don’t work out as planned (see for reference Phil Kessel playing on the Pens’ third line during their Cup runs). Fiala looks like a more explosive player on his own and while he doesn’t have a supporting cast, he took a legitimate step towards stardom in 2019/20 and he’s more likely to score 70 points than 50 points, not something I can say for Zucker. Vrana gets a better grade though due to his extremely impressive production despite a lack of ice time or first unit power play usage. One injury to Ovechkin or another member of Washington’s PP1 unit could catapult Vrana into the 70+ point realm, and he has a ton of room to grow in usage should Todd Reirden decide to use his best players more often. Forsberg and Landeskog are a slight cut above Vrana due to their history of production and ability to provide hits for those of you needing a boost in that category. Forsberg is a tick below Landeskog due to their respective situations; were their roles reversed Forsberg would likely be a PPG player.
Honorable Mentions: Evander Kane, Nikolaj Ehlers, Dominik Kubalik
Kane still holds a lot of value in full bangers leagues, but it’s hard to see him getting into the 60 point range at this point. Ehlers is a great talent but has been surpassed by Kyle Connor on the depth chart and doesn’t get the prime usage necessary to be higher on this list. Kubalik is a very interesting player but doesn’t currently run on Chicago’s PP1 which slows the hype train a bit. He’s a pure scorer and willing to go to the net to get his goals, and 30 isn’t a bad projection for him again in 2020/21.
Dishonorable Mentions: Victor Olofsson, Jeff Skinner, Tyler Bertuzzi
Since I know I’ll be asked about Olofsson in particular I thought I would add this little segment. Olofsson is Mike Hoffman-lite, a PP/one-timer/trigger man specialist that is incredibly terrible at even strength. If he gets removed from Eichel’s line at any point his fantasy value will absolutely crater as this is not a player capable of creating his own chances. And in my opinion, that removal is likely because Jeff Skinner is a much better hockey player. I don’t know why Ralph Krueger hates Skinner but Eichel and Skinner had great chemistry in 2018/19 (and 2019/20 in a brief stint) and if they are reunited Skinner could easy score 35 goals and 65 points. Coaching decisions like this one are absolutely baffling, but Skinner can probably be had for cheap in 2020/21 drafts and could be worth the speculative add just because of his explosive potential if paired with Eichel. I’ve mentioned this on Twitter before, but Tyler Bertuzzi owes roughly three-quarters of whatever his next contract is to Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha as they drag his third-liner carcass up and down the ice year after year. He’ll probably score 50 points again if he keeps that role, but watch out if Detroit land Alexis Lafreniere in the draft and debut him on the Larkin line, because Bertuzzi could become old news in a hurry.
Stay tuned for ranks 11-15!
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