Well, folks, here we are, the Top 10 Left Wingers in the NHL today. For recaps, here are the three earlier posts over the course of a few weeks:
Without waiting any further, let’s crack the Top 10!
10. Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers
It’s difficult to imagine an NHL in the coming years in which Taylor Hall is not one of the league’s premier superstars. Honestly, the toughest part about writing this piece on Hall is the fact that he’s younger than me – talk about feeling insignificant. At age 21, Hall has been leaving experienced NHL defenders in the dust for three years now, and he shows no signs of ever slowing down.
Drafted by the Oilers in 2010, the first overall pick jumped onto the NHL scene immediately, scoring 22 goals and totaling 42 points in just 65 games of NHL action as a rookie. He followed that year with a splendid sophomore campaign, posting 27 goals and 26 assists in 62 games. This season, Hall saw his stat sheet fall to just 16 goals on the year, but he did post a career-high 34 assists en route to 50 points in 45 games. The Oilers are an extremely young team (top-9 point-getters for 2012-13 are under age 30), and Hall will be a crucial part of Edmonton’s success for years to come.
9. Andrew Ladd, Winnipeg Jets
Andrew Ladd has quietly become one of the most underrated players in the entire league, and his consistent play and leadership capabilities have gotten him there. Drafted in 2004 by Carolina, Ladd helped the Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup in 2005-06, before winning the Cup again with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009-10. In the summer of 2010, he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets) for a player and a 2nd-round pick.
Ladd has been an ironman on the ice, missing just one game over the past five seasons. Not known as a goal-scorer in the early portions of his career, Ladd has been finding the back of the net as much as anyone, scoring 75 goals in the past three seasons with the Thrashers/Jets organizations. His point totals during those three years are his three best point-per-game averages of his career. During the 2010-11 season (the last year of the Thrashers’ existence), Ladd was named captain, a title he has held throughout the move to Winnipeg. For all those young players out there, Ladd is a great example player and a great role model for how the game should be played. At age 27, Ladd is entering the peak of his career, so expect big things out of the Winnipeg captain for years to come.
8. Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins
Boston’s Milan Lucic is one of those rare combination players who presents both power and ability. He’s not a one-dimensional player, and this dual-threat ability has made Lucic one of the more dangerous players in the league today. A 2006 2nd-round draft choice, the Vancouver native has become a fan favorite in Boston and has seen great offensive success over the past few seasons.
In 2010-11, Lucic had himself a breakout season, scoring 30 goals and adding 32 assists in 79 games – probably not much of a coincidence, but the Bruins also won the Cup that year. The next season, Lucic proved his offensive firepower wasn’t a fluke, as he tallied 26 goals and 35 assists on the year. Lucic fell into a little bit of a slump this year, as he scored just 7 goals for 27 points in the shortened season.
Despite his massive frame (6’4″, 220 lbs.), Lucic has shown that he has the ability to create chances and bury the puck in the net when the opportunity arises. At age 24, the big-bodied winger still has plenty of years to mature before reaching his prime, and Lucic would be an asset to any team in the league.
7. Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres
The 5th overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Thomas Vanek has spent his entire illustrious career as a Buffalo Sabre. He jumped out to a flying start as a rookie, scoring 25 goals during the 2005-06 season. As a sophomore, Vanek had the best season of his career, scoring 43 goals for 84 points in 82 games; Vanek also led the NHL that year with a +47 rating.
Over the course of his eight NHL seasons, Vanek has scored 20+ goals every year, including two 40+ goal seasons (2005-06 and 2008-09). While he hasn’t been able to come close to matching his 84-point season years ago, Vanek has been a consistently solid goal-scorer on an up-and-down team, as the Sabres have reached the playoffs just four times during Vanek’s stint with the team. With that said, Vanek has constantly proven his ability to be a playmaker on the ice, an ability that is sure to be valued by teams across the league.
6. Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks
Another 1st-round draft choice, Bobby Ryan was selected 2nd overall by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He made his debut during the 2007-08 season, producing 10 points in a short, 25-game rookie season. With some NHL experience now under his belt, Ryan exploded into many conversations, posting four-straight 30+ goal seasons; that streak ended thanks to this year’s shortened season in which he scored 11 goals in 46 games.
Despite a struggle this year, Ryan has emerged as one of the true playmakers in the league, and his pairing with other Ducks, like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, have turned Anaheim into one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the NHL. He’s one of those players that can make your jaw drop at any moment, and he’s been a consistent force. He’s signed for two more years with Anaheim before he becomes an unrestricted free agent, which could present the most interesting free agent signing for the summer of 2015 if he elects to test the market. Nonetheless, Ryan will continue to stand amongst the best of the NHL for years to come.