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10 newcomers being counted on to make impact

Saturday, 08.20.2011 / 9:00 AM / NHL Insider

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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10 newcomers being counted on to make impact
As usual, a fair share of NHL players changed addresses during the offseason -- NHL.com takes a look at 10 of them who will be counted upon heavily to make a difference in their new homes.
If there's one certainty in hockey, it's that the roster you finish the old season with in the spring won't be the same one you start the new one with in the fall. Teams are always looking for ways to improve, whether by making trades or signing free agents -- and a guy who was a square peg in a round hole with one team can turn out to be the missing piece of the puzzle in another.

Here are 10 players who are being counted on to make a major impact in their new homes.

Brad Richards
Center, 2010-11 SEASON STATS
GOALS: 28 | ASST: 49 | PTS: 77
SOG: 272 | +/-: 1
Brad Richards, New York Rangers -- Richards was a one-of-a-kind item in this year's free-agent market -- a real, honest-to-goodness No. 1 center. The Rangers gave him a nine-year, $60 million deal to come to the Big Apple with hopes that he'll provide them with a significant offensive upgrade. Their primary objective is to use Richards, one of the NHL's elite passers, to get the puck to Marian Gaborik, who fell to 22 goals last season after getting 42 in 2009-10 -- and to move the Rangers from a team battling to make the playoffs to one that can contend for the Cup.

Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia -- Talk about an organizational change: The Flyers traded away their top two centers (Jeff Carter and Mike Richards) while signing arguably the best goaltender on the market in Bryzgalov. The Flyers haven't had consistent, top-level goaltending in years, but that's what they're expecting from Bryzgalov, who left Phoenix to sign a nine-year deal. Bryzgalov will have more offensive support than he had with the Coyotes, but he'll also be under more pressure to produce while playing for a team with much higher expectations.

James Wisniewski,  Blue Jackets -- After being part of three organizations in less than a year, Wisniewski opted for security when he turned a 10-goal, 51-point season split between the Islanders (who got him from Anaheim last summer) and Montreal into a six-year deal with the Jackets. Columbus has been hunting for a reliable offensive defenseman since entering the NHL 11 years ago. GM Scott Howson is betting big bucks on the expectation that Wisniewski is ready to become a top-tier defenseman at age 27.

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Who's on the hot seat?

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Semyon Varlamov, Avalanche -- Poor goaltending was a major factor in Colorado's second-half meltdown, so GM Greg Sherman wasted little time in shucking off the two goalies he had (Peter Budaj and Brian Elliott) and bringing in Varlamov, who was the odd man out in Washington's overcrowded crease. The cost was high (first and second-round draft picks) for a goaltender who had yet to play a full season, but Sherman needed a young No. 1 goaltender and is betting that Varlamov will stay healthy and be able to grow with a talented young team.

Tomas Vokoun, Capitals -- After the first day of free agency, it looked like the Caps were willing to go into 2011-12 with two young goaltenders, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, sharing the load. But GM George McPhee gave himself a birthday present on July 2 by reeling in Vokoun for the bargain price of $1.5 million. After five generally excellent seasons with weak teams in Florida, Vokoun has been handed the keys to one of the NHL's elite squads; the Caps are expecting that he'll help get them over the playoff hump.

Dany Heatley, Minnesota -- Gaborik's departure from Minnesota in 2009 left the Wild without a sniper -- he's still the only Minnesota player to score 35 or more goals in a season. That's why GM Chuck Fletcher was willing to deal off Martin Havlat, who tied for the team scoring lead with 62 points, to get Heatley, a two-time 50-goal scorer coming off a disappointing 26-goal, 64-point performance with San Jose. Heatley gives the Wild a physical presence in front and a player who, before 2010-11, had averaged nearly 44 goals in the previous five seasons.

Brian Campbell, Panthers -- Program sales figure to be brisk this winter in South Florida, where the Panthers underwent the NHL's version of "Extreme Makeover" as GM Dale Tallon tries to end a playoff drought that's now into its second decade. Campbell, who Tallon signed as a free agent three years ago in Chicago, is one of his biggest acquisitions. Not only does Campbell give the Panthers a genuine offensive defenseman, something they haven't had in years, but he brings stability to help the development of youngsters like Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov.

Ian White, Red Wings -- The Wings took a hit when defenseman Brian Rafalski, one of the NHL's most underrated players, unexpectedly announced that he was going to retire with one year still left on his contract. Detroit GM Ken Holland got a good look at White during the Wings' second-round loss to San Jose and was impressed enough to sign him to a two-year deal. White doesn't have the three Cups on his resume that Rafalski did, but the Wings are expecting him to be able to step in and serve as a second offensive defenseman behind Nicklas Lidstrom.

Ryan Smyth, Edmonton -- Four years after leaving in a deadline deal, Smyth is back in Edmonton -- this time as a 35-year-old whose function is as much to serve as mentor to the Oilers' passel of young talent as to play. Not that Smyth is ready for a rocking chair -- he's had 20-plus goals in each of the past three seasons and is still among the NHL's biggest crease-crashers. But realistically, he's here to help a lot of the youngsters, including Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the top picks in each of the last two Entry Drafts, learn how to be big-time NHL players.

Erik Cole, Montreal -- The Canadiens wanted Cole enough to offer him a four-year deal --a major commitment for a guy who's 32. They're expecting big things from the four-time 20-goal scorer after he put up 26 goals and 52 points last season for Carolina, where he had spent most of his NHL career. The Canadiens, one of the NHL's smaller teams up front, also like Cole's size -- he's listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds and was credited with 225 hits last season, 85 more than any Canadien player.
Quote of the Day

[He's] real confident with the puck now, getting it off his stick quick and no second-guessing. We need that. He's such a good guy in the room. He works so hard. That's the big thing. For not a big man, he just fights for every puck and when he scores, the guys appreciate that even more.

— Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice on Mathieu Perreault, who scored two goals in win against Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday