With a month to go before the puck drops on the 2011-12 campaign, we take a gander at ten players that have crucial seasons ahead of them. Josh Bailey, Islanders… The Isles’ first-round pick from 2008 simply has not progressed like many had wished/expected he would. Bailey has had seasons of 25, 35 and 28 points, showing little-to-no consistency in that time. Moreover, since he was drafted, the team has selected fellow centers John Tavares and Ryan Strome. Bailey, who is still without a contract as an RFA, is entering a make-or-break season.
Zach Bogosian, Jets… Bogosian, another 2008 draft pick, really struggled in three seasons in Atlanta, compiling a minus-34 rating on defense. Will the move to Winnipeg change anything? I don’t think it’ll be a difference-maker at all in his game. The former third overall pick is still unsigned, and if he doesn’t turn things around this year, many will consider him a bust.
Andrew Cogliano, Ducks… We will know what Cogliano is all about in his move to Anaheim. A change of scenery may do him good; it may not. Cogliano, a first-rounder by the Oilers in 2005, is a speed demon but has practically regressed in four full NHL seasons. With the Ducks he’ll have third line and penalty kill duty, and may see some power play time if Teemu Selanne retires.
Nikita Filatov, Senators… Forget ‘make-or-break’ -- this could be Filatov’s last chance to stick in the NHL. Traded from Columbus to Ottawa this summer, Filatov is going to be given every opportunity to succeed in a top-six role. If he doesn’t take advantage of it, then he may be a KHLer for life.
Niklas Hjalmarsson, Blackhawks… Last summer, Hjalmarsson’s offer sheet from San Jose (4 years, $14 million) was matched by Chicago. Though he posted solid numbers (+13 rating, 166 blocked shots), he wasn’t the same defenseman we saw during the Blackhawks’ Cup run in spring of 2010. If he has an average season in 2011-12, he could be a trade possibility, given his contract and the Hawks’ cap situation.
Steve Mason, Blue Jackets… Mason’s numbers in his first 30 career starts: 17-11-2, 2.05 GAA, .926 save percentage. In his 139 starts since: 60-56-21, 2.93 GAA, .902 save percentage. Though he has two more years left on his contract, this is a huge season for Mason. His defense has improved. He’ll have more offensive support. Now it’s up to him to play better and more consistently.
T.J. Oshie, Blues… Oshie is seemingly down to his final strike in St. Louis. In his first three seasons, he has shown great potential and talent. However, his off-ice habits aren’t well-liked by the Blues brass. Oshie received a one-year extension, so this is a chance to prove himself as a legit goal-scorer. If he squanders that chance, his days in St. Louis will be numbered.
Dustin Penner, Kings… I am one of the few that believes Penner will have a solid season. But he has to go out and prove himself to Terry Murray and company that he deserves top-six ice-time. Penner dealt with distractions last season, and because of it his game suffered after being dealt to Los Angeles. He will never have a greater opportunity to succeed than this year with this Kings club.
Kyle Turris, Coyotes… Similarly to Penner, Turris will never get a better chance to strut his stuff as a top-line center. After all, the unsigned RFA is asking for a lot of dough. Turris, the third overall pick in 2007, hasn’t even shown enough consistency to be called ‘inconsistent’. He is slated to be the Coyotes’ No. 1 center as Training Camp commences. If he truly is a top-line center, this is the year he has to show it.
Colin Wilson, Predators… There’s no doubting Wilson’s ability. From time-to-time, we see that talent displayed on the ice. The problem is the next shift he’ll disappear. Last season Wilson played all 82 games, but was subsequently benched in the playoffs. Entering the final year of his entry-level contract, there wouldn’t be a more perfect time for Wilson to have a breakout season.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.