Earlier this week we took a somewhat broad look at the how this summer's transactions might impact the pecking order in the Southeast Division. Today we're sticking in the Southeast, although we're going to be looking at players; specifically the division's top ten forwards.
10. Steven Stamkos (Center, Tampa Bay Lightning)
Admittedly Stamkos' 2008-09 numbers weren't all that impressive, and the 2008 first overall draft pick struggled at times. But there's no denying Stamkos' all around offensive talent and although his numbers last season weren't quite as good, Stamkos edges out Atlanta's Bryan Little for tenth on our list - just as he should edge out Little in terms of production in 2009-10.
9. Nathan Horton (Center, Florida Panthers)
It was somewhat of a down year for Florida's Horton, partially due to injury. But he's still the 6'2'', 229 pound force who's averaged 29 goals per 82 games since the lockout, despite playing on mediocre and defensively-oriented Panthers teams.
8. David Booth (Right Wing, Florida Panthers)
Watching Booth play for the Panthers is endlessly frustrating in the sense that you can't help but wonder what someone with his speed, size, and tenacity could do on a team that
lets its players play offense doesn't have quite as conservative a style of play. Although he's become a fan- and media-favorite Booth still flies somewhat under the radar by virtue of the fact that he plays in south Florida. If you haven't noticed him before, flip on a Panthers game next season and keep an eye on number ten. Odds are you won't be disappointed.
7. Martin St. Louis (Right Wing, Tampa Bay Lightning)
St. Louis might not be the player he was when he won the MVP in 2004 or when he notched 104 points in 2006-07, but his combination of speed and skill still creates havoc for opponents.
6. Alexander Semin (Left Wing/Right Wing, Washington Capitals)
The fact that Semin's sixth on this list probably says more about the quality of depth among forwards in the Southeast than it does about Washington's "other" Alex. There's no denying his talent, his production is starting to catch up, and in 2008-09, Semin proved he's a valuable penalty killer as well. Yet questions about his durability and discipline still exist.
5. Eric Staal (Center, Carolina Hurricanes)
We tend to think Staal isn't quite as good as he gets credit for - but we also recognize that the only center who's scored more goals than Staal over the last two seasons is Evgeni Malkin. Staal's numbers might be even more impressive with another elite offensive talent to work with.
4. Nicklas Backstrom (Center, Washington Capitals)
Too often dismissed as the product of being fortunate enough to play with Ovechkin, Backstrom, the youngest of the league's top ten scorers, is a great player in his own right. The second-year center can skate, pass, shoot, and play defense; the only thing missing is faceoff acumen.
3. Vincent Lecavalier (Center, Tampa Bay Lightning)
No matter how you look at it, Lecavalier is a true franchise player, able to produce on the ice, lead by example, and serve as an ambassador to the community. He had a down year in 2008, partially due to chronic injuries, but that doesn't diminish his talent or what he's already accomplished.
2. Ilya Kovalchuk (Left Wing, Atlanta Thrashers)
You can easily make the case Kovlachuk is the single player who deserves more than the hand he's been dealt in the NHL (and indeed that case was made last summer). Still only 25, Kovalchuk's individual achievements - including 297 goals, 557 points, and two fifty-goal seasons - are in direct contrast to what he's had to handle from an Atlanta organization that's provided the Thrashers with inept personnel management, poor decisions, an ownership squabble, a mere four playoff games, and some of the ugliest uniforms known to mankind. It boggles the mind to think what Kovalchuk might be capable of on a good team and although Alex Ovechkin is clearly the best forward in this division, the gap isn't as big as a lot of people think it is.
1.(Left Wing, Washington Capitals)
He's won back-to-back MVPs and is both the best and most exciting player in the world. This one's a no-brainer.
While Ovechkin's pretty much a lock at number one, the rest of the list has some pretty significant room for debate. Is Vinny better than Kovy? Does Stamkos deserve top ten consideration yet? Does Semin's incredible talent offset his weaknesses enough that he ought to be ranked higher?
In short, who would you put among the Southeast's elite forwards?