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Top 10 of the 2010s: Left Wingers

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The series continues with the best of the past decade at each position

Buffalo Sabres v Ottawa Senators Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

After a contentious debut to the series yesterday with the centers, today we tackle the left wing. I feel it’s important to remind you that this series is an evaluation of each player’s total time with the Sabres - not just their peak season. In order to compare a player with 70 games played and a player with 300 games played fairly, I used statistics on a rate basis, as compared to a total basis. Therefore, this exercise rewards consistency as opposed to peaks or longevity.

Again, please note that in lieu of breaking down the algorithms weighing the analytics involved, I simplified my rankings into a player’s “Offense” rank, “Defense” rank, and “Overall” rank. In order to limit the outliers, a minimum was set of 50 games played for skaters. This left a total of 80 skaters to rank, as well as the goaltenders. All players were evaluated on their total time in a Sabres uniform in the decade.

We will continue to reveal each position this week, and, without further ado, here are the top 10 left wingers:


10 - Evander Kane

Overall - 39th

Offense - 23rd

Defense - 59th

Best season - 2017-2018

The first big acquisition of the Tim Murray era, Kane brought with him high expectations from the get-go. His best statistic throughout his three seasons with the Sabres was his corsi-for, due to his knack to shoot from anywhere. In 2017-2018, Kane started to get to higher danger areas in the offensive zone more often, leading to more quality scoring chances.


9 - Victor Olofsson

Overall - 33rd

Offense - 26th

Defense - 46th

Best season - 2019-2020

Olofsson showed enough in a shortened rookie season to crack the top 10. The Swedish-born sniper no doubt benefited from playing on Jack Eichel’s line, but his big uptick is his his powerplay production. If he can sustain his shooting percentage, he will be a very useful player going forward.


8 - Nathan Gerbe

Overall - 22nd

Offense - 37th

Defense - 20th

Best season - 2010-2011

After a productive college career, Gerbe jumped into professional hockey looking like he’d become a legit scoring threat. The undersized forward, however, carved out a nice few seasons limiting quality chances against. 2010-2011 was his best, tilting the ice favorably in shot attempts.


7 - Marcus Foligno

Overall - 21st

Offense - 44th

Defense - 4th

Best season - 2012-2013

When Foligno leaped into the NHL as a major scoring threat, regression was surely in store for him. He was never able to recreate the offensive magic from his first set of games, but even for the Minnesota Wild today remains one of the best defensive wingers in the league.


6 - Jimmy Vesey

Overall - 17th

Offense - 18th

Defense - 13th

Best season - 2019-2020

This one surely made you do a double-take. Truth is, Vesey quietly put together a very favorable season in terms of impacts in different areas on the ice. Sure, his quality of teammate was fairly low, so the production wasn’t quite there. Yet, scoring 20-30 goals like Kane is one thing, but if you’re giving up more goals than you score when you’re on the ice it doesn’t mean much. Vesey wasn’t spectacular in any field, but when on the ice his team produced more goals, expected goals, and shot attempts than it gave up.


5 - Jamie McGinn

Overall - 12th

Offense - 16th

Defense - T-2nd

Best season - 2015-2016

Before Olofsson, Sam Reinhart, and Jeff Skinner, McGinn was Eichel’s first running mate. So how did he help the developing Eichel? The answer is clearly on the defensive side of the puck. Shot suppression and low quality chances were key parts of his limited tenure with the Sabres, though he was never able to settle into one place since leaving town.


4 - Matt Moulson

Overall - 10th

Offense - 13th

Defense - 8th

Best season - 2013-2014

Recency bias will remind you that Moulson was the left winger the Sabres paid NHL money to play in the AHL for a club affiliated with another team. However, when he was first acquired, Moulson put up some real consistent offensive numbers. On top of that, even though his skating deteriorated in his last couple NHL seasons, his defensive play did not. Remember, he even produced 11 powerplay goals in his last full season, so he always found a way to contribute. His final undoing with the club lasted only 14 games, so the penalty wasn’t too severe.


3 - Jeff Skinner

Overall - 9th

Offense - 5th

Defense - 64th

Best season - 2018-2019

It’s no surprise that Skinner’s stellar 2018-2019 campaign carried him to the number three spot on this list. Without Eichel this past season, not only did Skinner’s scoring dip, but he wasn’t getting the puck in high danger areas nearly enough. Despite this, he maintained a positive corsi plus-minus, indicating that, with some help from better linemates, he will be able to regain form.


2 - Jochen Hecht

Overall - 6th

Offense - 8th

Defense - 18th

Best season - 2010-2011

It’s hard to pick out one dominate season from Hecht, because he low-key dominated every shift. He limited scoring chances in his own end, and turned them into shot attempts from literally anywhere on the ice. Offense, defense, penalty kill - you name it - he showed up. Hecht even played all three forward positions, so his value was sorely missed after his departure.


1 - Thomas Vanek

Overall - 3rd

Offense - 2nd

Defense - 52nd

Best season - 2010-2011

An elite offensive talent, the newly retired Vanek came in at number three overall among skaters of the last decade. His defense, no doubt, was below average, but when you put up monster offensive numbers like he did, the good outweighed the bad. It’s probably no surprise he’s the number one left winger, as his best offensive season fell short to only that of Eichel’s most recent campaign.


Not mentioned:

Zemgus Girgensons (57th overall)

Clarke MacArthur (62nd)

John Scott (T-64th)

Jordan Nolan (T-64th)

Beniot Pouliot (72nd)

Steve Ott (75th)

Nicolas Deslauriers (76th)

Other position rankings:

Centers

Right Wingers

Defensemen

Goaltenders

If the poll below is not showing up on your newsreader, please click here to go vote.

Poll

Who would you rank as the Sabres best left winger of the decade?

This poll is closed

  • 87%
    Thomas Vanek
    (180 votes)
  • 7%
    Jochen Hecht
    (16 votes)
  • 2%
    Jeff Skinner
    (6 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (3 votes)
205 votes total Vote Now