Jonathan Toews had to make some room in his trophy case over the summer.
The Chicago Blackhawks captain added an Olympic gold medal, the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy to his collection in a span of four months.
It will be interesting to see what Toews can do for an encore in the 2010-11 season. He tops our list of 10 players to watch this year:
1. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: After winning the Stanley Cup on June 9, Toews took more than two months away from skating to recharge his batteries. He played a lot of hockey last season. This one won’t be any easier—with a couple key players gone, the captain’s leadership will be called on as the Blackhawks try to defend their title.
2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: Sir Alex is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Sure, a third straight 50-goal campaign earned him the Ted Lindsay Award in June, but his year was still largely defined by disappointment—the Ovechkin-led Russians bombed out of the Olympics in the quarter-finals while the Capitals were bounced from the first round of the playoffs. Another gaudy statistical season is virtually assured for the flashiest player in the NHL, but his year is bound to be measured by what kind of team success Washington has with him as a leader.
3. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks: This will be the year where we find out if the Swede is truly a superstar. Sedin took a major step forward last season—capturing the Hart Trophy after leading the league in scoring—and it will be interesting to see if he can keep his game at that level. With another 100-point season, the durable centre could put himself alongside Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby in the conversation about the NHL’s top players.
4. Taylor Hall/Magnus Pajarrvi/Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers: The rookie trio has brought some hope to a city that has suffered along with its hockey team. Hall is the franchise’s first ever No. 1 draft pick, Paajarvi makes the move to North America after three pro seasons in Sweden and Eberle brings a goal-scorer’s touch from junior. How much of an impact will they have as freshmen?
5. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens: The great goaltending debate rages on in Montreal. Price’s every move is bound to be examined after he was anointed the No. 1 goalie when Jaroslav Halak was traded over the summer. There probably isn’t a goalie in the league who enters the season with more pressure than Price.
6. Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils: The Devils paid a heavy price to keep the Russian winger, so Kovalchuk will be expected to deliver the goods. A good start will be topping 40 goals for the seventh consecutive season. But the $100-million man will have to do more than that to justify his signing—GM Lou Lamiorello and the entire organization are looking to recapture the post-season success that has eluded them in recent years.
7. Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks: Evgeni Nabokov was never able to deliver a championship for the talented Sharks. That job now falls to Niemi, who brings a Blackhawks Stanley Cup ring with him to Northern California. Even still, a few questions persist about the quiet Finnish goalie. He has just 64 games of NHL experience on his resume and will need to prove that last season’s performance wasn’t an aberration.
8. Simon Gagne, Tampa Bay Lightning: This could be a make-or-break season for the oft-injured winger. Now playing in the Sunshine State after a decade in Philadelphia, he’ll be given a chance to shine while playing alongside Vincent Lecavalier. An added layer of motivation comes from the fact that Gagne is entering the final year of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
9. John Tavares, N.Y. Islanders: With 24 goals and 54 points, the former No. 1 pick had a decent rookie year. But he’ll be looking to increase both of those totals in his second season. Many believe Tavares will develop into a 50-goal scorer during his career—perhaps he’ll even make the leap as a sophomore, just as Steven Stamkos did a year ago.
10. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks: The captaincy might be gone, but the expectations remain. With a bolstered blue-line in front of him, Luongo is due for a big season. Vancouver finds itself as a popular Stanley Cup pick entering the year and the big goaltender will play a major role in determining whether the team can live up to the hype.