Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rating The Atlantic's Best

It's never too early to take a look ahead. Especially with a new season around the corner for one of the game's most competitive divisions. Whether you're in a fantasy hockey league or just a passionate pucker, there are always bar debates about who the best players are. Today, we'll be ranking the Atlantic's elite by position.

GOALIES: Let's start from the goal out. Goalie is still an important piece to any team. Even if proven otherwise by the Blackhawks and Flyers, will that trend continue? Or does the cream rise to the top? The Atlantic has three of the best netminders. Legendary Devil Martin Brodeur still is the man but Ranger Henrik Lundqvist is closing fast and Penguin backstop Marc-Andre Fleury has the hardware. It's a shame about career Islander  Rick DiPietro, who seemed on the verge of cracking the top 10. Now, DP remains a huge question mark. Dwayne Roloson will again be counted off the Meadowbrook. It's hard to predict if unlikely Flyer hero Michael Leighton can repeat his performance in the City Of Brotherly Love. If a loaded Philly team is to finally win its first Cup since 1975, they better hope so.

1.Martin Brodeur, Devils
2.Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
3.Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins
4.Dwayne Roloson, Islanders
5.Michael Leighton, Flyers


DEFENSEMEN: In today's game, defense is essential for a winner. Just look no further than the '06-07 Ducks, '07-08 Red Wings, '08-09 Pens and rating champ Chicago. All boasted superb bluelines where key players logged big minutes. Would the Oilers or Flyers have gotten there without wrecking ball Chris Pronger? The NHL's most loathed defenseman leads a pack that includes newest Pen Paul Martin, freight train Brooks Orpik and potential breakout player Kris Letang. The Devils hope blocking machine Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder add plenty of toughness in front of the net. Is Andy Greene legit? Can James Wisniewski aid Mark Streit on the Island? Marc Staal is probably the most important player to the Rangers. Three days to get that new contract done in time for camp. Unfortunately, there's not a place for Wade Redden on our list unless you're an AHL fan.

1.Chris Pronger, Flyers
2.Brooks Orpik, Penguins
3.Kimmo Timonen, Flyers
4.Marc Staal, Rangers
5.Mark Streit, Islanders
6.Anton Volchenkov, Devils
7.Paul Martin, Penguins
8.Kris Letang, Penguins
9.Andy Greene, Devils
10.Henrik Tallinder, Devils
11.Zbynek Michalek, Penguins
12.Dan Girardi, Rangers
13.James Wisniewski, Islanders
14.Braydon Coburn, Flyers
15.Michael Del Zotto, Rangers


CENTERS: Let's face it. If you're not good down the middle, you may as well throw in the towel. Guess nobody told Glen Sather. It starts in the Steel City where the Pens boast arguably the game's best in Sidney Crosby followed by equally all world Evgeni Malkin. On another team, Jordan Staal could be a No.1. Instead, he's in their shadow. One of the biggest reasons the Flyers stunned the East was due to captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Oh. And converted wing Daniel Briere did damage. The Devils are hoping '00 Cup hero Jason Arnott can support do everything No.1 Travis Zajac. For the Islanders, it starts and ends with John Tavares, who should explode in Year Two. The Rangers' best is probably sophomore Artem Anisimov. But is he ready for prime time? If Brandon Dubinsky sees more time on the left side, he better be.

1.Sidney Crosby, Penguins
2.Evgeni Malkin, Penguins
3.Mike Richards, Flyers
4.Jeff Carter, Flyers
5.Travis Zajac, Devils
6.John Tavares, Islanders
7.Jordan Staal, Penguins
8.Jason Arnott, Devils
9.Brandon Dubinsky, Rangers
10.Josh Bailey, Islanders
11.Artem Anisimov, Rangers
12.Frans Nielsen, Islanders
13.Darroll Powe, Flyers
14.Brian Rolston, Devils
15.Chris Drury, Rangers

WINGS: Rather than separate left from right, we're going to combine. So, who are the division's elite wings? Ranger fans won't have much to say but there should be plenty of fun debate with Devil fans over Marian Gaborik and Kool Aid chugger Ilya Kovalchuk. Both are two of the best finishers in the game and breathtaking to watch. Whether it's Gaborik's acceleration and quick release or Kovalchuk's end to end rushes and twisted wristers, there should be plenty to cheer for between the Hudson line. Each could combine for 90 goals. Kovalchuk's teammate Zach Parise isn't far behind. Can the Zach Attack combine with his Russian comrade to hit the century mark? If he stays healthy, Briere should be in the mix. Does Patrik Elias reemerge now that he's reunited with Arnott? The do everything Czech has always been streaky. Perhaps he'll have a revival. The Devil offense looks scary. How much can LA import Alexander Frolov help Gaborik on Broadway? Will Chris Kunitz finish enough? The Pens aren't exactly loaded there but when you possess Sid and Geno plus Staal, we guess they don't have to. Is this the year Kyle Okposo breaks out? Can Matt Moulson prove last year wasn't a fluke?

1.Ilya Kovalchuk, Devils
2.Marian Gaborik, Rangers
3.Zach Parise, Devils
4.Daniel Briere, Flyers
5.Patrik Elias, Devils
6.Matt Moulson, Islanders
7.Alexander Frolov, Rangers
8. Chris Kunitz, Penguins
9.Vinny Prospal, Rangers
10.Nikolai Zherdev, Flyers
11.Claude Giroux, Flyers
12.Jamie Langenbrunner, Devils
13.David Clarkson, Devils
14.Kyle Okposo, Islanders
15.Mike Comrie, Penguins
16.Ryan Callahan, Rangers
17.James Van Riemsdyk, Flyers
18.Matt Cooke, Penguins
19.Pascal Dupuis, Penguins
20.Nino Niederreiter, Islanders

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