Moving on to our next section of "sleepers" (for explanation of center "sleepers" and why I put quotes around "sleepers", go here), we come to the most important group in fantasy hockey in my opinion: wingers. The only other group even close is goaltending, but in a majority of leagues, goalies come and go, rise and fall. There are a couple of mainstays, but in competitive leagues where you have 12 or more teams, everyone is going to be playing the "find your goalie" game. One of the most stable statistics in goaltending, save percentage, testifies to the fact that there is very little variance in the performance of the top tier of goaltenders versus the middle and bottom. Therefore, every year, a savvy owner can get a top 5 goaltender off the waiver wire.
Wingers, on the other hand, are less volatile, but incredibly important because the difference between the top tiers and the lower tiers are much more substantial than any other position on the ice. The key is catching a winger on the rise in later rounds, who can hopefully either offset a disappointing winger or bolster an already-solid position on your team.
P.S. I am using Yahoo Sports 2010 fantasy draft rankings and positions in the mostly standard Yahoo 12-team format.
Corey Perry - Anaheim Ducks - RW
Average draft position: 43rd pick
Corey Perry's annoying to some people, and I understand that. But those sentiments have no place in fantasy sports, where he has rapidly become one of the top RW's in the game. He has averaged 29 goals, 38 assists, a +7, 21 PP points, 251 shots, and 109 PIM over the last 3 seasons, and there is every reason to believe he will duplicate those numbers. Goal-scoring is a scarce commodity at any of the positions, so the prospect of having a 30+ goal scorer on your team is valuable. Not to mention a 30-goal scorer that can give you 70 points and 100+ PIM. It seems like splitting hairs, but a spread of 10 picks in the early rounds is too far apart between Perry and Marleau and Iginla. Marleau played a bit over his head last year, and will give you virtually no PIMs, whereas Iginla might give you more PIMs but will likely be joined again by Olli Jokinen who will take away a significant chunk of Iginla's shots. Perry, on the other hand, loses Bobby Ryan on the left wing and gains shot opportunities in the process. And really, I'm basing my analysis on what we know Perry can do (previous years' stats); there are some who believe he could build on last year.
2010-11 prediction: 79 games played, 33 goals, 45 assists, 78 points, +2, 25 PP points, 290 shots, 105 PIM
Ales Hemsky - Edmonton Oilers - RW
Average draft position: 103rd pick
Could easily match the production of: Daniel Alfredsson (56th pick)
Let me begin by saying that no one will lose their fantasy season if their drafting mantra is "Avoid all Edmonton Oilers." That being said, I do think that there might be at least one draft-able player in Hemsky. I think it's a little too easy to pass off Hemsky as "injury-prone", as he had one rough year after two full seasons (in today's NHL, anything above 71 games is a full season to me). Plus, he went under the knife and has looked good early in training camp. Recall that his injury was to his left shoulder and he shoots right; it would be a tougher injury to recover from if he were in a position that relies on slap-shot skills and physical play rather than wrist-shots and stick-handling. He was a point-per-gamer when paired with Penner, and that is likely where he'll play again. He's still only 27 years old and has a lot of gas in the tank after rehabbing much of last year. Alfredsson, I hate to say, is a bit past his prime and is not in an ideal offense to lift his point totals. Sneak Hemsky onto your team as a #2 right winger and don't be surprised if he becomes your best.
2010-11 prediction: 75 games, 24 goals, 52 assists, 76 points, +1, 33 PP points, 200 shots, 35 PIM
Brenden Morrow - Dallas Stars - LW
Average draft position: 125th pick
Could easily match the production of: Dustin Penner (86th pick)
How quickly we forget the Morrow of yesteryear. Before his ACL injury in 2008-09, Morrow was rising to a level of production consistent with some of the best fantasy LW's. Had he not lost his 06-07 and 08-09 seasons to injury, he could easily have posted 63 and 68 points, respectively, giving him four straight seasons of 20+ goals, 30+ assists, and 100+ PIM. Instead, his knee and wrist injuries interrupted him, and while he clearly recovered from the wrist injury the knee seemed to affect his play last year. It's very possible that his recovery was slow, and there are reasons to be optimistic. For one, he will be moving back into the same role as previous seasons as the top LW and, now healthy, will be able to play the physical game that brought him so much success. Don't forget that he logs significant minutes on the PP. Also, his shooting percentage last year was down from previous seasons, a stat that will likely rebound. While I can't guarantee Dallas will be a successful team, there's every reason to suggest that Morrow can return to his previous form. I look at this as not a condemnation for Penner, but rather an optimistic view of Morrow.
2010-11 prediction: 82 games, 28 goals, 40 assists, 68 points, -1, 25 PP points, 180 shots, 90 PIM
Tuomo Ruutu - Carolina Hurricanes - LW
Average draft position: Not Drafted
Could easily match the production of: Ryan Smyth (104th pick)
Ruutu was a popular pick last year that many assumed disappointed. Fact is, he was actually on roughly the same pace in 09-10 as he was in 08-09 across the board. This year, as according to the 'Canes team site, he will regain his prime position on the top line alongside Eric Staal and 09-10 revelation Jussi Jokinen. Even on bad teams, there is occasionally a little statistical enclave that could be called "success", and I think Carolina's first line will be a good example. Supposedly moving over to right wing, Ruutu will retain his LW eligibility and gain RW eligibility, a nice little perk to having him. I happen to think that not only will Ruutu regain his form, but he will benefit from a solid rebound season from Eric Staal, resulting in more assists and garbage goals. Like Perry, Ruutu is a pest, but that only spells more value for him in fantasy. Ryan Smyth, on the other hand, looks like a great pick on the surface but is really still just Ryan Smyth. Yes, he had a great start to the year, but by mid-season he was dipping back into the Smyth-y inconsistency we're all used to seeing. I think Kopitar and Dustin Brown will be the stars on that top line, and Smyth will continue to have cyclical "coming-out" parties (if you know what I mean, Goldilocks).
2010-11 prediction: 77 games, 24 goals, 36 assists, 60 points, -3, 21 PP points, 190 shots, 85 PIM
You'll notice some consistency across these picks, as most of the players are on mediocre-to-poor teams and have had some injuries in their past. Both are good reasons for caution, but not necessarily good reasons to entirely write them off. Remember, the big differences are between the top tier wingers and the bottom of the barrel, and these guys (except Perry) are examples of great safety valves to make sure that your wingers are all at or near the top tier.