Fifteen notable NHL players to watch as they seek a break-out or bounce-back season.
1 of 15Minas Panagiotakis/Icon SMI
Alex Galchenyuk, C, Canadiens
The No. 3 pick in the 2012 draft, the Canadiens’ forward has shown flashes of promise in his brief career—like his seven points in his first four games last year, or his 12 points in 13 games at the end of the ’12-13 season. If the 20-year-old Wisconsin native moves to center from the left wing, something Montreal’s coaches toyed with during the preseason, he could see his production boom
2 of 15Charles Cherney/AP
Brad Richards, C, Blackhawks
Bought out by the Rangers, the 34-year-old center signed this summer with the Blackhawks, who were in need of an upgrade in the middle of their second line. Richards gives them just that. Though he’s lost a ton of speed since his prime, his game-breaking abilities are still there. And with so much more offensive support in Chicago than in New York, Richards, playing with Patrick Kane or Marian Hossa, could improve on last season’s 51 points.
3 of 15Tom Gannam/AP
Cam Ward, G, Hurricanes
Eight years removed from his Conn Smythe-winning performance as a rookie, the 30-year-old goalie had a lousy season in 2013–14, with a 3.06 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage. And for the second-straight season, he was hampered by injuries. Ward’s groin has since healed, but he’s played the sixth most games among active goalies. His durability is a question mark.
4 of 15Scott Audette/Getty Images
David Clarkson, RW, Maple Leafs
After six serviceable seasons with the Devils, including one in which he scored 30 goals, he signed a seven-year, $36.75 million deal with the Maple Leafs in 2013. The contract seemed a bit bloated at the time, but it looks plain awful in light of his terrible Toronto debut. Clarkson scored just five goals, with six assists, in 60 games last season. Things can only get better. Right?
5 of 15Tom Gannam/AP
Eric Staal, C, Hurricanes
The big-bodied center averaged .77 points per game last year, his worst offensive season since he was a rookie in 2003–04. To make matters worse, his off-season training resulted in sports hernia surgery in July. He has since recovered, but with a weak team around him (his brother Jordan is out for at least four months with a broken leg), Staal may struggle.
6 of 15Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire
Mike Green, D, Capitals
The Capitals defenseman, a Norris Trophy finalist as late as 2010, has been expected to bounce back every year since ’11. But a litany of injuries, not to mention the revolving door of coaches and schemes in Washington, has derailed the 28-year-old blueliner’s progress. The arrival of new coach Barry Trotz could be good news for Green. Trotz has had plenty of experience guiding some of the league’s top defensemen. He could bring Green back to the top of his game.
7 of 15Derek Leung/Getty Images
Nail Yakupov, RW, Oilers
He led all rookies with 17 goals in the lockout-shortened season of 2012–13. But Yakupov, the top pick in the ’12 draft, followed that up with a dreadful sophomore campaign in which he scored 24 points in 63 games. (An ankle injury sidelined the 21-year-old winger for 14 games last season, and Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins sidelined him for a couple more.) Yakupov has since made nice with Eakins. He reported to camp this fall carrying an extra 11 pounds of muscle.
8 of 15Mark Humphrey/AP
Pekka Rinne, G, Predators
Recovery from hip surgery that the Finnish goalie underwent in May 2013 turned into a nightmare when he developed a bacterial infection—reportedly E. Coli—in the same hip five months later. The two-time Vezina finalist missed 51 games in ’13–14, and when he returned in March he didn’t look right, with a 3.02 goals-against average and a .894 save percentage in 15 starts.
9 of 15Kathleen Hinkel/Icon Sportswire
Ryan Miller, G, Canucks
The once embattled Sabres goalie signed with the Canucks after a pedestrian showing as a rental netminder for the Blues last spring. Miller lost six of his last seven games to close the regular season, and then crumbled in the first round against the Blackhawks, belying his reputation as a big-game player, which he earned during a brilliant silver-medal run with Team USA at the 2010 Olympics. Can he again be one of the best in the game?
10 of 15Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI
Thomas Vanek, LW, Wild
After playing for three teams last season, the Austrian winger signed a three-year deal this summer with a fourth, the Wild. Given Minnesota’s offensive depth, Vanek—freed from the burden of facing top defense pairings every night as he did while playing for the the Sabres and the Islanders in 2013–14—could flourish in a triumphant return to his adopted home state (he won an NCAA title with Minnesota in 2003).
11 of 15Tony Gutierrez/AP
Valeri Nichushkin, RW, Stars
The second-year Stars winger has tremendous talent, but he was inconsistent as a rookie while acclimating himself to the North American game. This summer, Nichushkin, 19, lived in Dallas, worked on his game and bonded with teammates. His homework could pay big dividends this season, when he will play either on the first line with center Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, or on the second with center Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky. Either way, Nichushkin is capable of putting up big numbers.
12 of 15Andre Ringuette/Getty Images
Bobby Ryan, F, Senators
Much was expected of Ryan after he was acquired in a trade from Anaheim in July 2013, but his first season in Ottawa (23 goals, 48 points) was underwhelming, his mediocre output made more glaring by the absence of longtime stalwart Danel Alfredsson and the team's failure to reach the playoffs. Now that captain Jason Spezza has departed for Dallas via trade, Ryan has been given a new seven-year, $50.25 million deal to be the centerpiece of the Sens' offense. He's said he wants a bigger role. Here it is. We foresee 30-plus goals and a return to the form (he had four consecutive such campaigns with the Ducks) even if his linemates aren't the caliber of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
13 of 15Gene J. Puskar/AP
Jimmy Howard, G, Red Wings
After a season that saw his numbers (2.66 GAA, .910 save pct.) go skyward from his previous two campaigns, Howard, 30, is out to prove that he's a true franchise stopper. Granted, the injuries that ravaged the Red Wings made his job more difficult, but his inconsistency was a factor, too. With Detroit in flux but still counting on its brittle, aging stars, much responsibility will fall on Howard to keep the Wings' 23-year playoff streak alive. He spent the summer training for a bounce-back season and says he's excited by the challenge. “The reports I get on Howie are how much work he’s done,” coach Mike Babcock told the Detroit Free Press. “When you do the work, you’re rewarded. In life, preparation is equal to opportunity. Things go good for you. He’s done the work to prepare, he’ll be rewarded.”
14 of 15Elise Ammendola/AP
Loui Eriksson, RW, Bruins
Acquired in Boston's July 2013 trade of Tyler Seguin to Dallas, Eriksson's production tailed off for a second straight season. As a Star, he's posted a career-high 36 goals in 2008-09, and topped 70 points in each of the next three seasons. He got nowhere near those totals in his first go-round as a Bruin due to the concussions sidelined him for 21 games last season. With the departure of Jarome Iginla to Colorado, Eriksson will be slotted in on Boston's top line, so a return to health will likely mean a return to his Dallas form.
15 of 15Michael Martin/NHL via Getty Images
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, Blues
The 16th pick in the 2010 NHL Draft has had his development slowed by injuries the past two seasons, but showed flashes of his great potential, particularly when he lead the Blues with four playoff goals in six games last spring. Tarasenko has enviable puck-handling skills, strength and the ability to battle, and with the arrival of former KHL teammate/current linemate Joro Lehtera and free agent center Paul Stastny, he's set up for a true breakout season. At least 30 goals are expected with coach Ken Hitchcock urging him to shoot more.
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