Here are five more players to keep an eye on for next season…
Andrej Sekera – Buffalo. Sekera has quietly emerged as the Sabres best defenseman this season (although if you watch Buffalo play at times that is not saying much). He is a fantastic skater, a capable puck-mover, and a smart, positional defenseman. He plays a similar game to Kimmo Timonen (less polished and less physical, though). Sekera is on pace for over 20 points, a respectable total for a defenseman that does not see a lot of power play time (only 1:45 a game, good for fourth among Buffalo defensemen). Look for a 30-40 point breakout season for Sekera, as he is given more responsibility (and in turn power play time) next season for the Sabres. Buffalo's defense has been suspect all season, so expect some changes in the off-season. The only two defensemen safe of any movement are Sekera and captain Craig Rivet.
Max Pacioretty – Montreal. It is no secret in the hockey world that the Habs have a slew if important free agents this off-season. Assuming they bring back captain Koivu and Mike Komisarek, it is very possible that both Alex Tanguay, Alex Kovalev, and Robert Lang all move on from Montreal. Pacioretty is going to get a huge opportunity at camp to earn a full time top-six role, something he is probably ready for right now. He only played one year at the University of Michigan before turning pro, where he did not even complete a full season for Hamilton before getting the call to Montreal. For a big player, he has incredibly soft hands and good offensive instincts. Look for Pacioretty to be a 45-50 point player next year for Montreal. I would have him higher in other situations, but it seems Montreal consistently fails to have any high scoring stars (Kovalev's exploits of 2007-2008 notwithstanding).
Justin Williams – Los Angeles. Many wondered why the Kings gave up prized youngster Patrick O'Sullivan (and a draft pick) for the oft-injured Williams. Once Williams gets healthy, those people will see why GM Dean Lombardi made the move. O'Sullivan has tremendous talent but struggled to find consistency and an identifiable role within the Kings lineup. Williams brings experience, a very reasonable contract ($3.5 per season through 2010-2011), and blazing speed to the wing in Los Angeles. Before the recent injury struggles he posted back-to-back 30+ goal seasons as a Hurricane, and will do the same with Los Angeles next season. Look for him to earn a spot with Anze Kopitar on the top unit. Williams is also an accomplished penalty killer, so keep him in mind when drafting for that category.