The NHL season gets fully underway this week. Let's take a look at some of the top stories and surprises heading into the earliest part of the year.
1) Anaheim Ducks - Demoted prospect Bobby Ryan to the minors. The 21-year-old was supposed to see second-line action this season, but ended up being a salary cap casualty. He will need to either tear up the AHL or wait for injuries to occur to be recalled.
2) Atlanta Thrashers - Third overall pick in the 2008 draft, Zach Bogosian has cracked the team's roster out of camp. The defenseman possesses a great shot from the point and plays with an edge.
3) Boston Bruins - Blake Wheeler has earned a spot on the Bruins with a great training camp; Boston put Peter Schaefer on waivers to make room for him. The Bruins also appear to have a healthy and dynamic Patrice Bergeron back after a concussion, which should help their offense tremendously.
4) Buffalo Sabres - Tim Connolly says he feels 100% healthy this campaign, after struggling through hip problems in 2007/08. He has appeared in only 50 total games the last two seasons, but has plenty of offensive upside.
5) Calgary Flames - Dustin Boyd had a great training camp, notching one goal and six helpers in five games. He can be sent to the minors, but has earned his spot. The Flames also placed defenders Anders Eriksson and Rhett Warrener on waivers.
6) Carolina Hurricanes - Injuries to top-six forwards Justin Williams (achilles) and Scott Walker (hand) have certainly thrown a wrench into the Canes' plans, as they will miss four to six months and at least six weeks, respectively. Thirty-one year old winger Dan LaCouture made the team on a tryout out of camp as a result of the injury woes.
7) Chicago Blackhawks - The Hawks have sent netminders Corey Crawford and Antti Niemi to the minors and appear set to open the year with Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin as their goaltenders. Khabibulin is actively talking to Russia's Kontinental Hockey League for a contract, so he may not be in Chicago much longer.
8) Colorado Avalanche - The buzz in Colorado is all about Joe Sakic's return. The Avs' captain should put up solid numbers this year, pending he stay healthy this time around.
9) Columbus Blue Jackets - The youth movement is in full effect, with Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek expected to make the team. Nikita Filatov will probably start the year in the AHL though, despite displaying some excellent offensive skills this pre-season.
10) Dallas Stars - Fabian Brunnstrom appears to have made the Stars' roster out of training camp, after the team invested so much time, effort, and money into his recruiting process last summer. James Neal will likely begin the season in the minors even though he was much more impressive. Look for Neal to be one of the first callups for Dallas in 2008/09.
11) Detroit Red Wings - Darren Helm, Ville Leine, and Darren McCarty are competing for the final forward spot on Detroit.
12) Edmonton Oilers - Edmonton will carry three goaltenders at the beginning of the 2008/09 season: Mathieu Garon, Dwayne Roloson, and top prospect Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers. Garon is the early favorite to earn the number one job, while Roloson could be the odd man out.
13) Florida Panthers - Youngsters Anthony Stewart, Michael Frolik, and Shawn Matthias are still in the hunt to earn roster spots with the Panthers this season. Stewart has performed very well at camp, offensively and physically, and Matthias and Frolik both own outstanding offensive skills.
14) Los Angeles Kings - Drew Doughty will begin the year in the Kings' lineup. The 2008 draft's second overall pick should provide offense from the back end in Los Angeles. The Kings have also agreed to terms with restricted free agent Patrick O'Sullivan, who should factor largely in their offense this campaign.
15) Minnesota Wild - The media circus that is Marian Gaborik's contract situation will only get more intense as the 2008/09 season goes on. If it does not appear that the Slovak superstar will re-sign with the Wild, and will test unrestricted free agency, a blockbuster deal could be in the cards.
16) Montreal Canadiens - Enforcer Georges Laraques sat out the entire exhibition schedule with a groin injury and is questionable for the season opener. Defenseman Francis Bouillon is projected to start the year on the sidelines with an unknown injury.
17) Nashville Predators - Patric Hornqvist is expected to open the year in Nashville on the team's top line with Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumot. The Predators will look to put the controversy of Alexander Radulov's defection to Russia behind them.
18) New Jersey Devils - Brian Rolston is back in New Jersey and is back at center, on the team's first line with Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta, after spending the last four years on the wing. Rookies Petr Vrana and Anssi Salmela will begin the season in New Jersey, but neither should see significant ice time.
19) New York Islanders - Kyle Okposo is at the head of the youth movement in Long Island this campaign. He is expected to see action this year on the team's first or second line.
20) New York Rangers - The Rangers opened the regular season in the Czech Republic with a two-game sweep over the Tampa Bay Lightning last weekend. Newcomers Markus Naslund and Wade Redden were excellent, posting two points each in the victories.
21) Ottawa Senators - Dany Heatley opened the regular season in Sweden with three goals in two games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He should be well on his way to cracking the 50-goal mark this year. Alexander Auld won his first game of the year in impressive fashion, while Martin Gerber struggled in his first game, a loss. The Senators insist there is no goaltending controversy, though, and Gerber is still their man. We will see how long that lasts.
22) Philadelphia Flyers - Ryan Parent may require surgery to repair a possible torn labrum in his shoulder, which would put him out of action for an extended period of time. 2008 draft pick, 19th overall, Luca Sbisa may crack the Flyers' lineup as a result.
23) Phoenix Coyotes - The Coyotes continue to get younger, as rookies Mikkel Boedker, Kyle Turris, and Viktor Tikhonov will all open the season in the desert. Boedker is projected to play on the first line with Olli Jokinen and Peter Mueller, while Turris will play on the second unit with captain Shane Doan and Daniel Carcillo.
24) Pittsburgh Penguins - Long-term injuries to Sergei Gonchar (shoulder) and Ryan Whitney (foot) hurt the Penguins defense corps, especially offensively. Petr Sykora is also nursing a sore groin that kept him out of Pittsburgh's first two games this season.
25) San Jose Sharks - The Sharks have placed rugged defender Kyle McLaren on waivers, while Torrey Mitchell will begin the season on the sidelines with a broken leg.
26) St. Louis Blues - Erik Johnson will miss the entire season with a torn ACL and fourth-overall 2008 draft selection, Alex Pietrangelo will make his NHL debut this season after participating in a solid training camp.
27) Tampa Bay Lightning - The offense and defense will need to improve in Tampa, as they lost back-to-back games to the Rangers by 2-1 scores, while being outshot 80-40. Goaltenders Olaf Kolzig and Mike Smith were sensational between the pipes and they should split action this campaign for the Lightning.
28) Toronto Maple Leafs - Fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft, Luke Schenn, has made the team after a superb camp. Mikhail Grabovski also had a strong camp, after being acquired from Montreal this summer, scoring five goals and three assists in eight pre-season contests.
29) Vancouver Canucks - Jannik Hansen (three goals and five points over five games) and Mason Raymond (three goals in five games) were remarkable for Vancouver at camp. Steve Bernier is also set to play on the team's first line with the Sedin twins. If these three can produce in the regular season like they did in the pre-season, the Canucks may not be as offensively challenged as we thought.
30) Washington Capitals - Despite excellent training camps, Chris Bourque and Karl Alzner will begin the 2008/09 schedule in the minors. Grinder Quintin Laing was placed on waivers.