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Hawks, Capitals lead list of NHL teams on the rise

Monday, 07.20.2009 / 4:20 PM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

For two seasons the Pittsburgh Penguins were known as one of the teams "on the rise." You would hear pundits predicting the Sidney Crosby-led Penguins were "evolving," or "getting closer."

They came around a few months ago by winning the Stanley Cup.

With that, we offer you our first Top 10 list of the summer. It's the Top 10 teams that we deem to be, as they say, on the rise.

These are the teams that for the last few seasons have been taking steps up the challenging ladder to Stanley Cup glory, and all look poised to continue their climb in 2009-10. Maybe one even could reach the top and become the next Pittsburgh Penguins.

1. Chicago Blackhawks -- Their run to the Western Conference Finals was a dramatic leap for a team that hadn't reached the playoffs since 2002, but it wasn't totally shocking. The Hawks have changed dramatically in the last 24 months by developing a solid young core and have spent to upgrade in other areas.

2. Washington Capitals -- Led by back-to-back Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin, the Caps have won consecutive Southeast Division titles and improved in the playoffs from 2008 to 2009. They're still young and hungry, and now they might have their goalie of their future in Simeon Varlamov.

3. St. Louis Blues -- The Blues are starting to make good on the promise of building with their own core players and striking in the trading and free agency markets when the iron is hot. With David Backes, Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie, David Perron and a now-healthy Erik Johnson slowly turning into the faces of the franchise, the Blues aren't pushovers anymore.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets -- Rick Nash is on board with a new eight-year contract extension and all indications are they have long-term stability in net with Steve Mason. Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek, Nikita Filatov and Kris Russell make up the young core, and Nash, Kristian Huselius, R.J. Umberger, Fedor Tyutin, Rostislav Klesla and Mike Commodore provide veteran leadership. The addition of Sami Pahlsson boosts the Jackets' playoff experience.

5. Los Angeles Kings -- The trade earlier this month for Ryan Smyth indicates management now feels this team is ready to take the next step. With Smyth and fellow newcomer Rob Scuderi joining Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Alexander Frolov, Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, the Kings should be in a fight for a playoff berth.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning -- Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis still make up the backbone of this team, and they're expecting significant progress from Steven Stamkos, last season's No. 1 draft pick. The Lightning did the smart thing this offseason by acquiring pieces to rebuild their defense. After drafting Victor Hedman with the second pick, they signed Mattias Ohlund, Kurtis Foster and Matt Walker. Antero Niittymaki gives them depth in net to go with Mike Smith.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs -- Leafs Nation has to be feeling better now that GM Brian Burke has gone to work on the roster. The improvements, at least on defense, appear to be significant, with bruisers Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin and Garnet Exelby joining Luke Schenn, Tomas Kaberle, Mike Van Ryn, Jeff Finger and Ian White. Burke also lured highly-touted Swedish goalie Jonas Gustavsson to Toronto.

8. New York Islanders -- Isn't it amazing how one player can change a franchise's image? That's what appears to be happening on Long Island with the selection of John Tavares last month with the first pick of the 2009 Entry Draft. Tavares, Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo are the prizes in the Isles' mission to restock the system and go with a youth movement.

9. Philadelphia Flyers -- Philadelphia upgraded its defense by adding Chris Pronger. Team captain Mike Richards still is only 24 years old. So, too, is the Flyers' best goal scorer, Jeff Carter. Claude Giroux looks like he could be a big-time performer, and remember, Danny Briere, Simon Gagne and Scott Hartnell remain in the mix, too. The question marks are in net with the overhaul from Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki to Ray Emery and Brian Boucher.

10. Vancouver Canucks -- Losing Mattias Ohlund could hurt, but that was buried under the important re-signings of the Sedin twins. Roberto Luongo is at the top of his game and will be motivated by the opportunity to get hot and start for Canada in the Olympics. Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Alexander Edler only are getting better. Mikael Samuelsson, signed away from the Detroit Red Wings can make the power play better.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.

Quote of the Day

I downplayed the first one because I thought it's just a hockey game. We just want to win the game; it's against our rival and we want the two points. I downplayed it, but now having gone through the first one I look back and say, 'Geez, that was really cool.' I think as I've grown a bit older I've got a lot more appreciation for what we're allowed to do every day.

— Capitals forward Brooks Laich on the 2015 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic, the second one of his career after 2011 in Pittsburgh