If I wasn’t in the midst of a two-week vacation, you might get a well crafted, entertaining lead into this week’s blog, but instead let’s get right into it.
Here are 10 players who will have big seasons after flying under the radar or dropping off the map in 2008-09.
Dustin Penner, LW, Edmonton
Crushed under the expectations of a terrible contract, the big left winger was a regular doghouse dweller under former bench boss Craig MacTavish last season. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder has the tools to be one of the game’s best power forwards. Look for a marked improvement on his modest 2008-09 goal (17) and point (37) totals under new, offense-minded coach Pat Quinn.
Cory Murphy, D, New Jersey
The 31-year-old has only been stateside for two seasons after spending six in Europe to start his pro career, but Murphy is a great fit in the swamp as he’ll get an opportunity to quarterback the power play…assuming he doesn’t fall out of favor with his uber-defensive new coach Jacques Lemaire. It’s surprising he didn’t get more of an opportunity in Florida or Tampa last season.
Scott Gomez, C, Montreal
He was given plenty of opportunities in New York and could never produce up to par, but a reuniting with fellow former-Devil Brian Gionta on his right and super-sniper Mike Cammalleri on his left will be magnifique. Expect a return to point-per-game form.
Dany Heatley, LW, Ottawa
Whether it’s in Canada’s capital, San Jose or elsewhere, the two-time 50-goal scorer will return to that goal range. Many fans will be hoping Heatley fails after his summer saga (they call it Schadenfreude where he was born), but the 28-year-old is simply too talented to keep down and will have something to prove in this Olympic year.
Jason Spezza, C, Ottawa
We’ve been hearing about him for so long, it’s hard to believe he’s only 26 and just entering his prime. Last season was the only time Spezza has averaged less than 1.2 points per game since the lockout (.89 in 2008-09) and he’s certainly better with his new coach. The skilled center had 34 points in 34 games under Cory Clouston and 39 in 48 under Craig Hartsburg.
Ray Emery, G, Philadelphia
A one-year exile in Russia after being run out of town in Ottawa should teach the headstrong 26-year-old how to act like a professional off the ice as well as on. Playing behind one of the league’s best ‘D’ corps will do wonders, too. Another Cup appearance wouldn’t surprise.
Radim Vrbata, RW, Phoenix
Brought in by the Lightning during its 2008 spending spree, things went sour quickly and the 28-year-old returned to the Czech Republic to finish out the season. After a summer trade, he’s back with the Desert Dogs, where he had his best season of 27 goals and 56 points in 2007-08.
Vincent Lecavalier, C, Tampa Bay
Nearly 30 goals and 70 points is a darn good campaign by most standards, but not if you’re one of the world’s top talents. It’s actually surprising Lecavalier performed as well as he did considering the trade rumors and the Lightning’s general chaos both on and off the ice. Things have stabilized in Tampa, however; a return to 100 points for Vinny is in the cards.
Tomas Kaberle, D, Toronto
Being based in Toronto, The Hockey News has seen a lot of Kaberle over his career and it was clear from the start of last season the 31-year-old Czech wasn’t comfortable and wasn’t playing up to his potential. Now that trade talk has subsided, you can bet Kaberle will once again assume his spot amongst the league’s best bargains ($4.25 million per season).
Brendan Morrison, C, Washington
The 34-year-old has been on a downward slide since his Vancouver heyday, but he’ll get a default chance at the Caps No. 2-center role and, in turn, some talented linemates. Coach Bruce Boudreau’s run-and-gun style will reinvigorate Morrison and make GM George McPhee look like a genius for spending only $1.5 million on the veteran.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.
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