With Chris Drury and Daniel Briere gone, the 23-year-old who scored 43 goals and 84 points last season will feel the pressure of earning his new seven-year, $50 million deal, the result of Buffalo matching an offer sheet from Edmonton during the summer.
2 of 15Lou Capozzola/SI
Dany Heatley | right wing | Ottawa Senators
One of the NHL's most dangerous scorers will be gunning for his third consecutive 50-goal season as the defending conference champs try to make another assault on the Stanley Cup Final before Heatley and other key players (Jason Spezza, Wade Redden, Andrei Meszaros) become pricey free agents and bust the Sens' cap.
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Manny Fernandez | goaltender | Boston Bruins
After failing to secure the starting job long term in Dallas and Minnesota, Fernandez gets another chance to prove himself in Boston, where the Bruins are hoping they don't live to regret dealing netminder prospect Hannu Toivonen to St. Louis.
4 of 15Dave Sandford/Getty Images
Vesa Toskala | goaltender | Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs may have finally solidified their shaky net situation with the acquisition of San Jose's reliable 1-A, who's coming off two 23-plus-win, sub-2.60 GAA seasons in a rotation with Evgeni Nabokov. If Toskala's the real deal as a full-time starter, the Leafs will take a big step back to the playoffs.
5 of 15Lou Capozzola/SI
Guillaume Latendresse | right wing | Montreal Canadiens
In a storied city that's having trouble luring topflight free agents, the hulking 20-year old Francophone will be a fan favorite and budding star. He scored 16 goals as a rookie last season and has the potential to provide the bulk of the Habs' offense along with more than few crushing hits.
6 of 15Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Chris Drury | center | New York Rangers
The respected clutch performer brought his grit, leadership and scoring (37 goals last season) from Buffalo to Broadway, where the Rangers hope he'll be the missing ingredient in their quest for the Stanley Cup. At the very least he'll be rewarding to watch on a line with Brendan Shanahan or Jaromir Jagr.
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Rick DiPietro | goaltender | New York Islanders
The Isles' roster has a plumber's crack after the team lost much of last season's offensive firepower, so their franchise netminder has a tough job in store. If they make the playoffs DiPietro will further justify the 15-year deal he was given prior to last season.
8 of 15Lou Capozzola/SI
Martin Brodeur | goaltender | New Jersey Devils
At age 35, how much will he show the wear and tear of nine consecutive seasons of 70 or more starts? The offensively-challenged Devils need him more than ever in an Atlantic Division that is now competitive top to bottom.
9 of 15Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images
Sidney Crosby | center | Pittsburgh Penguins
How much better can this all-world 20-year-old possibly be? He topped 100 points last season for the second consecutive year while powering the Pens to their first playoff berth since 2001. This season they have the weapons to go deeper than the first round, and Sid the Kid will almost surely exceed his career-high of 120 points.
10 of 15Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Daniel Briere | center | Philadelphia Flyers
The downtrodden Flyers brought in Buffalo's fleet 32-goal, 95-point scorer in a bold effort to upgrade their roster and exorcise their culture of losing. Briere will probably have to vacuum floors and empty ashtrays to fully earn his $10 million this season (he got an eight-year, $52 million, no-trade contract), but he will make the Flyers much more exciting.
11 of 15Dale MacMillan/Getty Images
Tomas Vokoun | goaltender | Florida Panthers
The Panthers took a step toward returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2000 when they dealt for Nashville's formidable netminder. Vokoun, who had an illness- and injury-plagued 2006, can be streaky, but when he's hot, he's hot.
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Nicklas Backstrom | center | Washington Capitals
The 19-year old Swede, chosen fourth overall by the Caps in 2006, will be a serious candidate for the Calder Trophy. Blessed with great vision and playmaking skills, he'll be a key component of the Caps' second dangerous line with Alexander Semin and captain Chris Clark, and his numbers will reflect it.
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Eric Staal | center | Carolina Hurricanes
The `Canes are coming off a dispiriting season in which they defended their Stanley Cup by failing to make the playoffs. Staal, too, has something to prove after falling to 30 goals and 70 points from his 45-100 of the previous season. He also has to live down the embarrassment of a summer arrest for rowdy bachelor party hijinks.
14 of 15Lou Capozzola/SI
Johan Holmqvist | goaltender | Tampa Bay Lightning
If the 2005 Cup champs are to regain their juice, the 29-year-old Swede must continue to establish himself as a bona fide number one. After four appearances sprinkled across three seasons with the Rangers, Holmqvist showed flashes of brilliance last season in 48 games with the Lightning, going 27-15 with a 2.85 GAA.
15 of 15Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Ilya Kovalchuk | left wing | Atlanta Thrashers
The Thrashers made the playoffs for the first time in their history last season, but did not upgrade their roster. Much of the offensive weight will fall on their speedy sniper, who dropped to 42 goals and 76 last season after hitting 52-98 in 2005-06. A big year from him is a must.
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