A Breakout Performance: The Northeast Division

Ryan KennedyContributor IAugust 12, 2009

BOSTON - MAY 14:  Milan Lucic #17 of the Boston Bruins looks on before a face off against the Carolina Hurricanes during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 14, 2009 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Hurricanes defeated the Bruins 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

While I continue to work on some other articles which should be up in the next few days, here is the next edition of Breakout Performance. I present to you, the Northeast division!

Andrej Sekera

Arguably the best puck mover on the Sabres roster, Sekera has all the tools to lead Buffalo back into the playoffs.

A smooth skater, Sekera has good speed and puck handling skills. His crisp passes are his best attribute. In 69 games in 08-09, Sekera finished with three goals and 19 points.

By no means are those heart-stopping numbers, but with some minor injuries healed, Sekera will return in '09-'10 with much more responsibility. His ice time should increase with the loss of Jaroslav Spacek to free agency, who handled most of the offensive duties from the blue line last season.

Sekera's unattractive minus-11 suggests that he could still use work in his own end, but Sekera has also shown promise defensivley. Because the puck moving and scoring talent on the Sabres' blue line is limited, Sekera will likely be paired with Craig Rivet to help ease some of the defensive responsibility off the young Slovak.

Sekera will likely run the first powerplay unit, skating nightly on the man advantage with the likes of Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy. Sekera's ceiling at present is unknown, but Sabres management hope he can, at the very least, turn into a solid 40 point defensemen.

For a breakout performance, I'll say 11 goals and 42 points.


Milan Lucic

The powerhouse British Columbia native posted career highs in all areas in his sophomore campaign: finishing with 17 goals, 42 points, and a plus-17 rating.

Lucic is an enigma. At first glance, one would notice only his devastating checks and toughness. But given a second look, Lucic has good mobility, soft hands, and a natural ability to bury goals.

Lucic is the perfect power forward. He uses his size to his advantage very well and is one of the most feared players in the NHL.

Bruins management are aware that part of this guy's game is being very nasty and physical, but they also know his offensive contributions don't end at 42 points. Lucic is easily capable of 30 goals or more, and dare I say 80-plus points?

Armed with a hard shot and dangerous hands (and by that I mean stick handling), Lucic is actually a very gifted passer and has the on-ice vision to set up his teammates consistently with ease.

With two seasons now under his belt, Lucic has gained lots of experience that should translate into an increase in offensive production. Armed to the teeth with top six forwards, the Bruins hope next season Lucic takes that next step towards being a real offensive weapon.

Managment by no means expect this to be Milan's offensive ceiling, but 25 goals and 62 points would be an accurate prediction of a breakout campaign for the former 50th overall pick.

Guillaume Latendresse

The Montreal Canadiens have almost an entirely new roster for '09-'10 as compared to this past season.

One of the few returning faces is winger Guillame Latendresse. Montreal selected the young Quebec native in the second round of the '05 draft with the hopes that he would turn into a budding power forward.

So far, Latendresse has only shown he is a capable NHLer. Latendresse oozes talent, and was actually on his way to a career year last year had injuries not limited him to 56 games.

With a new team, a new coach, and high expectations, Latendresse is one of those guys that will need to be better if the team wants to be better. He will be given a legit shot at cracking the team's top six, but there will be no room for error.

If Latendresse fails to produce, he could lose his spot to youngsters Mac Pacioretty or Sergei Kostitsyn and be yet again stuck on the third line. Latendresse has all the tools to be a scoring power forward at hockey's highest level.

He moves well for a man that is 6'2" and 230lbs, and has good offensive instincts and a good shot. All thats left is for Guillaume to put it all together and finally prove he's more than a third liner.

Although still only 22 years old, Canadiens fans are begining to grow tired of waiting for this young man to blossom.

With a new coach and some new talented linemates, I think this will be Latendresse's year. Latendresse is capable of around 65-70 points, but I think management and fans will be happy with 26 goals and 54 points—for starters, that is.

Nikolai Kulemin

Nikolai Kulemin is a player some hockey fans may have never heard of. In his rookie season this year with the Maple Leafs, Kulemin posted 15 goals, 31 points, and a minus-8 rating.

The young Russian winger showed flashes of brilliance in his first year, but was inconsistent. Kulemin has deceptive speed and is a great skater. Combined with his soft hands and accurate shot, he has all the tools to be a good top six forward in the NHL.

General Manager Brian Burke has already begun reshaping the Leafs roster this offseason, and for now Kulemin appears to be apart of the team's future. However, Kulemin lacks some size and is from overseas, two things that don't make him a prototypical Brian Burke player.

However, based on potential alon,e Burke should hold onto Kulemin. After dominating the larger rinks overseas, Kulemin hopes to return to that status this season with a year of North American hockey under his belt.

There will be no room for error though. With youngsters like Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak looking to crack the Leafs' top six, Kulemin will have to prove he belongs and post career highs.

Kulemin doesn't project to ever be a game-breaking forward like fellow countryman Alex Ovechkin, but 60 or 70 points seem very possible for the 23-year-old at some point in his career.

Kulemin really is a player that I think will blossom this season; 24 goals and 53 points sounds about right.

Ryan Shannon

Ryan Shannon hopes he's finally found a home in Ottawa. After bouncing back and forth between the NHL and the AHL with the Ducks and Canucks, Shannon was traded last season to the Sens in exchange for D-man Lawerence Nycholat.

After failing to mimic the offensive production he saw in college, Shannon finally posted decent numbers at the NHL level. In 35 games with the Sens, Shannon scored eight goals and 20 points.

Not bad at all for a guy who's 5'9" and only 173lbs. Shannon's size has always been a question mark, but the 26-year-old Conneticut native has plenty of intangibles.

For most of his career, Shannon has been strictly an offensive talent. After spending time in the AHL, Shannon shored up his defensive play, and in return, it has helped him produce offensively.

Shannon has a dangerous shot and very skilled hands, and has the typical blazing speed you would expect from a smaller forward. Shannon doesn't have the luxury of youth that some of these other potential breakout players have, but it could be possible that he is just a late bloomer.

Shannon is by no means a potential point per game guy, at least so far he hasn't shown it. But if someone as small as Brian Gionta can almost score 50 goals, I don't see why Shannon isn't capable of 60 points or so.

For the sake of the helping out the Senators very weak top six, I'll say 18 goals and 56 points.

Matt Hunwick

The Boston Bruins have quite the dilemna on their hands. They have a Norris trophy winner in Zdeno Chara who needs tons of ice time. They have one of the better two way defensemen in the game in Dennis Wideman.

This offseason, they sent out Aaron Ward, but signed Derek Morris. Andrew Ference is a veteran shut-down guy and Mark Stuart is a geat defensive defensemen who has been working this offseason at being a more offensive threat.

Throw in AHL defensemen of the year Johnny Boychuk and you have five guys that could possibly be in the Bruins top four. Throw in Matt Hunwick you have six defensemen all capable of handling a decent amount of minutes.

Hunwick exploded last year, scoring six goals and 27 points in only 52 games while maintaining a plus-15 rating.

Known more for his offensive ability and great skating, Hunwick proved he is no liability in his own zone and can play both sides of the rink. Hunwick has all the tools to be a great top four defensemen in the NHL, but he will have to play well to earn more ice time.

He is a lock to make the team for '09-'10, and should challenge Dennis Wideman for a spot alongisde Zdeno Chara on the first powerplay unit.

Hunwick hopes to fit into the B's top four alongside either Ference or Stuart. He has proven he can play strong in his own zone. All thats left for the young Michigan native to breakout is continuing to produce on the powerplay.

No doubt starting the year in the NHL will see Hunwick pass his rookie numbers. Hunwick could realistically hit 50-plus points at some point, but for this season I see nine goals, 43 points.

Honorable Mentions

Nick Foligno (OTT)—21-year-old is still very young and will fit into the Sens top six. Has 20 goal potential.

Jonas Gustavsson (TOR)—the most coveted free agent to never play an NHL game signed with Leafs this offseason. Swedish net minder will see at least 30 starts backing up Vesa Toskala, but could breakout should Toskala slip up or miss time with injuries. 

Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn (MTL)—Neither of the Canadiens Belarusian tandem have exploded offensively yet. Andrei is capable of 30 goals while Sergei could score in the upwards of 60 points.

Up next, the Southeast division!


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