After a long absence (thank you, finals), #TheList returns to the hockey scene as we continue on with the NHL’s best left wingers, numbers 11 through 15. In case you missed any prior posts, you can find them here: #21-25; #16-20. Ready, set, go!
15. James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs
Over his four NHL seasons, James van Riemsdyk has shown that he can be a consistent producer at the NHL level. Drafted 2nd overall in 2007 by the Philadelphia Flyers, van Riemsdyk became a fan-favorite in Philly very quickly, playing 75+ games in his first two NHL seasons. Not afraid to thrown his body around, van Riemsdyk also found some success finding the back of the net, averaging a point every two games through his NHL career.
Just this past offseason, JVR was traded to Toronto for Luke Schenn; the trade worked out quite well for van Riemsdyk, who posted 32 points in 48 games as the Maple Leafs reached the playoffs for the first time since 2004, while his former team in Philadelphia missed out on the postseason. As he begins to build chemistry in Toronto, watch for the 24-year old van Riemsdyk to continue his physical play and produce more points for the Maple Leafs.
14. Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh Penguins
That’s right, Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz entered the NHL as an undrafted free agent when he signed with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in April 2003, and his career has been one of solidarity and production. He bounced around for a bit, playing for the Mighty Ducks, Atlanta Thrashers, and the Ducks again (as the Anaheim Ducks, this time), before being traded to Pittsburgh in 2009. As a Penguin, Kunitz has amassed 211 points in 266 games; he has been slightly injury-prone, however, but his production cannot be questioned.
After years of struggling in Pittsburgh, the Penguins were awarded the luxuries of drafting the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Pens have seen success in recent years, but playing behind such superstars hasn’t allowed Kunitz the opportunity to really stand out in the limelight. With that said, though, one can very easily question if Kunitz’s numbers would be anywhere near what they are had he not played in Pittsburgh with Crosby, Malkin, and Co. Just some food for thought.
13. Patrik Elias, New Jersey Devils
Maybe I’m a little biased as a Devils fan, but throughout his career, Patrik Elias has consistently been one of the NHL’s purest passers. Tape-to-tape, threading the needle, Elias has done it all to emerge as one of the premier passers in today’s game. A former 2nd-pick in 1994, Elias has spent his entire successful career in New Jersey, sitting as the franchise leader in goals (375), assists (555), and points (930). He also owns the franchise records for power play goals (104) and game-winning goals (78); his 1,090 games are behind only Ken Daneyko and Martin Brodeur, and his plus-minus (+191) is second to just Scott Stevens.
For those non-Devils fans out there, the three players I just mentioned (Daneyko, Brodeur, and Stevens) are some of the most prolific names in Devils’ history, two of which have already had their numbers retired in New Jersey. In the coming years, expect to see Martin Brodeur’s #30 and Patrik Elias’ #26 hanging from the rafters as well.
12. Matt Moulson, New York Islanders
Just like his team, Matt Moulson and the Islanders have bloomed from nothing to something over the past few years. Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 9th round in 2003, Moulson played two seasons in the NHL with the Kings, totaling 10 points in just 29 games. In the summer of 2009, Moulson signed with the Islanders via free agency and watched his production skyrocket. Through his four years on Long Island, Moulson has seen his point totals rise each year: 48, 53, and 69 points in three 82-game seasons, with each of those being 30+ goal years.
This shortened season, Moulson produced 44 points and 15 goals in 47 games, his best point-per-game total of his young career. Though he bloomed late, the almost-30-year-old Moulson still has a few good years ahead of him. He stands out a bit more on the Islanders due to their youth and inexperienced roster, but Moulson is a solid left winger that appears to be playing at the peak of his career.
11. Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens
Drafted by the Canadiens in 2007 in the first round, Pacioretty had mediocre numbers in his early years, posting 49 points in 123 games with the Habs. In March 2011, Pacioretty was skating along the boards when he got tangled up with Boston’s Zdeno Chara, and Pacioretty awkwardly collided with the stanchion on the boards: Pacioretty was carried off on a stretcher and suffered a severe concussion along with a fractured vertebrae.
At age 22, the young Pacioretty had plenty of years ahead of him to recover, but everyone wondered how well Pacioretty could return mentally. He answered that question in the 2011-12 campaign, as he posted more goals (33), assists (32), and points (65) in 79 games than he had previously in his three-year career combined. This season, he found more of a passer’s touch, notching 24 assists and 39 points in just 44 games.
At age 24, Pacioretty has overcome a significant injury and begun to emerge as a star in the NHL, and it’s easy to see how the future is bright for this young kid. It’s always great to see players fight through injuries, and Pacioretty has certainly done that over the past two seasons. He will only continue to get better with time.
Stay tuned in the coming week for the Top 10!