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Zajac, Bryzgalov need to be major factors in Atlantic

by Brian Compton

With the 2012-13 NHL season ready to begin, teams will be scrambling on a nightly basis to earn points and clinch a spot in what is primed to be a wild 48-game race to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A condensed schedule means more games in a short amount of time, and teams will be relying on every player on their roster to contribute. takes a closer look at the players who will need to be major factors for Atlantic Division squads:

Travis Zajac, New Jersey Devils -- Healthy and raring to go, Zajac will be relied upon heavily to provide offense because of the departure of former captain Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild. An Achilles injury limited Zajac to 15 regular-season games in 2011-12, but he played a huge role in New Jersey's surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final -- the center had 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 24 playoff contests.

"I think he was probably the biggest acquisition we could have made after the trade deadline without having to get rid of anybody," teammate Adam Henrique said. "He was a huge part of why we had success."

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Brad Boyes, New York Islanders -- The 30-year-old was signed to a one-year deal after the Islanders saw PA Parenteau leave for the Colorado Avalanche. It's a gamble by New York, considering Boyes had eight goals in 65 games for the Buffalo Sabres in 2011-12. However, the Islanders believe Boyes, who scored 76 goals over two seasons with the St. Louis Blues from 2007-09, could regain his touch skating alongside No. 1 center John Tavares.

"I always want to go out and do as well as I can, but definitely coming off last season, just personally I want to get back to the right form and get back to playing the way I know I can," Boyes told "I don't have to prove anybody wrong or not, I just have to play well and try to score goals again. I think we can make a push and surprise some people."

Chris Kreider, New York Rangers -- The Boston College product showed a combination of power and speed during a brief stint at the end of last season. Now he'll be asked to do it on a more permanent basis. The forward had five goals in 33 games for Connecticut in the American Hockey League during the work stoppage after scoring five goals in 18 Stanley Cup Playoff games for the Rangers last season.

"The last thing I want to do is settle in," Kreider said. "I don't want to get complacent, especially at this level. If I get complacent, next thing you know I'm a minus-2 and giving (Alex) Ovechkin a one-timer in the slot. I have got to stay extremely focused, obviously. That's pro hockey, right?"

Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers -- It was a difficult transition for the Russian netminder from Phoenix to Philadelphia. After signing a nine-year, $51 million deal with the Flyers in the summer of 2011, Bryzgalov put up decent numbers during the regular season before winning five of 11 playoff games while recording a 3.46 goals-against average and an .887 save percentage.

Bryzgalov returns to Philadelphia after performing for CSKA Moscow in the KHL. In 12 appearances, the 32-year-old boasted a 2.13 GAA and .913 save percentage. He'll need to put up similar numbers for the Flyers if they plan to compete in this ultra-competitive division.

"I think Ilya has learned some things from one year in Philadelphia," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. "He's learned a lot of things and we'll see a different person next year. I think we'll certainly see a different goaltender."

Brandon Sutter, Pittsburgh Penguins -- The most important piece for the Penguins' fortunes in 2012-13 to arrive in the Steel City from a draft-day trade that sent Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes, Sutter is coming off an impressive 17-goal season. Combine that with his ability to play effectively in his own end of the ice, and the Penguins may have found the perfect complement to top centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

"We've got three centers," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. "We got Brandon Sutter, and with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, that is three really good centers. That's the strength of our team. We're looking for Brandon to being a big part of that. It was pretty important to me in building this team to have a young center like that to put with Crosby and Malkin. It makes our team a good team still and in the future moving forward."


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