Needs: Scoring. After holding out, Peter Bondra, who had a league-leading 34 goals last season, and Michal Pivonka signed with the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League. General manager David Poile traded Dimitri Khristich to the Los Angeles Kings for a first-round draft pick. It wasn't Khristich's slump—12 goals in 1995—that bothered Poile as much as the fact that Khristich hardly seemed to care.
The Rookie: Defenseman Brendan Witt, the 11th overall pick in 1993, ended his holdout three minutes before he would have reentered the 1995 draft pool. Witt had a terrific preseason.
Outlook: In the spring the Capitals will last only a little longer than the cherry blossoms. Sixth in the conference.
Apparently "Saku Koivu" Isn't Finnish for "Who Cares?": The arrival of Koivu, a rookie center from Finland, earned him frontpage photographs in two local newspapers. O.K., Koivu is an exciting prospect, and last spring the Canadiens missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, but has the bleu, blanc, rouge, the franchise of the Rocket, Béliveau and Lafleur, really come to this?
The Key Young Player: The small, feisty Koivu will be an NHL star eventually, but in 1995-96 the most important young forward is 6'3", 220-pound Turner Stevenson. The oversized right wing stopped using his hands exclusively for fighting and employed them for scoring during the final third of last season. The timid, bite-sized Canadiens need a big winger like Stevenson to handle power forwards like Kevin Stevens and John LeClair. Montreal was a scared 3-18-3 on the road last season.
Outlook: Pierre Turgeon, who plays with Vincent Damphousse and Mark Recchi, came from the New York Islanders at the trading deadline last spring to give the Canadiens a true No. 1 center for the first time in years. If Patrick Roy returns to form in goal and Montreal gets some production from its second line and its overly cautious defensemen, the Canadiens make the playoffs. Count on it. Seventh in the conference.
The Slugger: The acquisition of Brendan Shanahan from the St. Louis Blues finally gives the drifting Whalers a focal point. "We didn't get a home run hitter," coach Paul Holmgren crowed. "We got a grand-slam hitter." Shanahan can score 50 goals and provide the leadership Hartford hasn't had since Ron Francis was traded in 1991. "I hadn't played for this team, but I was angry at how people were so disrespectful to the Whalers," Shanahan says. "That's a great incentive to stick it in their faces."
The Goalie: Because he has been stuck on some bad teams, Sean Burke often is overlooked in discussions of the league's top netminders. He had near-MVP credentials last season for a nonplayoff team.