It’s that time of the season again when we need to take our first hard look at the NHL’s latest crop of wunderkids, studs, and future duds. Forwards, defensemen and goalies will be covered once more and compared to a well known NHL personality. This season the honor goes to the American Captain of last years Stanley Cup champions, Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings. The perennial 20 goal man is different breed of player than past selections Eric Staal and Ilya Kovalchuk. Brown is known more for a physical style of play and two way play than either of the rookie watch alumni.

Dustin Brown:

  • Will play his 600th NHL game Monday night against conference rivals and playoff  sparring partners the Vancouver Canucks.
  • Has started off the season 0-1-1 and a -4 as the Kings remind everyone they partied like royalty all summer, and fall long and work through their Stanley Cup hangover 1-2-1.
  • The Kings sit in 12th place.
  • Brown has a team worst -4, trailing grinder Kyle Clifford by 10, and sophomore by 1 game Jordan Nolan by 8.
  • Has 9 hits, 1 blocked shot and just 7 shots on goal through four games.

Goalies:

  • No rookie goalies have played a game yet this season.

Defensemen:

  • Matt Irwin of the Sharks has been putting in work to the tune of 19:07 average TOI, and has picked up 2 points, including an even strength goal, half a minute of short handed time on ice, and an assist. On this his first tour of duty in the NHL, the 6’2 210 blueliner has handed out 6 hits and blocked 9 shots while doing his Hockey East and AHL experience proud. He’s second in rookie defensemen TOI and 3rd in scoring.
  • Dougie Hamilton of the Boston Bruins is showing no signs of the collective malaise that sank Team Canada’s World Junior Championship hopes. The offensive minded blueliner has already earned some penalty kill time under the very conservative Claude Julien. The 11 shots he’s dished out go nicely with the 8 hits and three blocked shots. The 19 year old has averaged just over 18 minutes a night and is currently second in blueliner scoring.
  • Brendan Dillon of the Dallas Stars may not have scored any points yet, but the 16 hits through five games, make it quite certain the squads from Chicago, Detroit, Phoenix, Saint Louis and Minnesota know who he is. Two blocked shots add to the collection of bruises, and it shouldn’t be all that surprising that he leads his team in hits.
  • Justin Schultz of the Oilers was the most talked about college player in the NHL as he wound down his Wisconsin career and spurning the Anaheim Ducks who drafted him. He’s now skating behind the Oilers plethora of young talents at forward and has rolled to the top of the rookie blueliner scoring. The 22 year old is sitting atop the TOI pile with an average of 24:02.
  • Brendan Smith of the Detroit Red Wings is jumping back into the NHL this season. How well his recovery from last years derailing via a concussion. The soon to be 24 year old is not the only rookie on the blueline, and is middle of the pack in ice time on a blueline that has already skated nine defensemen and is one of just three to skate all four games.

Forwards:

  • Cory Conacher is leading the NHL rookie scoring race as a center for Tampa Bay. The highly compact forward has about the best mentor for someone his size in the NHL playing with Martin St Louis. 2 goals 5 assists and a +4 through four games makes the former Canisius College player another undrafted player in the running to leave league GM’s scratching their heads for decades to come.
  • Tye McGinn’s two points through 3 games for the struggling Philadelphia Flyers has got to be more than some expected from the 119th pick in the 2010 draft. The Fergus, Ontario native who spent last year in the AHL potted just 18 points in 63 game. The rookie is tied in team points with Sean Couterier, Ruslan Fedetenko, and Luke Schenn, and doing it in just over 11 minutes a night.
  • Nail “I do a great Theo Impersonation” Yakupov has brought a great deal of larger than life personality to the Edmonton Oilers. He’s also managed to pack in two goals, one a powerplay tally. This years 1st overall selection has spent 3:19 a night on the man advantage for one half of the Battle Of Alberta.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers much like his former Sea Dogs teammate Hamilton is off to a strong start. With 3 points in five games the former #3 pick is playing almost 16 minutes a night for the surprisingly struggling Sunrise squad.
  • Mikael Granlund of the Minnesota Wild is part of the avalanche of changes in this roster in the last year or two, and he’s popped in two points while earning more and more ice time. He started off at under 15 minutes and in his fourth game topped out at 18:30. The fancy Finn leads all rookies with an eye opening 56.4% faceoff win percentage.
  • Vladimir Taresenko is holding down a top spot with the Saint Louis Blues and is tied with Conacher for points, but has played one more game. The 21 year old Russian has been a big part of the Blues 4-1 start being even or +1 in all five games so far.

Worth watching:

  • Forwards: Mark Scheifele, Stefan Matteau, Sven Baertschi, Jakob Silfverberg.
  • Defensemen: Paul Potsma, Brian Lashoff, Mark Borowiecki, Korbinian Holzer, Patrick Weircioch

This feature will be run roughly every two weeks.

 This season, a new era begins. No Lidstrom. It has been a whole generation since this was last true. Even the limited player who was on the ice last year is better than anyone likely to replace him.

Good News

  • Datsyuk is still one of the best players in the NHL.
  • Jimmy Howard has come a long, long way and may earn the right to be called elite this season.
  • Jordin Tootoo will provide some physicality, and likely more skill than some expect.

Bad News

  • The defense is going to be ugly after losing not one but two twenty minute a night guys.
  • Last years penalty kill was not great, with the loss of four minutes among the defensemen, that won’t get better.
  • You can’t avoid asking how healthy key forwards on this team will be

Forecast

High: Bubble, if everything goes right, everyone is healthy, and everyone plays to or above their average, the team will sneak into the seven or eight spot at best, and likely end up at the nine or ten spot.

Low:  If things get ugly on he injury front, or the defense is even worse than I expect, the team will bounce down as low as the 12 spot.

X-Factor

This seasons x-factor in Detroit is the CBA. The possibility of a trade, or a the cap changing and causing mass movement of players is about all the fans in Michigan can pin their hopes on for improving this team this season.

The Canucks have been the whole show in a pretty pathetic division for a couple years. The division won’t be quite as bad this season and that could be either better or worse for them. As noted at the trade deadline, this team abandoned their identity then, and collapse came pretty close on the heels of doing so.

Good News

  • The Sedin’s are healthy.
  • Jason Garrison is a sound addition.
  • Kevin Bieksa is signed long term.

Bad News

  • Ryan Kesler is injured, again, to start the season.
  • No major changes have been made to a possibly complacent team.
  • The goalie drama will continue to be a distraction.

Forecast

High: There’s no question this team should win the division and challenge for another President’s Trophy.

Low: If the Luongo/Schnieder drama becomes really ugly, Kesler is out longer than expected, and one or more of the teams in the division play better there is a small chance they fall to 4th or 5th if they lose the division.

X-Factor

Whatever happens in net, or off ice this team needs an identity. The Kassian for Hodgson trade was a poor one in terms of adding an element that fits, if Luongo is indeed traded whoever comes back in his place needs to either be someone the team will rally around as a new leader, or slide into the murky waters of the Vancouver media scene without a ripple.

The Winnipeg Jets can look forward to improved defense this season. If for no other reason than health. With the exception of Mark Stuart all the defensemen played a number of games in the middles sixties or lower.  With Evander Kane as yet unsigned things at the other end of the ice could get dicey if he isn’t signed soon, or traded for a similar talent.

Good News

  • No jail time or serious legal problems for Dustin Byfuflien. That and good health could lead to a huge year for the officially 265lb defenseman.
  • If Evander Kane is signed in time to start the season, he could outstrip last years performance, last year he only played 74 games, getting dinged up a couple times.
  • The division still isn’t very strong and two or three strong performances in their own end for the season can have them in the post season.

Bad News

  • The defense is still a question mark. Defense isn’t exactly what they excel at as a unit.
  • Pavelec shows no signs of playing consistently at a high enough level for the team to do anything in the playoffs.
  • The east isn’t really any weaker this year and they finished tied for 10th last year.

Forecast

High: If they can some how score about the same number of goals as last year and eliminate twenty goals against they have a solid shot at the Bubble. Getting down to 226 goals against would be less goals allowed than half of the eastern team who did make the post season last year,

Low: Afterthought. Almost as big as their injuries last year was inconsistency even when most of their best players were playing.

X-Factor

The whole team is an x-factor, Kane’s signing or trade, the health of the defense and Pavelec’s consistency. At times they looked like they could have won the Cup for two and three game stretches last year, and at other times they looked like they’d have trouble winning a series with the Muskegon Lumberjacks.

This season will see lots of players in unfamiliar situations. Some are on new teams, some have had their teams overhauled, and others will be climbing up the depth chart. With all the movement, all the acquired experience, some players are due to rise and rise fast.

Jiri Tlusty has spent two full seasons in the Carolina Hurricanes system after three years with the Leafs. In that time he’s only hit double digits in goals twice. Last season was one of those years, and this might just be his year. In his 228 career games he’s go a meager 74 points, this year don’t be surprised if he cracks the 20 goal and fifty point plateaus, 25/55 isn’t outside possibility either.

Brandon Sutter has the unenviable job of filling Jordan Staal’s spot in the Pittsburgh Penguins depth chart. The good news for him is that everyone is expected to start the season healthy, meaning even if he’s on the ice, given the Penguins depth at forward, he’ll be the third or fourth player most opposing defenses look for, at least for a little while.

Anton Khudobin regardless of who owns the title of number one goaltender in Boston by the end of the season, all Khudobin has to do to have played his last AHL game is simply play smart. If he can do a solid job even as the number two, he will get a lot of interest from other teams when he becomes a UFA next July 1.

Justin Falk I’m a firm believer the best thing you can do for a young defenseman’s development is give them a good mentor. Falk and the Wild’s other youngins are going to have Suter to lean on. Look for his points to double, and his plus-minus to get a lot easier to look at.

Bryan Allen has never been known for his offensive touch. This year he’ll be playing alongside guys like Cam Fowler, and behind Perry, Getzlaf, and possibly Ryan. If Hiller can regain his mojo Allen might just have personal best point totals, and make it to the post season for the first time in since the last lockout. With all the offensive talent on this team, him hitting 30-35 points, as much as ten more than his previous career high is almost a given.

David Perron given the injuries this man has faced in the last couple seasons, last year might be considered a breakout season. 42 points in 57 games is a solid contribution on a very defensive minded team. Do not be surprised if he pops in seventy points this season. It is more than within his talent, and that even allows for the defensive nature of the Blues system.

Sam Gagner Its hard to remember that despite the 8 point night Gagner had about an average season for himself last year. Coming into this season though, there is no reason he can’t get slotted in between top six talent. Eberle, Hall, Paajarvi, Smyth, and potentially Yakupov this team should have a good amount of offense.

On paper, the Dallas Stars may be the most improved team in the Pacific Division. That’s good for them because they needed to improve having finished seven points out of the playoffs. The bad is that hockey is played on ice and not paper, and some of their additions are likely to have less impact than people hope. That said, Dallas fans can at least take some solace in the new ownership having both patience and far, far more importantly a direction. The players moved out are guys who have at one point or anther in their NHL careers, given people the opportunity to question their character.

Good News

  • Yet more Jamie Benn, Alex Goligoski, and Loui Eriksson.
  • Richard Bachman provides some hope for when Kari Lehtonen goes down for his inevitable injury/injuries.
  • Derek Roy should make the best pivot the team has seen in a few years.

Bad News

  • The two high priced forwards the team signed in the off season will be 41 years old before the next Stanley Cup is awarded.
  • After Goligoski and Daley the defense is rather meh.
  • Kari Lehtonen will miss several games due to injury.

Forecast

High: Bubble team, if all goes well, given their offensive strength, the strength of their division, and Lehtonen’s quality of play when healthy they do have a shot at the 7 or 8 slot, or as tight as the division was last year, even the 3 spot.

Low: Lottery team, their goalie is good for a dozen or more missed games, they have two guys who will be 41, one of whom was not particularly healthy last season, and their second line center position is a myster. Their defense is nothing to write home about

X-Factor

We’ve seen several moves from the front office to shift the roster, a move for a high end defenseman, or a full wipe of everyone over 30 to rebuild hard and fast could be in the mind of the teams leadership, certainly aside from the two short term contracts to Jagr and Whitney, theyve been getting younger over the last year.

 

This off-season, possibly the last in which the Flames fanbase can be reasonably certain Jarome Iginla will be coming to play in the fall, the Flames did not much to improve. They had an interesting draft, going with Mark Jankowski who some considered a reach for the first round.  They brought in Dennis Wideman for a thiry or forty percent premium on his contract, and gave up assets to get him.

Good News

  • They still have Jarome Iginla, and Jay Bouwmeester.
  • They have over three and a half million in cap space as the Cap currently sits.
  • Darryl Sutter is no longer the general manager.
  • The Edmonton Oilers are still a much worse team.
  • Mike Cammalleri has way more heart than Rene Bourque.

Bad News

  • The roster is still lacking anything that resembles a bona-fide  first or second line center.
  • The 11 NTC’s and NMC’s will make it really difficult to improve through trading, even if the bad contracts didn’t.
  • Dennis Wideman.
  • The Wild improved more than they did.

Forecast: 

High: Bubble team 7-10  if the defense and goaltending can come together well enough to cover for an offense that will continue to struggle they can squeak into the post season. It would take converting about three of last years over time losses to regulation wins, and one of hte regulation losses to a win.

Low: Afterthought. Even if the defense is the same as it was last year (14th in goals against) if  the offense doesn’t improve over last years 24th place finish, there isn’t going to be much joy in Calgary.

X-Factor

There are lots of them for this team. Jarome Iginla is rumored to be moved ef every season, and Jay Bouwmeester was the apparent target of at least two big market eastern conference powers trade talks. If one or both of these guys are moved, it rewrites the whole team. Iginla may be playing for a contract, or possibly planning to retire, either way he would want to go out on top. Then there is the infusion of players like Hudler, Cervenka, and Comeau who all have something to prove, one and all they could be upgrades or downgrades.

 

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a hot mess. Certain members of the family care way more about where players are from than how good they are. Some players just don’t show up very often. Then too, there is the question of what sort of maturity (if any) the roster possess as a whole.

Good News

  • Phil Kessel will almost certainly turn in another damn good October.
  • All of last years youngsters gained valuable NHL experience, and several of them got AHL playoff experience playing for the Marlies,
  • Their most important forward, Mikhail Grabovski is locked up long term.

Bad News

  • Goaltending is more than a question it’s a problem.
  • The issue of consistency for the whole team is still up in the air,
  • The defense needs to tighten up dramatically.

Forecast

High: Bubble team, finding some equilibrium in the neighborhood of their best play and shifting three of their overtime losses to regulation wins, and three regulation losses to wins would be a nine point swing. It’d be easy to point out six close games they could have done better in.

Low:  Afterthought/lottery. Injuries to Kessel or Grabovski up front, or Reimer failing to improve or getting worse will doom this team.

X-Factor

Neither the Sabres nor the Canadiens improved much, if at all this off season, and with the young players coming in a little more confident and experienced, this team could see a big bounce if Reimer returns to the .921sv% he put up over his first half season in the NHL. How much pressure Burke feels to make a good impression on the new ownership and keep his job will also be important. You also can’t forget the possibility of a big trade that improves the goaltending.

The San Jose Sharks are an interesting team. By almost any logic this or last off season were the time to blow the team up. And yet they remain. In fact they grow. Last seasons sixth place finish was hardly what people have come to expect of the team.

Good News

  • The acquisitions were clearly targeted to address their god awful penalty kill.
  • Two seasons ago, before injuries ended their second-season the team looked like it knew how to win in the playoffs.

Bad News

  • The key players on this team are not young. Thornton, Marleau, Boyle, Stuart will all be at least 33 before the season closes.
  • Depth?
  • Character of second tier guys, specifically Pavelski who wasted twenty minutes of ice time a night in last years playoffs need to be answered in the affirmative.

Forecast

High: 6-9  Arguably the division has gotten easier with so much talent leaving Phoenix Some  of it landed in Dallas, but the Kings also had a long, long run and could be weaker this year at least in the regular season.

Low: If they don’t fix their penalty kill, or Niemi and Greiss are not average to above average all season, It is likely Todd McLellan and several names off their roster will be going to a different rink before seasons end.

X-Factor

The big one with the San Jose Sharks is can they take the regular season seriously enough to get home ice and then stay healthy in the post season. The trend in the NHL the last three years has been to end long cup droughts, there’s qualifies.