10 players to Watch in 2008-2009 NHL Season

Kyle HollandCorrespondent IAugust 18, 2008

This is a list of the top 10 players to watch for in the upcoming NHL season. Some on the list are already elite stars. Others are coming off a break-through season, or will break out this season.

Sidney Crosby: After having a mid-season injury limit him to only 53 games, Crosby came back and launched his team to the Stanley Cup Finals. In the playoffs, Sid posted 7 goals, and 20 assists in 20 games. He led the playoffs in points, but failed to capture the Cup, losing to the Detroit Red Wings in six games.

This season, his sights will be focused on leading his team to capture the Atlantic Division title, top seed in the East, and a Stanley Cup above all. Crosby has already captured individual titles, but Lord Stanley hasn't come to him yet.

He'll be looking to regain his spot on top as the point leader in the regular season as well. However, has more competition for this award now with Alexander Ovechkin finally getting a supporting cast in Washington.

Alexander Ovechkin: Ovechkin already made himself an elite player after his rookie season in 2006. That year saw him capture the Calder Memorial Trophy instead of Sidney Crosby, and finishing as a finalist for the Hart Memorial Trophy and Lester B. Pearson Award.

This season, Alex became the first player in NHL history to win the the Art Ross Trophy (Most Points with 112), Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP), Lester B. Pearson Award (Most Outstanding Player), and the Maurice Richard Trophy (Most Goals with 65). Ovechkin broke Luc Robitaille's record of 63 for most goals by a left wing in a single season in the process.

He led the Washington Capitals to the Southeast Division title and the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Ovechkin has said winning individual awards are nice, but he's more focused on bringing the Stanley Cup to Washington instead.

A 13-year, 124 million dollar contract extension last season, ensures that he has plenty of time to do so. It's currently the richest contract to ever be given to an NHL player, as well the as the first contract worth over 100 million dollars.

This season, Ovechkin is focused on bringing his team back to the playoffs, winning the Southeast Division title again, and making it past the first round of the playoffs. His performance overall will determine how far the Capitals go this season.

Alexander the Great will be looking to top last years performance, as he'll be playing his first full year under head coach, Bruce Boudreau. When Boudreau took over on Thanksgiving, the team's record improved as did Oveckin's point production.

Johan Franzen: Not too many people knew who Franzen was outside of Detroit last season until the playoff stretch. In the last 15 games of the season Franzen scored a goal in each game.

During the postseason, he broke Detroit's franchise record for most goals in a single playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche. He suffered a bruise to his brain in the first game against the Dallas Stars that saw him miss the rest of the series and the first couple games in the finals against Pittsburgh.

This year Franzen will be looking to keep the pace he set last year down the stretch and into the playoffs. If he plays that efficient all season long he could very well score over 60 goals and 90 or more points.

This season he'll be given more responsibility on the ice and be relied on to score clutch goals all season long. When Detroit is down in a game and need a goal, expect Franzen to be on the ice to do it for them. This season could be his breakout year, putting him as one of the elite goal scorers in the NHL.

Mike Green: After having a breakout year in his second full season in the NHL, Green will be looking to show he is now among the elite puck moving defensemen in the NHL. Last season Green led all defensemen with 18 goals, and has been largely compared to Paul Coffey for his smooth skating, puck passing ability, along with his knack for finding the back of the net.

This season, the Capitals will be depending on Green to quarterback their power play, eat up a lot of ice time, and produce a lot of offense. He's shown he has the speed and puck handling ability to go coast-to-coast if no pass is available to make.

Expect Green to be a candidate for the Norris Trophy and give Niklas Lidstrom a challenge as the seasons top defenseman.

Joe Thornton: Since Thornton was traded midway through the 2005-2006 season, he's been expected to bring the San Jose Sharks their first Stanley Cup. So far, in his first three postseason appearances in San Jose, he hasn't taken them past the second round.

When traded to San Jose, he posted 20 goals, 72 assists for 92 points in just 58 games. Joe's production has declined each year since. Playing in all 82 games in 2006-2007, he only tallied 114 points and just 96 this past season.

He's still been the club leader in points each year, but he needs to display the same production he had in his first season with San Jose. The Sharks have been expected to win the Stanley Cup every season since big Joe came to the West coast.

Next season will be no different. Joe will be heavily relied on to create the offense for the Sharks and to take them to the promise land. Will this be the season Thornton leads them to the Cup?

Or will this be another season showing Joe doesn't have what it takes to take his team that far? This must be why the Boston Bruins traded him, feeling that he couldn't do the job for them in the playoffs.

Jonathan Toews: After finishing his rookie season with 24 goals, and 54 points in 64 games, the Chicago Blackhawks announced Toews as their new team captain at the tender age of 20.

The Hawks have shown their confidence in Toews to lead the team back to the playoffs and among the elite in the NHL. Jonathan will be expected to increase his offensive production significantly next season to ensure Chicago will make the playoffs.

This season, if he plays in all 82 games, Toews should be a point per game player. He'll finish next year in the 80-90 point range. Don't be suprised to see this kid as one of the top players in the NHL soon.

Jose Theodore: Many people will wonder which Theodore the Washington Capitals signed over this summer to be their number one goaltender. Will it be the one who has struggled since the lockout, or the goaltender that carried the Colorado Avalanche back to the playoffs through their mid-season injury plague?

If he's the latter, then both Cristobal Huet and Olaf Kolzig won't be missed in the nation's capital. Depending on his confidence level for himself, and the team will determine his performance.

The Capitals will be depending heavily on Theodore to make seven or eight huge saves per game. Washington plays an attacking style of hockey that doesn't really focus on the defensive side.

He'll be facing many odd man rushes throughout the season, and the results of those plays will determine if Washington is a playoff team.

Mike Richards: Last season, Richards finally showed everyone the player the Philadelphia Flyers believed he was when they drafted him. After having two disappointing seasons, his third season was a charm.

Richards led the Flyers in points, and brought them to the Eastern Conference Finals after finishing in the basement in 2007. When the Flyers signed Daniel Briere to a huge contract to be their number-one center, Richards developed and proved to be the best player on the team.

Now Mike is their number-one guy, and signed a contract extension for 10 years, paying him 64 million dollars in that time period. If his production continues to rise, he'll be considered a steal.

This season, Richards will be looking to improve his production, his game, and take the Flyers back to the Eastern Conference finals and possibly the Stanley Cup Final. We'll see if he's the real deal, or just a one-year wonder.

Peter Mueller: The Phoenix Coyotes see Mueller as their new franchise player, and the future of their organization. Having Wayne Gretzky as a coach will further help the development of Mueller on the ice.

Gretzky has made improvements as coach over the past couple years, and saw the Coyotes in the playoff race well into March last season. Now, in his fourth year as a coach, he has more to work with as the Coyotes have many young talents to work with.

Mueller is the corner stone of that group. In every level of hockey, he has always improved his point production as every season passes. At the young age of 20, he'll no doubt improve his production of 54 points last season.

Even with Oli Jokinen in the fold with Phoenix now, Peter will still be given the duties of first line center and possibly be on the same power play unit as Jokinen. If so, his power play points will improve as well.

This season, Mueller could break the 30-goal mark and possibly total 70 points, if not more. If Mueller does improve his production, so will the Coyotes, and we may see them make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Evgeni Malkin: Malkin played in Crosby's shadow his first season in the NHL. Off the bat though, he was a star in the NHL, posting a goal in his first six games, something no rookie has done before him.

Yet, not being able to speak English or give interviews, and playing alongside Crosby, he never got the spotlight. That was until mid-way through last season, when Sid the kid got injured with a high ankle sprain.

The Penguins knew the injury would keep Crosby out for at least eight weeks. In order to keep up for the chase of the Atlantic Division Title, along with the top seed in the East, they turned to Malkin and he did not disappoint.

Malkin took the ball and he ran with it. He displayed true leadership on the ice and his point production increased as well. He improved his goal production from 33 to 47, and points 85 to 106.

He made a good battle too for the Art Ross Trophy with fellow countryman Alexander Ovechkin. Malkin's play suffered in the playoffs though. He still finished with 22 points in 20 games, which isn't bad.

His play suffered as the playoffs went on though. Evgeni failed to score much during both the Eastern Conference Final, and Stanley Cup Final. It could have been because he pushed himself too hard during the regular season to keep the Penguins competitive.

Malkin did everything for the team, and truly developed his game in the process. This season, if both Crosby and himself stay healthy, it makes the Penguins so much more dangerous.

Pittsburgh possibly has one of the best one-two punches at center in the history of the NHL. Many people have compared them to the Gretzky-Messier combo in Edmonton during the 80's.

If he plays the way he did with Crosby out of the lineup this season, both him and Sid will reach the 100-point mark. Malkin has showed he doesn't want to play in Crosby's shadow anymore and will be fighting with him as the top guy on the Penguins roster.

The healthy competition will only benefit the Pens, making both of them play their best hockey. After losing in the finals, he'll be even more focused, and motivated to do better this season and in the playoffs.


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