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Kovalchuk, Stamkos among players to watch

Friday, 10.01.2010 / 6:00 AM / 2010-2011 Season Preview

By Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Kovalchuk, Stamkos among players to watch
Ilya Kovalchuk has a new 15-year contract. Steven Stamkos is coming off a 51-goal season. Check out some of the players who bear watching in the upcoming campaign.
There are certain NHL players who will command fans' attention no matter where or when they are playing: Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Washington's Alex Ovechkin and New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, to name a few.

There are also unknowns coming into each season who create a buzz and have everyone eager to see how well they acclimate to the League -- in 2010-11 that list includes top draft picks Taylor Hall of Edmonton, Tyler Seguin of Boston and Erik Gudbranson of Florida.

Who are some of the other NHL players who will be under the microscope this season and bear watching?

Ilya Kovalchuk ranks right up with Crosby and Ovechkin among the elite players of the past decade, but he bears some extra watching because this will be his first full season with the New Jersey Devils after coming over in a February trade from the Atlanta Thrashers. There's also the issue of Kovalchuk's brand-new 15-year contract, which took most of the summer to finalize after the League rejected the Devils' original 17-year deal because it circumvented the salary cap. Kovalchuk is a two-time 50-goal scorer, a plateau that's never been reached by a New Jersey player. If he opens the season, as expected, on a line with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, it could happen.

A number of goalies changed teams during the offseason -- they can only hope to enjoy the kind of success Craig Anderson did in his first season with the Colorado Avalanche. His 38 wins were two more than he'd compiled in his entire career up to that point. Anderson played in 71 games -- 40 more than his previous season high -- and helped the Avalanche get back to the playoffs after they finished last in the Western Conference the previous season. He recorded a 51-save shutout in Game 3 against the Sharks to give the Avs a 2-1 lead in a series they would ultimately lose in six games. Can Colorado cut down on the amount of shots it allows opponents to take? If not, can Anderson be just as brilliant in net? The answers to those questions will go a long way in determining if the Avalanche rise or fall in the standings this season.

Speaking of goalies, which Steve Mason will we see tending goal for the Columbus Blue Jackets? The Calder Trophy winner of 2008-09 who posted 33 wins, a 2.29 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage en route to leading the Jackets to the franchise's first playoff berth, or the struggling sophomore who went 20-26-9 with a 3.06 GAA and .901 save percentage for a team that finished next-to-last in the West. If the Jackets expect to rebound this season, Mason must round back into form.

The Boston Bruins are trying to erase the memories of last spring's second-round collapse at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers, and they're banking on Tuukka Rask building off his standout rookie season instead of taking a step backward. Rask wrested the starting job away from veteran Tim Thomas, finishing with 22 wins and League-leading totals of 1.97 in GAA and .931 in save percentage. That was enough to get the low-scoring Bruins into the playoffs, but if they don't up their offense this season the pressure will be on Rask to put up similar stats.

Then there's the guy in Tampa Bay who didn't just improve in his second year in the League -- he tied Crosby for the goal-scoring crown by lighting the lamp 51 times. Of course we're talking about Steven Stamkos of the Lightning, who found himself a healthy scratch several times early in his rookie year, but came back with a strong finish and then burst into stardom last season. If Stamkos, who finished with 95 points, can take the next step toward a 100-point season, it would be a boost toward the Bolts getting back into the playoffs under new coach Guy Boucher.

Of course, that's only a small sample of the players to watch in 2010-11 -- for additional coverage, check out the EA Sports NHL 11 Season Preview show here on NHL.com.


Quote of the Day

I don't know how he does it. I don't know how he gets his body parallel with the player and pulls it through his legs like that. I know he's tried it a couple times in practice and it's never worked, so how he does it in a game, it's incredible.

— Capitals defenseman Mike Green on teammate Alex Ovechkin's highlight-reel goal against the Devils on Saturday