Top five left wingers of the decade: Ovechkin dominated the 2010s

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, of Russia, celebrates his goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Saturday, April 7, 2018, in Washington. (Nick Wass/AP)

As we bid farewell to 2019, we also wrap up what’s been an incredible decade in the NHL.

And what a decade it’s been. We’ve seen dynasties, rebuilds, generational players at their best and depth players turn to stars.

Some of the best to lace ’em up this decade have done so down the left wing — including one of the most prolific goal-scorers of all time.

So, what makes someone the best at their position? There are so many factors that can contribute. If we’re talking Stanley Cups and winning franchises, playoff performer Patrick Sharp cracks this list. Longevity means a nod to durable ironman Patrick Marleau, who didn’t miss a single game from 2010 until the start of this season. You cannot deny the elite skill of Artemi Panarin (and his 1.02 points per game), but it’s difficult to list him here when he’s played less than half the decade — though it’s admittedly difficult not to include him here, too. A similar argument can be applied to Ilya Kovalchuk — had he stuck around instead of departing for the KHL, where would he rank?

These questions are part of why these kinds of end-of-decade rankings are so much fun to put together. So, with a focus on individual stats over the span of the 2010s, here are the five finest left wingers to suit up over the course of the past decade.

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Well, this one’s pretty obvious.

Ovechkin’s trophy cabinet was already filling up nicely by the time 2010 rolled around, but he needs an entire room now after the dominant decade he’s had. Over the past 10 years, Ovechkin was the NHL’s leading goal-scorer six times (including a run of four straight from 2012-13 to 2015-16). He won the Ted Lindsay Award in 2010 and was named MVP in 2012-13, and then made us all feel silly about our “Ovi can’t win the big one” takes when he won Washington its first-ever Stanley Cup — and earned Conn Smythe honours in the process — in 2018.

Not only is he the most dominant left winger of the decade, he’s also the greatest goal-scorer to ever play the position. He currently ranks first in goals and fifth in points all-time among left wingers, and will surely hold both records by a landslide by the time he hangs up his skates. (Note to Ovi: Please never hang up your skates.)

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Ovechkin has never scored fewer than 32 goals in a season — that includes the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign — and has led Washington in goals every season of the 2010s. He’s topped Capitals in points in all but two seasons this past decade.

He also leads all left wingers in playoff goals and points this decade — his 50 goals and 96 points through 107 post-season contests has him scoring at a .90 point-per-game pace, which is also a league-best among his peers who have played 50 or more career playoff games in the 2010s, and has scored more game-winning goals than any other skater this decade (70).

2. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Remember when we all thought he was just a pest? Ah, but how wrong we were.

Marchand may have first gotten noticed as one of the league’s best burgeoning agitators, but he’s been turning heads with his elite skill for much of the past decade as he evolved before our eyes over his decade-long career into a key part of the Bruins’ perennially-contending core.

He started the decade as a reliable contributor in the 18-to-28 goal range with his point-ceiling set at about 55 points, then burst through it in 2015-16 with a 37-goal breakout — and he keeps getting better. The 31-year-old posted back-to-back 85-point seasons from 2016 to 2018, then reached 100 in 2018-19.

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In addition to being a key contributor to one of hockey’s most productive lines, Marchand has scored the second-most game-winning goals (55) this decade across all positions, behind just Ovechkin.

He’s still a pest, of course. But he’s a pest with finesse. Bruins fans love him, non-Bostonians love to hate him and opponents hate to play against him — is there a better combo than that?

3. Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers/New Jersey Devils/Arizona Coyotes

In addition to being one of the most talented at his position over the past 10 years, Hall was also one of the most newsworthy: He started the decade as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2010, was part of a series of trades that shook the hockey world six years later, then began 2019 with his name in many a rumour mill and closed out the year with a move from New Jersey to sunny (and playoff bound…!) Arizona.

But back to his talent: In six seasons with the Oilers to open the decade — and his NHL career — Hall twice led Edmonton in goals, was the club’s points leader three times and factored into the top two of both categories in all but one season.

His 537 points put him fifth on the all-decade list at the position. 593 games into his career, he’s getting on the scoreboard at a 0.91 point-per-game pace — the fourth-best among his peers skating down the left side.

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The best campaign of his career came in his second season in New Jersey when he led the team in goals (39) and points (93) by a landslide to single-handedly pull them into the playoffs and earn himself the 2017-18 Hart Trophy as league MVP.

Speaking of the playoffs, the only factor working against Hall’s best-of-the-decade case is his lack of post-season games — such is life when you find yourself dealt from one rebuilding club to another. But although his playoff sample size is just five games, thanks to a first-round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the spring of 2018, his performance in those contests — two goals and six points — has everyone (especially him) craving more. With Arizona closing out the decade atop the Pacific, looks like we’ll all get our wish — and maybe a longer run this time.

4. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames

Gaudreau has been a prolific scorer since Day 1 in the NHL — literally, he scored in his first NHL game — and though he’s played the fewest games compared to his peers on this list considering his first full season came in 2014-15, his impact on the team and the league as a whole cannot be understated.

The Flames’ points leader in each of the past four seasons has become inseparable from the identity of the franchise, from a scrappy, never-say-die club that went on a tear to the playoffs in his rookie season in 2014-15 to the best team in the West in 2018-19 with Johnny Hockey leading the way with career-highs in goals (36), assists (63) and points (99). Now, if the Flames are to brush off their early-season stumbles and begin the next decade challenging for the top spot again, it’ll be because of Gaudreau’s efforts.

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League-wide, Gaudreau ranks third in points per game (0.97) among all left wingers over the past decade and tenth across all skaters (with a minimum of 300 games played, so as not to skew the results too much.) But his biggest contribution to the game isn’t limited solely to the scoreboard — over the course of his six NHL seasons, Gaudreau has very much become the face of hockey’s evolution into a faster game favouring smaller, shiftier, skilled skaters over the traditional power forward in a game that’s being played at a pace faster than ever before.

5. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

He’s coming off a down year — who among Dallas’ forwards isn’t? — but that shouldn’t cause us to forget about Benn’s dominance over much of the past decade.

Benn’s 280 goals and 645 points tallied this decade rank him second in both categories among all left wingers while his 0.87 point-per-game pace is sixth-best.

The Stars captain really began heating up in 2013-14 with a 34-goal, 79-point season and built on that success with an Art Ross Trophy-worthy 35-goal, 87-point season. An even better season one year later didn’t land him the trophy, but it did set yet another career-high in both goals (41) and points (89) and you’ve got to believe the best is yet to come on a team that appears to be one piece away from making a real run at the Stanley Cup.


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