Some long­time tal­ent, and a promis­ing rookie, de­mand at­ten­tion

Baltimore Sun - - NHL - By Larry Lage

Sid­ney Crosby, com­ing off Stan­ley Cup and World Cup of Hockey ti­tles, has to top any list of NHL­play­ers to watch this sea­son.

The Pitts­burgh Pen­guins su­per­star may never ap­proach the 36-goal, 120-point sea­son he had a decade ago when he won the first of two Hart Tro­phies as NHL Most Valu­able Player. But he can strike a bal­ance be­tween be­ing pa­tient with the puck and ag­gres­sive with or with­out it when needed.

“He just wins,” said Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Bab­cock, who has coached Crosby at the Olympics and World Cup.

Crosby has been di­ag­nosed with a con­cus­sion and his avail­abil­ity with the reg­u­lar sea­son be­gin­ning Wed­nes­day was un­known Mon­day.

Here are some other players to watch when the sea­son starts this week: Alex Ovechkin, Cap­i­tals: As a scorer, the 31-year-old Wash­ing­ton winger isn’t show­ing any signs of slow­ing down. Ovechkin had 50 goals last sea­son, reach­ing the mile­stone for the third straight year. He won his fourth straight and league-record sixth Richard Tro­phy as the NHL’s top scorer. No one else has won it more than twice since the 1998-99 sea­son, when the tro­phy was first awarded. Pa­trick Kane, Black­hawks: The Chicago winger won his first Hart Tro­phy, eas­ily sur­pass­ing his pre­vi­ous ca­reer highs with 46 goals and 106 points. Kane couldn’t cel­e­brate the ac­com­plish­ment too much be­cause the Black­hawks, who had hoisted the Cup in 2015 for the third time in six years, were bounced out of the play­offs in the first round. Kane and Co. will be fired up to make another run. Con­nor McDavid, Oil­ers: If the 19-year-old cap­tain can stay healthy, no one will be sur­prised if he has a 100-point sea­son. McDavid, the No. 1 over­all pick last year, had 48 points in 45 games dur­ing his in­juryshort­ened rookie sea­son. The smooth­skat­ing cen­ter looked like one of the game’s greats at the World Cup. Aus­ton Matthews, Maple Leafs: Toronto has a rea­son for hope, for a change, thanks to the 6-foot-3, 216-pound cen­ter it drafted No. 1 over­all. Matthews ap­peared to be­long on the ice with the best hockey players on the planet at the World Cup, per­haps giv­ing him a boost of con­fi­dence as an NHLrookie. P.K. Sub­ban, Preda­tors: Nashville ac­quired a mo­ti­vated player in a block­buster trade this sum­mer, adding the 2013 Nor­ris Tro­phy-win­ning de­fense­man and send­ing cap­tain Shea Web­ber to Mon­treal. Sub­ban scored a ca­reer-low six goals last sea­son for the Cana­di­ens and will get ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to bounce back with the Preda­tors. Carey Price, Cana­di­ens: Mon­treal’s fran­chise and fans likely breathed a sigh of re­lief dur­ing the World Cup when it was clear Price, who missed more than 10 months with a knee in­jury, is healthy and still one of the game’s best goal­tenders.

With Price and Web­ber, the Cana­di­ens will be tough to score against. Brent Burns, Sharks: Reign­ing West­ern Con­fer­ence cham­pion San Jose might want to give the gap-toothed, big-bearded de­fense­man a deal be­fore he be­comes a free agent next sum­mer. If they don’t, Burns may take his on- and off-the-ice act to a team that will pay him per­haps $7 mil­lion to $8 mil­lion a year with a long-term con­tract.

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