Five Players Headed for Career-Best Seasons in the East

Nelson SantosCorrespondent ISeptember 12, 2008

Each and every summer, NHL teams assess the strengths and weaknesses of their team and presumably go out and improve the on-ice product. Players are signed or acquired to improve the team, and sometimes they are acquired to help improve an existing member of the team.

Thornton's arrival in San Jose, turning Cheechoo into a 50-goal scorer, is a prime example of this. Then, of course, there is the addition by subtraction. Allowing a player to test free agency so that a younger player within the organization can take over the role and responsibilities of that player.

Here are the five players in the Eastern Conference that I believe will have career-best offensive seasons in 2009.

*These are not the five players I believe will have the best improvements on their past totals. These are the top five players I believe will have career seasons.*

5. Stephen Weiss C - Florida Panthers

Weiss has long been the "future No. 1 centre" for the Florida Panthers. In his six seasons in the NHL, he has neither truly developed into that player, nor has he had the chance to truly be the No. 1 man with Olli Jokinen captaining the Panthers for most of that time.

Jokinen will be in the desert next season, and the torch has been passed on to Weiss. Even if he doesn't blossom into a true first-line centre, his stats should see an increase with the additional ice time and PP minutes, not to mention playing with the best wingers Florida has to offer.

The blossoming of David Booth last season, and the constant and steady improvement of Nathan Horton into a quality NHL power forward, should supply Weiss with the support he needs to have his best offensive season in 2009.

Best NHL Season: 74gp 20g 28a 48pts

Predicted totals for 2009: 82gp 22g 39a 61pts

4. Andrej Meszaros D - Tampa Bay Lightning

Meszaros has been a steady and solid defenseman since joining the NHL with the Senators in 2005-06. His rookie season was his best offensive season with 39 points and a whopping plus-34 rating.

Joining the Lightning won't help his plus/minus rating, but it should help increase his offensive totals. In Ottawa, Meszaros shared ice time with Redden, Chara, and Phillips over his three-year career.

In Tampa, Meszaros should be the go-to guy on defense and will see a spike in his ice time both on the PP and over the course of a game. Add to that the additions made by Tampa Bay over the summer, and it is quite obvious the Lightning are hoping to fill the net a great deal. 

Best NHL Season: 82gp 10g 29a 39pts

Predicted totals for 2009: 82gp 12g 36a 48pts

3. Zach Parise LW - New Jersey Devils

This selection may come as surprise to some, considering Parise has improved his point totals in each of his three NHL seasons, including career highs in all three offensive categories.

However, anytime I watch Parise play, I can't help thinking about the offensive skill bubbling within. As last season progressed, you could see the change in style that Brent Sutter brought to New Jersey.

The Devils went from a trapping team to a much more aggressive forechecking team, with a greater emphasis on offense. This change was made more evident when Lou Lamoriello acquired Brian Rolston. Rolston will add offensive depth, and if he mans the point on the PP like he did in Minnesota, the Devils will assuredly see an improvement in that area of their game.

All these facets mean Parise should have a very good chance at hitting the 70 point plateau.

Best NHL Season: 81gp 32g 35a 65pts

Predicted totals for 2009: 82gp 34g 39a 73pts

2. Nigel Dawes LW - New York Rangers

Dawes became a regular around December last season with the Blueshirts and was arguably one of their most-effective players down the stretch. With the inevitable departure of Brendan Shanahan, Dawes should move up the depth chart and will more than likely join the second line, along with Drury.

Dawes had 29 points in just 61 games last season. More ice time and potentially more games should mean a career season for the speedy goal scorer.

Best NHL Season: 61gp 14g 15a 29pts

Predicted totals for 2009: 82gp 22g 23a 45pts

1. Phil Kessel RW - Boston Bruins

Entering his third full season, Kessel, who battled testicular cancer late in his rookie season, came back to play a full 82 games last season, potting 19 goals. The injury to Patrice Bergeron early in the season left Kessel without a truly gifted centerman.

Bergeron is back and should help the Bruins' overall offense. Also, the Bruins improved the overall depth with the acquisition of Michael Ryder from Montreal and the emergence of Chuck Kobasew as a 20-goal scorer.

The departure of Glen Murray could mean that the Bruins are ready to turn to Kessel as the resident goal scorer. Whether he lines up alongside either Marc Savard or Patrice Bergeron, his offensive totals should increase.

A big factor to this selection was his level play in the first round of the playoffs against the Canadiens, when Boston decided to make a series out of it.

Best NHL Season: 82gp 19g 18a 37pts

Predicted totals for 2009: 82gp 28g 25a 53pts

Next up, the Western Conference.


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