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Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Updated: September 24, 4:26 PM ET
NHL PREVIEW

By E.J. Hradek

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS Last Season: 47–27–8 Coach: Michel Therrien "THE PENGUINS LOST A FEW GUYS, BUT I THINK THEY'LL BE EVEN BETTER: CROSBY, MALKIN AND FLEURY ARE THREE OF THE TOP 10 PLAYERS IN THE GAME."

GM Ray Shero couldn't keep free agent wings Marian Hossa and Ryan Malone, but he did re-up G Marc-Andre Fleury (.921 SP) and ink a five-year deal with C Evgeni Malkin. Translation: The Pens now have the game's two top pivots—Sidney Crosby (72 points in 53 games) and Malkin (47 goals, 106 points)—and a star stopper locked up well into the next decade. Nice work, Ray. If the Pens improve their league-worst faceoff numbers and 23rd-ranked PK unit (both very achievable goals), they'll be playing for the Cup in June once again.

KEY PROSPECT: Alex Goligoski, 23, D The 61st overall pick of 2004 scored 28 points in 23 playoff games with the Pens' AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last spring. He'll give Therrien another high-octane option on the man advantage.

NEW YORK RANGERS Last Season: 42–27–13 Coach: Tom Renney

After a second straight second-round playoff exit, GM Glen Sather decided his roster needed a makeover. F's Jaromir Jagr and Sean Avery and D's Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman are history. Free agent D's Wade Redden and Dmitri Kalinin and F's Markus Naslund, Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Fritsche are the future. Do the moves make the team better? Yes, though only marginally. Once again, then, it comes down to stopper Henrik Lundqvist (37 W's, 10 SOs). This team will go only as far as King Henrik can take them.

KEY PROSPECT: Bobby Sanguinetti, 20, D The 6'3'', 190-pound New Jersey native is billed as a clone of former New York blue-line great Brian Leetch. Sather should be so lucky. Sanguinetti is a puck-moving D with offensive skills, but he needs to get stronger in his own end.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS Last Season: 42–29–11 Coach: John Stevens

After a major roster overhaul last year (and a 39-point jump in the standings, with a trip to the conference finals), GM Paul Holmgren had a much calmer summer. It helps that the Flyers return a league-best six 20-goal scorers, including C's Danny Briere (31) and Mike Richards (28). If speedy LW Simon Gagne is healthy, he'll give the team another threat. The D, led by vet Kimmo Timonen and blossoming Braydon Coburn, isn't deep. That's a problem. So are high expectations.

KEY PROSPECT: Claude Giroux, 20, RW On stage at the 2006 draft, then-GM Bob Clarke forgot Giroux's name. That won't be a problem for Flyers fans down the road. Giroux totaled a whopping 51 points in 19 QMJHL playoff games last spring. That means Stevens may have found another all-purpose forward.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS Last Season:46–29–7 Coach: Brent Sutter

Superstopper Martin Brodeur, 36, looked as good as ever last season, posting 44 W's and a .920 SP in 77 games en route to another Vezina. Behind a mediocre D, he was the reason the Devs were an impressive 27–9–7 in one-goal games. Up front, the club signed FA Brian Rolston (31 goals)—one of the hardest shots in the NHL—to bolster the league's 27th-ranked offense (and 25th-ranked PP). Another boost would be an encore from Zach Parise (32 goals) and a comeback from Brian Gionta (22 goals, down from 48 in 2005-06).

KEY PROSPECT: Matthew Corrente, 20, D He's six foot, 195, and plays with confidence and an edge—which the Devils have lacked in recent years. The 2006 first-round pick, who lists John Gotti among his idols, adds needed spark to the Devils' aging defensive core.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS Last Season: 35–38–9 Coach: Scott Gordon

Despite the off-season grabs of D/PP specialist Mark Streit (49 assists, 62 points) and C Doug Weight (10 goals, 25 points, 37 years old), GM Garth Snow has wisely committed to a youth movement. New coach Gordon will ask Streit and young F's Blake Comeau (22), Jeff Tambellini (24) and Kyle Okposo to help an offense that produced a league-low 2.3 gpg and the 29th-ranked PP. He's asking a lot. If G Rick DiPietro (.902 SP) returns healthy from hip and knee surgeries, the Isles will have a shot at the playoffs. More likely, they'll have a top-five draft pick in June. Which is something.

KEY PROSPECT: Kyle Okposo, 20, RW A Minnesota native who was selected with the seventh overall pick in 2006, Okposo brings an intriguing combination of size (6'1'', 200), skill and grit to the Island.