If you missed the rest of the list it is right here. The most engaging players in the world are ready to storm the ice. Make sure you know who they are.
5: Jonathan Drouin
A new city, a new team, a new coach and even a new position. Drouin was traded from an offensively focused team, under a coach who kept the pace uptempo in Tampa Bay, in Montreal he’ll be playing under a very strict defensive coach. He also enters the season one of the two or three best offensive forces on the Canadien’s roster. Last year it would have been hard to argue he was even fifth among the offensively blessed Tampa Bay Lightning, this year he’ll be playing center something he hasn’t done at the pro level. Will he thrive and finally give the Habs a lead center? Will he be only marginal in the position? Will he be back to wing before Thanksgiving?
4: Sean Monahan
Last spring Monahan was the only light, bright or otherwise, for the Calgary Flames in the playoffs. He scored four goals, and did it with a rather listless team around him. Will he ride that wave of individual dominance this year and become the team’s new heartbeat? Is he the true offensive successor to Jarome Ignila? How about being the emotional catalyst #12 was? How has his relationship with the rest of the roster changed after an almost universally shameful playoff disaster? Whatever a certain Twitter account might say, I don’t expect a boring year and neither should you.
3: Derek Stepan
Last year Stepan was anything but engaging, over the offseason he was central to the makeover of two teams. His former team is the perhaps the most rearranged team in the east, and the Arizona Coyotes absolutely made the most impactful changes in the west. Stepan is facing more than just a new town, and team. He is one of the oldest players on the roster in the desert and one of the few players to have NHL playoff experience. It is not a stretch to say he is the most battle test player in town still in his prime. Is a bigger role under fewer bright lights what pushes this guy to a new level? Or does he wilt in a small city much as Jeff Carter did during his brief stay in Columbus?
2: Matt Duchene
Despite being at the center of what is currently the longest running, most talked about trade speculation, he has not been moved. After nearly two years of running speculation he is still in the mile high city. The number of times observers have heard from “credible sources” that talks were in progress is high and likely to grow. He’s tried to put on a good face, but no reasonable person expected him to make it past the NHL entry draft in a Colorado Avalanche jersey. The fact that he has yet to land in another uniform is mind boggling. Every delay is value lost. How will he handle another season of speculation and questions? Will he decide to sit until a trade is executed? Where will he be playing the day after the trade deadline? On a team headed for the playoffs or in yet another meaningless game where most of a flaccid roster is counting the shifts until they get to go on vacation for the summer.
1: Jack Eichel
Eichel almost needs two spots on this list. One spot for things directly about him, and one spot for how those around him will react, behave, and where they end up. He just signed a long contract that left money on the table for signing other high end players. But he also has yet to turn in a full and healthy season. Sure last season he beat the previous years 81 game point total in twenty less games, but that’s still 22 games missed in two seasons without the wear and tear of the playoffs. Just making it 82 games will be a challenge. Crossing over into the next strata of offensive weapons is another.
The other half of the equation is; coach, players, and general manager. His linemate Evander Kane has been the center of much trade speculation. Last year’s coach, a Stanley Cup winner, was shown the door after a brief stay not so long after Eichel spoke about the season. More than one older, possibly wiser player’s have to be a bit miffed that they were called on the carpet by someone who won’t even be able to drink legally in the US for a while. If, and its a big if, Eichel instigated the ousting of Dan Bylsma than how secure are new general manager Jason Botterill and head coach Phil Housley, both of whom lack the cache of a cup winner?