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The 10 most fascinating NHL players in 2014-15

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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Some storylines are more compelling than others. I know this because I read to a 4-year-old before bedtime, and the plotting in “The Octonauts Meet The Frown Fish” is far denser than that of anything involving the “Bubble Guppies.” This is, like, a fact.

The same goes for NHL players. Yes, we’ll all be fascinated by the journeys of megastars like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, and the continued ascension of ones like Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall. But there are other players that offer a little more intrigue, at least for me, due to new locations or expectations.

Here are the 10 most fascinating players in the NHL heading into next season. Please add your own in the comments – who are you most looking to see in 2014-15? (And apologies to NHL defensemen; it’s not that I think you’re boring, it’s that I think you’re not as fascinating as these next 10 blokes. I'm sure you're interesting in your own way. Cheer up, we're all snowflakes.)

1. Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens

This is Year Three for the Canadiens forward, and Arpon Basu explains what that means:

Overall, the 20 forwards who made the jump between 2005-06 and 2011-12 averaged 0.56 points per game in their first season, 0.65 per game in their second season and 0.74 per game in their third season. Galchenyuk's averages were 0.56 in his rookie year and 0.48 last season as he struggled with injuries and finding consistency, with three five-game pointless streaks sprinkled in among his 65 regular-season games played.

Ah, but it’s Year Three! The breakout year! OK, maybe we’d be more confident in this if there was room for Galchenyuk to play his natural position at center on this crowded roster … but provided he’s healthy, he’s going to be something special for Montreal this season.

2. Dany Heatley, Anaheim Ducks 

Look, we all assume that we’re walking an empty husk of what Dany Heatley used to be. Signing him is the hockey equivalent of Ed Wood working with Bela Lugosi: You’re paying for name recognition, nostalgia and the everlasting hope some of that previous virtuoso lies dormant inside of their decaying exterior.

Heatley signed a 1-year, $1-million contract with the Anaheim Ducks.  If he flops, no harm, no foul … they’ll just part ways, and Heatley can get on with his career in the KHL and/or signing things at memorabilia shows.

But what if he excels? What if can crack 20 goals, or threaten 30, with help from his former Team Canada teammates? Well, he’d probably get more than the 14:49 time on ice he got in Minnesota last season.

3. Jarome Iginla, Colorado Avalanche

Well, duh…

An expected Hall of Famer, who helped turn the Boston Bruins’ first line into one of the NHL’s best while scoring 30 goals, heads to a team bursting at the seams with young offensive talent but needing a veteran sage in the dressing room.

That said: As many people who think the Avalanche are going to regress next season, just as many think Iginla’s going to look like he’s skating in cement boots trying to keep up with Duchene and MacKinnon.

4. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals

The sky’s the limit for him offensively, although they used to say the same thing about Alex Semin. He’s 22 years old, and showed some flashes of brilliance in limited time with the Capitals last season. I’d rather seem him remain on the wing than get gobbled up as a center, but we’ll see where Barry Trotz’s head is at on that score.

Speaking of Trotz and heads: One does wonder how a free-spirited Russian is going to work with the authoritarian new coach. And once we figure out how Ovechkin gets along with Trotz, we’ll ask the same thing about Kuznetsov (/rimshot)...

5. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers

I’m of the mind that any team with Roberto Luongo is a contending team. Especially in the East, where even teams that are tanking for McDavid are going to be in playoff contention come April.

Which is to say that the Panthers have a shot at a postseason berth if the young players on their roster and the offensive juggernaut that is Shawn Thornton are able to give Lou goal support; and if the defense in front of him isn’t hanging him out like the defense used to during his first stint with the team. Which it should, as it has a lack of Darren Van Impe, unlike his first journey with the Panthers. 

If nothing else, we’re hopeful that Luongo can be counted on for some self-deprecation as a Panther, something that franchise sorely lacks, actually.

6. James Neal, Nashville Predators 

This could easily be Mike Ribeiro, who was run out of Arizona faster than you can “Derrick Anderson.” But Ribeiro is in Nashville for two reasons: Because they’re paying him, and James Neal.

Neal is an elite goal-scorer, but established those credentials while playing with elite offensive talent with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He never broke 30 goals or a 0.50 goals-per-game average in three seasons with the Dallas Stars before that.

To this day, the Penguins’ motivation in getting rid of him is shady. What’s clear, however, is that the Predators are going to look to him to be their top sniper.

Can he be one, independent of Evgeni Malkin?

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 (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

7. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

When the dust settles on this odd social experiment that Todd McLellan and Doug Wilson are conducting with the Sharks, one assumes San Jose will be “his team.”

Finding out what the hell that means will be the interesting part.

More ice time? Bigger responsibilities? The captaincy? The best punch lines in the Sharks’ holiday video?

What exactly changes for him, besides a heaping plate of nothing until Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau aren’t there anymore?

8. Brad Richards, Chicago Blackhawks

He’s become a liability in the postseason, but as a regular-season player Richards has never dipped below 0.62 points per game, which was his career-low last season with the New York Rangers.

Like Heatley, this is a no-risk gamble. Richards is making $2 million for one year. But he’s going to get a chance to be their second-line center, which means he’s going to have a chance to play with someone like Patrick Kane.

Which means I might have to see where this guy goes in my fantasy draft.

9. Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes

He’s already been put on notice by new coach Bill Peters after coming off his worst offensive season.

Watching how Staal reacts to that will be fascinating enough, but so is seeing how the franchise reacts to Staal. Talk continues that he’s been shopped, with two more years at $8.25 million against the cap. Thing is, this season and next see Staal due $18.75 million in base salary. That’s a lot of scratch for most teams.

If only there was some franchise, perhaps co-owned by two major media companies, that needed a No. 1 center and had a seemingly bottomless pit of revenue from which to draw ...

10. Paul Stastny, St. Louis Blues

Not only is he the No. 1 center they needed; not only was he the free-agent prize they landed; not only is he coming off his best points per game season (0.85) since 2010 – he’s also the hometown hero, coming back to visit awe-struck high-school players and try to help the Blues secure their first Stanley Cup.

Maybe all of this elevates him to greater heights in his career.

Or maybe he’ll be secretly pining for the relative pressures, and personnel, of the Avalanche before too long. Because the Blues are a win-now team, and this is a greater load than he's ever shouldered. 

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