This week we take a look at the North East Division teams and try to identify players that have a decent chance to put up larger points totals next season:
Boston – Phil Kessel scored 29 points in 70 games (a 34 point pace). Over a 28 game stretch from Feb 10 until April 5, he scored 17 points. That’s a 50-point pace. He also has the ability to score in bunches, with seven multiple point games to his credit. During the World Championships, he was third on Team USA in scoring (7-2-5-7), behind Lee Stempniak (10 points) and Paul Stastny (eight points). Kessel also ended up tied for the team lead in shots on goal with 26. His performance in the World Championship’s should give him the confidence boost necessary to take another step up in points next year. Look for the Masterton trophy winner to score at least 40 points and if he is able to put it all together quicker, 50+ is very possible.
Buffalo – With everyone talking about whether or not the Sabres will be able to re-sign Daniel Briere or Chris Drury, maybe they will forget about Tim Connolly. He’s only 26 years old and missed all but two games last season due to a concussion. The good news is he scored nine points (all assists) in 16 playoff games, so it appears that he is over this concussion. He does have a history of concussions, so buyer beware. During the 05/06 season, he was on a 70 point pace (63-16-39-55). Provided he can avoid another concussion, he could put up 50-60 points before the next lights out.
Thanks to the many injuries Buffalo had last year, Drew Stafford got the opportunity to show the Sabres what he could do. He did pretty well, scoring 41-13-14-27 (54 point pace) and went 10-2-2-4 during the playoffs. Stafford had 22 points in 22 games to finish the regular season off. Depending on what happens on the free agent front, Stafford should get an opportunity to showcase his talents in Buffalo on a daily basis. Mark him down for 45-50 points and you should be happy.
Montreal – Recently re-signed Chris Higgins started off last season with a flourish, scoring 13 points in the first 13 games. He finished the season 61-22-16-38, a 51 point pace. One promising sign is that he had the third highest average ice time per game for forwards on the team. I see steady improvement and 55 points for next season.
Conversely, Tomas Plekanec started the year off very slowly, scoring only two points in 11 games in October. He did have an amazing run in March, when over an 11 game stretch, he scored 13 points. Plekanec finished the season 81-20-27-47. He and Higgins seemed to click when put together on a line. Entering his third full NHL season, Plekanec should be more comfortable in his second line role. During the recent World Championships, he was the top Czech scorer (7-4-4-8), outperforming Petr Sykora and David Vyborny. Look for a slight increase to 55 points
Ottawa – The Sens Stanley Cup run means that almost every player has been exposed to large doses of media coverage. The consensus is that Wade Redden had a disappointing year. He still managed 64-7-29-36 (a 46 point pace). The season previous he scored 50 points in only 65 games. Ottawa would be making a mistake if they were to trade him away for one “bad” season, unless it’s for salary cap reasons. Only last summer, the Sens decided he was worth $6.5M a season and chose to keep him over Chara. Ottawa will be looking to get back to the Stanley Cup finals again next year and trading away a top flight defenceman is not the best way to do that. He’ll be looking to redeem himself next season and will take a shot at 50 points.
Toronto – It is very tough to find a player under the radar that plays in this hockey mad city. Last season Kyle Wellwood scored 42 points in 48 games, good for over 70 points if it wasn’t for an untimely injury. It doesn’t look like he’s an injury prone guy though. In his previous three seasons, he’s played in 81, 80 and 77 NHL/AHL games. The wild card here will be which Free Agent(s) the Leafs are able to lure to town come July first. If Toronto picks up a goal scorer, maybe Wellwood, a talented playmaker, can develop some chemistry with him. Next season, 55-60 points should be achievable for Wellwood.