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(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.

25. Sean Bergenheim(notes), Florida Panthers: Let's see if he uses his playoff scoring binge as a springboard to bigger and better things. His new team certainly hopes so.

24. Taylor Hall(notes), Edmonton Oilers: The Oil are getting better, and here's a big reason why.

23. Simon Gagne(notes), Los Angeles Kings: Not as dynamic as he used to be, but his elite scoring skills will be on display given the Kings' strength down the middle.

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.

21. Alex Tanguay(notes), Calgary Flames: Found his stride playing with Jarome Iginla(notes), and turned in his best offensive season since 2007.

20. Ryan Smyth(notes), Edmonton Oilers: A lot of NHLers turn up their noses at northern Alberta. Suffice to say, Smyth is not one of them.

19. Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets: Fans in Manitoba — and opponents around the league — will want to keep an eye on this burgeoning power forward.

18. Nikolai Kulemin(notes), Toronto Maple Leafs: It's hard to fly under the radar when you're a Leaf, but Kulemin managed to score 30 goals last season without too many taking notice.

17. Brooks Laich(notes), Washington Capitals: Gritty leader and core Cap is good for 20 goals and a consistent physical presence.

16. Erik Cole(notes), Montreal Canadiens: Veteran is a gamer with speed and skill, as long as his body doesn't betray him. As always, the pressure will be on in Montreal.

15. James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia Flyers: Part of the reason the Flyers traded away Mike Richards(notes) and Jeff Carter(notes) was the growth of this young behemoth.

14. Ville Leino(notes), Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres made a six-year, $27 million bet that he's more than a 19-goal scorer. We'll see how he fares in his first real chance as a go-to guy.

13. Alex Burrows, Vancouver Canucks: He agitates, he scores, then he agitates some more. He was one of the Canucks' clutch performers last spring.

12. Andrew Ladd(notes), Winnipeg Jets: As captain, he's the first face of the franchise and his physical style should quickly endear him to the locals.

11. Scott Hartnell(notes), Philadelphia Flyers: Classic Broad Street winger plays it big and burly; he'd be top five on this list if he had more finish.

10. Patrik Elias(notes), New Jersey Devils: He's not the offensive threat he was a decade ago, but 30 goals and 70 points aren't out of the question.

9. Michael Cammalleri(notes), Montreal Canadiens: The Habs' best scorer plays with heart and collects goals in bunches.

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.

7. Brenden Morrow(notes), Dallas Stars: Team captain bounced back with 33 goals, and he'll get all the ice time he can handle as franchise rebuilds.

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

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