Best left wing for 2021-22 season debated by NHL.com writers

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For more than a decade, the list began, and ended, with Alex Ovechkin, the goal-hungry forward for the Washington Capitals. And though Ovechkin, who is sixth in NHL history with 730 goals, is still among the 10 best active left wings, there is considerable competition for his crown.

Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins has been near the top of that conversation for the past few seasons, using a well-rounded game and clutch scoring to stake his claim. Artemi Panarin has elevated his play even further the past two seasons with the New York Rangers after signing with them as a free agent, and Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers has been a consistent playmaker since his breakout season in 2018-19, when he scored 92 points (30 goals, 62 assists) in 82 games.

Meanwhile, Kirill Kaprizov of the Minnesota Wild and Jason Robertson of the Dallas Stars waged a captivating fight for the Calder Trophy last season, with Kaprizov becoming the first Wild player to win the award as the NHL’s top rookie.

So who will be the best left wing, as listed on their player page, this season? We asked seven NHL.com writers for their thoughts.

Here are their answers (listed alphabetically):

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames

What better time for Gaudreau to have a bounce-back season than in the final year of his contract? Although he was tied for 11th among left wings last season with 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists) in 56 games, Gaudreau has been among the best at the position since his rookie season in 2014-15. During that span, he has scored 493 points (169 goals, 324 assists) in 519 regular-season games, which is third among left wings behind Marchand and Ovechkin. — William Douglas, staff writer

Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

In the past three seasons, Huberdeau ranks seventh in the NHL and third among left wings with 231 points in 206 games. He also leads the position in power-play points (87) and is third in points per game (1.12) and even-strength points (144) during that span. Once a fixture on the top line with center Aleksander Barkov, Huberdeau helped Florida to the best points percentage (.705) in its history last season as the anchor on the second line. Then, pairing with center Sam Bennett, who was acquired in a trade with the Calgary Flames on April 12, Huberdeau scored 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in six games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the Panthers were eliminated in the first round by the Tampa Bay Lightning. — Pete Jensen, senior fantasy editor

Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild

Kaprizov, who is currently a restricted free agent, provided plenty of thrills for the Wild last season, scoring 51 points (27 goals, 24 assists) in 55 games, and fell one vote short of being a unanimous selection for the Calder after leading rookies in goals, points, power-play goals (eight) and shots on goal (157). Although he did have little impact in the playoffs, scoring three points (two goals, one assists) in seven games against the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup First Round, you can chalk that up to the learning curve that is surely taking the Russian-born forward higher in the pecking order of NHL stars. — Tim Campbell, staff writer

Video: MIN@VGK, Gm7: Kaprizov puts home Zuccarello’s dish

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

It’s difficult to go against one of the all-time great goal-scorers in NHL history in Ovechkin, but Marchand gets the nod here. He was first in points (69), second in goals (29) and third in assists (40) among left wings last season. He’s also a threat on the penalty kill, finishing tied for second among all NHL players in shorthanded goals (four), one behind Connor Brown of the Ottawa Senators. The 33-year-old has shown he remains in the prime of his career and should continue to be one of the most dangerous players in the League alongside elite linemates Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak— Mike Zeisberger, staff writer

Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers

Let’s start with the skill factor. I don’t think anyone will dispute Panarin is undoubtedly the most skilled left wing in the NHL. Sure, Marchand led all left wings in points, but Panarin still finished tied for third with 58 despite playing in only 42 games. After missing nine games following a leave of absence for personal reasons, Panarin scored 40 points (12 goals, 28 assists) in 28 games and was on the ice for 51 of the Rangers’ 102 goals. Panarin also possesses the quality of making everyone around him better. Look no further than what he has done for center Ryan Strome, who has played mostly alongside Panarin and has scored 108 points during the past two seasons (he scored 99 points the four seasons previous). Panarin will turn 30 on Oct. 30, but he’s not showing signs of slowing down. — Brian Compton, deputy managing editor

I agree with Brian here. In two seasons with the Rangers, Panarin has scored 153 points (49 goals, 104 assists) in 111 games for an average of 1.38 points per game. That’s not only the best among left wings during that span, but also third in the NHL behind centers Connor McDavid (1.68) and Leon Draisaitl (1.53) of the Edmonton Oilers. Panarin is skilled at scoring goals, evidenced by the NHL career-high 32 he scored in 69 games in 2019-20, and he’s perhaps the best playmaking wing in the game. His 104 assists the past two seasons are third in the NHL behind McDavid (135) and Draisaitl (120). — Tom Gulitti, staff writer

Video: NJD@NYR: Panarin scores in 2nd period

Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators

Entering his fourth NHL season, Tkachuk has emerged as the leader among Ottawa’s promising group of young players and could be poised for a big breakout. Last season, Tkachuk was second in the NHL in shots on goal (220, two fewer than Auston Matthews) and hits (248, two fewer than Radko Gudas), and his blend of high-end skill, strength and nastiness makes him someone opponents hate playing against. The Senators could be ready to climb the standings after going 10-3-1 in their final 14 games last season, and if they do, it’ll be in large part because of Tkachuk, who helped key that run by scoring 12 points (five goals, seven assists). — Adam Kimelman, deputy managing editor

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