Monday, September 14, 2009

Atlantic Division Breakout Players

Full article posted in my weekly column over at InsideHockey.com

Going into each new season there are expectations by the teams and by the fans that certain players will have a breakout season. Last year, Jeff Carter of the Philadelphia Flyers had a major breakout season, finishing with 46 goals and 84 points. Prior to that in his previous three NHL seasons, his best season was 2007-08 when he scored 29 goals and finished with 53 points.

A look at each team in the Atlantic Division and what players are most likely to make the 2009-10 season a memorable one for their personal careers:

New Jersey Devils
With John Madden leaving via Free Agency and Bobby Holik retiring, Rod Pelley could get a lot more ice time for New Jersey. Pelley spent the entire 2008-09 season in the AHL but was mentioned by Lou Lamoriello as Madden's replacement shortly after the former Selke Trophy winner left for Chicago.

Usually when thinking of "breakout" seasons immediately goals and points come to mind. But, in typical Devils fashion Pelley's season will more than likely be judged on how well he shuts down the other team's top lines.

Honorable Mention: David Clarkson

(Update: I think that with the Devils signing Rob Nidermayer that effectively kills the chances of Pelley being this year's NJ breakout player. Look for Clarkson to be the guy that hits 25 goals)

New York Islanders

Last year in his rookie season Kyle Okposo had 18 goals and 39 points in 65 games. This season, if all goes according to plan on the Island, Okposo will be riding shotgun for John Tavares. That can mean only one thing - more offensive output from the second year player from St. Paul, Minnesota. If Okposo does spend the season playing alongside Tavares, a duo that could be together for years to come, then expect Okposo to hit the 25-goal plateau.

Honorable Mention: Blake Comeau


New York Rangers

Brandon Dubinsky (assuming he gets a contract signed, he is still a RFA) has already had the privilege of playing with Jaromir Jagr, one of the best hockey players to ever put on a pair of skates. This season Dubinsky is once again likely to be playing center for one of the true superstars in the NHL, Marian Gaborik.

If Dubisnky does in fact get the number one center position (as many are predicting) he'll likely be feeding the puck to Gaborik on a regular basis on both the power play and at even strength. In 2007-08 he had 14 goals and last season he finished with 41 points. In 2009-10 he'll surpass both of those marks.

Honorable Mention: Chris Higgins

Pittsburgh Penguins 

Despite playing in only 45 games last season for the Penguins, Alex Goligoski finished the season with 6 goals and 20 points. This year with Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill departing Pittsburgh, Goligoski is likely to play in many more games and get more ice time.
On top of that, after this season Sergei Gonchar is an unrestricted free agent. The Penguins are already rumored to be trying to sign Gonchar to an extended contract. But, it's possible that this season the Penguins will see if Goligoski could eventually be Gonchar's replacement, as Goligoski is known to be an offensive defenseman. Considering that the Penguins signed him this summer to a three year contract extension for $5.5M, they obviously think pretty highly of him.

Philadelphia Flyers 

Ask pretty much any Flyers fan who they expect to have a breakout season this year and chances are than nine out of ten will say "Claude Giroux." Giroux was the Flyers first round pick in 2006 and in 42 games last season finished with 27 points. He was also arguably the Flyers best player in the playoffs.
The one thing working against Giroux is that the Flyers are very deep at the forward position. With both Carter and Richards ahead of him at center, it looks John Stevens will have Giroux penciled in to start the season as the team's third line center. Giroux is known more as a play-maker than a goal scorer, so who Stevens puts on his wings could certainly effect how many points Giroux finishes the season with. Don't be surprised if Giroux gets bumped up to one of the top two lines and moved to the wing.


Check out the rest of the predictions & analysis over at Inside Hockey

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