The Kitchener Rangers have a long history of producing NHL players over the course of their 47-year history as one of the premier franchises in the Ontario Hockey League.
Hall Of Fame Inductees Bill Barber, Paul Coffey, Al MacInnis, Larry Robinson & Scott Stevens have all been products of one of the most successful Major Junior hockey clubs of all-time. Other NHL Alumni to wear the red, white & blue include Brian Bellows, Steven Rice, Don Edwards, Nick Kypreos, Paul Reinhart & Dale Hunter.
In 2010/11 the NHL will feature a multitude of talented players who played for, graduated or were drafted out of Kitchener. Here is my list of 15 former Kitchener Rangers to keep an eye on in the NHL in 2011.
The time has finally arrived for Jakub Kindl. Drafted 19th overall back in 2005, Kindl has seen limited NHL action until now. For the last five seasons he has called Grand Rapids his home.
The reason that Kindl will be up with the Detroit Red Wings when the season starts is simple, they don't want to lose him to waivers. So he finally gets a shot to prove what he can do, and if he plays like he did in Kitchener he will be a top 4 defenseman in no time!
The 6'3", 200-pound defenseman isn't much of a physical presence on the ice but what he lacks in size he makes up for in the skill department. Kindl can move the puck with a plethora of expertise that he will give Pavel Datsyuk a run for his money. Along with his puck handling skills, he will give the Red Wings a playmaker on the back end. Even though he's listed as a sixth or seventh defenseman don't be surprised if he gets an opportunity to quarterback the power play once in awhile.
A torn ACL ended his season last February but Boris Valabik will be 100 percent and ready to rock when the puck drops in October. The 6'7" 245-pound giant is a prototypical Zdeno Chara-type who likes to mix it up when the time is right.
After a disappointing 2009, in which he played in only 23 games while tallying two assists, it's his time to shine. Valabik will likely be paired up with the veteran shot blocker Brent Sopel who was recently acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in a huge nine player deal that saw Atlanta also receive Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Akim Aliu.
Even if Valabik fails on the score sheet, he'll be a huge asset to the Thrashers in the physical department.
In his short career with the Kitchener Rangers, Gregory Campbell managed to win a Memorial Cup and was a force to be reckoned with on a line with Derek Roy and Petr Kanko. In 55 games played he collected 56 points and 116 penalty minutes.
Campbell was acquired by the Boston Bruins along with Nathan Horton at the 2010 Entry Draft in exchange for Dennis Wideman and the 15th overall pick in the draft.
A change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered for Campbell who will spend most of his time on Boston's checking line and penalty kill. Don't be shocked if he pots a few short-handed goals this year.
2009 Calder Trophy Winner Steve Mason had a bit of the sophomore blues in his second season in the NHL. He posted a record of 20-26-9 with a G.A.A. of 3.05. He hopes to comeback in 2011 with a repeat of his rookie season and most likely will!
The Columbus Blue Jackets are currently in youth movement mode and the organization may need to be patient with him. Critics tend to forget that Mason is only 22-years-old and goalies tend to take longer to mature into greatness than your average player.
Regardless of his record in 2011, I'm sure he will steal a few games for the Blue Jackets and post better numbers in his third season in the league.
Mikkel Boedker experienced a sophomore season to forget. After appearing in 78 games in his rookie season he only suited up 14 times during the 2009-2010 season. Boedker has been working hard all summer to guarantee himself a spot on this year's roster.
While he was with the Kitchener Rangers in 2007-2008 he racked up 73 points in 62 games pushing his stock up at the 2008 Entry Draft where he was drafted eigth overall.
Boedker is a projected to play on the third line for the Phoenix Coyotes and may even get some occasional power play time. He has the talent, he just needs to harness it to become a superstar.
The aggressive right winger has lots to smile about as he prepares for the start of the 2011 NHL season. He gives 110 percent on every shift and is the type of player you'd rather have as a teammate instead of an opponent.
The great thing about watching Steve Downie play is you never know what he's going to do next. Known more for his suspensions than his skill, Downie will hopefully break out offensively this year.
A lot of pressure has been placed on the shoulders of Nazem Kadri. Known as "The Dream," Kadri will get plenty of playing time on a Maple Leafs team that is short on talent down the middle.
Kadri was successful at the Junior level with 258 points in 242 games but can he make the transition to being a superstar in the NHL? He will definitely have the opportunity to prove himself in 2011.
If Kadri gets off to a flying start, don't be surprised if you see him pushing for the top line spot currently awarded to Tyler Bozak.
Derek Roy is coming off his worst season in the last three years but is that attributed to his individual play or the Buffalo Sabres organization? In today's NHL you can't rely on 2 or 3 players and expect to perform day in day out.
Roy puts his heart on his sleeve every shift and plays bigger than his 5'9" frame but for some reason the media has criticized his stats. Derek will bounce back in 2011 if the Sabres can bring in some talent. If the Sabres don't they may as well trade him while he still has his integrity.
Mike Richards came one series away from winning the only championship that has eluded him. He's won a Memorial Cup, World Junior Gold, Olympic Gold and a Calder Cup. Success seems to follow him wherever he goes.
Drafted 24th Overall in 2003, Richards has often been compared to Bobby Clarke. If he continues to receive that comparison he may become the sixth Kitchener Ranger Alumni to be inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame.
Richards may be the most balanced player in the NHL today. He can play the penalty kill, power play and he's not afraid to drop the gloves. He's a proven leader that will one day win Lord Stanley.