(Rankings are based solely on players' projected performances in 2011-12. Players are listed at their official position when the rankings were created.)
Left wing has always been the spot for hockey's forgotten forward, like the flag football player who's told to "go deep" in every huddle. The center sets up pretty plays, the right winger scores goals ... and the left winger digs pucks out of the corner and then gets out of the way. There are, of course, exceptions — hello, Alex Ovechkin(notes) and Daniel Sedin(notes) — and San Jose's Patrick Marleau(notes), New Jersey's Zach Parise(notes) and Anaheim's Bobby Ryan(notes) would also crack any best-forward list. After that, though, there is a drop-off. Certainly, Boston's Milan Lucic(notes), Buffalo's Thomas Vanek(notes), Philadelphia's James van Riemsdyk(notes) and Winnipeg's Evander Kane(notes) may rise up and demand to be counted, but there's no denying the left side is left behind in overall star power and depth.
Honorable mentions: Andrei Kostitsyn(notes), Montreal Canadiens; Curtis Glencross(notes), Calgary Flames; Dustin Penner(notes), Los Angeles Kings; Matt Moulson(notes), NY Islanders; Ryan Malone(notes), Tampa Bay Lightning.
22. James Neal(notes), Pittsburgh Penguins: Was a disappointment after joining the Pens in a mid-season trade last year — one goal in 20 games — but big shooter is poised for breakout if Sidney Crosby(notes) and/or Evgeni Malkin(notes) can stay healthy.
19. Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets: Fans in Manitoba — and opponents around the league — will want to keep an eye on this burgeoning power forward.
13. Alex Burrows, Vancouver Canucks: He agitates, he scores, then he agitates some more. He was one of the Canucks' clutch performers last spring.
8. Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres: A pure sniper who needs someone to get him the puck. The Sabres' offseason spending spree will help, even if the talent upgrades didn't include a playmaking center.
6. Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins: Power forward enjoyed a breakout regular season with 30 goals, then celebrated with a Summer of Cup.
5. Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks: Bruising style and soft hands, and he's only 24. We're finding out why he was drafted second overall behind Crosby in 2005.
4. Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils: A knee injury at the end of October derailed his — and the Devils' — season.
3. Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks: Too soft? How about, too talented? Sharks shooter is aiming for 30-plus goals for sixth time in seven years.
2. Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks: After Stanley Cup disappointment, the league's defending scoring champion will be motivated to light it up again.
1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: Thirty-two goals for Mr. 50? Look for the NHL's post-lockout goal-scoring king to rebound after an off-year.
Sam McCaig is the NHL editor for Yahoo! Sports and Yahoo! Canada
Photo credits: Getty Images