A look at one member of each Eastern Conference team who may be ready to become an impact player for their respective franchise.
Boston Bruins- Tuukka Rask, Goaltender
> With Tim Thomas taking a year off, the starting job is once again Tuukka Rask’s. With Thomas not getting any younger, and no sure thing to even return the NHL, Rask should take this opportunity to seize the #1 goaltender job permanently in Boston.
Also watch for:Anton Khudobin, G
Buffalo Sabres- Marcus Foligno, Forward
> A late season call-up who injected some serious life into Buffalo’s stagnant offense at the end of last season (six goals, seven assists, 13 points in 14 games), Foligno is primed to break into Buffalo’s top-six forward rotation. He’ll likely play on the second line, and if the 14-game sample size is a preview of things to come, the Sabres might have a star in the making with Foligno.
Also watch for: Cody Hodgson, F; T.J. Brennan, D
Carolina Hurricanes- Jordan Staal, Forward
> Finally out of the shadow cast by Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh, Jordan Staal gets to team up with older brother Eric in Carolina, and will finally see consistent top-six forward minutes, as well as major time on both the powerplay and penalty-kill units for the Hurricanes. Staal is likely primed for the best offensive season of his career.
Also watch for: Justin Faulk, D
Florida Panthers- Jacob Markstrom, Goaltender
> Florida is a team rife with high-end prospects, but young goaltender Jacob Markstrom is their most likely youngster to make an impact this year. With their goaltender situation far from solid, it’s likely that their top prospect at that position will take over the starting job by year’s end.
Also watch for: Jonathan Huberdeau, F
Montreal Canadiens- Alex Galchenyuk, Forward
>Given Montreal’s relative lack of offense and forward depth, the 18-year-old Galchenyuk will likely see immediate NHL action, only a few months after the Canadiens used the 3rd overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft on him. Galchenyuk can play any forward position, and has tremendous offensive upside, and could possibly post a 65+ point season in Montreal.
Also watch for: Jarred Tinordi, D
New Jersey Devils-Adam Larsson, Defenseman
> New Jersey lost faith late in the season in Larsson, choosing to bench him throughout the playoffs and the Stanley Cup Final. However, the former fifth overall pick will likely build on his immense potential, and begin to round into the high-end defenseman he showed flashes of becoming last year. A smooth skater with a big shot, Larsson will get back onto the ice in both even-strength and special teams situations.
Also watch for: Mattias Tedenby, F
New York Islanders- Calvin De Haan, Defenseman
> The Islanders are hoping that the 2009 draft pays out big dividends for them again. John Tavares, the player they took with the first overall selection in that draft, is already well on his way to becoming one of the elite centers in the NHL. Now is the time for Calvin De Haan, a defenseman they took a mere eleven picks later, to live up to his first-round billing and bolster a weak Islanders blueline.
Also watch for: Matt Donovan, D
New York Rangers- Chris Kreider, Forward
> Kreider showed just what he could do in the playoffs last year, coming straight from college to jump right into the thick of postseason action for the Rangers. Kreider notched five goals in eighteen playoffs games, tied for third best on the Rangers. With a full training camp and actual practice time under his belt, Kreider will an opportunity to suit up on as a top-six forward on New York’s second line and second powerplay unit.
Also watch for:Dylan McIlrath, D
Ottawa Senators- Jakob Silfverberg, Forward
> Ottawa has a number of blue-chip prospects (Silfverberg, Mark Stone, Stefan Noesen, Mika Zibanejad, Shane Prince) who are very, very close to being called up to the big leagues, but the Swedish Silfverberg is the closest to making the Senators. He’ll likely see time in Ottawa’s middle-six forward spots, possibly on a line with fellow youngster Kyle Turris and countryman Daniel Alfredsson.
Also watch for: Mark Stone, F; Ben Bishop, G
Philadelphia Flyers- Luke Schenn, Defenseman
> Chris Pronger will likely not return this year, if not ever. The Flyers failed to land free agents Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. The only improvement the Flyers made to a defense that allowed 2.75 goals/game came at the expense of former #2 overall pick James van Riemsdyk, whom Philadelphia sent to Toronto in exchange for big-bodied defenseman Luke Schenn. Schenn, older brother of Flyers forward Brayden Schenn, is a load at 6’5”, 230, and is expected to shore up a blueline that was a huge liability in Philadelphia’s second-round playoff exit against New Jersey.
Also watch for: Eric Gustafsson; Jakub Voracek, F
Pittsburgh Penguins- Brandon Sutter, Forward
> The other big piece Pittsburgh got in return from Carolina as part of the Jordan Staal trade, Brandon Sutter is expected to take over Staal’s third-line center role. He’s not as offensively gifted as Staal, but he’s a good defensive forward who can provide solid back-checking and penalty killing for the Penguins.
Also watch for: Joe Morrow, D
Tampa Bay Lightning- Anders Lindback, Goaltender
> Offense isn’t a problem for the Lightning; not when you’ve got Rocket Richard Trophy winner Steven Stamkos centering the top line. What’s held Tampa Bay back lately is goaltender. An ineffective Mathieu Garon and an aged Dwayne Roloson have proven to be nothing but liabilities. In an effort to fix this, Tampa Bay traded for Nashville Predators backup goalie Anders Lindback, a behemothic 6’6”22-year-old who will get a chance to prove he can be a #1 goalie after standing in Pekka Rinne’s shadow for the past two years in Nashville.
Also watch for: Brian Lee, D
Toronto Maple Leafs- James Van Riemsdyk, Forward
> The former #2 overall draft choice will get a fresh start after finding himself lost in Philadelphia’s incredibly deep forward rotation. Toronto is hoping he can make the switch from winger to center, so that he can be the middleman for the Maple Leafs’ dangerous top line winger combination of Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel.
Also watch for: Nazem Kadri, F
Washington Capitals- Braden Holtby, Goaltender
> He took the NHL by storm last postseason, stepping to go 14 games against two of the NHL’s best (Tim Thomas, Henrik Lundqvist) while posting a remarkable .935 save percentage and 1.95 goals-against average. The Capitals were ousted in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, losing the game but perhaps finding their goaltender of the future. Holtby will begin the season as the starting netminder over Michael Neuvirth, and has the chance to not only prove that his playoff run was not only not a fluke, but that he can be the quality goaltender the Capitals so badly need.
Also watch for: Marcus Johansson, F
Winnipeg Jets- Spencer Machacek, Forward
> He’s not a highly touted prospect, but Machecek knows how to produce. A late season call-up last year, Machecek spent 13 games with the Jets, including a nine-game stretch where he averaged a point per game (two goals, seven assists). The 23-year-old may have locked up a full-time spot in Winnipeg with his late-season performance last year; he’ll likely see middle-six forward time for the Jets, and could provide some of the offensive depth Winnipeg so desperately needs outside of their top line of Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane and Olli Jokinen.
Also watch for: Alex Burmistrov, F