NHL.com's seven 'breakthrough players' for 2010-11

jonathanberniergoalie.jpgLast season, Steven Stamkos went from a disappointing rookie to a sophomore sensation, tying Sydney Crosby for the most goals in the NHL. His breakthrough season inspired NHL.com to name its seven candidates for a breakout season in 2010-11. Here’s the list, plus a few selected paragraphs and some commentary.

Jonathan Bernier, LA Kings

If there were any doubts, Bernier laid them to rest with a superb showing (3-0-0, 1.30 goals-against average) during a late-season call-up that left Kings fans wondering if he should be their team’s playoff starter — and with little doubt that he’s their goaltender of the future.

Eh, I don’t know if three starts erase all doubts of Bernier being an answer in net. Don’t get me wrong, Bernier seems super-promising but let’s not get carried away here. Still, Jonathan Quick has reason to look over his shoulder.

Michael Grabner, Florida Panthers

Peter Mueller, Colorado Avalanche

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

Couture showed in junior hockey (39 goals and 87 points in 62 games his final season) and in the AHL (20-33-53 in 42 games for Worcester) that he has the skills to contribute offensively. That could be just what the Sharks need as they look for more scoring from their bottom-six forwards to keep teams from overloading on the likes of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau.

johncarlson.jpgI expected a lot more change in San Jose, to be honest. Still, the team had to let Manny Malhotra go and that will open up some room for Couture to make an impact.

Karl Alzner, Washington Capitals

John Carlson, Washington Capitals

Carlson has been an offensive force at every level he’s played at, including the AHL, where he was 4-35-39 in 48 games for the Bears last season (he had 1 goal and 5 assists in 22 games with the Caps). With a couple of openings coming on the blue line in D.C., there’s room for Carlson to join Alzner and step in.

The Capitals won the Southeast division and Presidents Trophy without Carlson and Alzner. Can you imagine how scary that team will be once those guys develop?

Colin Wilson, Nashville Predators

With Jason Arnott sent to New Jersey in an offseason trade, the first-line center role is there for Wilson to grab. Wilson has been an offensive force at every level he’s played at, and the Predators will give him every opportunity to play a major role this season.

If any team could use a little “oomph” from a young player – especially on offense – it’s the Nashville Predators.

So, there’s NHL.com’s list of possible breakthrough players. I’m not quite as sure about Grabner, Wilson and Couture but the Capitals’ defensive duo, Mueller and Bernier look like they could make a big impact. Later today, I’ll share a few of my own guesses.

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    Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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    As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

    First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

    The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

    That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

    Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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    For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

    Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

    West teams get it done

    Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

    The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2. Johnny Gaudreau generated his 200th point (and 201st) in Calgary’s win, while Alex Steen generated four assists. (Vladimir Tarasenko also enjoyed a three-point night.)

    This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

    East teams stumble, some get over it

    Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

    Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

    Brian Gionta scored in his 1,000th game as Buffalo won, by the way.

    Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

    Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

    Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
    Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
    Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

    Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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    For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

    With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

    As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

    He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

    Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

    Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

    Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

    Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

    Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

    Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

    Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

    Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

    Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

    Lightning storm back against Blackhawks, finish one point out of playoffs

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    Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?

    The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.

    While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.

    Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.

    With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:

    Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

    Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
    Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
    Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

    Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.

    Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?