TORONTO – Shortened training camps are well underway for the NHL’s 30 teams as they prepare for the truncated regular season. The puck drops on the 48-game campaign on Saturday.
Here is a capsule look at 10 NHL Players to Watch this season:
SIDNEY CROSBY, Pittsburgh Penguins
Sid’s not a kid anymore. The Penguins centre is 25 now and hoping to stay healthy this year. Crosby missed most of the last two seasons due to post-concussion syndrome. The 2007 Hart Trophy winner posted impressive numbers in limited action last season, recording 37 points in just 22 games. Crosby says he’s no longer dealing with the headaches that plagued him the last few years. He’ll be counted on to anchor a Pittsburgh team that could be a force in the Eastern Conference.
CORY SCHNEIDER, Vancouver Canucks
The goaltending drama is an evolving soap opera in Vancouver and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Schneider took over the starting spot from Roberto Luongo and is a good bet to see the bulk of the playing time this season. Luongo may be on his way out of Vancouver, with the Toronto Maple Leafs rumoured to be a potential destination. Schneider posted a 20-8-1 record last season with a 1.96 goals-against average. He’ll be eager to prove he deserves his status as the team’s go-to guy in net.
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS, Edmonton Oilers
Nugent-Hopkins was a force with the Oilers’ American Hockey League affiliate during the lockout and the Canadian forward’s pace didn’t slow at the world junior hockey championship in Russia. Nugent-Hopkins and fellow young guns Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are hoping to build on their stellar AHL play and will likely skate on Edmonton’s top line. Big things will be expected from Nugent-Hopkins and the rest of the youngsters while the veteran players get their game legs back.
STEVEN STAMKOS, Tampa Bay Lightning
Stamkos has been a rock for Tampa Bay since the Lightning selected him with the first overall pick of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He had 46 points in his rookie campaign before blossoming in his sophomore season with 51 goals and 95 points. Stamkos has kept up that stellar pace with 91 points in 2010-’11 and a career-best 60 goals and 97 points last season. The young centre will need to step up again if the Lightning are to improve on their 10th-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
RICK NASH, New York Rangers
The Broadway spotlight will be shining on thefive-time all-star forward, who finally gets a crack at playing for a contender after years of toiling in Columbus. Nash was dealt to the Rangers last summer and could be the piece that gets New York over the hump. The Rangers were the top seed in the East last year but lost to New Jersey in the conference final. The 28-year-old left-winger has scored at least 30 goals in each of the last five seasons. The middling New York offence could use that kind of scoring punch.
ZACH PARISE, Minnesota Wild
Minnesota landed top free agents Parise and Ryan Suter in the off-season and signed them to whopping US$98-million, 13-year deals. Season-ticket sales went up along with expectations. The Wild have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons. Parise gives the team a consistent offensive weapon and he thrives when the pressure is on. The American left-winger was a top player on the U.S. Olympic team in 2010 and had 15 playoff points in New Jersey’s run to the Stanley Cup final last year.
ALEXANDER OVECHKIN, Washington Capitals
The two-time Hart Trophy winner is playing for a new coach and experimenting with a new position. Ovechkin skated on the right wing instead of his usual left side early on at the Capitals’ training camp. It will be interesting to see how the Russian sniper adjusts to the team’s more up-tempo offensive scheme under head coach Adam Oates. Ovechkin, who got engaged to tennis player Maria Kirilenko last month, should be ready to roll. He played for hometown KHL team Dynamo Moscow during the lockout.
ERIK KARLSSON, Ottawa Senators
Karlsson will be expected to be a rock on the blue-line in the nation’s capital this season. The young Swede is coming off a breakout campaign that earned him the Norris Trophy as top defenceman. He led all NHL blue-liners with 78 points (19-59) in 81 games. Karlsson was rewarded with a seven-year contract extension and he’ll be counted on for major minutes. The Senators are banged up on the back end and veterans Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips aren’t getting any younger.
HENRIK ZETTERBERG, Detroit Red Wings
Talk about big shoes to fill. Zetterberg will wear the ‘C’ for the Detroit Red Wings after previous captain Nicklas Lidstrom announced his retirement. Zetterberg has previously served as an alternate captain for Detroit and is coming off a team-leading 69-point campaign. The steady Swedish forward isn’t expected to change his leadership style — he plans to pick his spots and speak up when necessary. Zetterberg’s main goal is leading the Red Wings to the playoffs for the 22nd straight season.
NAIL YAKUPOV, Edmonton Oilers
The first overall pick from last year’s NHL entry draft joins an Edmonton roster loaded with young players eager to bring the club back to respectability. Yakupov will likely get a chance on the Oilers’ second line. He has skated with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky at camp. The speedy Russian forward will have to adjust to the NHL style after an impressive junior run and a 22-game stint in the KHL. Yakupov also helped Russia to a bronze medal at the world junior hockey championship.