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The Boylen Point: Five players to watch in 2010-11

Jordan Staal was a Selke Trophy finalist, but was beaten out for the award by Pavel Datsyuk and Ryan Kesler.(Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Jordan Staal was a Selke Trophy finalist, but was beaten out for the award by Pavel Datsyuk and Ryan Kesler.(Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

In a recent THN Puck Panel, colleague John Grigg and I discussed two sophomores each whom we thought were going to have improved seasons. Aside from the obvious choices of John Tavares and Matt Duchene, I went with Jamie Benn of the Stars and Artem Anisimov of the Rangers, while John picked James van Riemsdyk of the Flyers and went a little off the board with Brandon Yip of the Avalanche.
   
While that video was limited to second-year players, I’d like to expand on the topic a little more and name a few players I’m expecting to break out from the pack and onto the scene in 2010-11. They don’t have to be sophomores; they can be anybody.

Valtteri Filppula, Detroit

The man with the oft-misspelled name, Filppula took on a bigger role with the Red Wings last year after Jiri Hudler bolted for the Kontinental League. The 26-year-old Finn was bothered by a wrist injury through November and December, however, which kept him from having a better season. Filppula popped in 35 points, not a career-high, though his 0.64 points-per-game was the best of his career. He is in his fifth year in the NHL, which is when players tend to have established themselves. A scout once told me the next Red Wings player who would be as responsible defensively and smart on the puck as Pavel Datsyuk was Filppula, who is taking lessons just like Datsyuk did with Steve Yzerman. How can you argue against a guy who has a teacher like that?

Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders

There was a buzz at the draft about Okposo, who is in some circles anticipated to be among the league leaders in points one day. While that day likely won’t come in April of 2011, Okposo, touted as a goal-scorer, can be expected to improve on the 19 tallies he posted last season. The seventh overall pick in the 2006 draft improved his point production by 12 from his rookie to sophomore seasons and will be looking for a similar leap this campaign. Okposo will likely play alongside Tavares, who should also have a better season, so that factor will play into Okposo’s improvement.

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa

A steal at 15th overall in the 2008 draft, Karlsson proved his worth on Ottawa’s power play, where he scored 10 of his 26 points. With Sergei Gonchar now in town to show Karlsson the offensive-minded ropes, the 20-year-old will improve by a few leaps and a couple bounds on the scoresheet this season. While it took Karlsson some time to acclimatize himself to the highest professional league, he seemed to have figured it out at the end. Karlsson notched more than half of his 26 points (14) in the final 16 games of the regular season and carried it over to the playoffs, where he posted six points in six games against the Pittsburgh Penguins – four of which came, you guessed it, with the man advantage.

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T.J. Oshie, St. Louis

It’s unfair Oshie got lumped in with the rest of St. Louis’ youngsters and labeled as having a “disappointing season” in 2009-10; after all, Oshie was the only one of David Backes, Brad Boyes, David Perron and Patrik Berglund to not see a dip in points. Oshie had a four-goal, nine-point increase – although he did play more games in 2009-10 – but because so much was expected from the 24th overall pick in 2005 after such a strong rookie campaign it wasn’t considered up to snuff. You can bet the Blues won’t be taking any more steps back. And you can bet Oshie will be taking many more steps forward.

Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh

I don’t think I’m expecting too much from Staal by thinking he can reach at least 60 points this season. The Selke Trophy nominee not only has tremendous defensive acumen, but his big frame protects the puck with an admirable elegance. While debating the merits of Staal with a friend last January as the Penguins took on the Oilers, we both watched as the No. 2 overall pick from 2006 took control of the game. Trailing 2-0 after two periods, the Penguins won 3-2 thanks to three first-assists from Staal. It was almost as if he decided he had to win that game and delivered. There is a reason he was picked No. 2 ahead of such talents as Jonathan Toews and Nicklas Backstrom; if you think we’ve seen the best of Staal, you’re in for a shock.

THN Puck Panel – Sophomores who will excel in 2010-11

PRODUCER: Ted Cooper

Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His blog appears regularly and his column, The Boylen Point,  appears Tuesdays on THN.com.

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