Yesterday we took a look at how the Southeast had changed over the course of the summer. Today, continuing our focus on the Capitals' division as the season draws closer, we're taking a look at the Southeast's forwards; specifically which one we think are the ten best. Let's count 'em down:
10. Mike Knuble (Washington Capitals)
In a division and on a team full of quick skaters with nifty hands and laser-like shots, Knuble's almost an aberration: a big, strong power forward who's one of the Southeast's best at scoring garbage goals within five feet of the blue paint (if not the blue paint itself). But Knuble's biggest contribution is the way his presence impacts him teammates. When the opposition has to deal with Knuble's big body in the corners or in the front of the net, space opens up for his teammates - which is especially nice when he's playing with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
9. David Booth (Florida Panthers)
Last year we praised Booth's ability and wondered what he would look like in a less restrictive system; this year we were forced to wonder what type of season Booth might have had if concussions hadn't robbed him of the majority of his season. The talent, work ethic, and grit are all still there, but it's hard to say how Booth will come back in 2010-11.
8. Simon Gagne (Tampa Bay Lightning) No stranger to concussions himself, Gagne has missed significant time over two of the last three seasons, and played in just 25 games in 2007-08. As a result, it's been easy to forget just how talented he is; after all this is a guy who posted back-to-back 40 goals seasons in 2005-06 and 2006-07. When he's healthy Gagne is still capable of being a dangerous goal-scorer and a point-per-game-player, while also providing solid defensive play.
7. Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay Lightning)
After his down year in 2008-09, we were still ready to call Lecavalier one of the Southeast's three best forwards; but now, with two underwhelming seasons in a row, we can't help but wonder if his skills have simply diminished. You would think the talent's still there, but unless Vinny starts producing like he did in 2007, he's not going to make it back near the top of our list.
6. Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay Lightning) 2009-10 was somewhat of a bounce-back year from St. Louis, as he topped his 2008-09 totals in assists and points, and finished with just one fewer goal. St. Louis' quickness, hands, and motor should mean he'll still be a dangerous opponent in 2010-11, even at 35-years-old.
5. Alexander Semin (Washington Capitals) Semin notched forty goals and eighty points for the first time in his career in 2009-10, arguably his best season to date (the plus-36 rating and continued solid penalty killing don't hurt, either). Semin heads into the 2010-11 with three burning questions: will he be able to produce in the 2011 playoffs, could he be even better in the regular season, and where will he be playing in 2011-12?
4. Eric Staal (Carolina Hurricanes) Staal posted a somewhat underwhelming season in 2009-10, partially due to injury and a weak Hurricanes team. Nonetheless, Staal remains one of the league's best goal-scoring centermen, despite the fact that he's never been able to shake his reputation for inconsistency.
3. Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning) Eric Staal's one of the best goal-scoring centers in the NHL; Stamkos might just be the very best, a fact that earned him the Rocket Richard Trophy this past season. With so many of his goals coming on the powerplay (Stamkos also led the league in powerplay markers), Stamkos might not hit fifty or win the Richard next season. But then again, he's still only 20-years-old.
2. Nicklas Backstrom (Washington Capitals) The reality is that no matter what Backstrom does, he's going to be overshadowed by Alex Ovechkin, a player with a bigger personality who's flashier, more controversial, and who arrived on the scene first - but that says more about Ovechkin than it does about Backstrom, who's one of the league's ten best forwards.
1. Alexander Ovechkin. Simply the best.
Now it's your turn to tell us where we're wrong in the comments...