10 Players to Watch During the First Week of the 2013 NHL Season

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IJanuary 18, 2013

10 Players to Watch During the First Week of the 2013 NHL Season

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    Fans are excited as the NHL season finally gets under way this weekend.

    At the start of any new campaign, there are certain players who fans focus on a little more for different reasons. Some are returning from injury, some are highly touted rookies and others are on the spot because their position is important to the performance of their teams.

    Here is a look at 10 players to watch during the first week of the new season.

    Feel free to comment on any players who feel belong on this list and explain why they do.

Marian Hossa

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    When we last saw Marian Hossa on the ice, he was being knocked cold by an illegal check by Phoenix's Raffi Torres.

    Hossa is ready to start the season and the Blackhawks need him to perform well if they are going to continue to contend.

    All eyes will be on the veteran Slovak to see if he can still play at the same level he always has.

    Last year, Hossa finished with 29 goals and 77 points. Similar statistics this season (pro-rated) would be a great relief to Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks organization.

Tuukka Rask

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    Bruins goalie Tim Thomas decided he would sit out this season even before the lockout began. That means the Bruins knew they would have to carry on in 2012-13 without the only goalie to win a title for the franchise since 1972.

    That means that the burden falls on Tuukka Rask. The 25-year-old Finn started for the Bruins in 2009-10 but has served as Thomas' backup the past two seasons.

    Boston has the talent to contend for another championship this year, but they need Rask to play well enough to deliver it.

    All eyes will be on Rask as the season gets started.

James Reimer and Ben Scrivens

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    The Maple Leafs are the only NHL team who has not qualified for the playoffs since the last lockout.

    Toronto finished last season 29th in the league in goals allowed and need better goaltending and defense if they are to have any chance of of ending the franchise's longest playoff drought.

    James Reimer and Ben Scrivens are the returning goalies. Unless new GM Dave Nonis acquires a new goalie, they will be the duo counted on to get the Leafs back to the postseason.

    Neither goalie played well enough last season, but Leafs nation will be watching both of their goalies carefully to see if either of them can get the job done in 2012-13.

Zach Parise and Ryan Suter

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    The Minnesota Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching free agent contracts last July 4th.

    Since then, Wild fans have been eagerly anticipating the debut of their team's new superstars.

    Certainly it will take time for Parise and Suter to adjust to their new teammates and their team's offensive system.

    With an abbreviated 48 game season this year, the Wild can't afford to get off to a slow start. They need their expensive new acquisitions to live up to their large contracts.

Ilya Kovalchuk

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    There will be more pressure on Ilya Kovalchuk this year now that former Devils' captain Zach Parise has signed with Minnesota.

    The 29-year-old Russian sniper scored 37 goals and 83 points last season and needs to at least match that pace for New Jersey to return to the postseason.

    Kovalchuk is a naturally gifted goal scorer and has scored at least 30 goals in each of his last nine NHL seasons.

Cory Schneider

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    Last year, the torch was passed in Vancouver from long time starter Roberto Luongo to Cory Schneider.

    Now, for the first time, Schneider begins a season as the Canucks' starting netminder.

    Vancouver has won back-to-back President's Trophies, but the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup, has eluded the Canucks since they entered the league in 1970.

    The window for the Canucks to win a title with this present group is closing but Vancouver should have at least one more run in them.

    If they are to realize their potential, they need a big season from Schneider.

Justin Schultz

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    The Edmonton Oilers needed to upgrade their blueline so last summer, they signed highly regarded college prospect Justin Schultz of the University of Wisconsin.

    Schultz tore up the AHL during the lockout, scoring 18 goals and 48 points in just 34 games.

    Now he has to prove he can do it at the NHL level.

    If the young Oilers are going to take the next step and make a serious run at the playoffs, they need Schultz and the rest of the team's defensemen to improve their game.

Alex Ovechkin

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    Alex Ovechkin slumped to just 65 points last year, the lowest total of his NHL career.

    During the season, some people around the Capitals' organization questioned Ovechkin's dedication to the game.

    The Caps need Ovechkin back at the top of this game if they hope to make a long playoff run this year.

    In addition to his dedication, fans will be watching to see how Ovie gets along with new Coach Adam Oates.

    A fast start by their biggest star would give the Capitals a big confidence boost heading into the new season.

Sidney Crosby

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    When one of the game's best players is limited to just 63 total games over the last two seasons, he certainly becomes the focus of a lot of fans.

    Sidney Crosby has remained productive when he has been in the lineup, but all eyes will on "Sid the Kid" as this abbreviated campaign gets under way.

    Can Crosby handle the demands of a condensed schedule? Is he healthy enough and ready to be his old self again?

    Without Crosby, the Penguins are still a good team. But with him, they have the potential to be special.

Nail Yakupov

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    Attention is always paid to the first overall pick of the draft and Edmonton's Nail Yakupov will be no exception this year.

    The talented Russian winger will make his NHL debut this weekend.

    At 19, Yakupov played well in the KHL, scoring 10 goals and 18 points in 22 games.

    Now he takes his game to the best league in the world and hockey fans are eager to see how he performs.