The Atlantic Division is one full of rivalries. Whether it be the battle of the Hudson River between the Rangers and Devils or the Keystone State match-up between the Penguins and Flyers, when any combination of the five teams in this particular division face off, it is nothing short of exhilarating.
What is it that drives these rivalries? What, or more specifically, who is it that brings thousands of fans to their feet, screaming in near-primal manners? Who is brought up in debate when fans of rival teams argue for why their favorite team is superior?
The superstars. The players who supersede the general term of "athlete" or even "hockey player." They do things on the ice that most of us can merely dream of doing. They are men among boys playing with the best hockey players on the planet. We wear their names on the backs of our jerseys as blatant testament to their talent. Without further adieu, the top 10 forwards in the Atlantic Division.
The least prolific point producer on the list, Ryan Callahan brings an abundance of intangibles to the table. He is always willing to do the tough work in the dirty areas of the ice and has increased his point production during the course of his career thus far. Callahan's fearlessness in blocking shots is invaluable and unmatched as evidenced by his selflessness in sacrificing his body and blocking Zdeno Chara's lethal slap shot. If the Rangers are smart, they will make Callahan the next captain of the Blueshirts.
Aside from an injury-plagued 2008-2009 season, Daniel Briere has posted at last 25 goals in six consecutive seasons playing for first the Buffalo Sabres, and then the Philadelphia Flyers starting in 2007. At a relatively slight, 5'10" and 179 pounds, Briere has made his living off his above average speed and extraordinary quickness and instinct around the net. Even playing alongside the likes of other talented forwards such as Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, Briere has refused to be outdone by remaining an elite goal scorer and clutch playoff performer in the City of Brotherly Love.
When healthy, Gaborik is a lethal goal scorer. However, he has never been able to play all 82 games of a season due to a wide variety of injuries, and only played in 62 in 2010-11 after having what seemed like a bounce back 2009-10 season the year before. By looking at his career efficiency in goal scoring, it is astounding that he has only broken the 40 goal mark just twice in his 10 year career, but again, injuries kill.
The first overall pick in 2009, Tavares had a solid rookie season posting 54 points. Last year, he increased his production significantly by scoring 67 points in 79 games despite playing for a sub-par Islanders squad. I firmly believe that the 2011-12 season will be Tavares’ breakout year and the Islanders' playoff dreams may just hinge on his performance.
That a perennial Conn Smythe Trophy winner and near point per game player finds himself sixth on the list is a testament to the talent in the Atlantic Division. Richards suffered a concussion last season, sidelining him for much of February and March, but that did not stop him from being the most coveted free agent of this past summer. Having signed with the New York Rangers and teaming up with the likes of Marian Gaborik and his former coach in Tampa Bay, John Tortorella, Richards could put up big numbers in the coming season.
Healthy, Malkin would find himself closer to the top of this ranking, but unfortunately, “Geno” has missed significant portions of his last two seasons with lower body injuries, primarily in his knees. When he is on the ice though, Malkin is an unstoppable force with a lightning quick slap shot. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy during Pittsburgh’s 2009 Stanley Cup run and received the Art Ross Trophy for leading the NHL in scoring in the 2008-09 season.
Like Malkin, when healthy Parise could move up a spot or two on this list, but after missing nearly the entire season last year with a torn meniscus in his knee, Parise must prove that he is still an elite player. Injuries aside, Parise is a tremendous offensive talent scoring 94 and then 82 points in his last two healthy seasons, respectively. Parise’s most valuable asset, however, may be his defensive prowess. He possesses the rare combination of skills that allow him to lead his team in scoring while simultaneously shutting down the opposition’s first line forwards.
Hear me out. Claude Giroux is young at the tender age of 23 and has not suffered any significant injuries thus far. He exploded onto the NHL scene as an adept playmaker during the 2010 playoffs in which his Philadelphia Flyers ended up falling to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals. He recorded 21 points in 23 postseason games that year and never looked back.
Giroux continued his efficient play throughout the 2010-11 regular season with 76 points, including a very impressive 51 assists and respectable 25 goals. With a completely revamped Philadelphia roster that said good bye to star forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the Flyers faithful will look to Giroux to be the driving force behind the majority of the offense. I believe he will not only meet the lofty expectations in Philly, but exceed them.
After a down year last season in which Kovalchuk only posted 60 points, I firmly trust that he will have a resurrection season in the upcoming year. Let us not forget that on the lowest scoring team in the entire NHL by no small margin, “Kovy” still managed to bury 31 goals. During his nine-year career, Kovalchuk has but once come shy of the 30 goal mark; that one instance being his rookie year in which he scored 29 goals in 65 games. He has surpassed 40 goals in a single season six times in his career, and twice broke 50. Kovalchuk is a career point per game player and has a Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy to his name. It is his consistent ability to put the puck in the net and his devastating shot that puts him at number two on the list.
Is anyone surprised? Crosby, if healthy, (a big if as of late) is the best player in the NHL. Prior to his concussion last season, he was on pace for an astounding 132 points. Even if he slowed down somewhat in the latter half of the season, and it did not seem likely, his numbers would have blown away Daniel Sedin’s Art Ross worthy and comparatively meager 104 points. In his six years in the NHL, Crosby has broken the 100 point barrier four times, and the two years that he did not, he was on pace to do so before injuries derailed him. He has a Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, Art Ross Trophy and Hart Memorial Trophy on his resumé, captained the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 2009 and won gold with Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics. And oh, yes, he is only 24 years old.