With the 2013 NHL season just 2 days away it's time to take a look at 10 players who are set to have a big year in the shortened NHL season. The players who will benefit most from the 48 game campaign are the youngsters- many of whom have been playing in the AHL during the 113 days NHL lockout. This list will carry a mixture of stars to underdogs who are going to turn some heads and help lead their teams to victory.
10 Players to Watch in Shortened NHL Season-
10- Brendan Smith- Detroit Red Wings
This is a young defenceman that was brought to my attention by one of my twitter followers- and it turns out he's going to have a key role on the Red Wings blueline. Smith is coming off 32 games with Grand Rapids where he's racked up 5 goals and 15 assists and will have a head start on many of his Red Wings teammates- who haven't had a chance to play. Smith saw 14 games with the Wings last season and will need to step up to the plate after the Wings lost defencemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart in the offseason. After taking the time to hone his skills in the AHL, Smith knows he's ready to make the jump and help fill the holes on the Wings blueline. If your fantasy hockey league counts +/- then consider picking up Smith- who prides himself on his +/-.
9. Gabriel Landeskog- Colorado Avalanche
Landeskog was so impressive in his rookie year that he won rookie of the year honours and earned the trust of Avalanche brass to be named the youngest captain in team history. In 82 games last season the young Swede was able to put up 52 points and with a shortened season could surprise many and be amongst the top goal scorers in the league- it also doesn't hurt he played in Sweden during the lockout racking up 14 points in 17 games. Look for Landeskog to jump out to a quick start to prove he was the right choice for captain and his rookie year wasn't a fluke.
8. Jordan and Eric Staal- Carolina Hurricanes
I'm putting the Staal brothers together on this list because if either of them is to have a big year it will because of the addition of their brother. The Hurricanes were on a mission to add young talent to help prove they are serious Cup contenders- one of their big additions was Jordan Staal from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jordan will be re-united with his older brother Eric and the siblings will be looking to help each other improve with a little old sibling rivalry. Jordan is finally getting the top 6 minutes he deserves and will be looking to prove he is a top 6 forward- Eric had a slow start last year and will be looking to rebound this season. Look for the Staal brothers to have career years and get the Hurricanes back into the playoffs.
7. Ryan Miller- Buffalo Sabres
After having the best year of his career in 2010 in which he captured the Vezina trophy and back-stopped the Sabres into the playoffs, Miller had a dissapointing season last year. An early concussion threw him off his game early on and put the Sabres in a rough spot. After a strong finish at the end of last season which brought the Sabres back from 14th to 9th look for Miller to carry that momentum over into the shortened season. Miller will be looking to re-solidify his spot amongst the elite goalies in the NHL and a 48 game season (30 games) will be just the thing to get Miller back on track. With the additions of Hodgson, Foligno and possibly Grigorenko the Sabres should be able to put up more goals to help their tender out. Look for Miller to return to his Vezina form and be amongst the top goalies propeling the Sabres back into the postseason.
6. Matt Duchene- Colorado Avalanche
Duchene has shown flashes of brilliance since being taken 3rd overall in 2009, but has yet to solidify himself as the elite player he was projected to be. The Avalanche are filled with youth and young stars- having Landeskog being named captain shows they are putting faith in the youth of the team. Duchene is now 22 and healthy after a injury plagued 2011-2012- and after being some-what overshadowed by Landeskog, Duchene will be looking to remind everyone he was the original Avalanche superstar. Coming off strong play overseas during the lockout Duchene has brought that play back home and is looking very strong in training camp- look for him to prove he's ready and capable of playing on the first line.
5. Sidney Crosby- Pittsburgh Penguins
As one of the best, most elite players in the league Crosby is always an exciting player to watch and never disappoints. When his team needs someone to step up he's the first one to score a big goal. After playing just 63 games over the last 2 seasons Crosby is finally healthy and is looking forward to playing a "full-season" with no injury issues. Evgeni Malkin has risen to the top with the absence of Crosby and has won over the fans- many believing Malkin to be the best player on the Penguins- Crosby is in the best shape he's been in years, look for him to hit the ice running and light up the league proving he is still one of the best players in the game and gain back his honour of being the best Penguin. After last seasons disappointing first round exit at the hands of the Flyers, look for Crosby to lead the Pens back to the Stanley Cup Finals!
4. Claude Giroux- Philadelphia Flyers
Coming off a career year with the Flyers that saw Giroux put up 93 points and have his name thrown into the mix as a elite young player- Giroux has been named the 19th captain in Flyers history. At age 25 with 4 NHL seasons under his belt, Giroux is ready to step up and become a leader- he already leads the team without the "C" by inspiring teammates with hard hits and timely goals. He's the perfect player to take over the captaincy role from Chris Pronger and could be poised for a long run as Flyers captain. Look for Giroux to put up terrific numbers and lead the Flyers to a deep playoff run.
3. Cory Schneider- Vancouver Canucks
After stealing the number goaltending job away from Roberto Luongo, there's no questions everyone in the hockey world will be looking at Schneider. Schneider will be called upon to not only keep the Canucks at the top of the Western Conference, but to break the reputation of a team that can't perform in the playoffs. There's going to be a lot of pressure on the young goaltender to deliver- will he rise to the occasion or crack under the pressure?
2. Jordan Eberle- Edmonton Oilers
I absolutely love the way Jordan Eberle plays and it's a shame he gets overshadowed by Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent- Hopkins and now Nail Yakupov. I truly believe Eberle is the Oilers MVP and the most complete young star- look for him to prove that this year. Last year was a career year for the 22 year-old who racked up 76 points and ranked 16th amongst NHL scoreers. After being given a "A" this season, look for Eberle to become one of the leaders of the young Oilers squad both on the ice and off ice- leading by example. I wouldn't be surprised to see him lead the team in points and be amongst the top scoring leaders in the shortened season.
1. Justin Shultz- Edmonton Oilers
With all the young offencive talent the Oilers have I wouldn't be surprised if they managed to squeak into the playoffs. Shultz absolutely tore up the AHL during the lockout putting up 48 points in just 34 games- and he's a defenceman. The 48 game season will work out perfectly for Shultz in his first year after playing a 43 game season with Wisconsin. Look for Shultz to provide some stability to the Oilers defence and challenge for the Calder trophy.
There you have it folks, 10 players who are poised to have a big season once the puck drops on Saturday. One things for sure- a 48 game season will result in some exciting hockey with lots of surprises.