10 players to watch

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

So what will be the most important factor in raising the Stanley Cup this season? Starting goalie? Star power? Power play? Of course, you need all three. But often, it's the young gun, the grizzled veteran or the player with something to prove and nothing to lose that ends up steering a team to glory. Here are 10 skaters who could make the big difference this spring.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

1. Mats Sundin, Vancouver

He's 38. He sat out the first half of the season. He hasn't been to the playoffs since 2004. Still, the Canucks put up the dough to gamble No. 13 can lead their team on a long Cup run.

2. Jeff Carter, Philadelphia

He rewarded the Flyers' long-term contract confidence with a big-league scoring binge, suggesting 45-goal seasons could be the norm, not the exception. He forms a potent one-two punch with captain Mike Richards. Both learned a lot from three playoff rounds last year.

3. Mike Green, Washington

The smooth-skating blue-liner became the eighth defenceman in NHL history to score 30 goals this year. He plays in the shadow of star forward Alex Ovechkin but his quarterbacking is just as crucial to the Caps' playoff hopes.

4. Johan Franzen, Detroit

"The Mule" scored 13 times last spring to lead the Wings to the Stanley Cup and he would've had more if he didn't get hurt. He followed up that performance by topping the 30-goal mark this season, proving he's no one-time John Druce post-season hero.

5. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh

Though all eyes will be on Sidney Crosby, this is the guy who needs to shine to get the Pens back to the Cup final. He was criticized for disappearing early against Detroit and he followed up the Cup loss with another MVP-calibre regular season.

6. Olli Jokinen, Calgary

Well, this is it. Eight hundred NHL games and he's finally in the playoffs. The former Florida Panther had his leadership, passion and will questioned this year on joining the Flames. He can shed those labels with a solid showing in the Cup chase.

7. Bobby Ryan, Anaheim

The Ducks flew into the playoffs out of nowhere and so did Ryan. The former second overall pick didn't leap right into the NHL like the No. 1 guy Sidney Crosby did, but he's making up for it. Ryan had a 30-goal season and by playing with Corey Perry, he can do some serious damage in the playoffs.

8. Pat Kane, Chicago

The Blackhawks have been constructing a playoff team for the past seven years. In season two, their Calder Trophy kid Kane posted the same kind of numbers he did in his strong rookie campaign. This is a learning experience for a young player and a club that is likely not looking at lottery picks for a long time.

9. Andrei Kostitsyn, Montreal

The 100th regular season in Canadiens history was hardly glorious for the bleu, blanc et rouge. They got their coach fired. The Kostitsyn saga linked the Belarusian brothers to the wrong kind of people. Not many Canadiens topped the 20-goal mark, but Andrei did.

10. Zdeno Chara, Boston

There are suddenly big expectations in Bruins-land and everything always starts with their biggest player. Chara has the size, skill and reach to keep the young B's in business for a long time.


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