Every year, we see surprises and anticipate who will improve and who fill falter. Last year teams like the Avalanche and Kings soared to new heights while the Blue Jackets and Ducks of the world toiled in underachievement.
An integral part of this success or failure lies a team's ability with the man-advantage. Whether you are just a fan of a particular team, are in an office hockey pool, or play in a fantasy league, power plays will make a break a season for many.
For this reason, I look at 10 teams who will see a nice jump in the power play rankings in 2010.
Expected improvement: Alex Pietrangelo, T.J. Oshie, David Perron
One team to keep a close eye on in 2010 is the St Louis Blues. Jaroslav Halak made most of the headlines in the offseason, but he isn’t going to help the power play. This job will fall to defensive prospect and phenom, Alex Pietrangelo. Expectations are sky high for this kid and he should live up to that potential after developing in the minors for a couple of seasons.
He will get a chance to set up other young studs such as Perron and Oshie. Erik Johnson will continue to lead the way on the blueline and Brad Boyes should be able to recapture his scoring touch after falling off the map last year. Invest in the Blues power play this year, they are on the up and up.
Expected improvement: Simon Gagne, Victor Hedman
Some might be surprised to see Tampa Bay on this list given the fact that they were eighth in the league last year. However, franchise cornerstones Stamkos and Hedman are still on the upswings of their careers and should be even more lethal this season.
Revitalized by the addition of Steve Yzerman, this team is on a lot of people’s radar and with good reason. When you have talent up front such as Lecavalier, St Louis, Downie, and now Gagne, it would be wise to stay disciplined when facing the Lightning. With a group like this, expect this power play unit to land in the top five this year.
Expected improvement: Jamie Benn, James Neal, Matt Niskanen
The Dallas Stars is another team that finished with a respectable power play in 2009. Sitting at 12th, they are in a prime position to reach loftier goals this season. Leading the way is the underrated duo of Richards and Eriksson and there is no reason to expect a letdown this year. Riberio, Morrow, and Robidas will continue to provide steady support for an improving group.
Neal and Benn should make the greatest impact as the Stars have two nice young talents to build around. On any given night these guys can make the opponent look silly and both will lead this power play into the top 10 this season. One player to watch out for is Niskanen. He had an off year in 2009, but has the talent to rebound and contribute to this unit.
Expected improvement: Nikita Filatov, Derick Brassard, Anton Stralman
Another team that will be looking to youngsters to step up their game are the Columbus Blue Jackets. After an inspiring season in 2008, the entire franchise took a big step backwards last year. They finished the year near the middle of the pack on the power play, but with the new additions for 2010, there is no reason to believe this group can’t be in the top 10.
With perhaps one of the best offensive talents not in the NHL joining the team in Nikita Filatov, high expectations are ahead for this young team. Brassard will need to step up his game and prove his hot rookie start was not a flash in the pan. Nash and Voracek will provide more than enough talent to make opposing penalty killers pay, while the supporting cast of Huselius, Vermette, and Stralman round out a great group of players. Keep an eye on this team, they should be fun to watch.
Expected improvement: Tyler Seguin, Nathan Horton
The Boston Bruins offense was flat out bad last season. No disrespect to Mark Recchi, but when he is among your leading power play scorers, something is seriously wrong. Guys like Wheeler and Ryder were no-shows. Lucic and Savard battled injuries. And Bergeron and Krejci couldn’t pick up all the slack.
This should all turn around this season though. The Bruins recognized their offensive woes and went out and acquired Nathan Horton from Florida and drafted 18-year-old wonderboy Tyler Seguin. OK, so these guys aren’t about to make Boston fans forget who Cam Neely is tomorrow, but they should add firepower to a unit that desperately needs it.
If Seguin sticks with the big club, a lot of his contributions will come with the man-advantage. Chara is still one the league's best power play quarterbacks, and if they can stay healthy with some luck from the hockey gods, this should be one of the most improved power plays in the NHL.
Expected improvement: Matthew Lombardi, Sergei Kostitsyn, Colin Wilson
If the Boston Bruins had a twin, it would be the Nashville Predators. Talk about a team in desperate need of offense. Losing Hamhuis will hurt this franchise, but they have a plan and give them credit to sticking to it.
They brought in Lombardi in the offseason and that will be a considerable upgrade over the departed Arnott. Colin Wilson should pick up the slack behind him and contribute a lot more to this power play in 2010. Hornqvist will need to prove 2009 was not a fluke, but he should have every opportunity to match his production again.
Don’t sleep on Sergei Kostitsyn as a fresh start could be just what he needed to live up to his offensive potential. He should get a lot more time on the power play in Nashville than he did in Montreal. Don’t expect a top 10 power play from this group, but it should be vastly improved from last year’s dismal 24th finish.
Expected improvement: Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Jordan Eberle
The Oilers actually had the 18th best power play last year, but still could use a lot of improvement. If they hope to gain any respect back this season, improving the power play should be near the top of the list.
Thankfully for them, this is what we can expect for them as they should be adding three potential Calder trophy finalists to the roster in Paajarvi-Svensson, Eberle, and Hall. In a couple of years, these kids could be completely dominating with the man-advantage and striking fear into any sorry soul that enters the penalty box.
Gagner, Cogliano, Hemsky, and Penner should be rejuvenated with the new blood in the lineup and might actually begin living up to their own potential. Sheldon Souray is someone who was supposed to help this power play reach new heights, but now they will go the rebuilding route and rely on the young guns. And if you take one look around the league, that is not a bad idea.
Expected improvement: Kevin Shattenkirk, Matt Duchene, Chris Stewart, Peter Mueller
The team with perhaps the most exciting group of young players in the NHL is the Colorado Avalanche. In 2009, this team finished the year with the 15th best power play and that is far higher than anyone expected heading into the season. Given the vast potential sitting on the roster, there is little reason to believe they won’t be even better this year. This team has enough firepower to ice a potent power play this year and opposing coaches will be putting extra emphasis on staying out of the penalty box.
Duchene and Stastny are a deadly one-two punch at center and will get ample opportunity to create a lot of chances for players such as Hejduk, Mueller, and Stewart. They will need offensive help on defense and it could come in the form of Kevin Shattenkirk. He is Colorado’s best prospect at the moment and would add a deadly shot from the blueline if he can stick with the team this year. If that happens, the sky is the limit.
Expected improvement: Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, Nicklas Bergfors, Dustin Byfuglien, Bryan Little.
Out with the old and in with the new is the new company line for the Atlanta Thrashers as they look to go with the youth movement in 2010. Kovalchuck and Afinogenov are now wearing different jerseys and their power play time will be filled by the likes of Little, Kane, Antropov, and Bergfors.
This group will look to improve the 25th ranked power play and will get a lot of support on the back end from Bogosian and Enstrom. More than one of these players will have a breakout season this year and the power play will reap the rewards.
Expected improvement: Sergei Gonchar, Peter Regin, Erik Karlsson.
The Ottawa Senators finished the 2009 season with the 21st power play at 16.9 percent. For a pretty solid team, management knew this had to improve if they hope to make it further than the first round in 2010. The Senators wasted no time in free agency as they locked up Sergei Gonchar within hours of July 1. He may be past his prime on the defensive side of things, but he will be among the key cogs to turn this unit around. Last year he scored 30 points on the power play alone.
Daniel Alfredsson should be completely healthy and Jason Spezza is still in town after a bizarre offseason of trade rumors. Rounding out this power play are two emerging NHL stars Peter Regin and Erik Karlsson. Together, these youngsters will bolster the special teams and should be good enough to crack the top 10 this year. As long as they can stay healthy, Canada’s capital will have the most improved power play for the upcoming season.