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Nine NHLers who'll rise or fall

Ryan Kesler and Tim Thomas met in the 2011 Stanley Cup final. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Ryan Kesler and Tim Thomas met in the 2011 Stanley Cup final. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Hello again, everyone. I’m getting revved up for another season of hockey after a long summer. As a player, I got very excited as camp was getting closer, but dreaded the first few days for various reasons.

Just getting the body back into a routine was tough enough, but mostly it was getting used to being sore all the time again. Being a backup, you always took some “high heat,” as guys reserved their reckless shots and things they were trying out for the backup (as they should, because you never want to hit the starter in the head). All part of the job. Some days were tougher, but I wasn’t really much of a complainer. I just tried to have fun with it.

The biggest excitement came from knowing it was another opportunity to have a fresh start in a new season. I always liked to look at players who were coming off particularly strong or disappointing seasons. I would make mental notes of what they were capable of and could achieve in the new season with a clean slate, a clear head and possibly a new environment.

Here are players I think will have either great bounce-back seasons or ones who may drop off slightly after having career years.

BOUNCE-BACK PLAYERS (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)

SCOTT GOMEZ - MONTREAL CANADIENS
He was admittedly embarrassed with his season last year and vowed to contribute more consistently for the Habs, not just on the scoreboard but in other areas as well.

NICKLAS BACKSTROM - WASHINGTON CAPITIALS
He was the poster boy for inconsistency and was criticized heavily for his playoff performance. Backstrom is a former 100-point player who’s too skilled to keep down. He’s an elite playmaker and will produce more consistently, which bodes well for the Caps.

ALEX OVECHKIN - WASHINGTON CAPITALS
A no-brainer. Ovechkin had 85 points in an “off year,” though not from a lack of trying. The Russian sniper is arguably the best player on the ice most nights and will exceed his points from last season and deliver a lot more in a leadership role for as his Caps try to make a deep push into the playoffs.

DREW DOUGHTY - LOS ANGELES KINGS
It will take a bit of time for him to get in game shape, but Doughty is too talented not to reach the elite level once he gets going. With the addition of more depth in L.A. (Mike Richards), the Kings are poised to do something special in the Western Conference if they can continue to build on the young and talented team they have been growing.

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ZACH PARISE/ILYA KOVALCHUK - NEW JERSEY DEVILS
If Parise is 100 percent healthy, he is a lock to be back to where he was three seasons ago, scoring 40-plus goals and being a dominant force. The same goes for Kovalchuk. It’s hard to keep this sniper down because he has one of the most dangerous shots in the league. With Parise getting him the puck, he’s bound to put up the high numbers to which we’ve become accustomed.

PLAYERS WHO WILL HAVE A TOUGH TIME DUPLICATING LAST SEASON’S NUMBERS

RYAN KESLER - VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Obviously, Kesler’s numbers will go down because he’ll miss games to start the season due to off-season surgery. But it’s also tough to be a 40-goal scorer consistently in the NHL and his career numbers are more telling: Kesler has historically been a 20-goal guy. He’s a great two-way player who will get more attention because of his brilliance in last year’s playoffs, making it tough to get to 40 goals again.

TIM THOMAS - BOSTON BRUINS
Still one of the best players in the game, but it will be tough to repeat everything he accomplished as a player last season. A shortened summer certainly won’t help. He’s still capable of stealing games and dominating, but from a statistical standpoint, he’ll have a drop-off. The only way to go is down after his brilliance of 2010-11.

DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN - WINNIPEG JETS
He had a career year, scoring 20 goals and more than 50 points. It will be tough to duplicate those numbers, because other teams will focus on him. Byfuglien has already had some off-ice issues that could pose a major distraction for him.

It’s obvious some of these players will have to elevate their games or try and sustain what they did last campaign. The best part about this is very soon we will know what type of seasons these great players will have.

Bring on the regular season!

Born in Edmonton, Jamie McLennan is a former NHL goaltender currently working as an analyst for TSN. Nicknamed 'Noodles,' McLennan was drafted by the Islanders in 1991. He played 254 NHL games with the Flames, Rangers, Panthers, Wild, Blues and Isles, compiling a 80-109-33 record. He will be writing for THN.com throughout the season. F
ollow McLennan on Twitter @jamiemclennan29.

 

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