10 Little-Known NHL Players Facing High Expectations in 2011-12

Tab BamfordSenior Writer ISeptember 21, 2011

10 Little-Known NHL Players Facing High Expectations in 2011-12

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    As the new NHL season gets ready to begin, there are some little players that will be...

    Oh, little-known? I guess the picture of Nathan Gerbe isn't totally appropriate then.

    In any event, there are obviously some superstars that will need to step up their games this season. Players like Evgeni Malkin and Mike Green will have lots of NHL eyes on them early in the season.

    But there are a lot of lesser-known players that will be asked to play critical roles this year.

    Here are 10 players that aren't household names but who will be asked to play a big role this year.

Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Voracek was acquired by the Flyers in the Jeff Carter trade and looks to take the next step with a new team in a new conference.

    He's still just 22 and has posted 96 points in the last two seasons.

    With the departures of Carter and Mike Richards, he'll be one of the talented youngsters looked to for depth on the Philly roster.

Tomas Kopecky, Florida Panthers

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    Last year in Chicago, Kopecky surprised by doubling his previous career high in points with 42; this came one year after he reached 10 goals for the first time in his career.

    Over the summer, former Chicago GM Dale Tallon traded a conditional seventh-round pick to Chicago for the negotiating rights to Kopecky, who he quickly locked up with a four-year, $12 million deal.

    The Panthers are paying Kopecky to be a 40-plus point player for the duration of his contract. We'll see if he enjoys the same success in Florida that he did in Chicago.

Guillame Latendresse, Minnesota Wild

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    He was limited to 11 games last year, but Latendresse is a big power forward that could be the biggest beneficiary of the Wild's summer additions.

    Skating on one of the top two lines with either Dany Heatley or Devin Setoguchi, the 24-year-old jump back to the form that saw him score 25 goals in only 55 games in 2009-10 after being acquired from Montreal.

Ian White, Detroit Red Wings

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    Ian White and Mike Commodore will be two of the players asked to replace Brian Rafalski on the blue line in Detroit this year.

    White, 27, split last year between Calgary, San Jose and Carolina and totalled 26 points. He figures to see around 18-20 minutes per night for the Wings this year.

Eric Tangradi, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    With Sidney Crosby's immediate (and long-term) future still a question, the Pens will obviously need their veteran stars to step up.

    They will also need some youngsters to play a big role, and the best of their young players to make the jump is Tangradi.

Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators

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    Lots of questions are resting on the top defensive pair in Nashville, where Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are both one season away from free agency.

    With one/both of them likely leaving, the future of the Preds' blue line is staring at Ellis. He's a supreme talent and should be fun to watch as he gets his feet wet this year.

Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Gardiner, 21, is the top prospect in the Leafs organization and could be ready to make an impact this season. Listed at 6'0" and 200 pounds, he's a fantastic talent that does just about everything well. Behind Luke Schenn, Gardiner and Keith Aulie are the future on the blue line in Toronto.

    The problem will be the number of veterans that stand between Gardiner and the NHL. John-Michael Liles, Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson figure to be locks with Schenn in the NHL.

Nick Leddy, Chicago Blackhawks

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    When Brian Campbell hurt a knee during the preseason last year, Leddy was invited to Chicago despite being just a few months removed from his freshman year at the University of Minnesota. He wasn't quite ready then, but when Jordan Hendry's season ended later, Leddy came back to the NHL and was good in limited action.

    The organization felt confident enough in what they saw from the teenager last year to trade Brian Campbell this summer. He'll be asked to fill minutes as a puck-moving defenseman in Chicago this year.

Fedor Tyutin, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Despite his last three years showing a declining trend in point production and plus-minus rating, the Jackets handed Tyutin, 28, a six-year, $28 million deal ($4.5 million cap number) this summer.

    As the Jackets try to turn around their fortunes with the summer additions of James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter, they clearly believe there is more to Tyutin than 27 points, 93 blocked shots and 120 hits.

    Considering his new salary, he'd better play up to their expectations.

Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche

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    The Avalanche grossly overpaid for Varlamov this summer and will likely hand him the starting job with Jean-Sebastian Giguere backing him up (at least to begin the year).

    With a lot of young players in Denver, the Avs will need Varlamov to play well this year to have any chance at the postseason. Based on what they gave up to get him, clearly the Avs' front office believes he's up to the challenge.