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THN.com Blog: Already looking forward to next season

Jakub Voracek had 101 points with Halifax this season. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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Jakub Voracek had 101 points with Halifax this season. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

People often ask us THN staffers what we do when the season ends. There is, in fact, a lot of work to do – special issues, poolbook, yearbook, free agency, the draft, blockbuster trades, etc. – but with no actual games to watch, I engage in my favorite of pastimes: speculation.

Watching history as it unfolds is all well and good, but trying to anticipate what will happen next is just as fun. With that in mind, here are some storylines I’m already excited about for the 2008-09 season.

Columbus finally getting a top line
With all due respect, David Vyborny does not an elite line make. The Czech center’s days as a Blue Jacket are apparently coming to a close, but a young countryman is waiting in the wings.

Jakub Voracek, Columbus’ first pick (seventh overall) in 2007 is a dynamite playmaker who would look really good alongside Rick Nash. True, Voracek is a right winger, but with his passes and Nash’s finishes, the center on that line faces a lot less pressure.

My humble advice? Go with a youth line and promote 2006 first-rounder Derick Brassard to top-line status. Brassard is no slouch with the feeding, either; he had 72 assists in his last full healthy season with Drummondville of the Quebec League.

Washington with a full season of Boudreau at the helm
So what’s the ceiling on Ovechkin’s point total now that he’ll have a full season with Bruce Boudreau coaching? Is 150 out of the question?

Remember, Ovie will have either an acclimated Nicklas Backstrom or a recovered Michael Nylander as his center and Alexander Semin as a secondary scoring threat – not to mention Mike Green swooping in from the point just to keep the defenders honest.

Tampa Bay’s power play
Stamkos passes to Lecavalier…to St-Louis…back to Boyle… Dare not take a cheap hooking penalty against the Bolts next year.

Respectability in Phoenix
When Kyle Turris joined the Dawgs at the end of this season, he was immediately put on a line with Shane Doan and Peter Mueller. That’s a dangerous trio, folks.

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Assuming the pattern holds, you’ve got a solid first line, emerging secondary scoring from Radim Vrbata (a free agent who has indicated he would like to stay in Phoenix) and Martin Hanzal. Plus Ilya ‘Cool Bryz’ Bryzgalov in net. They’re not the Red Wings, but they’re not a Desert Dog’s breakfast anymore, either.

Put your hands up for Detroit
Yeah, picking the current year’s Cup winner to repeat is always folly, but mull this one over: Stanley Cup hangovers affect young players who have never gone through a long post-season grind, not cagey vets who know to get back on the elliptical trainer as soon as they clean the champagne stains off the Cup.

While Eric Staal’s regular season totals dropped 30 points after Carolina’s run, veteran teammate Rod Brind’Amour’s numbers went up by 12. So I ask you: Which of Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Rafalski or Holmstrom do you think will take a step back next year? None, right?

Johan Franzen clearly found his magic as the regular season wound down and carried it through the playoffs, as did Niklas Kronwall. Naturally, critics will point to goaltending as an Achilles’ heel, but I’m a little tired of being wrong about Chris Osgood at this point.

Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his features, The Hot List and Year of the Ram, appear Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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