Happy Friday to all. Our season preview rolls along, with some thoughts on tonight's game as well. A bit of a different take today, this one from Chevrier30:
Which of our dearly departed players from last year’s team will have the best year in their new home?
It is kind of sad that there will be so many candidates for this title. Anyway, I'm scratching Byfuglien off of it now. With his switch to defense, even in the Southeast he will have Gagne-St. Louis, Staal, and some Russian dude in DC bearing down on him. Either that, or with Atlanta's underrated defensive corps, Buff might only be a third pairing guy. He's certainly behind Enstrom, Oduya, Bogosian, and possibly even Hainsey. Secondly, the Thrash are counting on a second year goalie in Pavalec, and that doesn't always work out. Ask Columbus. So he's out.
Andrew Ladd is a candidate, because he might be getting Top-6 minutes this year. He's skating with Nik Antropov who was Atlanta's #1 center last year and had quite a year. He's also seen time with Evander Kane, who's going to improve from his rookie year (though how anyone "improves" from KTFO of Matt Cooke, I'm not really sure). Still, it's Atlanta's Top 6, so it's hard to put your money here.
Then there's Niemi in San Jose. There's no question he's going to rack up wins, that's that thing that the Sharks do. And given his slightly advanced age from a normal rookie, and his willingness to adjust his game, I don't see much of a sophomore slide, if one at all. And he'll have another goalie pushing him, which he most certainly didn't have from about February on here. Niittymaki will have a month long stretch where he's lights out, so we'll see how Antti handles that. Steady for sure.
Which brings us to one of our favorites, and someone we may keep writing about even though he's not in town just because the material is so plentiful, Kris Versteeg. I know some have questioned Steeg's linemates in Ontario that should keep his numbers down, but remember for most of the year Steeger was playing with either John Madden, center himself, or a ghost of Dave Bolland that he was in the regular season. He didn't get much help from his pivot. Plus, Kris's game is all about creating for himself anyway. And he still threw up 20 goals. Now he'll be on the #1 power play unit and almost certainly released from all his defensive duties in what is a far more open conference. Sure the media glare is intense, but Steeger hasn't ever exactly shied away from the camera, has he? It'll hurt to watch, and I fully expect him and Kessel to get in a fistfight at center ice over who's hogging the puck more, but this is my pick.