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Rookies Cervenka, Schultz can alter Northwest race

Wednesday, 01.16.2013 / 3:00 AM
Brian Compton  - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

With the 2012-13 NHL season ready to begin, teams will be scrambling on a nightly basis to earn points and clinch a spot in what is primed to be a wild 48-game race to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A condensed schedule means more games in a short amount of time, and teams will be relying on every player on their roster to contribute. NHL.com takes a closer look at the players who will need to be major factors for Northwest Division squads:

Roman Cervenka, Calgary Flames -- Deemed top-six ready by Flames general manager Jay Feaster, this 27-year-old forward arrives in North America under some pressure. With Olli Jokinen now with the Winnipeg Jets, it might be up to Cervenka, who signed this summer after spending his entire professional career overseas, to dish the puck to likely Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla.

"Cervenka's more of a 1-on-1 type, skill-oriented player," assistant general manager John Weisbrod told NHL.com. "He's played with high-caliber players to much success, and he was at a point in his career where he seemed genuinely hungry to make his run at the NHL. He really wants to play in the best league in the world. I think he is going to put his best foot forward, and we'll see how it pans out."

The Calgary Sun reported Cervenka flew to Calgary from Europe despite being on blood thinners for a clotting issue.

"The good news is his clot is resolved, and he is free to fly, and certainly, from his agent, they feel if he's not fully able to participate (at the start of training camp), then it won't be long," Feaster told the newspaper.

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche -- After back-to-back solid seasons to begin his NHL career, Duchene took a step back in 2011-12. Some of that was due to injury -- he missed a total of 24 games -- but his ability to consistently contribute offensively also took a bit of a hit. The speedy center had 14 goals and 14 assists.

"My weapons are my legs, and I didn't have them," said Duchene, who had four goals and 10 assists in 19 games for Vastra Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League during the work stoppage. "I kind of had to learn a new way to play. It was a perfect storm. When everyone else was elevating their game, it was pretty much me starting from scratch."

Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oilers -- The Oilers have stockpiled young talent through the draft in recent years, but they landed one of the biggest pieces to their puzzle this summer with the surprising free-agent signing of Schultz. A second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks (No. 43) in 2008, Schultz became an unrestricted free agent when he and the Ducks failed to agree on a contract.

His skill was on display during the work stoppage -- the University of Wisconsin product had 48 points (18 goals, 30 assists) in 34 games for the Oklahoma City Barons in the American Hockey League. Likely to skate more than 20 minutes per game, Schultz's presence on the Oilers' blue line could make them a playoff team.

"I've waited my whole life to play in the NHL," Schultz told the Oilers' website. "I had to wait half a year (to get to) this point, but I'm excited to play with all these guys."

Dany Heatley, Minnesota Wild -- The wing is one of the League's top-10 leaders in total points, power-play goals and game-winning goals since 2001, but is coming off a rocky season. Heatley, acquired in the summer of 2011 from the San Jose Sharks, had 24 goals and 29 assists in 82 games. He had back-to-back 39-goal seasons for the Ottawa Senators and San Jose from 2008-10.

There's no question Wild coach Mike Yeo will need more production if Minnesota is going to be a contender. Fortunately, Heatley's work ethic is not an issue.

"Every day he came to the rink and kept trying to push the group and lead the group," Yeo told the Pioneer Press. "And you'll see a lot of goal scorers, they'll take shortcuts, they'll cheat, especially when things aren't going well, and he was never like that."

Jason Garrison, Vancouver Canucks -- The defenseman enjoyed a breakout season with the Florida Panthers last season, collecting 16 goals and 17 assists in 77 games. He cashed in on that campaign, agreeing to a six-year, $27.6 million contract with the Canucks as a free agent. Now that he'll be quarterbacking a power play that features Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Garrison could see those numbers increase. If they do, the Canucks will be in prime position to win another Northwest Division crown.

"I'm very excited to stay home and play in front of my friends and family in my hometown," said Garrison, a British Columbia native. "Growing up, every kid dreamed of playing for the Canucks, and I was like everybody else."

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