Line One: Alex Ovechkin - Eric Staal - Ilya Kovalchuk
The top line of the Southeast features three young stars with future captains written all over them.
In Washington, the transformation of the Capitals from cellar-dwellers into legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference is largely credited to Russian superstar Alexander Oveckin.
The 2004 first overall pick has delivered the goods to Washington, and then some. His 420 points in 324 career games are putting him on pace to take over former teammate Sergei Federov as the greatest Russian to ever play in the NHL.
Ovechkin has already given his heart and soul to the Capitals, as he is under contract in the Nation's Capital until the conclusion of the 2020-21 season.
On the topic of great young Russian stars, you can't forget about one of the most dangerous shooters in the NHL, Ilya Kovalchuk. Seemingly forgotten due to being stuck with the Thrashers, Kovalchuk's numbers speak for themselves.
The 26 year old winger has put up four straight 40+ goal seasons since the lockout and may be the biggest prize at the 2010 trading deadline or free agency.
Centering this line is the best of the Staal's, Carolina Hurricanes' alternate captain and NHL08 coverboy Eric Staal. During his tenure with the 'Canes, Staal has become a model of consistency in Raleigh, with 70 points or more in the four seasons since the lockout.
His best season came during the Hurricanes push to their first Stanley Cup victory in franchise history, as Staal's 100 point season provided Carolina with an added weapon in their arsenal.
Line Two: Alexander Semin - Vincent Lecavalier - Marty St. Louis
Although Semin has officially made the jump from playing on both wings to becoming a full time right wing, his stats put him worthy of second line minutes on the left side. Semin's three straight seasons of 25+ goals and knack for scoring clutch goals has made him a lethal weapon playing with Oveckin.
On the right side is Tampa Bay Lightning forward and one of the NHL's fastest skaters, Marty St. Louis. Despite his 5'7" stature, St. Louis has been a prime example of the rise of smaller players in the new NHL. St. Louis has chipped in an average of 81 points per season, along with a total of 23 game winning goals in the four years since the lockout.
2008-09 was a trying year for Bolts center Vincent Lecavalier, as the Lightning captain posted his lowest point total since the 2003-04 season. Even with this bad season, Vinny has averaged 39 goals a season since the 2005-06 season.
Despite rumors that the Quebec native was heading home in a trade to the Montreal Canadiens, Lecavalier remained in Tampa and is looking for a rebound year for the rebuilding Bolts.
Line Three: Erik Cole - Nicklas Backstrom - Nathan Horton
It seems as if Erik Cole was born to wear that (horrible) 'Canes logo on the front of his jersey. After heading to Edmonton in the off-season, the New York native struggled to produce with the Oilers and was sent back to Carolina, where he seemingly returned to where he left on in Raleigh.
Cole went on to score 15 points in the 17 games he played with the Hurricanes. During his original three stint with the Hurricanes from 2005-06 to 2007-08, Cole never finished with less than 51 points and was one of the Cardiac 'Canes go-to players when they were in need of a big goal or play.
At just 21 years old, it's surprising to see the development Nicklas Backstrom has gone through for the Capitals. The Capitals' first round pick from the 2006 NHL Draft has without question benefited from playing along with Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.
But in just two years he's become the captain of the Caps' lethal powerplay. His 42 points on the man advantage and his 38 even strength assists are showing what the future holds in store for this playmaking center.
For the Florida Panthers, many things have gone awry as of late. Following a trade of Roberto Luongo, this team was officially in a rebuilding mode. Through this rebuilding in the Sunshine State, a bulky right winger by the name of Nathan Horton has stood out on the ice for the Panthers.
The third overall pick of the 2003 Draft has been a solid contributor when healthy, as he posted two straight 62 point seasons before being held to just 45 in 2008-09, when injuries limited him to 67 games.
Line Four: Cory Stillman - Rod Brind'Amour - Ray Whitney
This fourth line of forwards features some Stanley Cup Playoff heroes in Raleigh.
Cory Stillman performed exceedingly well in the 'Canes Cup run of '06, where he put up 26 points in 25 playoff games. Even after that, Stillman's presence on the wing provided solid scoring depth for Carolina.
Following a short stint with the Ottawa Senators, Stillman returned back to the Southeast, this time with the Florida Panthers.
Centering the line is captain of the Hurricanes and in my book, captain of this squad, Rod Brind'Amour. Like many of the 'Canes on this team, Rod's best year came in the 2005-06 season, where he eclipsed the 70 point total for the first time since the 1998-99 season.
He's also won two Selke Trophies with the 'Canes since the lockout and has remained to be one of the Conference's best two-way players.
Ray Whitney, a mainstay in North Carolina as an alternate captain and powerplay threat, has made a name for himself in the state that's made hockey seem relevant in the South. Whitney's averaged nearly a point per game in Carolina and has scored 26 points in 42 playoff games with the 'Canes.
EXTRA SKATER: Mark Recchi & Vinny Prospal
Mark Recchi, although never spending a full season with any team in the Southeast, has contributed strongly throughout his time in the warm weathered regions of the division.
In a total of 115 games between the Thrashers, Hurricanes and Lightning, Recchi has posted 63 assists and 29 goals.
The addition of Recchi in 2005-06 gave the Hurricanes an added push towards the Stanley Cup, a move that the Boston Bruins tried duplicating in 2009.
On the wing is former 'Bolt-turned-Ranger, Vaclav, or Vinny Prospal. The Czech forward's best season was in 2005-06, where he scored 25 goals along with 55 assists.
After a trade sent the 34 year old to Philadelphia in 2008, Prospal's tenure with the Lightning seemed to be over. However, Prospal returned in 2008-09 and contributed 45 points in 82 games before being bought out this summer.
Defensive Pairing One: Mike Green - Jay Bouwmeester
Nobody could have said they saw what was coming in the case of Mike Green. The praise was high for the 29th overall pick in the 2004 Draft was high, but in 2008-09, incredible is an understatement when talking about his accomplishments.
Mike Green scored 73 points in 68 games, including an NHL record streak for defensemen when he scored a goal in eight straight games. The season earned Green a Norris nomination and at just 23 years old, and he has all the makings of a star in the NHL for years to come.
The third overall pick from the 2002 NHL Draft, the expectations of Jay Bouwmeester were that he was going to be the face of the franchise as they would go on to vitalize hockey in Florida.
However, the Panthers failed to make noise into the NHL Playoffs with the large puck mover despite the contributions of Jay-Bo. Since the lockout, Bouwmeester has been the face of the Panthers, considering he played in all 82 games of the season throughout those four years.
When the Panthers hung onto to the 25 year old during this year's trading deadline, the move was a sign that the Panthers felt they could make the playoffs and keep Bouwmeester in Miami. Bouwmeester's now a Flame, but his stats in the Sunshine State can't be disregarded, as the defenseman has averaged 30 assists a season since 2005.
Defensive Pairing Two: Dan Boyle - Niclas Havelid
Although never being the puck-moving d-man that the Thrashers need, the defensive game put in place by Niclas Havelid in Atlanta was nothing sort of spectacular.
Despite a trade that sent him to New Jersey, Havelid still led the Thrashers in blocked shots in 2008-09 with 167, 37 more than the second closest. During his three and a half seasons in Atlanta, the Swedish defenseman averaged 191 blocked shots and chipped in at least 14 points or more in all four seasons.
After winning the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2003-04, Dan Boyle seemed to be one of the bright spots of the future for the Bolts. When play resumed in 2005-06, Boyle appeared to become even stronger and more offensively skilled.
He followed a 53 point campaign in 2005-06 with a 63 point season in the following season. However, injuries held the compact defenseman to just 37 games in 2007-08, where he chimed in for 25 points.
In the offseason, a trade sent Boyle to San Jose, where he went on to post All-Star numbers and is currently the leading candidate to take over as captain of the Sharks.
Defensive Pairing Three: Frantisek Kaberle - Garnet Exelby
Frantisek Kaberle is certainly overshadowed by the much more sought after Tomas Kaberle, but that's still not a knock on the defenseman often paired on Carolina's third pairing.
Kaberle's 82 points in four seasons with the 'Canes is solid for someone's who production dropped rapidly due in large part to a lack of ice time.
Every team needs their tough guy right? Insert Garnet Exelby. The Thrashers blue-liner has been the team leader in hits since the lockout and fits this squad perfect as a sixth defenseman.
Although Exelby will be wearing a blue and white jersey as a trade sent the 28 year old to Toronto this off-season, the hits are still sure to be dished out handily.
EXTRA SKATER: Paul Ranger
When healthy, the skills of Paul Ranger provide a great option as a seventh defenseman on this squad. Before injuries plagued the 24 year old's 08-09 season and limited him to just 42 games, Ranger had played in at least 70 games or more in the last three seasons.
In those three seasons, Ranger averaged just under 26 points a season and is a more than adequate option on the Bolts blue-line.
Goaltenders: Cam Ward & Tomas Vokoun
The nod for starter goes to Cam Ward, hands down and without question. The Hurricane netminder has been a large factor in the post-lockout success of the Carolina-based franchise.
His career stats thus far have been impressive, but not nearly as impressive as his post-season numbers. In 41 career playoff games, Ward is 23-18 with a 2.38 GAA.
Backing him up is Panthers crease-protector Tomas Vokoun. Although Vokoun has spent just two seasons in Florida, his numbers on a rather poor offensive team merit him worthy of a spot.
Following an All-Star season in Florida, Vokoun built on those numbers and posted another solid season for the Cats, where he finished second in the NHL for save percentage.
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