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Top Shelf: Sorting out some pre-season thoughts

Ondrej Pavelec had an .880 save percentage and 3.61 goals-against average in 12 NHL games last season. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Ondrej Pavelec had an .880 save percentage and 3.61 goals-against average in 12 NHL games last season. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NHLI via Getty Images)

One week of pre-season hockey and already a lot to talk about, starting with…

• Tuukka Rask is making a major push to crack the Boston Bruins lineup. The 22-year-old goalie is 2-0 in the pre-season, didn’t allow more than one goal in either game he played and has stopped a combined 56 of 58 shots faced. Dany Sabourin was brought in for crease depth in the off-season, but it appears as though Rask is the one who’s ready for the big-time.

Another young goalie worth watching is Ondrej Pavelec in Atlanta. He’s one in a cluster of puckstoppers vying to back up – or butt out – the, get ready for it, injured Kari Lehtonen. Pavelec, 22, has a Calder Cup championship under his belt and you have to think the Thrashers are nearing the end of their rope with Lehtonen. The Finn and former second overall pick, still only 25 himself, has tons of talent, but hasn’t been able to exhibit enough consistent play or health to inspire confidence in Atlanta.

• Back to the Bruins, it doesn’t exactly seem like Boston fans are crying in their black and gold towels over the loss of Phil Kessel. Maybe that’s because many of them still feel there are serious questions about how committed he is to playing an effective two-way game.

As for replacing the 36 goals Boston lost when it dealt the young sniper to Toronto, bet on Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm picking up the slack.

As my colleague Ken Campbell reported, the B’s hope Bergeron can make some gains after scoring just eight goals and 39 points in 64 games last year. Of course, Bergeron played just 10 games the campaign prior before a hit from behind by Randy Jones left him with a season-ending concussion.

Bergeron, 24, is a quality two-way player and has three assists through three pre-season games. He’s a sleeper pick if ever there was one and his responsible game is perfectly suited to coach Claude Julien’s scheme.

Sturm, it’s easy to forget, had back-to-back 27-goal seasons before knee surgery limited him to 19 games last year. Throw him on that top line with Marc Savard and you have to believe a 30-goal season is within range.

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Couple that with what everyone hopes is a return to form by Bergeron and Kessel’s contributions are quickly covered – and likely exceeded

• Not sure exactly how much clout assistant GM Pierre Gauthier has in Montreal, but it may be time to resurrect the Jason York Rule. You remember that one, right? No? Here’s a refresher:

When Gauthier was the Sens GM back in 1996, he instituted a rule that nobody on the team should wear a number higher than the 33 donned by defenseman Jason York. It was a nod to the game’s past, when players wore numbers that didn’t make them look like offensive linemen.

I’ve long accepted the 99s, 66s and 77s as part of the hockey world and do think some higher numbers can look sharp. But I dare anybody to watch a Habs game and not groan at the awful digits some players are skating around with.

Somehow, “Canadiens goal, scored by No. 68, Yannick Wwwweber!” just doesn’t ring right.

Obviously the Habs have an unholy amount of retired numbers (14, to be exact), the highest being Patrick Roy’s 33. The team should mandate that all digits under Roy’s old mark must be worn, then fill out the 30s and 40s. Only after those numbers are used up should the team consider handing out sweaters that test young fans’ knowledge of their multiplication tables.

Ryan Dixon 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 will appear regularly in the off-season and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.

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

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