Daruish Gorgirzadeh looks at the key players from the Southeast Division.
Welcome to my third article in the series, giving my personal opinion on who the key players for each team are. I have done this to try and help give some of the newer fans of the NHL the chance to learn about who the main guys are. In this article, I have looked at the Southeast Division, which features a couple of the superstars of the league. It is also home to two teams that made the playoffs this year, the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals.
Southeast Division – Eastern Conference
Eric Staal (Captain, C)
Eric Staal has been a key member of the Hurricanes franchise since he was drafted by the franchise #2 overall in 2003. He is the oldest of the four Staal brothers, who have all been drafted by teams in the NHL, however he is the most successful of the four. He was an integral part of the 2006 Stanley Cup winning team, and was named captain after Rod Brind’Amour decided to resign as captain in 2009. Other than the 2006 Cup victory, he has not experienced much success in the playoffs, apart from making the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009. However, seeing as he is only 27 and is signed on for a long time, it appears he will be one of the main men that the team will rebuild around.
Jeff Skinner (C)
Jeff Skinner is a bit of a phenom for the Carolina Hurricanes, due to his baby face and youthful nature and the fact that he can score. In his first season with the team, he won the Calder Trophy and was voted to the All-Star game as an 18 year old. This season, like the majority of the Hurricanes, his production dropped as the team whimpered its way through the season. Skinner is one of the bright lights for the team though, as he is not even 20 yet and still has two full seasons of experience under his belt.
Cam Ward (G)
Cam Ward will go down as a hero in Carolina after he led the team to the Stanley Cup in 2006 as a rookie goaltender. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy that year due to an incredible goaltending performance. His statistics since the Cup victory have decreased, but this is most in part due to the fact that the Hurricanes have been unable to find a reliable back up goaltender, meaning that Ward is usually leading the league in games started by a goaltender. That being said, he is still a capable goaltender and more than does his share of keeping the Hurricanes in games.
Other key players: Tim Gleason (D), Tuomu Ruutu (RW), Brandon Sutter (C), Jiri Tlusty (C), Jussi Jokinen (LW), Jamie McBain (D).
Brian Campbell (D)
Since joining the Florida Panthers at the start of this season, Brian Campbell has been impressive, especially with his offensive numbers. He is primarily known as an offensive defenseman, and he proved that this season after scoring 53 points. He is also rarely penalised, having only taken three minor penalties all season long. His style of play led him to being nominated for the Lady Byng Trophy this year. He is also one of the main reasons that the team has made the playoffs after a 12 year absence from the postseason. As the Florida Panthers have still not named a captain for the team, it would not be a shock if he was given the captaincy as he has the experience and poise for the job.
Stephen Weiss (C)
Stephen Weiss is the longest serving player in the Panthers organisation, having been with the team since he was drafted in 2001. He leads the franchise in the number of assists and games played, both marks he set this past season. He is a consistent producer for the team, and is usually a lock to deliver between 50-60 points per season, if he manages to remain healthy. He is also another guy that would be considered for the vacant Captain’s position if the team decides to name one.
Kris Versteeg (RW)
Kris Versteeg is already a bit of a journeyman in the league, and he’s not even 26 yet. Having been drafted by the Boston Bruins, he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, won a Stanley Cup there in 2010, then was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, played a half season there before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers and ultimately being traded to the Panthers this past offseason. That obviously hasn’t put him off as he was able to produce a career best 54 points this past season, and can also be credited for helping the team finally break their postseason drought. As Versteeg is scheduled to be a restricted free agent this summer, it will be interesting to see if he finds stability with the Panthers or is packing his bags again and heading off to a new city.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos (C)
Steven Stamkos is the sniper of the NHL, and that is saying something considering Alex Ovechkin plays in this league. In all seriousness though, Stamkos is a mean goal scorer for the Lightning, having scored 23, 51, 45 and 60 goals in his 4 seasons with the team after being drafted 1st overall in 2008. He has won two Rocket Richard trophies to show for his goalscoring efforts, and has already been an integral part of the Lightning team that made the Eastern Conference Finals last season. It is scary to even predict how good this guy could be because he is only 22 and has scored all of these goals for a team that has made the playoffs once during his time. He is destined for success and more importantly a Stanley Cup at some point in his future and if he manages to remain relatively injury free, he could go on to challenge some of the all time scoring records. He is the man that the Lightning are banking on to lead them through their slump and back to regular postseason berths in the near future.
Martin St. Louis (RW)
Even though Martin St. Louis is fast approaching the age of 37, someone obviously forgot to tell him. That is the only way to describe him as his contribution to the Lightning team is nothing short of impressive. After he completed his collegiate career in 1997, he went undrafted and was given a chance by the Calgary Flames, only to be released for being too small. That did not stop him having a huge impact for the Lightning, having one 100+ and numerous other 90+ point seasons in his career. He was one of the key men that led the team to its only Stanley Cup in 2004, scoring the crucial double overtime winner in Game 6 of the finals to stave off elimination. Even though he is getting up there in age, he is still an important member of this Lightning team and it really does look like he could carry on until he is well into his 40s.
Vincent Lecavalier (Captain, C)
Vincent Lecavalier has been a member of the Lightning organisation ever since he was drafted 1st overall in 1998, and has held the captaincy on two separate occasions. He is a good player who has the ability to be brilliant when he wants to be. He had a 108 point season in 2006-07 which resulted in him also winning the Rocket Richard Trophy, which shows how much potential he has. On the other hand, he also has the tendency to not produce the goods at times. He has played almost 1000 games in the NHL and has produced 842 points as a result, which isn’t too shabby. Like St. Louis, he was a key part of the 2004 cup winning side. The Lightning also think a lot of him as they signed him to a contract that will more than likely keep him as a member of the team until he retires.
Other key players: Victor Hedman (D), Brett Connolly (RW), Ryan Malone (LW), Mattias Ohlund (D), Teddy Purcell (RW), Dwayne Roloson (G).
Alex Ovechkin (Captain, LW)
Nicknamed the Great 8, Alex Ovechkin is without doubt one of the top superstars in the league, if not the top superstar. Ever since arriving in the league with the Capitals in 2005 after being drafted 1st overall in 2004, he has been a sensation. His personal rivalry with Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins has captivated the league, and this was none more evident than in Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semi Finals where they both scored hattricks in a 4-3 Caps win. His goal scoring ability was second to none when he first started, scoring 52 goals and 106 points in his rookie season to bring home the Calder Trophy ahead of a certain Sidney Crosby. Over his seven seasons in the league, he has had four seasons with more than 100 points, with the highlight being 2007-08 when he scored 65 goals and 112 points. His resumé includes: an Art Ross Trophy, a Calder Trophy, 2 Hart Memorial Trophies, 3 Ted Lindsay Awards and 2 Rocket Richard Trophies. He was named captain in 2010 and at aged 26, he is locked up with the Caps for a very long time. Although his point scoring rate decreased significantly due to his change in style to pass first instead of shoot, it does look like the Caps will have a chance to win a Cup under some point during his stewardship.
Nicklas Backstrom (C)
Another one of the young core in Washington, is one of the more elite playmaking centremen in the league. Since entering the league in 2007 with the team, he has consistently scored points for the team, and has been provider for the majority of Ovechkin’s goals. His best season in the league was in 2010, when he scored 101 points in 82 games. This season he missed a significant amount of time with a concussion, suffered as a result of an elbow from Rene Bourque. Although being limited to only 42 games, he still managed to score 44 points. He is also another guy that has been signed long term in Washington, so it is clear that the team believe in his potential to lead them to the Cup.
Mike Green (D)
Mike Green is one of the league’s premier offensive defenseman, who once set the record for consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman. In 2010, he scored 76 points from the blue line and was nominated for the Norris Trophy, however due to a lack of postseason success for the team, he has been criticised for his lack of defensive play, somewhat unfairly according to statistics. Over the past couple of seasons, he has missed a lot of time due to injuries. He is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this summer, so even though it looks almost certain the Caps will bring him back for a long time, it will be interesting to see what decision the Caps make regarding his future.
Other key players: Alex Semin (RW), John Carlson (D), Karl Alzner (D), Troy Brouwer (RW), Jason Chimera (LW), Braden Holtby (G), Michal Neuvirth (G), Brooks Laich (C), Marcus Johansson (C), Tomas Vokoun (G), Dimitry Orlov (D), Dennis Wideman (D).
Evander Kane (LW)
Evander Kane has been one of the bright lights for this Winnipeg Jets team over the past three seasons. Originally drafted 4th overall in 2009 by the team when they were still the Atlanta Thrashers, his play has consistently improved year upon year. He is a strong power forward, who is willing to drop the gloves and go with anyone when he has to. Coming off of a solid career high 57 point season, he will be an restricted free agent in the summer. Although it is almost certain the Jets will re-sign him, it will be interesting to see how long and how much for.
Andrew Ladd (Captain, LW)
After coming over as part of the blockbuster trade with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, Andrew Ladd was named captain of the team almost straight away, filling in a void left by Ilya Kovalchuk. He is a pretty solid left winger, usually good for about 50 points a season. An interesting fact about Ladd, he has only played in three playoffs, but has won the Cup in two of those three seasons (Hurricanes in 2006 and Blackhawks in 2010). He is signed up for a while with the Jets, so it is clear that management believe he is the guy that will lead them out of their long playoff slump and finally bring postseason hockey back to Winnipeg.
Dustin Byfuglien (D)
Dustin Byfuglien is the other main player brought across in the trade with the Blackhawks. He is an interesting case, as he started his career in Chicago as a defenseman, moved up and played forward for a couple of seasons, won a Stanley Cup as a forward, then after being traded became a defenseman again. Since moving to the Thrashers/Jets franchise, he has set a career high in both seasons with 53 points, playing as a top line defenseman. He is also a guy that you would not want to be hit by, considering he is 6ft 5 and 265 pounds. He is a big hitter and he has an even more effective slap shot from the points. Byfuglien is also a guy that the Jets see as being the future of the franchise and help them break their postseason duck and bring happier times to the long suffering franchise.
Other key players: Tobias Enstrom (D), Alex Burmistrov (C), Zach Bogosian (D), Bryan Little (C), Ondrej Pavelec (G), Kyle Wellwood (C), Blake Wheeler (RW).