Using the Puck Prospectus projection system, VUKOTA, PP and ESPN team up to take a look at one breakout and one declining candidate per team for the 2009-2010 season.
(Note: For a definition of GVT, Goals Versus Threshold, click here)
Summer Skate: Los Angeles Kings
The Kings look to put last year's woes behind them and turn the corner after a dismal 2008-09 season. With so many up-and-coming stars in Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Drew Doughty, Los Angeles is hoping that the acquisitions of Rob Scuderi and Ryan Smyth will complete the puzzle and push this Southern California team into the playoffs. Could this be the Cinderella team for next year?
Trending Up: C Anze Kopitar
Last Season: + 9.8 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 13.6 GVT
VUKOTA thinks Slovenia's first NHL player will improve on his terrific production from last year. The 13.6 GVT projection for next year ties him with the likes of Roberto Luongo and Henrik Sedin, both of whom are widely respected across hockey for their differing, yet great skill sets. With a line of 31 goals, 43 assists and 74 points, the 21-year-old center will be producing near his 2007-08 totals, which are his career highs thus far in his short time in the NHL. This very well could be the year that Anze Kopitar becomes a household name, and he'll deserve every bit of attention he gets.
Trending Down: D Rob Scuderi
Last Season: + 6.4 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 4.3 GVT
The recipient of a new four-year, $13.6-million contract, Scuderi will forever be known for preventing Johan Franzen from scoring on an empty net at the end of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals on two plays involving his stick and his skate. Fortunately for the first Long Island native to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup, that play superficially boosted the defenseman's value enough to overlook his 30 years of age and pedestrian career. VUKOTA doesn't expect much from the former Penguin, but if the Kings make it to the Stanley Cup finals and the Syosset, New York-born Scuderi makes another significant play to win it all for his team, he'll be worth every penny.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Los Angeles Kings, click here.
Summer Skate: Dallas Stars
Last season, Dallas was an above-average team during even-strength play -- except for in the net. Marty Turco was a large part of the reason for the struggles in Dallas and how did the team respond in the offseason? They signed Karlis Skrastins to a two-year, $2.75-million deal to shore up the defense, which was already good. Will their incorrect evaluation of team strengths and weaknesses lead one step forward but two steps back for Tom Hicks and company?
Trending Up: LW James Neal
Last Season: + 4.3 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 6.3 GVT
As a rookie last year, the Whitby, Ontario, native posted an impressive line of 24 goals, 13 assists and 37 points. In the Ontario Hockey League, the southpaw forward was able to post .88 points per game in his first draft-eligible season. While not a sign of stardom, it still means that the 33rd overall pick in 2005 can play. VUKOTA sees a decline in goals, 24 to 22, but improvement in assists, 13 to 19, and points, 37 to 41. If things break Neal's way, he might be making his second consecutive appearance at all-star weekend, only this time it wouldn't be for the Young Stars game.
Trending Down: C Steve Ott
Last Season: + 6.4 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 4.3 GVT
The 6-foot center turns 27 in the month of August, which is generally the beginning of the end for a forward's peak years, and VUKOTA agrees with this assessment. After a mediocre early career, the 2000 NHL draft selection had a successful 2007-08 season, and then followed up that season with a 2008-2009 year that was twice as good as the previous one. VUKOTA thinks the Dallas forward's 2008-09 season was his best one, and expects his numbers to regress a tad, but his 2009-10 should be closer to last year's production than his contributions from two years ago. Expect 16 goals, 22 assists and 38 points in 65 games played for next season.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Dallas Stars, click here.
Summer Skate: Phoenix Coyotes
Phoenix, one of the worst teams in the NHL this past season, had an even worse offseason. Its bankruptcy has led to chaos on the ownership front, which has trickled down to the rest of the franchise. Despite having plenty of cap room, the Coyotes are struggling to sign additional talent to make the team competitive. This could be another difficult season in the desert, even with phenomenal talent such as Shane Doan on the roster.
Trending Up: D Ed Jovanovski
Last Season: + 4.9 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 7.8 GVT
Sometimes players experience breakouts in their first season, while other times breakouts occur after the age of 30. It all depends on who the top comparables are. For the longtime NHL veteran, we should expect a slight increase in overall productivity for next season. Offensively, VUKOTA predicts that Jovanovski will be nearly the same player as he was last season. Instead of a line of nine goals, 27 assists and 36 points like last season, VUKOTA predicts Jovanovski will have eight goals, 27 assists and 35 points. Where VUKOTA predicts the biggest difference is on defense, where Jovanovski's defensive GVT is expected to blossom from 1.9 to 3.3.
Trending Down: RW Petr Prucha
Last Season: + 1.5 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 2.3 GVT
The former New York Ranger is an example of a player who broke out immediately and fell back to Earth after two seasons in the NHL, though injuries had a lot to do with it. The Prucha of old was good for 20-30 goals, 15-20 assists and 35-50 points. In the past two seasons combined, the Czech Republic native couldn't match his production from either his 2005-06 rookie season or the 2006-07 campaign. VUKOTA thinks Prucha will play in slightly more games this season, 53 to 47, hence the "increase" in GVT. He projects to be relatively the same player that he's been over the past two seasons, but he's now a couple of years removed from his best seasons and he's already turning 27 in September. Don't expect the Phoenix forward to contribute much to a team with an already dismal outlook for 2009-10.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Phoenix Coyotes, click here.
Summer Skate: Anaheim Ducks
Last season Anaheim struggled to make the playoffs as a team with a near-even goal differential and 91 points, but was still able to upset the Sharks in the first round. The Ducks regrouped in the offseason and pulled off a blockbuster deal on draft day that sent Chris Pronger to Philadelphia for Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa and two first-round picks. Add in the signing of Saku Koivu and the Ducks now look to overtake San Jose for the Pacific crown, particularly with one of their players projecting to be one of the league's 10 best in 2009-10.
Trending Up: C Ryan Getzlaf
Last Season: + 14.9 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 17.6 GVT
Is it possible for the former first-round pick to improve on last season? VUKOTA thinks so. The 6-foot-4 center was the best player on the Ducks' roster in 2008-09, with a 14.9 GVT. This season he's projected to finally score 30 or more goals in a season, along with an impressive 17.6 GVT, which makes him the eighth-best player in hockey. If the 2007 Stanley Cup champion forward can add more goals to last year's below-average offense, the rest of the West could find itself in trouble.
Trending Down: RW Teemu Selanne
Last Season: + 8.9 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 5.9 GVT
The 39-year-old might be thrilled to finally be playing alongside fellow Finland native Saku Koivu, but don't expect that to keep his production up. VUKOTA sees the 10th overall selection in 1988 producing at a rate below last year, but above the 2007-08 season. The truly dubious forecast? It also sees the Finnish Flash missing 30 percent of the season due to injury. His days of 20-goal, 50-point seasons appear to be behind him for good.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Anaheim Ducks, click here.
Summer Skate: San Jose Sharks
The best team in the entire National Hockey League fell flat on its face during the postseason, losing to the Anaheim Ducks in Round 1. San Jose looks to get past its postseason problems with almost the same roster as last season, having just one new signee in former Nashville center Scott Nichol. As the division becomes increasingly difficult, the Sharks will try to stay afloat with solid play in the Shark Tank. That could be more difficult this season, as projections have San Jose losing some bite from one of its top forwards.
Trending Up: D Christian Ehrhoff
Last Season: + 6.5 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 8.4 GVT
VUKOTA sees the German native taking a step back on the offensive side of the puck, which could be a bad sign for the already-below-average offense of the Sharks. However, the 27-year-old should make huge strides on defense, with an expected improvement of 3.6 in defensive GVT. If Ehrhoff can prove VUKOTA wrong and match last season's career highs in assists (34) and points (42), the lefty might very well be one of the five best Sharks this season.
Trending Down: C Patrick Marleau
Last Season: + 15.2 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 11.8 GVT
The accomplished center will turn 30 years old in September. In the eyes of VUKOTA, that will mark the start of a decline for the 1997 draft second overall selection. VUKOTA doesn't think he'll drop off precipitously. Rather, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound forward will see his skills diminish gradually, starting with a projection of 27 goals, 33 assists and 60 points in 76 games next season.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the San Jose Sharks, click here.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Andrew Rothstein is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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