Crosby leads list of NHL players to watch this season


By Larry Lage - AP Hockey Writer



FILE - In this March 30, 2014, file photo, Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) works the puck in the corner against Chicago Blackhawks' Peter Regin (12) in the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh. Crosby is one of the top players to watch in the 2016-17 season. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)


FILE - In this April 21, 2016, file photo, St. Louis Blues' Jay Bouwmeester, left, and Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane chase the puck during the first period in Game 5 of an NHL hockey first-round Stanley Cup playoff series in St. Louis. Kane is one of the top players to watch in the 2016-17 season. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)


FILE - In this Oct. 1, 2016, file photo, Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban (76) clears the puck away from Tampa Bay Lightning center Cedric Paquette (13) during the third period of an NHL hockey preseason game in Nashville, Tenn. Subban is one of the top players to watch in the 2016-17 season. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)


Sidney Crosby, coming off Stanley Cup and World Cup of Hockey titles, has to top any list of NHL players to watch this season.

The two-time Stanley Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist might be in his prime.

Sid the Kid isn’t young anymore, but at 29 years old, his game seems to be getting better in some ways.

The Pittsburgh Penguins superstar may never approach the 36-goal, 120-point season he had a decade ago when he won his first of two Hart Trophies as NHL MVP. Crosby can, though, strike a balance between being patient with the puck and aggressive with or without it when needed.

“He just wins,” said Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who has coached Crosby at the Olympics and World Cup. “Sid is unbelievable.”

Here’s a look at some other players to watch in the talent-rich league when the season starts this week:

ALEX OVECHKIN: As a scorer, the 31-year-old Washington Capitals winger isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Ovechkin had 50 goals last season, reaching the milestone for the third straight year. He won his fourth straight and league-record sixth overall Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer. No one else has won it more than twice since the 1998-99 season when the trophy was first awarded.

PATRICK KANE: The Chicago Blackhawks winger won his first Hart Trophy by easily surpassing his previous career highs with 46 goals and 106 points. Kane couldn’t celebrate the accomplishment too much because the Blackhawks were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round after hoisting the Cup in 2015 for the third time in six years. Kane and Co. will be fired up to make another run.

CONNOR MCDAVID: If the 19-year-old captain can stay healthy, no one will be surprised if he has a 100-point season with the Edmonton Oilers. McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick last year, had 48 points in 45 games during his injury-shortened rookie season. The smooth-skating center looked like one of the game’s greats at the World Cup.

AUSTON MATTHEWS: The Maple Leafs have a reason for hope, for a change, because of the 6-foot-3, 216-pound center they drafted No. 1 overall. Matthews appeared as if he belonged on the ice with the best hockey players on the planet last month at the World Cup, perhaps giving him a boost of confidence as an NHL rookie.

P.K. SUBBAN: Nashville acquired a motivated player in a blockbuster trade last summer, dealing captain and 2013 Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Shea Webber to Montreal for Subban. He scored a career-low six goals last season for the Canadiens and will get every opportunity to bounce back with the Predators.

CAREY PRICE: Montreal’s franchise and fans likely breathed a sigh of relief during the World Cup when it was clear Price is healthy and still one of the game’s best goaltenders after missing more than 10 months with a knee injury. With Price and Weber, the Canadiens will be tough to score against.

BRENT BURNS: The reigning Western Conference-champion San Jose Sharks may want to give the gap-tooth, big-bearded defenseman a deal before he becomes a free agent next summer. If they don’t, Burns may take his on- and off-the-ice act to a team that will pay him perhaps $7 to $8 million a year with a long-term contract.

BEN BISHOP: The Tampa Bay Lightning might move Bishop, who is entering the last season of his contract, before the trading deadline this season because they won’t want to lose him to Las Vegas in the expansion draft next summer. Tampa Bay appeared to make a plan for the future in net last summer when it signed 22-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy to a three-year extension.

___

Follow Larry Lage at http://www.twitter.com/larrylage and follow his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/larry-lage

FILE – In this March 30, 2014, file photo, Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby (87) works the puck in the corner against Chicago Blackhawks’ Peter Regin (12) in the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh. Crosby is one of the top players to watch in the 2016-17 season. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
http://wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/web1_112908501-dd5d573beac5477bb9f77e024ab2f81d.jpgFILE – In this March 30, 2014, file photo, Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby (87) works the puck in the corner against Chicago Blackhawks’ Peter Regin (12) in the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh. Crosby is one of the top players to watch in the 2016-17 season. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

FILE – In this April 21, 2016, file photo, St. Louis Blues’ Jay Bouwmeester, left, and Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane chase the puck during the first period in Game 5 of an NHL hockey first-round Stanley Cup playoff series in St. Louis. Kane is one of the top players to watch in the 2016-17 season. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
http://wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/web1_112908501-d568dd1b9a2949868842e734d54a2fad.jpgFILE – In this April 21, 2016, file photo, St. Louis Blues’ Jay Bouwmeester, left, and Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane chase the puck during the first period in Game 5 of an NHL hockey first-round Stanley Cup playoff series in St. Louis. Kane is one of the top players to watch in the 2016-17 season. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

FILE – In this Oct. 1, 2016, file photo, Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban (76) clears the puck away from Tampa Bay Lightning center Cedric Paquette (13) during the third period of an NHL hockey preseason game in Nashville, Tenn. Subban is one of the top players to watch in the 2016-17 season. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
http://wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/web1_112908501-53813d6ab71540ea8c90e8101afa4cd8.jpgFILE – In this Oct. 1, 2016, file photo, Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban (76) clears the puck away from Tampa Bay Lightning center Cedric Paquette (13) during the third period of an NHL hockey preseason game in Nashville, Tenn. Subban is one of the top players to watch in the 2016-17 season. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

By Larry Lage

AP Hockey Writer

comments powered by Disqus