If we were voting for this year’s NHL first and second all-star team today, who would the top 10 candidates be at left wing? That’s the question we’ll try to answer here, looking solely at statistics from this season. Here are our current top 10 performers of 2015-16.
1. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars (51GP | 28G | 30A | 58PTS)
Benn is the only left winger in the entire NHL scoring at better than a point-per-game pace. He’s currently second in points in the league, but isn’t a one-dimensional skater. He plays a regular shift on the penalty kill and leads all Stars forwards with 97 hits. Last month: 1
2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (46GP | 28G | 14A | 42PTS)
Ovechkin is tied with Benn for second in the NHL with 28 goals, just two back of league leader Patrick Kane. Eleven of those 28 goals have come on the power play, as he has continued to serve as the primary triggerman for the most effective man advantage unit in hockey. He remains a volume shooter, with his 234 shots in all situations easily the most in the game, 39 more than second-ranked Max Pacioretty.
Ovechkin doesn’t generally get enough credit for his effect on possession stats. The Capitals’ Fenwick rate (the number of all unblocked shot attempts that are in the team’s favour) climbs from 50 per cent to 53 per cent when he’s on the ice in five-on-five situations. Last month: 4
3. Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers (51GP | 18G | 31A | 49PTS)
Hall has seen his scoring cool somewhat, along with linemate Leon Draisaitl, but it’s a mistake to focus solely on offensive totals with this player. He drives puck possession. When he’s on the ice this year the Oilers fire 53 per cent of all unblocked shots; when he’s on the bench that number falls to less than 47 per cent. Last month: 2
4. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames (48GP | 20G | 27A | 47PTS)
Gaudreau is a wonderfully dynamic offensive presence and the clear leader in that regard in Calgary. It’s telling how the play of Sean Monahan falls off when the two are separated. With the duo on the ice the Flames score 51 per cent of all goals and fire 49 per cent of all Corsi events. With Monahan out there alone, the Flames have been out-scored 2:1 and out-shot almost as badly. Last month: 3
5. Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks (50GP | 21G | 23A | 44PTS)
Sedin continues to impress as a 35-year-old. He’s scoring at an excellent rate, with his 15 even-strength goals just one back of NHL scoring leader Patrick Kane and the Canucks’ Fenwick number climbs by nearly four percentage points when he steps on the ice. Last month: 5
6. Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators (47GP | 22G | 18A | 40PTS)
Hoffman faces some of the toughest competition among players on this list, though Ottawa head coach Dave Cameron has done his best to get him shifts starting in the offensive zone whenever possible. That’s certainly part of the reason that Hoffman’s on-ice shot metrics are so much better than most of his teammates; his natural talent does the rest.
Hoffman’s 22 goals are more than any left winger in the league not named Benn or Ovechkin. When he’s been on the ice at five-on-five this year, the Sens outscore their opponents by a 3:2 margin; when he’s on the bench they are outscored by a 3:2 margin. Some of that is due to a high on-ice shooting percentage (the Sens as a team fire at a ridiculous 11.2 per cent clip when he’s out there) but it is nonetheless impressive. Last month: 6
7. Michael Cammalleri, New Jersey Devils (42GP | 14G | 24A | 38PTS)
Cammalleri is one of the few reliable offensive options on a top-heavy New Jersey team. He leads the club with 38 points and is one of four forwards with more than 30. After those four, centre Travis Zajac has 23 points and no other forward has even 10. Cammalleri's on-ice shot metrics are also significantly better than the team average. Last month: 8
8. Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues (53GP | 15G | 27A | 42PTS)
Steen is one of those players who probably deserves more credit than he gets. He consistently plays tough shutdown minutes at even-strength, takes on a key role on the penalty kill and still produces offensively. Last month: 9
9. Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks (54GP | 18G | 29A | 47PTS)
Chicago’s dynamic rookie has undeniable offensive ability. His 2.10 points/hour at even-strength ranks him 25th in the NHL, ahead of some extremely impressive people. He’s also clicked immediately on the Blackhawks' power play.
The question with Panarin is to what degree he’s driving Patrick Kane’s career season and to what degree he’s benefiting from it. All but one of his even-strength points this year has come with Kane on the ice; he’s played nearly two hours away from Kane at evens and has just one point. That’s not a long enough time period to draw any firm conclusions, but it’s fair to observe that he’s in an ideal situation.
Coach Joel Quenneville is helping in other ways, too. Panarin starts three shifts in the offensive zone at five-on-five for every one he draws in his own end of the rink. Last month: 10
10. Rick Nash, New York Rangers (45GP | 12G | 21A | 33PTS)
Nash is having a tough shooting percentage year and a rough go lately on the power play, and both of those things have hurt his point totals. However, he’s still scoring an impressive 2.17 points/hour at even-strength and playing regular minutes on the penalty kill. Last month: NR