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Iginla leads Western goal parade

Wednesday, 09.03.2008 / 9:00 AM / Season Preview

Last season, everyone chased Alex Ovechkin.

Goals, shots, poi
nts -- if you played in the NHL in 2007-08, he was the gold standard. And he was the winner of more hardware than most other teams -- save, perhaps, the Detroit Red Wings -- earned as a group.

In the Western Conference, however, Jarome Iginla led the offensive charge. His 50 goals and 98 points were both highs in the West, third in each category in the NHL.

This season, Iginla will have a little more competition, because the Western Conference has brought in reinforcements.

Olli Jokinen, traded from Florida to Phoenix in June, and Marian Hossa, likely the biggest free agent signing of the 2008 offseason, have moved into the West.

For Jokinen, it will be a homecoming of sorts, as the veteran spent parts of two seasons with the Los Angeles Kings between 1997 and 1999. After a brief stopover with the New York Islanders, Jokinen spent seven strong seasons with the Florida Panthers.

For Hossa, who spent his first 10 NHL seasons with Ottawa, Atlanta and Pittsburgh, this will be his first season outside the Eastern Conference.

Add Hossa and Jokinen to an ever-developing corps of young snipers that includes Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg, Columbus' Rick Nash and Chicago rising stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, and you see an emerging group, any one of which might potentially unseat Iginla as the best of the West.

Here is NHL.com's top Western Conference Goal Guys (in no particular order), based on a complex equation of ability, potential, career pedigree and sheer hunger for the back of the net:

Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames -- Iginla had never scored more than 31 goals in a season until 2001-02, when he had 52 goals and 96 points to lead the NHL in both categories. Since then, he's scored at least 35 goals over the last five seasons. Possessing a unique combination of speed, skill and brute strength, Iginla returned to the 50-goal mark last season.

With Mike Cammalleri added to draw attention away from the big winger, a third 50-goal season and a shot at his third goal-scoring title in seven seasons might just be in the cards.

Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings -- Zetterberg's status as one of the NHL's brightest stars may have been cemented prior to the 2007-08 season, but he stepped into the spotlight as never before last season, when he set career marks in goals (43), assists (49), plus/minus (plus-30) and points (92). In addition, his 358 shots were the most he'd ever taken in a single season and second in the League only to Alexander Ovechkin's 446.

Blessed with smooth hands and a dogged work ethic that only helps to bolster his innate ability, Zetterberg is further blessed in that he plays with one of the League's premier playmakers in Pavel Datsyuk. The addition of Marian Hossa to the Wings' already dangerous forward corps means opposing defenders will be spread even more thinly in their attempts to shut the Wings down and 50 goals could be the next step in his path to superstardom.

Marian Gaborik, Minnesota Wild -- No other forward in the League, except perhaps Ovechkin or Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk, possesses the acceleration and overpowering speed Gaborik does. A breakaway machine who carves holes in opposing defenses with the efficiency of a surgeon, the only thing that has held Gaborik down are the injuries which have kept him out of a combined 73 games over the past four seasons. In 2007-08, Gaborik enjoyed his first fully healthy season since 2002-03, and he did not disappoint -- his 42 goals and 83 points were career highs.

With the confidence of a career season under his belt, and the motivation of playing for a new contract, Gaborik finally could emerge as one of the League's great goal-scorers in 2008-09.

Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets -- Since 2005-06, only Alex Ovechkin's twisting, turning, fall-on-his-back goal against the Phoenix Coyotes (you know you've seen it) was prettier than the prettiest of Nash's 38 from last season. On Jan. 17, 2008, Nash turned two Coyotes defenders inside out, and then did the same to goaltender Mikael Tellqvist before shooting into an empty net he created. The goal cemented his position on this list and reminded the rest of the League what sort of talent he possesses.

Only 24, the first pick from the 2002 Entry Draft already has a “Rocket” Richard trophy to his credit (co-recipient in 2004), a 41-goal season (in just his second season). With an upgraded offense around him, things only should get better moving forward.

Marian Hossa, Detroit Red Wings -- The East's loss was the West's gain when Marian Hossa signed with the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings. While he has never scored 50 goals in a season (his best was 45 with the Ottawa Senators in 2002-03), Hossa has instead cracked the West's top five on sheer consistency. Last season's 29 goals marked his lowest total since his second full NHL season. He followed that by finishing third in goals and points during the 2008 postseason.

A big winger who protects the puck as well as any and better than most, Hossa's game is one of control and precision highlighted by explosive bursts of speed and power. In the high-octane Red Wings system, the first 50-goal season of his career isn't out of the question.

Honorable Mentions -- Brad Boyes, St. Louis; Mike Cammalleri, Calgary; Jonathan Cheechoo, San Jose; Olli Jokinen, Phoenix.

Contact Brad Holland at bholland@nhl.com.

Season preview

NORTHEAST

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SOUTHEAST

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Central

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Northwest

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Colorado
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Pacific

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— Islanders captain John Tavares