Here is the Western Conference installment of five players that will have career-best seasons in 2009.
5. Steve Bernier RW - Vancouver Canucks
Steve Bernier is the exact player the Sedins have asked for while in Vancouver. They require a big man with crease presence and preferably a right-handed shot. Bernier's skating leaves a little to be desired, but playing with the twins should make life easier, as they are more of a puck-possession duo than a fast-paced attack.
Bernier should complement the twins nicely on the cycle and has shown soft hands for a big man while in the NHL.
Best season to date: 62gp 15g 16a 31pts
Predicted totals for 2009: 82gp 24g 20a 44pts
4. Gilbert Brule C - Edmonton Oilers
Brule has battled though injuries in his young career and simply may have joined the NHL before he was ready. Under Hitchcock last season, Brule's offensive development wasn't helped greatly as he played little minutes and mostly in a checking-line role.
The benefit from last season will be that he surely learned to play on the defensive side of the puck, and that usually helps a player develop offensively. He is smallish and fast, a perfect player to join the Edmonton Oilers.
A fresh start and a change of scenery, as well as more opportunities in offensive situations, should easily help Brule eclipse his career best totals to date.
Best season to date: 78gp 9g 10a 19pts
Predicted totals for 2009: 82gp 17g 22a 39pts
3. Wojtek Wolski LW - Colorado Avalanche
Wojtek Wolski battled through a bit of sophomore jinx in 2008. The lengthy injury to Joe Sakic was a factor in his drop off from his rookie season as well. Historically, players tend to blossom in their third NHL campaign, and I'm banking on just that.
Combined with the departure of Andrew Brunette to Minnesota, Wolski will be relied more heavily to produce offensively, and along with Sakic's decision to not retire, he should be able to surpass his rookie season total of 50 points.
Best season to date: 76gp 22g 28a 50pts
Predicted totals for 2009: 82gp 26g 33a 59pts
2. R.J. Umberger C - Columbus Blue Jackets
Acquired on draft day from the Philadelphia Flyers, Umberger should help improve the Jackets. During his time with the Flyers, "Umby" was used primarily as a utility forward, moving around from position to position and playing on different lines in different roles from game to game.
Re-uniting with Hitchcock should help his transition in Columbus. This will also be a sort of homecoming for R.J., as he played at Ohio State.
"Umby" is a quality two-way player that plays a smart brand of hockey. He should get a chance to play alongside Rick Nash, and that alone should help increase his offensive numbers.
Best season to date: 74gp 13g 37a 50pts
Predicted totals for 2009: 82gp 21g 41a 62pts
1. Peter Mueller C - Phoenix Coyotes
Mueller had a very impressive rookie campaign, with 54 points on a not-so-good Coyotes squad. Phoenix, with the additions of Jokinen and Turris, should be improved. Mueller should find some better support for his overall performance.
Mueller has velvet-soft hands and appeared to gain confidence in his offensive skills as the season progressed. Look for bigger numbers from the kid from Bloomington, MN.
Best season to date: 81gp 22g 32a 54pts
Predicted totals for 2009: 82gp 28g 33a 61pts
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