Western storylines are dominated by talented kids
Posted: Monday September 17, 2007 3:09PM; Updated: Monday September 17, 2007 4:47PM
Last week we focused on three compelling storylines in the Eastern Conference. This week it's time to look out west, where plotlines abound at both the individual and team levels.
When it comes to veterans, watching Mike Modano in Dallas become the all-time leading American-born scorer in NHL history is certainly noteworthy. He is part of an aging class of Americans that includes Chris Chelios in Detroit, Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight in St. Louis and Jeremy Roenick in San Jose. Roenick, who had reportedly retired during the summer, will instead be getting another opportunity to reach the 500-goal plateau.
But for all the veteran influence, what may prove most telling is the infusion of youth that is starting to shape the Western Conference. The Stanley Cup champion Ducks must rely on the continued development of two 22-year-olds -- Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry -- to fuel their attack. The Blues added Paul Kariya, who will be 33 in October, to the duo of Tkachuk and Weight, but equally important is the emergence of winger Lee Stempniak, 24, as an all-around player, as well as the ability of 2006 top overall draft pick Erik Johnson to make a seamless transition from patrolling the blueline for the Minnesota Gophers to doing likewise at the NHL level.
Meanwhile, the Predators lost Kariya to free agency and Steve Sullivan for at least three months after his August back surgery. They also parted ways with mainstays Kimo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, meaning second-year sensation Alexander Radulov becomes the main man on the right wing and will have ample opportunity to build on his solid 18-goal rookie campaign. The 2006 Canadian Major Junior Hockey Player of the Year, Radulov may be one of the least heralded bright young stars in the game.
No problem with advance billing in Chicago, where the Blackhawks boast two of the most highly-touted American-born forwards in a long time in Patrick Kane (first overall pick this summer) and Jonathan Toews (third overall in '06). Throw Jack Skille (seventh overall in '05) into the mix and the Hawks have young stud forwards around which to build.
While the Blackhawks have begun to reload through the draft, the Oilers have rebuilt with brass in the wake of last season's unpopular deadline trade of Ryan Smyth. GM Kevin Lowe raised eyebrows as well as the hackles of his GM brethren by signing the Ducks' 24-year-old winger Dustin Penner to a five-year, $21.25 million offer sheet. Lowe also acquired defenseman Joni Pitkanen from Philly in a trade -- one that included sending captain Jason Smith to the Flyers -- and inked free-agent defenseman Sheldon Souray to a long-term deal, giving the Oilers plenty of offensive punch from the blueline. Down the middle is where Edmonton needs the most help, and that was reflected by its drafting of blue chip prospect Sam Gagner this summer with the sixth overall pick. Youngsters Ryan O'Marra, Rob Schremp (check out his wild stickwork) and Andrew Cogliano all have a shot at stirring the attack this season.
Wouldn't it be something if, after all the offseason shouting and wrangling, it all came together for Lowe? Now, that would be a storyline -- if not one for the ages, at least a fun one for hockey fans everywhere to talk about.