Goals are pretty important when it comes to winning games in the NHL, and much of that offense comes from wingers. The skill at those positions is off the charts these days, with players like Matthew Tkachuk and Jason Robertson dominating the league.
Wingers may not always get as much credit as players at other positions, but this past season proved that they can be major difference-makers for championship contenders. Tkachuk led the Florida Panthers to a Stanley Cup Final, where they met Mark Stone and the Vegas Golden Knights.
What separates those players from the average wingers is that, while they are excellent at creating offense, they are also exceptional on the defensive side of things. That makes Tkachuk and Stone among the most valuable wingers in the NHL.
Here are the top 10 wingers heading into the 2023-24 NHL season.
1. Matthew Tkachuk | LW | Florida Panthers
After slotting Matthew Tkachuk at No. 1 in these rankings last season, I was worried I was too bullish on him after a great 2021-22 season. Well, Tkachuk rewarded my faith, and he cemented himself as the top winger in the NHL with an impeccable 2022-23 campaign.
In his first season with the Panthers, Tkachuk set new career highs with 69 assists and 109 points. Those numbers are impressive enough on the surface, but a deeper dive shows exactly how much better Florida was with Tkachuk on the ice last year. With Tkachuk in the game at five-on-five, the Panthers had a plus-39 goal differential, per Natural Stat Trick. With Tkachuk on the bench, that goal differential plummeted to minus-7.
Tkachuk only enhanced his stardom with an awe-inspiring postseason performance. He tallied 24 points in 20 games, and he came up clutch with four game-winning goals, despite battling through a broken sternum. I'd say that effort is more than worthy of the No. 1 spot again this year.
2. David Pastrnak | RW | Boston Bruins
David Pastrnak loves scoring goals. He cannot get enough of it, and his obsession with lighting the lamp has pushed him to No. 2 in the rankings after sitting at No. 7 heading into last season.
Pastrnak smoked his previous career high with 61 goals in the 2022-23 season, and he would have won the Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy if not for the existence of one Connor McDavid. Over the last two seasons, Pastrnak has scored 101 goals in 154 games. Again, that is behind only McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Goals are pretty important when it comes to winning games in the NHL, and Pastrnak can deliver them in bunches.
Pastrnak can fire missiles on the power play, deke a goaltender out of his pads, and get creative off the rush. Even with Patrice Bergeron retiring, the Bruins will be an Atlantic Division contender with Pastrnak at the top of the lineup.
3. Jason Robertson | LW | Dallas Stars
Another player who has vaulted up these rankings over the last year is Jason Robertson, who has some Tkachuk in his game. Robertson is an elite power forward with a high-end scoring touch, and he blends those two parts of his game perfectly.
Robertson built upon his breakout 2021-22 season with a monster 2022-23 season in which he found the back of the net 46 times and totaled 109 points. Not only that, but the Dallas Stars were an absolute juggernaut when Robertson was in the game. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Stars controlled 59.4% of the expected goals and 65.1% of the actual goals with Robertson on the ice at five-on-five. Not too shabby for a then 23-year-old.
Somehow, Dallas has Robertson signed for just $7.75 million over the next three seasons, and that means the franchise is squarely in a Stanley Cup window. Robertson and the Stars fell just short of the Stanley Cup Final in 2023, but they will be a Cup favorite when the puck drops on opening night.
4. Mitch Marner | RW | Toronto Maple Leafs
It's not often that you see a playmaking winger on a team's top penalty kill unit, but that is the case with Mitch Marner and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Marner thrives in every situation, and that makes him one of the NHL's most valuable wingers.
This past season, Marner tallied more than 90 points for the third time in his career, totaling 30 goals and 69 assists. In addition to putting up gaudy offensive numbers, Marner shoulders a biggest workload. He played more than 1,702 minutes last season, which was close to 100 minutes more than the next closest player and nearly 200 more than the next closest forward, per Natural Stat Trick.
That's because Marner sees plenty of playing time on both the power play and penalty kill, and he manages to produce in every circumstance. He finished tied for 10th in power play points (36) and tied for sixth in shorthanded points (5). Marner is the Swiss Army Knife of NHL wingers.
5. Mikko Rantanen | RW | Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche dealt with a slew of injuries in the 2022-23 season, but Mikko Rantanen was there to pick up the slack. Rantanen turned in a career year as Colorado won its second straight Central Division crown.
Not only was Rantanen an excellent distributor last season, but he also took his goal-scoring to new heights. He found the back of the net 55 times, which was 19 goals higher than his previous career high of 36 goals. The Avs suffered a shocking first-round playoff loss at the hands of the Seattle Kraken last year, but that wasn't Rantanen's fault. He scored seven goals in seven games.
If the Avs have better injury luck in 2023-24 -- and it can't get much worse -- Rantanen won't have to shoulder so much of the burden. Having a full complement of skilled players around him might even allow Rantanen to find yet another level to his game.
6. Kirill Kaprizov | LW | Minnesota Wild
Kirill Kaprizov has been an electric player in each of his first three NHL seasons, and that shouldn't change heading into 2023-24. Kaprizov was somewhat hampered by injury last season, but he was still a machine when healthy.
Last year, Kaprizov notched 40 goals and 75 points in just 67 games. That's an 82-game pace of 49 goals, which would have been a career high for Kaprizov. If he can stay healthy, Kaprizov could easily break the 50-goal mark this upcoming season. That would be something else considering Kaprizov hasn't played with a true No. 1 center in his career. He spent most of last season with either Frederick Gaudreau, Sam Steel or Ryan Hartman in the middle.
Kaprizov has proven himself to be a true star in the NHL, and he has the ability to drive the Minnesota Wild to the postseason. The next step for Kaprizov will be dominating in the postseason after going cold in the Wild's first-round loss to the Dallas Stars last season.
7. Nikita Kucherov | RW | Tampa Bay Lightning
Nikita Kucherov just keeps on plugging along as one of the best wingers in the NHL, as has been the case for quite a while now. For the first time since 2018-19, Kucherov played all 82 games in 2022-23, and he had the second-best season of his career.
Kucherov notched 30 goals and 83 assists for 113 points in another tremendous season for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Kucherov did do a lot of that damage on the power play, but those points still count on the scoreboard, and his underlying numbers at five-on-five were still solid. Tampa controlled 54.6% of the expected goals and nearly 55.0% of the expected goals with Kucherov on the ice, according to Natural Stat Trick.
As the 2023-24 season approaches, age might be the only concern for Kucherov. He turned 30 this offseason, but Kucherov has shown no signs of slowing down. Kucherov is still an elite offensive playmaker, and he'll be hunting his third Stanley Cup this year.
8. William Nylander | RW | Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander has to share the spotlight with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in Toronto, but he stands on his own as a superstar forward. Nylander is coming off a career season in 2022-23, and he could set his sights even higher in a contract year.
Last season, Nylander managed to set career highs in goals (40), assists (47) and points (87). Over the last two seasons, Nylander has scored 74 goals, which ties him with Nathan MacKinnon for 19th in the NHL over that span. That also puts him above players like Elias Pettersson, Alex DeBrincat and Mika Zibanejad. Nylander also had a strong postseason showing in 2023, with four goals and 10 points in 11 games played.
Throughout the last several years, Nylander has grown into a bona fide stud and fashion icon for the Maple Leafs. Toronto better enjoy Nylander's $6.96 million cap hit in 2023-24 because he will get a significant raise next summer.
9. Mark Stone | RW | Vegas Golden Knights
Mark Stone has only played 80 games in the last two seasons, but his performance in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs is worthy of a spot on this list. That might mean I've been influenced by recency bias, but I absolutely do not care. Stone is a freak when he is fully healthy.
Stone has battled injury over the last two years, but he is still one of the very best two-way forwards in the NHL. Since the start of the 2021-22 season, the Golden Knights have controlled 56.3% of the expected goals and 59.1% of the actual goals with Stone on the ice at five-on-five. Stone did get healthy just in time for the 2023 playoffs, and that was bad news for Vegas' opponents. He totaled 11 goals and 24 points in 23 games en route to hoisting the Stanley Cup.
As the Golden Knights attempt to defend their title as Stanley Cup champs in 2023-23, Stone should be fully healthy at the start of the season. If he can stay healthy for all 82 games, Vegas should have a great shot to defend its Pacific Division title.
10. Tim Stützle | LW | Ottawa Senators
Much like Matthew Tkachuk last year and Jason Robertson this year, Tim Stützle is a candidate to make a massive jump up this list next year. Stützle already looks like a star for the Ottawa Senators, and the best is still yet to come.
Last season, Stützle really broke out with 39 goals and 51 assists in 78 games, and his five-on-five impacts were great as well. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Senators controlled 55.1% of the expected goals with Stützle on the ice in those situations. Ottawa did have a minus-2 goal differential with Stützle on the ice at five-on-five, but that had more to do with an 89.2% team save percentage than anything else.
Stützle is already living up to his pedigree as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. He and Brady Tkachuk are two of the major cornerstones in Ottawa, and the future looks bright for that duo and the franchise as a whole.