Ranking the Top 60 Wingers for the 2014-15 NHL Season

Steve Macfarlane@@MacfarlaneHKYFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2014

Ranking the Top 60 Wingers for the 2014-15 NHL Season

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    There are plenty of characteristics that make a great hockey winger. First and foremost, it's the ability to score—after all, games are won by teams that put more pucks in the net than the opposition.

    But there are other things to consider. Being defensively responsible helps your team prevent more goals by opponents. Being physical intimidates them and makes them think twice before hanging on to the puck that extra second or blazing into your zone. Having the intelligence to make the right play at the perfect time is a skill some are born with and some have to work at.

    Speed kills in today's National Hockey League, but size matters too. Leaders are made, not born. Some do it by example and others with words.

    Taking all these skill sets into consideration, we've ranked the top 60 wingers in the NHL for the coming season. This isn't a ranking based on who will finish with the most goals, assists or points; it's who may make the biggest impact on his team winning games.

    Click ahead to get started.

    This is the first installment in B/R's positional-ranking series in the lead up to the 2014-15 season. Check back next week for our rankings of defensemen, goalies and centers. Then the series culminates with our overall ranking of the NHL's top 100 players on Oct. 6.

    Stats courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.

No. 60-56

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    60. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames: This one is purely on speculation, but Gaudreau has dazzled at the college and world junior level and from his first few opportunities for the Flames seems to be talented enough to make people forget his size.

    59. Raffi Torres, San Jose Sharks: Did you know he was a point-per-game player last season? Of course, he only suited up for five regular-season contests. His physical nature hides the fact he's actually a decent player too.

    58. David Perron, Edmonton Oilers: Still just 26, you get the feeling you haven't seen the best of Perron yet after several concussions and a trade out of St. Louis. He nearly scored 30 in Edmonton last season and might come close again if healthy this year.

    57. Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers: He's a speedster who loves to be aggressive despite his smaller stature. Zuccarello is a real up-and-comer for the Rangers who should hit 20 goals for the first time.

    56. Alex Tanguay, Colorado Avalanche: He was hurt for most of last year and might be a forgotten man, but the talented passer will be playing with Nathan MacKinnon and it could be a match made in heaven.

No. 55-51

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    55. Johan Franzen, Detroit Red Wings: When The Mule is healthy, he's kicking. His points per game were solid last season, but he missed a lot of time. He might be breaking down.

    54. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins: If the list was pests who can play, he'd be right up there. His biggest problem is sometimes he's so busy being a pest, he forgets the playing part.

    53. Matt Moulson, Buffalo Sabres: Note to Kyle Okposo. This is what playing without John Tavares gets you. A much lower ranking. He has to prove he can score regularly.

    52. Michael Cammalleri, New Jersey Devils: Playing with Jaromir Jagr and Travis Zajac could help Cammalleri rediscover his scoring touch more regularly. He's a valuable veteran presence.

    51. Chris Kreider, New York Rangers: He is so fast and so big, it could be a huge year for the sophomore. He might crack the top 25 next fall.

No. 50-46:

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    50. Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes: When it comes to the league's best veterans, he ranks way up there. But it's a young man's game now.

    49. Andrew Ladd, Winnipeg Jets: The quiet captain has been a leader for much of his career. He also quietly racks up 20 goals almost every season.

    48. Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens: He's more a producer of energy than points, but that doesn't take away from his value to his team or his suitable ranking among the league's best wingers.

    47. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues: He has such a great mix of speed and strength, it will be hard for defenders to keep him off the scoresheet.

    46. Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars: Now that he knows what to expect in the NHL, the young Russian should thrive on the top line with two of the league's best players in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.

No. 45-41:

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    45. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: The 22-year-old is super talented and makes the most of his minutes on the deep Blues roster. He just has to avoid injury to have a career year.

    44. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets: He's one of the league's most underrated players. Wheeler scored 28 last year for the Jets using his speed.

    43. Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings: The Kings captain is capable of taking over games with his physical play; he just doesn't do it often enough to make his coach happy.

    42. Justin Williams, Los Angeles Kings: He's an even better performer in the playoffs, but his regular-season numbers are strong for a guy in more of a support role.

    41. Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks: Expect him to play with Patrick Kane and Andrew Shaw this season, giving him a great chance to be nearly as productive as Marian Hossa or Patrick Sharp.

No. 40-36:

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    40. T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues: The Blues are so deep he may not yet have had the opportunity to show how good he can be. Certainly belongs among the list of notable wingers and is a shootout specialist.

    39. Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens: He's a guy to target late in fantasy drafts. He showed what he's capable of last spring in the playoffs.

    38. Alexander Semin, Carolina Hurricanes: He's likely going to bounce back a little from a disappointing year, but without a guy like Alex Ovechkin beside him, he's not as likely to hit the point-per-game pace ever again

    37. Jason Pominville, Minnesota Wild: Nearly identical numbers to van Riemsdyk a year ago but there's more talent in Minny this season, which could lead to less responsibility for this model of consistency.

    36. James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs: He scored 30 goals in an amazing year. The question is can he do it again?

No. 35-31:

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    35. Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey Devils: He's the NHL's Energizer Bunny—he keeps going and going. The 42-year-old isn't the superstar he once was but still burns brightly and won't take much of a step back just yet.

    34. Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers: His grit sets him apart from so many other goal scorers. He's a force every time he's on the ice and seems to be getting better annually.

    33. Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators: With Jason Spezza gone, Ryan might actually make a big leap in production with more ice time. But without elite talent around him, he's not an upper-echelon guy.

    32. Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins: He should fit in well for the departed James Neal and save the Penguins some penalty minutes as well.

    31. Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets: This could be the year the power forward puts it all together and sheds the underachiever label. Or maybe he is what he appears to be—which is still a very good player.

No. 30-26:

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    30. Jarome Iginla, Colorado Avalanche: Everybody keeps waiting for the 37-year-old to fade. But his conditioning is still elite and his slap shot just as powerful.

    29. Radim Vrbata, Vancouver Canucks: He's going to play with the Sedin twins and has way more talent than Anson Carter ever did. He could easily outplay his ranking.

    28. Thomas Vanek, Minnesota Wild: We'll find out if being home in Minnesota means a more determined Vanek or one who is a little too comfortable.

    27. Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins: You might hate his attitude, but it's hard to argue with his skill level and status as a true power forward.

    26. Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh Penguins: He's going to stay with Sidney Crosby, and that means plenty of production for the aggressive left-winger.

No. 25: Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

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    By the Numbers: Voracek had a career year with 23 goals, 39 assists and 62 points while playing all 82 games for the first time.

    Best Attribute: A combination of size and speed that is tough to defend.

    Why He's Here: Voracek's frame and abilities as a playmaker and goal scorer are large. If he was more consistent in using his abilities with determination and speed, he'd be an even bigger force. With Claude Giroux on your line, you're going to get opportunities to put up big numbers, and Voracek is capable of at least repeating what he did a year ago.

No. 24: Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders

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    By the Numbers: Okposo set career highs with 27 goals, 42 assists, 69 points and 195 shots. While he was at it, he racked up the most penalty minutes of his career too with 51.

    Best Attribute: His emotional, edgy play boosts him above some other guys who are in the same point range. He's willing to fight for his space on the ice.

    Why He's Here: A huge assist goes to John Tavares, who helped launch Okposo into the NHL's top 20 point producers. But Okposo has plenty of skill and the ability to get open for the pretty pass or potential rebound, so he gets kudos here too. As long as he's on the top line for the Isles, Okposo is among the most promising wingers out there. 

No. 23: Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes

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    By the Numbers: Skinner put together a 33-goal season, with 54 points in 71 games. His 274 shots ranked eighth in the league, and his 11 power-play tallies were ninth-most.

    Best Attribute: He is deadly on the power play. Skinner is a pure goal scorer.

    Why He's Here: Skinner had a huge bounce-back season last year, although not as well-rounded as his incredible rookie season in 2010-11. He's still just 22 and has four NHL seasons under his belt, so the progress should continue into this year. He will get plenty of opportunities on the man advantage and in the top-six group of forwards and will prove his value to the 'Canes.

No. 22: Gustav Nyquist, Detroit Red Wings

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    By the Numbers: Nyquist scored 28 goals and 48 points in 57 NHL games last season as the Red Wings dealt with depleted star forwards.

    Best Attribute: Intelligence is the thing that ties all his other skills—great puck control, speed and an accurate shot—together. His decision-making is already strong and improving.

    Why He's Here: Thanks to injuries to Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, Nyquist was given an opportunity to grab the spotlight. With more ice time, his confidence grew. So did his numbers. Nyquist is a seasoned pro thanks to development time in the American Hockey League and is just now showing the world how talented he really is. He will likely play on the top line.

No. 21: Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers

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    By the Numbers: Eberle had 28 goals, 37 assists and 65 points in 80 games for the Oilers a year ago. He hasn't lived up to the expectations created as a sophomore when he had 34 goals and 76 points in 78 games in 2011-12.

    Best Attribute: One reason people keep expecting Eberle to put up more elite numbers is his ability to make quick decisions thanks to his anticipation of the way a play develops.

    Why He's Here: Like the team itself, Eberle's potential seems untapped. If he and his young teammates finally get their games together simultaneously, he'll be one of the top point producers and playmakers in the league. We think it's likely he takes a step forward this season, helping the team improve in the process.

No. 20: Alex Steen, St. Louis Blues

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    By the Numbers: In just 68 games, Steen scored 33 goals and 62 points to finish 25th in the league with a .91 points-per-game average. He got his name into the elite scorer conversation thanks to a 15.6 shooting percentage that was way above his career average of 10.0. Only nine of his goals came in the 33 games he played after a concussion layoff.

    Best Attribute: Sometimes defense is the best offense. Steen's keen sense of the play in his own end leads to opportunities to counter after the creation of turnovers.

    Why He's Here: With a spectacular shooting percentage last season, Steen got as close to the point-per-game mark as he has in his entire career. But his hot start wasn't sustainable, and he petered out after coming back from injury. He's a great marksman and good bet to top 30 goals over a full season, but he's not nearly as high on this list as some would have ranked him before he got hurt.

No. 19: Rick Nash, New York Rangers

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    By the Numbers: Nash had a dynamite start with the Rangers in 2012-13, with 21 goals and 42 points in 44 games during the lockout-shortened season. Last year was a tough one. He struggled with consistency and finished with 26 goals and 39 points in 65 games.

    Best Attribute: Not many men of his size have the kind of puck-handling skills Nash is graced with. His speed makes him even more dangerous on a rush.

    Why He's Here: His shooting percentage was down last season, well below his career average. Still, his production was decent, and he averaged four shots on goal per game. This ranking is based on the thought his numbers by the end of the year are more in line with his entire career. A healthy and shooting Rick Nash is a top-20 winger.

No. 18: James Neal, Nashville Predators

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    By the Numbers: Neal has never scored fewer than 20 goals in a season—even the lockout-shortened campaign. Last year, the new Nashville Predators acquisition had 27 goals and 34 assists for 61 points in 59 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Best Attribute: He puts the puck in the net. A lot. It's because of the quickness and deceptiveness of his release.

    Why He's Here: Neal was top 10 among all forwards with 1.03 points per game during an injury-shortened season. His production alone would seem to indicate he belongs up in the top 10, but this year will more than ever provide evidence of whether his stats were inflated by his time with Pittsburgh Penguins stars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. A dip is likely in Nashville even if chemistry with Mike Ribeiro is still there. 

No. 17: Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens

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    By the Numbers: Pacioretty scored 39 times last year, good for fourth in the league. His setup skills could use a little work, though, as he finished with just 21 assists and 60 points in 73 games played.

    Best Attribute: He continues to evolve as a shooter, finishing in the top 10 in the category with only Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos finishing with more goals per game played. That's impressive company.

    Why He's Here: Pacioretty is a clutch player. He led the league with 11 game-winning goals a year ago despite not playing a full slate. He should flirt with 40 goals again on a young and improving Montreal Canadiens squad, and he'll help them earn respect as part of a core that boasts plenty of team toughness too. If he keeps this progress up, he'll climb this ranking quickly a year from now.

No. 16: Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks

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    By the Numbers: Marleau hasn't missed a game in five seasons now and put together a 33-goal, 70-point campaign a year ago. It was his seventh 30-goal season, and he's been two shy of that mark twice in his 16 seasons.

    Best Attribute: He's a pure goal scorer often forgotten about on fantasy draft day. It's a natural gift that combines his sense of space around the net and his ability over the years to cobble together a fairly nice shooting percentage on average.

    Why He's Here: Marleau remains one of the most dependable and predictable top players in the league. He has overcome criticism, being stripped of his captaincy and constant trade rumors to become one of the best leaders by example in the game and a threat to score 30 every season. With the Sharks unlikely to make big changes and Marleau poised to play big minutes again, he will post solid numbers as usual.

No. 15: Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings

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    By the Numbers: In 22 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Gaborik had six goals and 14 points. After finishing the regular season with five goals and 16 points in 19 games with the Kings, he came to life in the postseason with 14 goals and 22 points in 26 games during the Cup run.

    Best Attribute: Elite speed and a knack for finishing off the many breakaways he earns as a result of the fleet feet.

    Why He's Here: Gaborik was rejuvenated as a member of the Kings after flopping in Columbus. There's no doubt he's one of the most talented wingers in the league, but his ranking sees him sitting outside the top 10 because of his tendency to miss time and his inconsistency over the past couple of seasons. He was flying high after his trade to the West Coast, especially deadly in the playoffs, but we need to see that happen over a full season to have renewed faith.

No. 14: Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche

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    By the Numbers: Landeskog bounced back from a relatively disappointing second year that saw him put together nine goals and 17 points in 36 games during the lockout-shortened campaign, improving to the tune of 26 goals and 65 points in 81 games.

    Best Attribute: His maturity is off the charts, which translates into quick learning and growth.

    Why He's Here: If the young Avalanche captain had a bit of a sophomore slump two years ago, he rebounded in a big way last season. It helped that he saw plenty of playing time with superstar rookie Nathan MacKinnon, who Mile High Sports' Nathan Roth writes will continue to suit up alongside Landeskog this season. It's a match that could become a top NHL duo quickly. 

No. 13: Martin St. Louis, New York Rangers

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    By the Numbers: At nearly a point-per-game pace with the Tampa Bay Lightning last year, St. Louis struggled initially adjusting to new teammates and a new town. He finished his regular season with the Rangers by scoring one goal and eight points in 19 games. Things changed in the playoffs, though, as St. Louis warmed up and scored eight goals and 15 points in 25 games.

    Best Attribute: A Brett Hull-like vision of the ice allows the sniper to find open ice amid the game's giant defenders and get into the best possible position to get a good look at the goal when the pass comes.

    Why He's Here: Last year's dramatics hurt his reputation and perhaps his pride. But an injured—not physically, anyway—St. Louis is a highly motivated St. Louis. The diminutive 5'8" forward has had to fight the stigma of his size all through his pro career, and he's used to proving people wrong. Those who think he's incapable of getting back to a point-per-game pace would be foolish to bet against him in his first full season in the Big Apple. 

No. 12: Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks

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    By the Numbers: Hossa had 30 goals and 30 helpers for 60 points in 72 games last year, bringing his career totals to 464 goals, 531 assists and 995 points in 1,090 regular-season games.

    Best Attribute: Consistency. Hossa has been the definition of that trait for the better part of his 15 NHL seasons.

    Why He's Here: At 35, Hossa is definitely entering the age of uncertainty. But he quietly exudes every quality you look for in a star and leader. He's not flashy, but he works hard and plays with smarts to make sure he's winning battles against much younger wingers who hope to one day be compared to him. Expect at least another year of his evenly distributed offense.

No. 11: Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

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    By the Numbers: His 41 goals were third-most in the NHL last year. His 16 power-play goals ranked second. With 79 points, Pavelski placed among the top-eight scorers.

    Best Attribute: He's got the same work ethic as the similarly sized Zach Parise. That edge to his game allows him to win big battles despite his small stature.

    Why He's Here: The belief here is he will continue to play on the wing with the top line in San Jose—where he suited up for the majority of last season alongside Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl, according to LeftWingLock.com (although the site flipped him and Big Joe positionally, I assure you it was Thornton playing the middle in that combination)—rather than as a third-line center. With those linemates and his skill set, he should get close to another 40 goals and crack the point-per-game mark for the first time in his career.

No. 10: Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks

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    By the Numbers: Sharp led the Blackhawks with 34 goals and 78 points in 82 games last season. His 313 shots on goal were second-most in the league behind Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. He's scored at least 30 in four of the last seven seasons and a plus player in all but two of his nine years with the Blackhawks.

    Best Attribute: Sharp is good at everything, but his best attribute is his versatility. He can play all three forward positions, suit up for first-line minutes or fit in on the fourth line if need be.

    Why He's Here: Because of the presence of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Sharp has been a real under-the-radar star during the Blackhawks' rise to dynasty status. In fact, without him, the Hawks aren't nearly as deep and dangerous up front. We fully expect him to earn every penny of his $5.9 million cap hit the next three seasons and continue to put up big numbers across the board.

No. 9: Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    By the Numbers: Kessel enjoyed one of his finest years as a pro last season, finishing fifth in the NHL with 37 goals, sixth with 80 points and third with 305 shots on goal. If you prorate the 20 tallies from the lockout two years ago, he has been a 30-plus goal scorer for six straight seasons. He also scored five goals and eight points at the 2014 Sochi Games last February.

    Best Attribute: He has a quick release that catches even the most prepared goaltenders off guard more often than not. It's a top-tier snapshot that makes him one of the league's most dangerous snipers and a threat to score 40 or more this season.

    Why He's Here: He's not the most popular guy in the press because of his awkward nature in front of the cameras, when he chooses to appear in front of them, but he is undeniably one of the most talented wingers in the NHL. He's not the most well-rounded—insert your own Phil Kessel-is-fat joke here—but raw skill and speed have served him well, and he hasn't missed a single game in four seasons.

No. 8: Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild

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    By the Numbers: Parise fell just shy of his sixth 30-goal season a year ago, and that was because he played just 67 games thanks to a broken foot that sidelined him for a significant amount of time. The 30-year-old scored 29 times and totaled 56 points.

    Best Attribute: Determination. Parise has plenty of it. It's easy to forget that he's 5'11" and under 200 pounds because of his style of play. It's that identity Team USA head coach Dan Bylsma wanted his Olympians to adopt when naming Parise captain for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, via USA Today's Kevin Allen.

    Why He's Here: Only 15 wingers scored 30 goals last season, and every one of them played more games than Parise, who put together nice numbers for a team that counts on him to drive the offense. His production was similar to Patrick Kane's, and while he's not quite at that level of talent, he's capable of point-per-game production and 40-plus goals if he can stay healthy.

No. 7: Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

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    By the Numbers: With 16 goals and 47 points in 73 games, last season was a massive disappointment for the NHL's 2011 scoring leader. But as he approaches 1,000 games in the league, his career numbers tell a different story—307 goals, 805 points in 979 regular-season contests.

    Best Attribute: He cycles with the best of them, creating tic-tac-toe plays off the boards down low thanks to a seemingly innate knowledge of where to be or where his twin brother Henrik is at any point in time. His vision is among the best in the league, and despite the fact some still insist on calling the Swedish twins sisters, they play tough along those dashers.

    Why He's Here: After a tumultuous season under coach John Tortorella, we're fully expecting a massive rebound for the 34-year-old Daniel Sedin and his brother. Sedin told The Vancouver Sun's Iain MacIntyre that he did things differently last season and that he'll go back to what made him a star this year. History suggests last year was an anomaly and not the norm.

No. 6: Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers

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    By the Numbers: With 27 goals, 80 points and 250 shots in 75 games last season, Hall was the top per-game point producer at his position with 1.07 points per contest. If he wasn't playing for such a disappointing franchise, he'd get much more attention for those kinds of numbers.

    Best Attribute: He's a sniper who drives the net hard, but it's his incredible feet that make it all happen. Hall is explosive and can quickly separate himself from defenders. There's no reason for him to ever lose a footrace for a loose puck.

    Why He's Here: With a nearly complete package of talent, Hall might be ranked higher if not for his lackadaisical approach to the concept of backchecking. He's got the same sort of skill Alex Ovechkin boasts. Unfortunately, the idea of playing hard in every corner of the ice still eludes the 2010 first overall draft pick in the same way it plagues Ovechkin. 

No. 5: Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings

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    By the Numbers: Only one other winger—Taylor Hall—put up more points per game than Zetterberg. Unfortunately, the Red Wings captain managed to get into just 45 contests because of a bad back. Still, he potted 16 goals and 48 points in that span, leading the team with a plus-19 rating.

    Best Attribute: His star center, Pavel Datsyuk, gets more attention and the Selke Trophy accolades, but Zetterberg is just as effective a defender as one of the league's best at blanketing top opponents. Alone, this trait is admirable, but when you combine it with his obvious offensive explosiveness, it sets him apart from the upper echelon of wingers.

    Why He's Here: If this is Zetterberg in his prime, he's ranked higher. But while the 33-year-old is still capable of outstanding contributions and has the ability to take over a game, his health has been deteriorating. Although he told the Red Wings website's Bill Roose his back is healed after surgery and an offseason of recovery, there should be legitimate concern about the possibility of another injury.

No. 4: Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks

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    By the Numbers: Perry's 43 goals were the second most in the league last season, and he finished with 82 points in 81 games to finish fifth in the NHL. His 280 shots were the sixth highest, helping with his strong possession numbers via BehindTheNet.ca

    Best Attribute: Perry has a real nose for the net and an ability to keep himself in prime-scoring position even with a defender or two doing his best to own the space.

    Why He's Here: It might seem like the 2011 Hart Trophy winner has been around for a long time and is in danger of losing a step, but Perry is still just 29 and in his prime. Don't count him out for another 50-goal season playing alongside Ryan Getzlaf. His grit and intensity are often unmatched by opponents, giving him an edge as a top winger. 

No. 3: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

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    By the Numbers: Ho-hum, another 50-plus-goal season for Ovechkin last year to win another Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy. He also ranked first with 386 shots, was tops with 24 power-play markers and was second with 10 game-winning goals. He finished with 79 points (51 goals and 28 assists) in 78 games. His minus-35 rating was an eyesore, however, as third-worst in the league and far and away the most brutal among all Washington Capitals players.

    Best Attribute: His pure-sniping ability is what makes him one of the most dangerous players out there regardless of position. He's also very physical, although there's a tendency to let that get in the way of good positioning at times.

    Why He's Here: Ovechkin could easily rank No. 1 on some other lists based on his incredible offensive ability, but he'll always have doubters because of his obvious disregard for playing as hard in his own end as he does at the other side of the rink. Maybe new coach Barry Trotz will be able to draw that effort out of him. Even if he doesn't, Ovechkin will continue to dominate defenses.

No. 2: Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

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    By the Numbers: Despite missing a chunk of time late in the season, Kane netted 29 goals and 40 assists for 69 points in 69 games last year. He was on pace for a career high in goals before hurting his knee and scored a league-high four game-winning goals in the playoffs.

    Best Attribute: Unlike so many other players, Kane doesn't need top talent on his line to produce big numbers. He maintained a point-per-game pace despite playing the majority of his minutes with Michal Handzus and Kris Versteeg as linemates.

    Why He's Here: The 25-year-old is a dual threat, able to look off a pass to a teammate in prime-scoring position or do the dirty work himself. He's among the most talented players in the game and could easily lead the league in scoring in the coming years. With new linemates this season he could take another leap forward.

No. 1: Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

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    By the Numbers: Benn had 34 goals and 79 points in what some consider his breakout season last year. It's hard to categorize it as a breakout, however, because he's improved every year since his 22-goal rookie season in 2009-10. He fired 279 pucks at opposing goalies last season, ranking seventh in the league.

    Best Attribute: He is the total package with size, speed, vision, smarts and top-end skill. His leadership led him to the captaincy, but it's the way he plays the game with such energy and determination on every shift that separates him from the pack.

    Why He's Here: He doesn't have Alex Ovechkin's goals or Patrick Kane's ridiculous moves, but what Benn does is combine their skills and add a defensive awareness and dedication that make him the most well-rounded winger in the game for this year. There's a reason Sidney Crosby picked him as his choice to build a franchise around in an ESPN player poll by Craig Custance that was tweeted by DefendingBigD.

     

    Steve Macfarlane has covered the NHL for more than a decade, including seven seasons following the Flames for the Calgary Sun. Follow him on Twitter @macfarlaneHKY.