The Watch List
Sergei Bobrovsky was sensational for the Jackets last year and nearly led them to the playoffs. Can he do it again?
School kids may disagree with me but this summer feels like it's way too long. Mercifully, NHL training camps will open soon and we can finally get back to some hockey. The prospect of a new NHL season, one that will start on time no less, is always exciting. With re-alignment shuffling some teams around, new divisions and the Red Wings and Blue Jackets moving East, there's sure to be some twists and turns this season. The Watch List takes a look at 16 players to keep an eye on in the Eastern Conference. Today we'll have a look at the Eastern Conference.
Boston - Torey Krug
- The cagey veteran of exactly 3 NHL regular season games, the 22 year old came out of nowhere to be a force during the playoffs and became a folk hero in Boston for his strong play. Krug is a bit undersized for an NHL defenceman, especially for the Bruins, but was very effective and played steady minutes for the B's throughout the post season. With Andrew Ference gone to Edmonton, there's a regular spot on the roster there to be had. Can Krug re-create his playoff magic?
Buffalo - Tyler Myers
- To say that Myers' career trajectory has taken a bit of a detour would be putting it lightly. He has struggled mightily the last few seasons with inconsistency and injury. Entering year two of his lengthy (and lucrative) contract, the Sabres desperately need him to re-discover the play that earned him the Calder Trophy in his rookie year and had pundits penciling him in as a Norris candidate for years to come. The Sabres brought back his old defensive partner Henrik Tallinder, will it be enough to resurrect the giant?
Carolina - Jiri Tlusty
- I'm skipping the obvious Cam Ward can-he-stay-healthy-this-year pick and going with Jiri Tlusty, who surprised everyone when he scored 23 goals and 38 points in 48 games last season. Tlusty was a perfect fit with Eric Staal and Alexander Semin, but repeating that pace will not be easy. Last season Tlusty scored on 19.66% of his shots, highest in the league among players with 100 shots or more and well over his career average of 13.77%. That number will likely come down to Earth a bit this season. The Canes are hoping it doesn't drop down too much, because they could definitely use the extra offense, especially if the aforementioned Cam Ward can't stay healthy.
Columbus - Sergei Bobrovsky
- The enigmatic Russian took over the net in Columbus and was absolutely spectacular, posting a 21-11-6 record with 4 shutouts and a .932 save percentage for the Jackets, taking home the Vezina trophy as the league's top goaltender for his trouble. The Blue Jackets came within a tiebreaker of making the playoffs last season but as improved as they are throughout the lineup, that just doesn't happen without Bobrovsky's heroics. The Jackets need to help him out by giving him more goal support, but for Columbus to continue their upward trajectory, they need a repeat performance from 'Bob'.
Detroit - Daniel Alfredsson
- Alfredsson says he likes the way Detroit plays, a puck possession game that he believes will fit his style and he enjoys playing. Will he be able to adjust to their systems seamlessly, and if so, how much does the seasoned veteran have left in the tank? Luckily with the Wings, he will be able to take on more of a support role, and looks as though he will get some ice time with Datsyuk and Zetterberg. After leaving Ottawa over a contract dispute with Sens management which seems to have left both sides sour, Alfy looks to chase the Cup with the Red Wings. Conveniently enough for all of us, Detroit and Ottawa just happen to be in the same division next season. This should be good...
Florida - Jacob Markstrom
- Last year when Theodore was injured, Jacob got a taste of the starters job with mixed reviews, and Theodore wasn't brought back, nor was another credible starter brought in. Markstrom has been the goaltender of the future for the Panthers for a while now, and it appears the future is now, for better or worse. The Panthers are unlikely to be much improved on last year, and Markstrom's numbers were less than spectacular, with a 3.22 GAA and a save percentage of .901. He had flashes of brilliance but could not sustain it. It's definitely not all him though. Sure, more consistency would help the Panthers drastically but don't expect his numbers to improve much until Florida's blue line does.
Montreal - PK Subban
- Held out at the start of the shortened season in a contract dispute with Habs management that resulted in Subban signing a 2 year bridge deal that some deemed a little low for an impact player like him. A phenomenal season and a Norris Trophy later, that bridge deal looks absurd now. When he got back into the lineup, he was nearly a point per game and absolutely dominated for the Habs. Montreal management better be glad the cap is projected to go up for 2014-15, because now it's a contract year for the underpaid Norris winner.
New Jersey - Travis Zajac
- With the careers of Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias winding down and Ilya Kovalchuk enjoying his "retirement" playing pro hockey in Russia, Travis Zajac is now in the spotlight. When he's been in the lineup he's been solid, but injuries limited his effectiveness in the last full season. He needs to emerge as this teams leader and raise his game back to the level it was at when he was 25 goal, 67 point player. This will be Zajac's team, if not now, then very soon. Time to find out if that's a good thing.
NY Islanders - Evgeni Nabokov
- Imagine the shock waves the Isles would have made last season if they ousted the Penguins in the first round? They very well could have. The Islanders gave the powerhouse Penguins all they could handle in their playoff match-up and served notice to the rest of the league that the Isles weren't to be taken lightly anymore. If only Nabokov could've brought his regular season game into the playoffs. Nabokov posted steady numbers for the Isles during the regular season but fell apart against the Penguins, finishing the series with an ugly 4.44 GAA and a .842 save percentage. He could have been the difference last year. Can he be the difference this time around?
NY Rangers - Brad Richards
- If a player was ever in need of a bounce back year, it's Brad Richards. From prized free agent signing to healthy scratch in the playoffs, not much has gone right for Richards in the Big Apple. He was supposed to be the difference maker in New York, but in 10 playoff games he picked up only a single goal and a -3 rating. It rarely ends well when your impact players are a non-factor over 10 playoff games. Spared a compliance buyout, Richards was given a chance to turn things around this season. Playing under new coach Alain Vigneault, can Richards get back to his Conn Smythe form and put last years dismal playoffs behind him?
Ottawa - Bobby Ryan
- Often the subject of trade rumors around Anaheim, Bobby Ryan was finally dealt to the Sens to fill the void on the wing left by Daniel Alfredsson. Somehow Bobby Ryan has largely flown under the radar, remarkable for a player who has 4 30 goal seasons under his belt in a 6 season career (his 23 game rookie campaign and last years shortened season the only 2 where he didn't hit the 30 mark). Paired with an elite play-maker like Jason Spezza, Ryan could be absolutely lethal. He might just be the star to put the Sens over the top.
Philadelphia - Steve Mason
- And so the revolving door that is the Flyers crease continues to spin. This time it's Steve Mason's turn, and he looks to resurrect a career that has stalled since his sensational rookie of the year performance. Playing on poor Columbus teams will do that to a young goalie and Mason craved a fresh start. After being acquired at the deadline, Mason showed signs that he was rejuvenated already, posting a 1.90 GAA and .944 save percentage with the Flyers in 7 games. If he can build on that and get his career back on track, the Flyers might be able to finally get a bit of stability in goal.
Pittsburgh - Marc-Andre Fleury
- Like Luongo, it's definitely unfair to lay the blame for the Penguins recent playoff exits entirely at Fleury's feet. But Fleury sure hasn't done himself any favors in that regard either. An absolute playoff nightmare since the Penguins Cup win, Fleury has had monumental lapses in play and hasn't posted a playoff save percentage over .900 since the Pens Cup victory in 2009. To say Fleury needs to find his game fast is an understatement. He is becoming known as the Achilles heel on what should be a perennial Cup favorite.
Tampa Bay - Martin St. Louis
- Okay Marty, enough is enough. Now you're just showing off. Winning a scoring title at 37 years old?? You're making the rest of us look bad. Will age ever catch up to Martin St. Louis? He's found great chemistry with Stamkos and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. One of the hardest working and respected players in the game, he does all the little things right and is a great role model for Tampa's younger players like Stamkos and Drouin.
Toronto - Jonathan Bernier/James Reimer
- Finally freed from Jonathan Quick's shadow, Bernier will now battle James Reimer for the crease. Reimer was part of that brutal Leafs meltdown in Game 7 against Boston, but all in all played very well for the Leafs last year. His .924 save percentage was the highest in Maple Leafs history, so it would stand to reason that the goaltending was solid with Reimer in goal. Bernier's new contract suggests the Leafs believe he's the odds on starter, but he'll have to win the net from Reimer first. Is another goaltending controversy brewing?
Washington - Alexander Ovechkin
- Sorry Ovechkin fans, but I don't buy it. Yeah, he had a fantastic finish to the year and the Caps really turned it around once they adjusted to Adam Oates' systems. But he spent the year feasting on the Southeast divisions weaker teams, half of his goals (and nearly half his total points) came on the power play and he had a horrendous start to the season. A player as skilled as Ovechkin playing with guys like Backstrom and Ribeiro better score on the power play. Is he really back? Now that he's in a tougher division, it's time to find out.
Who's on your watch list??