Ice time is a top priority for any forward looking to work his offensive magic on a consistent basis. Such was the case in the Southeast Division, which produced five of the League's top 16 scorers in 2007-08. That trend should continue this season, particularly since even more firepower has been added to each of the division's teams.
In addition to finishing second in minutes per game among Southeast Division forwards during the regular season, Washington's Alex Ovechkin worked overtime during his team's seven-game setback against the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, averaging 24:03 as coach Bruce Boudreau rode the League's Hart Trophy-winner for as long as possible. Ovechkin responded with four goals and nine points in the postseason.
With the 2008-09 campaign upon us, NHL.com takes a closer look at the Southeast forwards who received the most minutes. Incidentally, all five ranked among the top-10 in the League in minutes played each game.
1. Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning -- For the second straight season, the right wing finished tops among forwards in the NHL in ice time per game at 24:17, which included a little over 28 minutes in a 2-1 loss to the Rangers on Nov. 21. St. Louis averaged 24:09 in 2006-07.
With 83 points, he finished second in team scoring behind linemate Lecavalier and was named a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy. St. Louis was a demon on special teams, earning plenty of minutes on the power play and in shorthanded situations. The nine-season veteran led the League in scoring and won the Hart Trophy in 2003-04 when he accumulated 94 points and helped the Lightning win their only Stanley Cup.
2. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals -- It's too bad Ovechkin couldn't play 60 minutes every game -- he's that exciting. Still, Ovechkin made the most of his ice time, averaging a career-high 23:06 each game, ranking him third among forwards in the League.
Ovechkin has 310 points in 245 career games, an average of 1.26 points a game in his three seasons in the League. Even more impressive is the fact he has missed just one game over that span.
At the end of the 2007-08 season, Ovechkin captured the "Rocket" Richard, Art Ross, Lester B. Pearson and Hart trophies, and was given the key to the city by Washington mayor Adrian M. Fenty as a reward for being the first Washington MVP winner in a major sport since Joe Theismann of the Washington Redskins in 1983.
If that weren't enough, Ovechkin also teamed with fashion designer Roger Edwards to launch his own line of designer streetwear with Reebok-CCM.
3. Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning -- The Lightning's leader completed his ninth season averaging 22:57 each contest, which ranked fourth in the League among forwards.
Lecavalier had a stretch of eight consecutive multi-point games in November and was named Eastern Conference captain for the 2008 NHL All-Star Game.
The franchise's all-time leading scorer with 602 points in 710 games, Lecavalier posted 40 goals and 92 points in 81 games in 2007-08, becoming the first Tampa Bay player to record consecutive seasons of 40-plus goals. That came on the heels of his 52-goal season in 2006-07 which earned him the "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal scorer. He has scored at least 32 goals in his past five NHL seasons.
On July 12, Lecavalier agreed to an 11-year contract extension that will run through the 2019-2020 season.
"Not only is Vincent one of the most dynamic players in the NHL, he's one of the classiest people you'll ever meet off the ice as well," said Tampa Vice President of Hockey Operations Brian Lawton. "Our ownership has made it clear that he is the cornerstone of the Lightning and Vincent has shown his dedication to the franchise and the Tampa Bay area."
4. Rod Brind'Amour, Carolina Hurricanes -- The only reason the veteran of 19 seasons didn't average more than the 22:27 he amassed last season was because he missed the final 22 games of the season with a knee injury. At the time of the injury, Brind'Amour was first in the NHL in face-offs won (851) and face-offs taken (1,460) and third in face-off winning percentage (58.3). He also had 19 goals and 51 points.
Even at 38, the center will play a huge role on one of the top two lines for the Hurricanes this season. Despite only playing 59 games, Brind'Amour still ranked fifth in the League in ice time for forwards last season. In 2006-07, he ranked third among forwards in the NHL in ice time per game at 23:19 in 78 appearances. Brind'Amour, who also sees action on both special teams, led all forwards in ice time (24:17) in 2005-06.
5. Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes -- Staal was No. 10 in the League in average ice time among forwards with a career-high 21:38 while playing all 82 games, while seeing plenty of time on the power-play. When Brind'Amour was sidelined with his knee injury, Staal answered with 34 of his 82 points over the final 23 games.
Staal finished the year No. 16 in scoring with 38 goals and 44 assists and is following Brind'Amour as an ironman in that he's missed just one game in four seasons. He also had seven game-winning goals and 14 power-play goals, and was named MVP of the 2008 NHL All-Star Game after scoring a pair of goals and assisting on Marc Savard's game-winner. Staal was a plus-2 while playing 16:20 that night.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.