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Who's on the hot seat in the Eastern Conference

by John Kreiser continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which begins Wednesday, Oct. 8.

It's almost time for another NHL season, and the pressure is already starting to build for some players who know they'll have to be big-time producers for their teams to push for a Stanley Cup Playoff berth or contend for the Stanley Cup.

Here's a look at a player from each of the 16 teams in the Eastern Conference who'll be under pressure to perform as soon as the puck drops:

Loui Eriksson, Boston Bruins -- Eriksson's first season with the Bruins didn't turn out the way he or the team had hoped after he was acquired in the trade that sent Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars. The four-time 20-goal scorer managed all of 10 goals and 37 points in 61 games during an injury-hampered season. With Jarome Iginla gone via free agency and the team tight against the salary cap, the Bruins need Eriksson to put up the kind of numbers he had with Dallas from 2008-12, when he averaged nearly 30 goals and 70 points.

Matt Moulson, Buffalo Sabres -- Moulson must have made an impression during his 44 games with the Sabres last season; after sending him to the Minnesota Wild at the NHL Trade Deadline, they signed him to a five-year contract this summer. The three-time 30-goal scorer is one of the few offensive forces on a team that averaged fewer than two goals a game in 2013-14, and the Sabres need him to return to that level to have any hope of avoiding another last-place finish.

Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes -- Staal is coming off his worst full season since 2003-04, when he was a rookie. Not coincidentally, the Hurricanes again failed to qualify for the playoffs. New coach Bill Peters has to find a way to get Staal's offensive numbers (21 goals, 61 points) up substantially for the Hurricanes to have a chance to end a playoff drought that dates to 2009. With younger brother Jordan out for at least three months with a broken leg, there will be even more pressure on Eric to produce.

Scott Hartnell, Columbus Blue Jackets -- For the second straight season, the Blue Jackets have brought in a veteran forward in hopes of getting goals and leadership. Nathan Horton, who was signed last summer, has been plagued by injuries. Hartnell, who came in a trade from the Philadelphia Flyers, is expected to bring the kind of grit the Blue Jackets pride themselves on while scoring about 20 goals -- the number he generated last season.

Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings -- Detroit's captain was a point-a-game player last season; the problem was he missed 37 games because of injuries. Zetterberg turns 34 this month but is still among the NHL's elite players, as long as he's on the ice. He has to be healthy and productive for the Red Wings to continue their streak of consecutive playoff appearances, which began in 1991.

Dave Bolland, Florida Panthers -- Florida general manager Dale Tallon, who knew Bolland from their days in Chicago, opened his checkbook and signed the 28-year-old center to a five-year contract this summer. Bolland got the long-term contract even though he's never scored 20 goals or 50 points in a season and missed most of 2013-14 with an ankle injury. He did play on two championship teams in Chicago and got the Cup-winning goal in 2013, but Bolland figures to have a tough time living up to his new contract.

P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens -- Speaking of living up to a contract: Subban signed one for eight years and $72 million with the Canadiens this summer, putting himself squarely on the hot seat in hockey-mad Montreal. Subban is already an elite defenseman and at age 25 still has room for improvement, but he's a risk-taker on the ice, and his mistakes will be under a brighter light now that he's among the NHL's highest-paid defensemen.

Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey Devils -- Jagr will turn 43 in February, but he shows no signs of slowing down. He played all 82 games in his first season with New Jersey, scoring 24 goals and leading the team with 67 points, six game-winners and a plus-16 rating. Jagr doesn't have the speed he did as a kid, but his hockey knowledge and love of the game more than compensate for that. For the Devils, a team that struggles to score, any significant drop in production by Jagr could keep them out of the playoffs for the third year in a row.

Jaroslav Halak, New York Islanders -- The Islanders' hopes for a second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs were undermined by goaltending; New York was last in the NHL in save percentage in 2013-14. General manager Garth Snow wasted little time bringing in Halak, whose career save percentage is .918. He and newly signed backup Chad Johnson should give the Islanders their most consistent goaltending in years and provide a talented young team with a chance to return to the playoffs.

Martin St. Louis, New York Rangers -- The Rangers paid a huge price to get St. Louis at the trade deadline in March, but he struggled during the regular season (one goal in 19 games) before looking more like his old self during the playoffs. The Rangers, who took some hits up front in free agency, need St. Louis to be the point-a-game player he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning to have any hope of repeating as Eastern Conference champions.

Kyle Turris, Ottawa Senators -- Jason Spezza is now a member of the Stars, meaning Turris is being penciled in for the role of first-line center. It's a big jump for a player who had never scored more than 12 goals or 29 points before breaking out for a 26-goal, 58-point season in 2013-14. But he put up those numbers with Spezza's line facing the opposition's top checkers on most nights. Turris figures to face tougher opposition this season.

Steve Mason, Philadelphia Flyers -- Mason's first full season with the Flyers was his best since he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie with the Blue Jackets in 2008-09, and his absence from the early stages of the playoffs might have been the biggest reason the Flyers lost in the first round. Still, his final numbers (2.50 goals-against average, .917 save percentage) were good, not great. The Flyers figure to struggle defensively, meaning Mason should be tested early and often. If he can't at least repeat last season's performance, the Flyers will have trouble making the playoffs.

Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins -- The Penguins got Hornqvist in the trade that sent forward James Neal to the Nashville Predators and are likely to use him in the same position, at left wing on a line centered by Evgeni Malkin. That should give Hornqvist's offensive numbers a nice boost. But Neal was a sniper, especially on the power play, while Hornqvist gets his goals almost exclusively by crashing the crease. The Penguins could see some growing pains as they try to fit Hornqvist into their system.

Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay Lightning -- Callahan came to the Lightning at the trade deadline in a captain-for-captain swap that sent St. Louis to the Rangers. He looked right at home in Tampa Bay; so much so that the Lightning paid big money to keep him. At his best, Callahan is a 20-goal, 50-point heart-and-soul guy, but one whose style of play can cause him to miss time with injuries. He's in line for a top-six role with an up-and-coming Lightning team, but they need him to stay healthy.

Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs -- Gardiner was one of the few bright spots on a Toronto team that collapsed down the stretch, and was rewarded during the offseason with a five-year contract worth more than $20 million. He's probably the best puck-mover on the Maple Leafs' blue line, and he led all Toronto defensemen last season with 10 goals, half of them in the final 18 games. The Maple Leafs need the 24-year-old to build on that performance and deliver on the long-term commitment he received.

Matt Niskanen, Washington Capitals -- Niskanen picked the right time to have a career year, and his 10-goal, 46-point performance for the Penguins earned him a seven-year contract from the Capitals. Now it's up to Niskanen to prove he's not a one-hit wonder, even though his offensive numbers last season were more than he'd put up in the previous three seasons combined.

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