With opening night near, here's one final look as we get ready for the first puck to drop on the 2011-12 NHL season.
MOVING ON UP
Cam Atkinson, Blue Jackets
Most kids go the Junior hockey route, but some go to college in the States. One of the kids who took advantage of a University education while playing hockey is Atkinson. A high scoring forward for Boston College last year - he had 52 points including 31 goals in 39 games - Atkinson has made his mark at the NHL level with a strong camp, and word out of Columbus is that he will open the year on the second line with Antoine Vermette and R.J. Umberger. Undersized at at 5'9" and 173 lbs, it remains to be seen if he has the strength to have immediate success on the pond, but his pedigree, and camp work, suggest that keeping an eye on him early in the season is certainly warranted.
Patrik Berglund, Blues
The Swede will open the year centering the second line with the Blues flanked by young up and comers Chris Stewart and T.J. Oshie. Stewart is an absolute beast who is often compared to Jarome Iginla for his shot, physicality and tenacity. Stewart scored 28 goals and 64 points in 2009, and though his point total dipped to 53 last year in a season split between the Avalanche and the Blues, he managed to replicate his 28 goals despite skating in only 62 games because of injury. Oshie, a first round selection in 2005, has been a bit slow to develop, but he is just a season removed from 18 goals and 48 points, and he recorded 34 points in just 49 games played last season (he has been also used on the point on the first power-play in the preseason - with the injury to Carlo Colaiacovo - which can only increase his point producing opportunities). As for Berglund, he will be the glue asked to hold the line together. A fourth year skater, Berglund slumped in his second season in the league (13 goals, 26 points), but he recorded 21 goals and 47 points as a rookie and 22 goals and 52 points last season. If the trio gels, this could be one of the more productive lines in the Central division behind the big boys.
Cody Hodgson, Canucks
With the injury to Ryan Kesler, the Canucks were looking to fill a hole up the middle. It looks like Hodgson will get the shot to fill the void for the potentially high scoring Canucks club. With Mason Raymond also on the shelf, the Canucks will turn to the cody to anchor the second scoring line. A first round selection in 2008, Hodgson's progress has been stalled by a wonky back, but he appears healthy and ready to show the form that led to 43 goals and 92 points in just 53 games in the OHL in 2008. He'll have to prove himself to hold on to the spot cause the Canucks don't expect Kesler to miss more than the month of October.
Adam Larsson, Devils
The fourth selection in the 2011 NHL Draft, it seems that the youngster has impressed his NHL club so much that he will open the year with a regular turn on the blue line. "He'll be given a chance," GM Lou Lamoriello said. "Without question he deserves it the way he's played in the preseason. It has nothing to do with where he was drafted." It remains to be seen how effective the 18 year old from Sweden will be - it's not like the Devils are known for turning out offensive defensemen. As such, he's best left on waivers for now.
TAKING A TURN FOR THE WORSE
Derick Brassard, Blue Jackets
While the star in Cam Atkinson's locker is shining brightly, the luster is off of Brassard as he was the one removed from the top-6 forwards in Columbus in favor of the youngster. At one point Brassard was thought to be the top line center feeding the puck to Rick Nash. Then the Jackets added Jeff Carter sending Brassard down to the second line. However, with the success of Atkinson in camp, Brassard finds himself on the third line, not exactly a spot for offensive success. Brassard's value will obviously be tied to his ice-time and line mates, and while it's possible he could surpass his 47 points from a year ago, he's facing an uphill battle at the moment.
Olli Jokinen, Flames
At one time a proud point producer, the 32 year old centerman has failed to record 20 goals each of the past two years after 6-straight seasons of at least 25 goals. He's also failed to reach 60 points each of the past three seasons, though each time he has still managed 50 or more points. Consider his chances of getting even to that level this season a stretch. Why? The Flames have decided that Jokinen will be centering the third line, and with that positions obvious focus on stopping the other team from scoring, not to mention the reduced ice-time, Jokinen is nothing more than an end game grab at this point.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
Tim Thomas led the NHL with a 2.00 GAA last season. However, he was just 9th in the league in saves with 1,699. The league leader for saves is likely someone you wouldn't have expected - it was Cam Ward with 2,191. Not only did Ward lead the league in saves, he was the only one with more than 2,000. Another fella likely to be a bit further down on your mental list than he actually was? How about Kari Lehtonen of the Stars? Lehtonen came in fourth in the game with 1,868 saves last season. Remember to make sure you've drafted a team to fit your leagues parameters. Guys like Ward and Lehtonen aren't likely to win a Vezina Trophy this season, but if your league counts saves as a category they are the type of net minders that should have been moved up in your rankings.
Tim Connolly (upper body) could skate on Opening Night for the Leafs, but it's not a certainty. What a shock since Connolly is never injured. His last 75 game season was 2002, and only twice since then has he appeared in 65 games.
Sidney Crosby (concussion)... the holding pattern continues.
Mike Fisher (shoulder) appears likely to miss at least a couple of weeks, but he is currently moving in the right direction in his recovery with his goal to get his shoulder strong enough that he can last the whole season without a setback, versus rushing himself back into the lineup before he is ready. Fisher will be a big part of the success, or lack thereof, that the Predators have this season. A 25 goal scorer in 2009, Fisher fell to just 19 last season though he had hit the 20-goal mark in four of the previous five seasons. He's best served as a fourth center, or more of a depth play in standard leagues.
Martin Havlat (shoulder) is improving but there is some doubt about whether or not he will be on the ice for Opening Night for his new club, the Sharks. "Every day I'm getting a little better, but I don't know yet," Havlat said. "I'm taking it day-by-day." The Sharks need Havlat to replace the production they lost when they moved Dany Heatley to pick him up, but they don't need to force him on the ice at this moment if he isn't 100 percent, especially with his injury filled track record.
Andrei Markov (knee) isn't going to be ready for Opening Night, and according to his head coach he is "quite a ways" away from being ready for game action. There is no firm timetable for his return to the ice. Still, he remains a nice stash for his offensive upside. If he were to play 70 games this season, a seemingly reasonable total, and if he were to perform at the pace he flashed from 2005-09, he would record 50 points. Do you know how many blue liners recorded 50 points last year? The answer is nine.
Ryan Whitney (ankle) appears to be, at best, a 50/50 to play in the Oilers first game. Since he missed the entire preseason, and actually hasn't played in an NHL game since December of last year, you would be wise to avoid pushing the expectations too high early on. However, don't take that to mean that he isn't a solid option to have patrolling your blue line. The young, up and coming Oilers have a ton of offensive talent, and it isn't the craziest thing in the world to think that they might have considerable success putting the biscuit in the basket this year. Whitney has recorded at least 39 points in his last three seasons of 70 games played, and he will be asked to fill a prominent role on the power-play.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.To email Ray a question for next week's piece, drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.