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Scott Pianowski

Red-Light District: Opening night scouting notebook

Scott Pianowski
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Forget what happened last weekend, tonight is the real "opening night" for the NHL. Here's a game companion as you sort through the festivities, a Player to Watch for every team in action. Get your clipboards out and let's take some notes:

Jiri Hudler, W, Red Wings: He's been given a spot with the big kids, riding shotgun on the Henrik Zetterberg-Johan Franzen line, while Mikael Samuelsson drops to third-line duty. Will Hudler do enough to keep this company? Top six forwards on high-scoring teams are almost always fantasy-worthy plays (at least in medium and deeper groups), but we'll lose Hudler's number quickly if he gets a demotion.

Nik Antropov, C, Maple Leafs: The late-blooming winger stayed reasonably healthy last year and finally put up a scoring season commensurate with his first-round pick status (26-30-56). Alas, Mats Sundin was pushing and helping Antropov all through that career year; can Antropov do it on his own this time around?

Michael Ryder, RW, Bruins: After 60 goals in two solid years, Ryder spent last winter in Guy Carbonneau's doghouse and never got untracked. It's a perfect time for a chance-of-scenery, and the Bruins are giving him a good chance to succeed on the Marc Savard line.

Ryan Smyth, RW, Avalanche: This guy should put up 30 goals and 70 points every year, but between injuries and slumps he's managed to do it . . . once. And still, I look at the skill of the player and the supporting cast around him and I think, this could be fun for a while. Couldn't it? Maybe I'm just expecting too much; take the projection down to 28-32-60 and we can all be happy. Smyth scored 21 points in 26 home dates last year, against just 16 points in 29 road games.

Todd Bertuzzi, LW, Flames: I don't expect much from him, Matt Romig doesn't expect much, but anyone skating with Jarome Iginla and Daymond Langkow has my attention.

Steve Bernier, RW, Canucks: Catch him on the right night and he looks like the next big thing at the power-forward spot. Catch Bernier on the wrong night and you'll bang your head against the wall, muttering about wasted potential. A player this talented shouldn't be on his third organization at age 23, but the Canucks are giving him every chance to make good, putting him on a line with the Sedin Twins.

Teemu Selanne, RW, Ducks: I don't have a snappy, fresh angle on Teddy Flash, I'm just amazed that he's managed to keep his wheels pretty much intact into his late 30s. He's quietly collected 100 goals over his last 188 games, ridiculous numbers in today's game. Make the Ducks part of your Sunday routine this year; much to the chagrin of the players in my head-to-head league, Anaheim plays less on Saturday than any other NHL club.

Jonathan Cheechoo, LW, Sharks: The dream season of 2005-06 is never coming back, but Cheechoo is a lot better than last year's profile suggests. I fully expect another 30 goals from Joe Thornton's winger, and if Cheechoo can get his confidence in gear quickly, 40 isn't out of the question.

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