The Player with the Most to Prove on Every NHL Team in 2016-17

Steve Macfarlane@@MacfarlaneHKYFeatured ColumnistAugust 30, 2016

The Player with the Most to Prove on Every NHL Team in 2016-17

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    As the World Cup of Hockey approaches, we can really start to sink our teeth into what the NHL has to offer this fall. There are plenty of storylines to follow.

    Some players are embarking on new starts with new teams, others are seeking redemption for a year gone wrong. There are young players on quests to prove they belong, veterans trying to live up to big contract extensions, and aging players looking to land just another year or two.

    All 30 NHL teams have multiple players with something to prove in the 2016-17 season. You could argue every player does on any given night. We'll offer our choice for each team based on what they've done in the recent past, what their contract situation is, and what expectations might be placed upon them by a variety of sources.

    You won't find much in the way of statistics here. The topic is somewhat subjective. Add your choices and talk about these ones in the comments below.

    Click ahead to get started and see the player with the most to prove on every NHL team in 2016-17.

Anaheim Ducks: John Gibson

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    What he did last year: John Gibson started 38 games for the Anaheim Ducks last year and put together a 21-13-4 record in a timeshare with Frederik Andersen.  

    What he has to prove this season: The Anaheim Ducks traded away their former top goaltender in the offseason, sending Andersen to the Toronto Maple Leafs and later bringing in ex-Leafs starter Jonathan Bernier as the new backup. That puts the pressure squarely on Gibson's shoulders as the guy they want to take control of the net. Heading into his third year, the 23-year-old has just 62 NHL starts, but his .920 save percentage and 2.22 career goals-against average suggest he's ready for the responsibility.  

    The others: Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry need to prove they are still elite players and leaders capable of leading the Ducks deep into the playoffs again. Antoine Vermette rejoined the Arizona Coyotes a couple of years ago only to be bought out by his former team. He'll be looking to prove he is still a capable scoring forward.

Arizona Coyotes: Michael Stone

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    What he did last year: It was a career year for Arizona Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone, who played 75 games, scored six goals and added 30 assists for 36 points in his third full NHL season. 

    What he has to prove this season: Stone made huge strides last year, doubling his offensive numbers in every category. He averaged second on the team behind Oliver Ekman-Larsson in average ice time per game and earned himself a one-year deal worth $4 million to prove he is capable of consistently playing top minutes in every situation. If he does, he will make even more on his next deal with many more teams courting him as a potential unrestricted free agent. 

    The others: Forward Max Domi will want to prove he can avoid a sophomore slump, while defenseman Alex Goligoski was given a fat new contract after his rights were traded by the Dallas Stars.

Boston Bruins: Brad Marchand

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    What he did last year: Brad Marchand nearly hit the 40-goal mark last year, landing sixth in the league with 36 and finishing with a career-best 61 points in 77 games. 

    What he has to prove this season: It's a contract year for Marchand, whose current deal with the Boston Bruins expires after this season. If he proves he can be a regular 30-goal and 60-point scorer on top of his other intangibles (peskiness and agitating abilities), he'll cash in even more either with the Bruins or another suitor come next summer. His current contract is worth $4.5 million a year, and the next one will hit $6 million if he can prove last season wasn't a blip. 

    The others: Former St. Louis Blues captain David Backes inked a five-year deal worth $6 million per season as an unrestricted free agent this summer, and the Bruins will need him to live up to the tremendous expectations that come along with the contract for the team to get back to the playoffs after a two-year absence.

Buffalo Sabres: Evander Kane

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    What he did last year: Evander Kane had 20 goals and 35 points in 65 games for the Buffalo Sabres last season, sitting out the last month of the year with an upper-body injury. 

    What he has to prove this season: If there is one player on this list who has more to prove than any of the others, Kane would be the winner. He has to prove he can stay healthy. The only full season the 25-year-old has played was the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. The most he's managed in a regular 82-game schedule has been 74, and last year's total of 65 was the most he's played in three seasons. 

    Kane also needs to prove he can avoid trouble off the ice. Some wonder whether he's worth the headaches that come with things like the assault allegations that surfaced this summer. Then some of the skill the big winger displays on the ice serves as a reminder of just how good he can be. That leads to the third proof point, which is Kane proving he can be a dominant force on the ice. He has hit the 20-goal mark just twice in his career, in part because of all the injuries.  

    The others: There are plenty with things to prove in Buffalo. Robin Lehner has to prove he's a legit No. 1 goalie. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen had a breakout season and needs to show it wasn't a blip. Sophomore Jack Eichel had a great rookie year and needs to prove he can be even better in his second season. There's only one, however, whose career could be on the line.

Calgary Flames: Brian Elliott

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    What he did last year: Brian Elliott led all goaltenders who played at least 25 games with a .930 save percentage. He also finished second with a 2.07 goals-against average as he split duties with Jake Allen. Elliott finished with a 23-8-6 record in 38 starts. 

    What he has to prove this season: As a new starting goaltender for the Calgary Flames with one more year left on his current deal, there is much for Elliott to prove. He hasn't started more than 50 games since 2011 when he posted a save percentage of .880 and a 3.22 goals-against average with the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche. The season before, he had a .909 save percentage and 2.57 GAA for the Sens. 

    Is the 31-year-old capable of being the go-to guy without the backing of a 1B goalie? He has to prove he can be as effective as the unquestioned No. 1 as he was in a tandem and give the Flames the improvement they need at the position to get back to the playoffs. 

    The others: Troy Brouwer was the Flames' big free-agent pickup with a four-year deal worth $4.5 million a season. Sean Monahan cashed in on a strong first three seasons with a seven-year deal worth more than $6 million annually, and linemate Johnny Gaudreau should follow suit before camp opens. They'll all have a lot of pressure on them as the team's biggest scoring threats.

Carolina Hurricanes: Jeff Skinner

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    What he did last year: Jeff Skinner played all 82 games for the first time since his rookie season and finished with just three fewer goals than that Calder Trophy year. The 24-year-old had 28 goals and 51 points to lead the Carolina Hurricanes in scoring. 

    What he has to prove this season: Skinner has to prove he's finally over the concussions that derailed his promising NHL career after winning Rookie of the Year in 2011 as an 18-year-old. His second half of the last season was stellar statistically as he scored 11 goals and 26 points in his final 33 games. He needs to prove he can maintain that kind of pace for a full season and become a leader the Hurricanes are desperate for after the departure of former captain Eric Staal. 

    The others: One of the two goaltenders, Cam Ward and Eddie Lack, has to prove capable of taking the top role. Or at the very least, they both need to avoid playing poorly at the same time so the Hurricanes can roll with the hot hand.

Chicago Blackhawks: Richard Panik

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    What he did last year: Richard Panik played 30 games with the Chicago Blackhawks last year, netting six goals and eight points during his time with the big club after a trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

    What he has to prove this season: Panik got some looks on the top line down the stretch and into the postseason but has to prove he can stick in a top-six role alongside center Jonathan Toews for more than just a few games at a time. The Blackhawks are desperate for depth at the forward ranks after having to trade away Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Teravainen and let Andrew Ladd leave as an unrestricted free agent for salary- cap reasons. They need to rely on some young players as they did with Brandon Saad in the past. Panik's relative experience should land him a first look, but he will have to prove he belongs to stay. 

    The others: Nick Schmaltz and Tyler Motte are a couple of talented rookie hopefuls who could be battling for the other open spot on Toews' flanks, and they'll need to show they are worthy of the opportunity.

Colorado Avalanche: Joe Colborne

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    What he did last year: Joe Colborne had 19 goals and 44 points for the Calgary Flames last season—a career year for the 26-year-old who can play center or wing. 

    What he has to prove this season: Despite the promising numbers, the unrestricted free agent was only given a two-year deal worth $2.5 million a season for the Colorado Avalanche. The contract screams 'prove you're a 20-goal scorer' and that's what the big 6'5", 220-pounder will have to do in order to earn another deal with longer term from the Avs or another team when the next couple of campaigns come to an end. 

    The others: Three-time 20-goal scorer Rene Bourque is joining the Avs on a tryout basis after bouncing between four teams since 2011-12. He's looking to prove he still belongs in the league. Center Nathan MacKinnon recently signed a seven-year extension worth more than $44 million and needs to prove he can put up the same kind of numbers he did in his rookie year.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Nick Foligno

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    What he did last year: Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno scored 12 goals and 37 points in 79 games last season. 

    What he has to prove this season: Foligno suffered a huge setback last year after a career season in 2014-15 saw him rack up 31 goals and 73 points in 79 games. When the Blue Jackets signed him to a big six-year, $33 million deal two years ago, it was under the assumption he would build on his big season. He doesn't necessarily need to be a 70-point player, but he should be looking to prove he's better than a 40-point guy.  

    The others: Boone Jenner is looking to prove capable of a top-line center role in the absence of Ryan Johansen.

Dallas Stars: Jiri Hudler

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    What he did last year: In 72 games with the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers, Jiri Hudler put together a 16-goal, 46-point season—which was a great disappointment following his impressive 31 goals and 76 points in 78 games the previous campaign with the Flames.  

    What he has to prove this season: Hudler landed in a good spot with the Dallas Stars in the offseason, although he was forced to sign for a bargain $2 million to get a chance to show his offensive skills are still very valuable. He could play with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, or Jason Spezza in what is a loaded top-six group of forwards. If he can't put up numbers closer to his career high from two years ago with last year's best offense, he'll have to settle for short term and low-money deals.  

    The others: Valeri Nichushkin has yet to live up to the expectations that come with being the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft. He needs to prove he can perform well in a top-six role or risk being traded or demoted.

Detroit Red Wings: Thomas Vanek

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    What he did last year: Thomas Vanek had 18 goals and 41 points in 74 games with the Minnesota Wild, including a minus-10 average. He was bought out by the Wild at the end of the year before being bought by the Detroit Red Wings as an unrestricted free agent with upside. 

    What he has to prove this season: Vanek has some life left in his NHL career, but the 32-year-old former sharpshooter has to prove his last season wasn't indicative of what he is capable of on the ice. If he proves he is still very much a 20-goal candidate with the potential for 30 or more, he could carve out a few more years on his next negotiation. 

    The others: Center Mikael Granlund has to be feeling some pressure with the Wild bringing in UFA Eric Staal to take one of the top two center spots along with Mikko Koivu. The 24-year-old Granlund needs to prove he should be in that conversation for a top-six role.

Edmonton Oilers: Nail Yakupov

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    What he did last year: Nail Yakupov had his most disappointing season yet with eight goals and 23 points in 60 games for the Edmonton Oilers. 

    What he has to prove this season: Yakupov has been the butt of many jokes in the province of Alberta the past couple of years. The fanbase was expecting the talented—but so far underwhelming—Russian to be moved in the offseason, but the Oilers shook up the core by dealing Taylor Hall away instead. With a chance to play alongside superstar sophomore Connor McDavid, Yakupov has to prove he can play a well-rounded game and still produce offensive numbers frequently in order to stick with the cushy line assignment all year round. 

    Yakupov has one more season before RFA status kicks in, and his raise will be determined by his play on the ice over the next eight months or so.

    The others: Milan Lucic was brought in to help toughen the Oilers up, and he will have to show he's an on-ice leader early on to help turn the image around in Edmonton. Defenseman Adam Larsson was the sole return piece in the Hall trade so the shutdown blueliner will have to prove to fans and management alike he was worth the high cost by helping to stabilize the defense.

Florida Panthers: Reilly Smith

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    What he did last year: Reilly Smith scored 25 goals and 50 points for the Florida Panthers, leading to a new five-year extension worth an annual average of $5 million against the salary cap. He also had a great playoff with four goals and eight points in six games. 

    What he has to prove this season: Smith was so impressive in the playoffs this spring, fans just want to see him perform at the same level during the regular season to see what he's capable of statistically. Because he's been a bit up and down the past couple of seasons, he needs to prove he can be consistent and confident now that he's got a nice paycheck coming in for his services. 

    The others: Goaltender Roberto Luongo has to prove he's not slipping either in his health or play now that the team inked a pretty solid backup in James Reimer, who could inherit the starter's role from Luongo as soon as next summer if things go awry for the veteran.

Los Angeles Kings: Dustin Brown

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    What he did last year: Dustin Brown has had nearly three identical seasons since the lockout-shortened year ... and that's not a good thing. The 31-year-old scored 11 goals and 28 points for the Los Angeles Kings last season. 

    What he has to prove this season: Brown has to prove he can overcome the awkwardness of his situation as a former captain who has been stripped of his C and find a way to make more of an impact in games. The one-time wrecking ball and 20-goal scorer failed to lead the team in hits for the first time in his 12-year career. He needs to show that same fire that earned him the captaincy in the first place to keep from being potential trade bait. 

    Hey, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have both been able to do it with the San Jose Sharks. 

    The others: Anze Kopitar has both the new leader's letter and a fat contract extension kicking in and has to prove he's the kind of captain who can take the Kings back into the later playoff rounds. Winger Teddy Purcell needs to prove he's a poor man's Milan Lucic after the Kings were forced to add Purcell for some grit and scoring after losing power forward Lucic to the Oilers on the open market.

Minnesota Wild: Eric Staal

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    What he did last year: Former Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal had 13 goals and 39 points in 83 games split between the Hurricanes and New York Rangers. Despite the extra game, he finished with his worst total since his rookie season in 2003-04. He had just three goals and six points in 20 games with the Rangers after the trade deadline.

    What he has to prove this season: The Minnesota Wild brought in Staal as an unrestricted free agent in the hopes he would become a top center again. The three-year deal worth $3.5 million annually would be a bargain of a price for a top pivot but pressure will come from the fans regardless because he's a big name. And after seeing his stats decline significantly the last couple of seasons, Staal should be looking to prove to himself he's still got it. 

    The others: Jason Zucker had 21 goals in 51 games two seasons ago but dipped to 13 in 71 last season and has much to prove as a top-nine forward after the disappointing year. Mikael Granlund's lack of growth is one of the big reasons Staal was brought in. It's up to the 24-year-old to prove to the team he can be relied upon for a major offensive role.

Montreal Canadiens: Alexander Radulov

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    What he did last year: Alexander Radulov had 23 goals, 42 assists and 65 points in 53 games for CSKA Moscow in the KHL last season. His brief year in the NHL consisted of three goals and seven points in nine regular-season games and a goal and six points in eight playoff games in 2011-12 before a missed curfew led to his departure.  

    What he has to prove this season: This one is a no-brainer in Montreal, with the Canadiens signing the KHL superstar to a one-year deal worth $5.75 million in the hopes he can get their scoring up. Radulov needs to prove worthy of the salary, which he will if he can produce at least three-quarters as much as he did in the KHL. Radulov also needs to prove he has matured and can handle the scrutiny that will be heaped on him as a member of the Habs with an insatiable media contingent in a Canadian hockey hotbed. 

    The others: Goaltender Carey Price needs to prove he is fully healthy. The Canadiens need their MVP in top form. Alex Galchenyuk has to prove he has grown into the No. 1 center the Habs have been seeking for years.

Nashville Predators: P.K. Subban

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    What he did last year: P.K. Subban battled through injury and managed just 68 games but scored six times and had 51 points in that span. He was 14th in Norris Trophy voting, according to Hockey-Reference.com—four spots behind Shea Weber. 

    What he has to prove this season: Subban has to prove what he doesn't do as well as Weber is minor in comparison to what he does better than the former Preds captain. The one-for-one trade that took Weber to Montreal and Subban to Nashville will be evaluated over time, but there's no doubt fans on either side will scrutinize and look for immediate impact in direct comparison to what the other is doing. 

    That's a tough spot to be in with a lot of pressure—but Subban seems to handle that with ease. He may not be the physical and defensive force Weber was, but he adds a real creative dynamic to the offense and may help with the possession game. 

    The others: Center Mike Ribeiro has to prove he's over the healthy scratching in the playoffs and can contribute as a playmaker in a top-six role. Ryan Johansen is in a contract year and should look to prove he's an elite top-line center.

New Jersey Devils: Taylor Hall

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    What he did last year: Taylor Hall had 26 goals and 39 assists for 65 points in 82 games for the Edmonton Oilers last season, leading the team in scoring. 

    What he has to prove this season: When a former first overall draft pick is traded, many questions are asked. In the case of Hall, we wonder if he was a part of the losing-culture problem in Edmonton and if the Oilers will benefit in the room by shipping him out. Hall now has to prove to the Devils he can be a dynamic and consistent player on the ice and fit in with the new group seamlessly off it. There will be massive expectations for the 24-year-old in Jersey, and Hall will place many of them on himself after the disappointment he expressed following the move. 

    The others: Kyle Palmieri cashed in on a career year with a five-year deal worth more than $4.5 million a season and will have to prove his 30 goals and 57 points will be the kind of contributions the Devils can expect consistently going forward.

New York Islanders: Jaroslav Halak

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    What he did last year: Jaroslav Halak had a .919 save percentage and 2.30 goals-against average but started just 36 games because of injury. He finished with an 18-13-4 record and three shutouts.

    What he has to prove this season: Halak has a pile of NHL goaltenders behind him now, and backup Thomas Greiss has already showed he's capable of taking on the No. 1 role if needed. Halak's injury allowed Greiss to assume the starting job late in the season and into the playoffs, and he got the team into the second round of the postseason for the first time since 1993. Behind Greiss are another pair of backstops who signed new deals this offseason in Jean-Francois Berube—who is not waiver-eligible—and Christopher Gibson.

    The crease is crowded heading into training camp, and Halak has to prove he can stay healthy and productive to hang onto the top slot and avoid a timeshare. Or worse—a trade. 

    The others: Incoming free-agent addition Andrew Ladd has a big deal to live up to now that he's the Stanley Cup veteran on the Isles roster.

New York Rangers: Rick Nash

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    What he did last year: A leg injury kept Rick Nash out of the lineup for almost a quarter of the season. He finished with 15 goals and 36 points in 60 regular-season games for the New York Rangers, adding two goals and four points in five playoff contests. 

    What he has to prove this season: Nash needs to prove he's still an elite goal scorer at the age of 32 after a truly disappointing and disrupted season. He's only a year removed from a 42-goal season, and last year's output was hurt by injury. However, his pro-rated numbers are still well down from the previous year. Nash was on pace for just 20 goals and less than 50 points. He hasn't been below those marks in seasons he's played at least 70 games since his rookie year for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2002-03. 

    The others: Mika Zibanejad came over in the trade that sent Derick Brassard to Ottawa. Brassard was a popular player so Zibanejad has big skates to fill. Brandon Pirri signed a one-year deal in free agency for relatively low dollars and needs to show he's a viable NHL scorer worthy of more.

Ottawa Senators: Derick Brassard

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    What he did last year: Derick Brassard netted a career-high 27 goals and scored 58 points in 80 games last season for the New York Rangers. 

    What he has to prove this season: Like the previous slide says, Brassard was a popular player in New York, but he comes to Ottawa as a more experienced veteran who may not have as much upside for the distant future as Zibanejad. And the Sens have not been a sure thing in the playoffs for years, so Brassard needs to prove he can contribute in the franchise's short and long-term plans, helping them get to the postseason as soon as possible.                       

    He has to prove the 25-plus goal total isn't a one-off. 

    The others: Defenseman Dion Phaneuf has to prove he can be an asset over a full season after putting up just a single goal and eight points in 20 games with the Sens after coming over from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Philadelphia Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere

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    What he did last year: Shayne Gostisbehere was so productive in a partial rookie season with the Philadelphia Flyers, the defenseman finished second in the Calder Trophy race and 17th in the Norris Trophy voting. He had 17 goals and 29 assists for 46 points in just 64 games after being called up to the NHL from the minors.

    What he has to prove this season: Gostibehere has to prove he can produce at the same sort of pace over a full season in order to be taken seriously as one of the best young defensemen in the game. The 23-year-old has not previously played many games over the course of a year. He came from the college ranks, and a serious knee injury essentially wiped out his first pro season in 2014-15. He also had offseason knee surgery, so the added World Cup workload and what he hopes is a full NHL campaign will be a tough test. 

    The others: Thanks to the way Michal Neuvirth played in the postseason, goaltender Steve Mason has to show he can be better in his early action in order to keep his spot as the Flyers' top netminder.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Matthew Murray

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    What he did last year: Matthew Murray started 13 games in the regular season and went 9-2-1 down the stretch with a .930 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average. Then he played another 21 contests in the playoffs and went 15-6-2 with a .923 save percentage and 2.08 GAA to help the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup. 

    What he has to prove this season: The 22-year-old took the spring by storm with his stellar play and has set the bar pretty high for himself. The team could benefit greatly if he shows he is the real deal as a top-end starting goalie by trading former No. 1 Marc-Andre Fleury and freeing up salary-cap space to make other moves to bolster an already impressive roster.  

    As incredible as his run was, it's a long season ahead, and he's a very young player in an extremely pressure-packed position on the ice as the last line of defense. 

    The others: Defenseman Derrick Pouliot has yet to carve himself a full-time NHL role, and at 22 he needs to prove he can have an impact on the top stage. Fellow blueliner Justin Schultz returns after joining the Pens at the deadline and will be looking to show his offensive contributions over a short period can be sustained over a full year.

San Jose Sharks: Martin Jones

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    What he did last year: First-year starter Martin Jones played 65 games and had a record of 37-23-4, six shutouts and a .918 save percentage and 2.27 goals-against average in the regular season. He took the San Jose Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final with a 14-10-4 playoff record, sporting a .923 save percentage and 2.16 GAA. 

    What he has to prove this season: Similar to Matt Murray in Pittsburgh—his counterpart in the championship series—Jones needs to prove he can play at the same level year in and year out. His regular season was marked with some inconsistencies, but on the whole, he performed as one of the league's top 10 goalies and was even better in the playoffs.  

    The others: Patrick Marleau is a pending unrestricted free agent and has seen his stats decline over the past couple of years as his role has changed. In order for the 36-year-old to extend his career with more than a one-year deal at a much lower salary than the current $6.67 million, he'll have to prove he is still going to help a team win.

St. Louis Blues: David Perron

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    What he did last year: David Perron scored a dozen goals and had 36 points splitting his year between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks. He was most productive with the Ducks, scoring eight times and earning 20 points in 28 games. He had a goal and three points in seven playoff games. 

    What he has to prove this season: Perron has been hot and cold since he was traded away by the St. Louis Blues. At his best, he appears to have 20-goal, 50-point potential. At his worst, he hardly looks capable of hitting double digits in goals and making it to 30 points. He needs to prove the Blues are the right fit for him and he can return to form with more consistency. The team lost David Backes and Troy Brouwer to free agency and need the scoring depth Perron may provide. 

    The others: Jake Allen was handed the starting role on a full-time basis when Brian Elliott was traded to the Calgary Flames at the draft, and he must show he's capable of the heavy workload.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Jonathan Drouin

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    What he did last year: Jonathan Drouin did most of his damage in the playoffs for the Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring five goals and 14 points in 17 contests. In a rocky regular season, he played 21 games, scoring four goals and 10 points. 

    What he has to prove this season: Drouin has as much to prove as anyone in the NHL this season. Last year he went from disgruntled prospect to abandoning the franchise entirely to reversing his holdout stance and becoming a productive member of the Bolts. He needs to prove his loyalty to the team, his dedication to their style of play and the ability to play as well in the regular season as he did in the playoffs while Steven Stamkos was getting healthy.

    The others: With all the contract stuff behind him, captain Stamkos can focus on scoring goals at a ridiculous rate again. The 36 he scored last year was a fine total but not in line with what he's been able to produce in the past.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Frederik Andersen

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    What he did last year: Frederik Andersen was the starter for the Anaheim Ducks when healthy, but because of injury, he wound up starting just 37 games. He finished with a 22-9-7 record and had a .919 save percentage and 2.30 goals-against average with three shutouts. 

    What he has to prove this season: Because the Ducks had the luxury of two worthy starters in Andersen and John Gibson, they moved Anderson to the Maple Leafs, where he replaces Jonathan Bernier as the top netminder. Under the microscope in Toronto, Andersen will face pressure and scrutiny more intense than he had to endure on the west coast—from fans and media alike. He has to prove he can remain even-keeled even if things aren't going well—because the team is sure to have major growing pains during the rebuild. 

    The others: Rookie Auston Matthews has a lot to live up to as the first overall pick from the spring's draft. We'll see if he can prove worthy of that slot.

Vancouver Canucks: Brandon Sutter

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    What he did last year: Brandon Sutter had a rough debut season for the Vancouver Canucks. He had sports hernia surgery early in the year and then broke his jaw later in the year. He played 20 games on the year and scored five goals and nine points in total. 

    What he has to prove this season: Sutter has had a rough start to his Canucks career. He came over in a trade and then signed a long-term extension but hasn't been healthy enough to gain any kind of momentum. He has his work cut out for him to prove worthy of the investment of five years at nearly $4.4 million per season. 

    The others: Alex Burrows hit a brand-new low with 22 points last season, and goaltender Ryan Miller is nearing the end of his career. Both are pending UFAs who need to impress enough to earn new deals somewhere in the summer.

Washington Capitals: Brett Connolly

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    What he did last year: Brett Connolly played 71 games with the Boston Bruins last year, scoring nine goals and 25 points. 

    What he has to prove this season: The 24-year-old is a salvage operation of sorts. He has potential as a top-nine forward capable of some nice offensive numbers but hasn't found a home in the NHL yet after bouncing around with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Bruins. He has to show the skills that made him a sixth overall draft choice in order to build on what he did last season. 

    The others: Wingers Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie are likely in a battle for one contract after this season with the salary cap making it next to impossible to sign them both.

Winnipeg Jets: Mark Scheifele

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    What he did last year: Mark Scheifele had a career-high 29 goals and 61 points to go with a plus-16 rating for the Winnipeg Jets. 

    What he has to prove this season: The 23-year-old Scheifele signed a massive deal this summer, committing to the Jets for the maximum eight-year term at an annual average of $6.125 million. He has improved in all three NHL seasons so far but must prove capable of even more in order to help the team replace former captain Andrew Ladd both on and off the ice and propel the Jets back into the playoff picture. 

    The others: One of the goaltenders has to rise above the others in the competition for the net. Ondrej Pavelec has been a disappointment for much of his career, and younger competitors Michael Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck are looking to prove worthy of the starting role.

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted. Contract and salary info via GeneralFanager.com.

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