At 27, Sid’s no longer a kid entering his 10th NHL season. And there are questions as to whether Alex is still “The Great” after the Capitals missed the playoffs last year.
Though Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin maintain their place as the league’s most recognized stars, a changing of the guard is gradually taking place entering the 2014-15 season.
There’s Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay, and Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon in Colorado. And don’t forget the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane tandem in Chicago, or hard-hitting, do-it-all defenseman Drew Doughty in Los Angeles.
NHL broadcaster Pierre McGuire specifically noted MacKinnon and Landeskog during a conference call this week.
“You talk about maturity for young people,” McGuire said. “They’re the bright lights and brilliant faces of the National Hockey League for years to come.”
They’re not the only ones. There are a number of players to keep an eye on this season.
HART-BEATS: Ovechkin and Crosby combined to earn league MVP honors in five of the past eight seasons. That could well change given the sudden shift of talent this summer. Jamie Benn has a chance for a breakout season in Dallas after the Stars stocked up by adding Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky. Then there’s Stamkos, who is back after missing 45 games last year with a broken leg. Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf finished second in the Hart Trophy voting last season, and should contend again this year. Defense has long been overlooked in the MVP voting, with Chris Pronger the last blue-liner to win in 2000. Doughty and Chicago’s Duncan Keith should deserve more consideration than they received last year.
VEZINA VALUES: Boston’s Tuukka Rask had a dominant Vezina Trophy-winning season with a league-leading seven shutouts and 2.04 goals-against average. There’s no reason to believe Rask can’t match that production for the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins, who return mostly unchanged. Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop and Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov established themselves as consistent starters. Don’t count out L.A.’s Jonathan Quick or Montreal’s Carey Price. And Ryan Miller is settling into a new home in Vancouver, where he led the U.S. to a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Games.
CALDER CONSIDERATION: Tampa Bay forward Jonathan Drouin was considered a front-runner for rookie of the year honors before hurting his thumb last month. Selected third overall in the 2013 draft, Drouin is already skating and has a chance to be ready for the opener. Drouin finished third in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 108 points (29 goals, 79 assists) in 46 games with Halifax, and led the Q with 41 points in 16 playoff games. Other candidates include Washington rookie centers Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky, Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad (drafted first overall in June) and Edmonton first-round pick Leon Draisaitl.
NORRIS NOTIONS: Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom owned the Norris Trophy, awarded to the league’s top defenseman, by winning it six times in seven seasons (2001-08). It’s difficult to imagine anyone having that kind of run today because the blue-line talent is so deep. Keith won it last year, but has plenty of competition from Doughty, Nashville’s Shea Weber, Minnesota’s Ryan Suter and Bruins stalwart Zdeno Chara. Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson, the 2012 Norris winner, has fully recovered from an Achilles injury that hampered him for part of last season. Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman appears ready to step up.
“ROCKET” LAUNCHERS: Ovechkin led the NHL in goals last year to win his second consecutive Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. Under new coach Barry Trotz, Ovechkin is focusing on improving his defense. That has the potential to open the door for Stamkos (who led the league in 2011-12), Anaheim’s Corey Perry or any one of the potent Dallas trio of Spezza, Benn and Tyler Seguin.
ROSS POINTS: Crosby ran away with the Art Ross Trophy with a league-leading 104 points, 17 more than Getzlaf. The Penguins, however, are under a new coach in Mike Johnston, and lost some firepower after trading James Neal to Nashville. Stamkos, Seguin, Perry, Getzlaf and Kane all have a shot to lead the league.
OLD GUARD: Keep an eye out on Jarome Iginla and the veteran presence he can provide a young and talented Avalanche team. Same goes with Ryan Callahan in Tampa Bay after the Lightning acquired the former New York Rangers captain in a trade last season. Daniel Alfredsson hopes to return to play one more season in Detroit, but a nagging back injury has delayed that from happening.
NEXT GUARD: It’s not too early to start looking ahead to next year’s draft, which is loaded with top-end talent headed by centers Connor McDavid and U.S.-born Jack Eichel.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.