NHL: 10 Players, Coaches and Teams That Will Make the Biggest Leaps in 2012-13

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2012

NHL: 10 Players, Coaches and Teams That Will Make the Biggest Leaps in 2012-13

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    The Los Angeles Kings were bumping along for most of the season.

    The talent was obvious with Jonathan Quick in goal, Drew Doughty on defense along with Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown on offense. However, they could not establish themselves in the regular season and didn't assure themselves of the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoffs until the final week of the season.

    Once the playoffs started, it was another story. The Kings not only found their stride, they became the breakout story of the year. They rolled through the Western Conference playoffs and then defeated the New Jersey Devils in six games to win their first Stanley Cup championship.

    Here's a look at the breakout players, coaches and teams for the 2012-13 NHL season.

Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers

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    Through his first two seasons in the NHL, Taylor Hall has flashed his speed, power and explosive shot, but he has not been the dominant player who can carry a team on his back. That changes in 2012-13.

    Hall scored 22 goals as a rookie and 27 goals in his second year. However, both seasons have been cut short by injuries. If Hall can stay healthy this year, there should be no stopping him. He will become a 40-goal scorer.

    His best characteristic may be his ability to drive to the net when he has the puck on his stick. He appears to have some of the same talent in those situations that Mark Messier had when he got that look in his eye and determined that he was not going to be stopped.

    Hall has to prove it on an every night basis and show he can take a big hit, bounce up and maintain his role as an offensive force. This is the year that he'll becomes a superstar for the team that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft.

Andrew Shaw, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Sometimes you don't need a pedigree to become an impact player. Sometimes all you need is an opportunity.

    Andrew Shaw became that player in 2011-12 when the Blackhawks called him up from the minor leagues and he opened eyes with his production. Shaw scored 23 points (12 goals and 11 assists) in 37 games and demonstrated that he was excited by the opportunity to play in the NHL and that he was not going to do anything but drive hard to the net and take advantage of every opportunity that came his way.

    While Shaw is not a big man at 5'10" and 180 pounds, he plays on the edge and is not afraid to use his body. Shaw had 50 penalty minutes and loves the physical play.

    Nothing is guaranteed for Shaw in 2012-13, but he's the type of player who gives his best effort every time he is on the ice and that will help him stand out in training camp and have a breakout season.

Chris Kreider, New York Rangers

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    Throughout the first part of the summer, the New York Rangers and the Columbus Blue Jackets were engaged in a dance regarding high-scoring Rick Nash, who the New Yorkers eventually acquired.

    The Rangers wanted him and the Blue Jackets wanted to move him, but there were parameters to the deal. Rangers boss Glen Sather was not going to move any of his elite players or prospects in order to acquire Nash. One of those protected players was Chris Kreider (source: Larry Brooks of New York Post), the highly-touted prospect from Boston College.

    While Kreider did not play in any regular-season games with the Broadway Blueshirts, he played 18 playoff games and his startling speed was obvious from his first shift on the ice. Kreider has the ability to get by the defense and get off hard shots quickly. He scored five goals and two assists in the playoffs.

    Kreider also has the size and strength to develop into a strong all-around player. At 6'4" and 230 pounds, Kreider can go into the corner, win the battle and then patiently hold on to the puck while the play develops. There may be some period of adjustment, but Kreider should be an impact player for years to come.

Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins

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    The Bruins have a spot on the roster reserved for phenom Dougie Hamilton.

    The team's first-round draft pick in 2011, Hamilton won the CHL and OHL Defenseman of the Year awards. If can stay healthy in training camp, he is all but assured of a roster spot.

    Once he makes the team, there may be no stopping Hamilton. He can carry the puck, pass it and he has a blistering shot. He can play positional defense and has the frame to develop into a physical defenseman as well, although that is not his primary strength at this point.

    Hamilton can also score. He had 58 points in 2010-11 and he followed that up with 72 points last season. He has plenty of confidence in himself and he knows that Bruins management believe in him as well (source: CBSBoston.com). Look for him to become one of the leading Rookie of the Year candidates this season.

Minnesota Wild

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    The rumblings were prominent at the end of June and the NHL prepared for the opening of free agency July 1.

    Along with power teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings, the Minnesota Wild were going to figure prominently in the pursuit of dominant free agents.

    That sounded good and Wild fans had to be encouraged that their team was not going to be intimidated by the big boys. However, competing for players like Minnesota native Zach Parise and star defenseman Ryan Suter and actually signing them are two different things.

    However, that's just what happened as general manager Chuck Fletcher did not drop the ball and the Wild made the biggest splash of the offseason by signing both players.

    Parise is one of the hardest working superstars in the league and Suter has dominating ability on the blue line. There's no reason that the Wild can't become a playoff team in 2012-13, and perhaps go a lot further than the first round.

Edmonton Oilers

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    The Oilers have been adding talent for years. That's what happens when you finish at or near the bottom of the regular-season standings nearly every season.

    The Oilers have added Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov through the draft in recent years. Eberle is the most developed at this point since he is coming off a 34-goal, 42-assist season and has shown that he can score on some of the most beautiful and eye-catching plays.

    The Oilers also added Justin Schultz as a rookie free-agent defenseman after he failed to sign with Anaheim.

    This is the year that young talent matures and the Oilers get back to being a playoff team once again. The team that had one of the NHL's most exciting and dominant dynasties is still a long way from championship form, but they will be exciting every night and will return to the postseason.

Montreal Canadiens

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    The Candiens were the worst team in the Eastern Conference last year and had nothing but trouble from the start of the season on end.

    Montreal cleaned house in the offseason. Marc Bergevin took over as general manager and he hired Michel Therrien as head coach. Therrien, of course, speaks French. That's a skill that eluded predecessor Randy Cunneyworth.

    The Canadiens were a playoff team for the four previous seasons prior to 2011-12. They are not a team that lacks talent. Start with Max Pacioretty and Eric Cole up front. Pacioretty became a legitimate star last year, scoring 33 goals and adding 32 assists. Cole also proved to be a key member of the team, scoring a team-high 35 goals. Much is also expected from Lars Eller, who scored 16 goals last season.

    The key to a return to the playoffs this year is a return to form for goaltender Carey Price. The star goalie was under the gun last year and he needs P.K. Subban and the rest of the defense to take the pressure off of him.

    The Canadiens' free-agent signings of forward Brandon Prust (New York Rangers) and Francis Bouillon (Nashville) should improve the team's overall toughness.

Dallas Stars

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    The Dallas Stars were not satisfied with a close-but-no-cigar season when it comes to the playoffs.

    They have missed the postseason for four straight seasons and general manager Joe Nieuwendyk was not about to sit idly by during the offseason.

    A year after he signed 35-goal scorer Michael Ryder, the Stars brought in veteran free agents Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney. While both are older players who may show their age from time to time, both are highly skilled who can still put the puck in the net.

    In addition to those signings, the Stars traded hard-nosed Steve Ott to the Buffalo Sabres for Derek Roy. The former Sabre center has excellent offensive skills, but must demonstrate to the Stars that he can take a big hit, stay in the lineup and remain on task.

    If the Stars are not too old, look for them to make a charge up the Western Conference standings.

Head Coach Mike Yeo, Minnesota Wild

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    Mike Yeo was something of a coaching phenom (source: KSTP.com) when the Minnesota Wild hired him before the 2011-12 season.

    His undermanned Wild got off to a strong start before they faded in the second half of the year.

    Finishing out of the playoffs was not unexpected. However, if the Wild can't upgrade their status this season, Yeo will have a difficult time holding on to his job.

    The Wild added two stars in free agency in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. They were the two dominant players available in free agency and that makes the Wild a much more high-profile team.

    Yeo will have to step up his game to match the talent that Parise and Suter bring to the franchise. If he can stay calm and remain focused, the Wild will meet those expectations. If he gets tight and can't handle the expectations, Yeo will almost certainly be an assistant coach on another team next year.

Head Coach Kirk Muller, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Look for the Hurricanes to take a big step up in the Eastern Conference this year.

    General manager Jim Rutherford has tried to make Carolina a more competitive team by trading for star center Jordan Staal and signing free-agent Alex Semin.

    The acquisition of those two players should make Carolina a better offensive team, and scoring more goals will be vital for head coach Kirk Muller after the Hurricanes scored 213 goals last season.

    Muller has more energy than predecessor Paul Maurice, who often seemed like the roof was about to fall in on him and that disaster was right around the corner. Muller will have to keep the mood up when the Hurricanes hit a slump and not let the team feel sorry for itself.

    He should be able to do just that. Muller was a six-time All-Star in his career and won the Stanley Cup with the 1993 Canadiens. He will have respect in the locker room and a chance to make his mark on an improving team.