Commentary

Top 10 players to watch in 2008-09

Updated: October 9, 2008, 12:25 PM ET
By E.J. Hradek | ESPN The Magazine

The new season is here and we're back with our annual Top 10 players to watch:

Dan Boyle, D, Sharks
The 32-year-old puck-moving defenseman found his way to San Jose via a summer-time trade from Tampa Bay. He brings some much-needed championship experience to a talented club that's looking to get over a playoff hump. Boyle is expected to ignite the Sharks' attack with his nimble skating and passing skills. He is, however, an expensive addition. The former Miami (Ohio) University standout will earn approximately $40 million over the next six seasons. At that price, Sharks watchers will be expecting him to help their team to a title. There's a little pressure, eh?

Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Penguins
Recent hockey history tells us clubs that lose in the Stanley Cup finals don't fare so well the following season. Wayne Gretzky's 1984 Oilers were the last team to turn the trick. If the Penguins want to break the trend, their newly minted stopper ($35M, seven years) must build off his strong, albeit injury-shortened, season. Fleury's task will be tougher because of significant injuries to key defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney. Can the 23-year-old handle the added pressure? We think he can.

Marian Gaborik, RW, Wild
The speedy Slovakian-born sniper is skating in the final year of his current contract. During the past several weeks, Wild GM Doug Risebrough has spent a lot of time chatting with Gaborik's agent, Ron Salcer. Thus far, the two sides haven't been able to work out a new deal. With each passing day, Wild fans are wondering if their franchise player will be leaving town. If Risebrough believes he can't get a deal done, he might have to shop his 42-goal scorer, rather than losing him as a free agent next summer.

Marian Hossa, RW, Red Wings
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That must have been Hossa's thinking when he passed on a long-term deal in Pittsburgh to take a one-year offer ($7.4 million) in Detroit. The 29-year-old winger enjoyed an impressive playoff with the Pens, posting 12 goals and 14 assists in the 20 games he played in Pittsburgh after being acquired at the trade deadline. With the Pens, Hossa skated alongside superstar Sidney Crosby. In Hockeytown, he'll get to work with elite pivots like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. That shouldn't be so bad, right? Hossa likely will find himself on the open market again next summer.

Patrick Kane, LW/Jonathan Toews, C, Blackhawks
Entering the season, the Blackhawks are the league's "buzz" team. Sophomore sensations Kane and Toews are the main reasons for all the excitement. Last season, as rookies, they brought a jolt of energy to the sagging Original Six franchise. Kane scored 21 goals and dished out 51 assists en route to Calder Trophy honors. Toews, who missed 18 games with a knee injury, added 24 goals and 30 assists. In 2008-09, the Hawks' dynamic duo will carry the burden of higher expectations. These kids seem very up to the challenge.

Roberto Luongo, G, Canucks
There's a new captain in Vancouver. And, of all people, it's the club's super stopper, Luongo. He'll be the first goalie since Montreal's Bill Durnan (1947-48) to serve as a team captain. By league rule, he won't wear the "C" on his sweater, but he will sport the letter of leadership on his mask. Luongo can best lead by keeping the puck out of his net. As we all know, that's something he does very well.

Carey Price, G, Canadiens
Celebrating their 100th season, the Canadiens are planning many events to commemorate the occasion. Of course, the club's passionate fans want another Cup to toast the special birthday. If they're going to get that 25th Stanley Cup, the 21-year-old Price will have to be right. Last spring, he had a mini-meltdown in a second-round loss to the Flyers. This season, his first full campaign as the Habs' No. 1 stopper, Price will feel the pressure that can only be found in the home crease at the Bell Centre. We think he'll respond to the challenge.

Wade Redden, D, Rangers
Despite battling through a subpar season with the Senators, Redden received a monster six-year, $39 million free-agent contract from the Rangers. Thus, we ask the simple question: Can he rediscover his game in New York? If he can, Redden will help his new club in all game situations. (He had two points in his first two games.) If he can't, he'll become a whipping boy for the fans at Madison Square Garden, and his contract will make him nearly impossible to deal. Good luck, Wade.

Steven Stamkos, C, Lightning
Seen Stamkos? That was the creative marketing campaign that preceded his arrival in Tampa. The first overall pick in the 2008 draft, the Ontario-born pivot has already shown some flashes of his special talent during the preseason. He'll work on a second line behind the club's original franchise center, Vincent Lecavalier. We expect to see Stamkos in the thick of the Calder Trophy race.

Jose Theodore, G, Capitals
After enjoying a well-timed bounce-back season (in the final year of his contract) in Denver, Theodore relocated to Washington as a free agent. He joins a team that faces higher expectations after a stunning second-half sprint to the playoffs. That means they can't afford anything less than steady goaltending behind a team that likes to take some chances on the attack. If Theodore can't duplicate his performance from a season ago, the Caps will have a tough time improving on last season's success.

E.J. Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com. Also, click here to send E.J. a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.