Player Of Next Year?

June 20, 2004

One of these top-caliber players could be the league's next
breakout star

Dany Heatley, RW, Thrashers, 23. The 2001-02 Calder Trophy winner
missed four months with a knee injury he sustained last September
in the auto accident that killed teammate Dan Snyder. He should
reemerge next fall as the young NHL player with the most mature
game.

Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Thrashers, 21. He carried his team in the
first half of the season and finished with 41 goals. The NHL's
most dynamic scorer could raise his game with more backchecking,
once he grasps the idea that the turnovers he forces will lead to
even more scoring chances.

Marian Hossa, RW, Senators, 25. With 82 points in 81 games in
2003-04, Hossa (below) has the raw ability to challenge Iginla as
the NHL's best power winger. The tough-love approach of new
Senators coach Bryan Murray should help the Slovak make the tall
step up from talented to dominant.

Roberto Luongo, G, Panthers, 25. Playing behind a suspect
defense, he sees more rubber than a tire factory. (He faced a
league-high 2,475 shots and had a terrific .931 save percentage
this season.) If the NHL follows through with its proposal to
prohibit goalies from handling the puck behind the net, Luongo, a
mediocre puckhandler but a brilliant puck stopper, will be a
prime beneficiary.

Rick Nash, LW, Blue Jackets, 20. With 41 goals he tied for the
NHL lead as a 19-year-old (he turned 20 on June 16) in his
sophomore season. Nash and the soft-handed Nikolai Zherdev could
become as dangerous a pair as Heatley and Kovalchuk.

Brad Richards, C, Lightning, 24. The Conn Smythe Trophy winner
was a talisman for Tampa Bay, which was 31-0-2 in games in which
he scored. Playing for Canada in the World Cup in September could
boost Richards, just as playing in the 2002 Olympics lifted
Iginla. --M.F.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVE SANDFORD/GETTY IMAGES (HOSSA)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)