Since the recent shakeup, we don’t have a stockpile of centers. That means, in theory, everyone should be in their natural positions. So while Jeff Carter was technically our best winger last year, who’s the man now?
First, we need a definition of best wing. The main expectations are that the person will go hard into the corners, and also score a decent amount of goals. Here are the candidates, in alphabetical order: Scott Hartnell, Jaromir Jagr, JVR, Jon Kalinski, Andreas Nodl, Jody Shelley, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek. We can easily rule out Kalinski and Shelley because both are role players with very limited ice time. Nodl is a step above, but he’s nothing special either.
Simmonds has the toughness to help forecheck, but I’m not sure about his offense yet. Voracek is the opposite: a guy who can score a few goals, but isn’t known for battling along the boards. Then again, he’s going to have much higher quality centers here, so maybe his scoring value makes up for a lack of toughness. I don’t really know what we’re getting with him yet, so I may be way off.
We have no clue yet exactly how effective Jagr will be. I know he’s old, but he’s so damn big and strong that I think he can still be really, really good. He doesn’t mind physical play, but he likely won’t be the first man in to get the puck. He’s on another level compared to Hartnell on offense, in every facet of the game. But Hartnell will chase the puck, throw the body, and chip a decent amount of goals. I won’t be shocked if they’re on the same line, with Briere in the middle. That actually sounds like an upgrade over Leino-Briere-Hartnell because Jagr has better vision and doesn’t hesitate to shoot the puck either.
Still, does this leave JVR as our best winger? He also will chase dump ins, and he’s got a lot more offensive ability than Hartnell. He can create his own shot, and make space for himself. He showed this in the playoffs, but can we expect this from him on a consistent basis? The Flyers are betting on him that he can. I won’t be sold unless I see it happen over the course of the entire season. Then again, depending on how players click together and how Lavy uses them, maybe Voracek or Jagr turn out to be the best wingers. But for now, on paper, given his age and expectations, JVR is our best winger.
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