This series will profile the player on each team who has the ability to make a profound impact on every game in numerous ways. This is not a countdown of the best players, but instead a look at the team’s most important player, not just from a statistical standpoint, but how he brings to the table that no one else does. Here are some criteria that into the determination:
- Output- Obviously, it is necessary to at least analyze the stats of each player, but low points or defensive totals do not eliminate a player from contention.
- Leadership Ability- Is this player the emotional leader of the team? Does he lead by example?
- Hustle- We all love to see a player with limited skill beat out a superstar. Hustle is an integral part of hockey, and having a great motor has to be factored in.
- Physicality- A player who changes momentum with a big hit or strong run at the net can have a profound impact in an intense contest.
Most importantly, their play must generally dictate the flow and direction of the team. These players are critical to the success, or underperform in their downfall, but all have huge impacts in each and every contest.
Here are the Southeast Division X-Factors:
Carolina Hurricanes: C – Eric Staal
Although Eric Staal’s numbers dipped during the 2011-2012 season, the fact remains that he is the most dangerous player on Carolina’s roster. The eight-year veteran put up twenty-four goals last season, his lowest total since his rookie season with the Hurricanes. He still managed to tally an impressive seventy points, as he assisted on forty-six Carolina goals. While a slight statistical decline may be concerning for an aging veteran, Staal’s ability to change games cannot be questioned. At 6′ 4”, 205 pounds, his speed and agility are rare for a player of his size. Couple this with the fact that Staal possesses some of the best hands in the game and he is nearly impossible to leave unmarked, often drawing multiple defenders. What makes Eric an elite player is his ability to succeed in the such situations. His excellent vision and high hockey IQ enable him to create out of traps and find the open man. In terms of talent and the ability to change games, there’s no doubt Eric Staal is among the league’s best.
Eric’s leadership is also a major reason why he’s made our list as Carolina’s X-Factor. Since his breakout sophomore season, in which he put up forty-five goals and fifty-five assists and hoisted Carolina’s first and only Stanley Cup, Staal has been the cornerstone of the franchise. The Carolina captain has led by example and has served as a professional representative for one of hockey’s great, young organizations for the last half-decade.
Florida Panthers: D – Brian Campbell
Since waiving his no-trade clause to rejoin Dale Tallon in South Florida last summer, Brian Campbell has stepped into a major leadership role and essentially resurrected his career. Tallon brought in Campbell to revive the Panther’s lifeless power play, a group that consistently ranked among the league’s worst special teams for a number of years. Brian came through and executed Tallon’s blueprint, putting up a career best forty-nine assists. Campbell was undoubtedly one of the league’s best two-way defenseman last season and will continue to provide the Panthers with defense stability and power play production for the coming years.
While Brian’s talents are undoubtedly impressive, his presence as a leader is the main reason why he’s made our list. Campbell is the ultimate professional, carrying himself the way that every coach, executive, and fan wants their players to. He works hard every night and plays the game the way it should be played. Brian was the league’s Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner for the 2011-2012 season, which is awarded to the player “adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” His leadership has been an integral part of developing Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov, and the rest of the Panther’s young defensive core.
Tampa Bay Lightning: C – Steven Stamkos
There’s simply no debate here. Steven Stamkos has been the real deal since entering the NHL in 2008. The two-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner is a complete offensive juggernaut, scoring sixty goals and assisting on thirty-seven others during the 2011-2012 season. Stamkos’ unparalleled speed and hands give him the ability to change the dynamic of any game at anytime. Defenses are constantly put into a bind every time he’s on the ice. If you allow Stamkos any space, he has the range to snipe and the vision to create for his teammates. If you play him tight, he’ll simply blow right by you. He is the biggest offense threat in the game at age twenty-two, and will only continue to get better as he nears his prime.
Washington Capitals: LW – Alexander Ovechkin
Ovi put up a career low in points during the 2011-2012 campaign, amassing just sixty-five in total throughout the regular season. The craziest part about an Alexander Ovechkin down season is that it still involves thirty-eight goals! Ovi clearly wasn’t himself last year, but there’s still no disputing that he remains one of leagues biggest offensive threats.
His falling out with his coach of five years, Bruce Boudreau, was widely publicized and many hockey fans blamed Ovechkin for Boudreau’s eventual firing. Hockey writers and analysts claimed that Ovechkin’s behavior was unbecoming and unacceptable for a Captain. He was labeled as insubordinate and a prima-donna by much of the media, but Alex somehow managed to rally a struggling Capitals team and make the playoffs. The Caps went on to upset the Bruins and force a seventh game with the first seeded New York Rangers.
Although his behavior was uncharacteristic for a Captain, Ovi found a way to motivate his locker room and make an impact on the ice. His speed, agility, and deking are tools separate him from the rest of the league and make him one of the biggest wildcards in the game. He can changes the dynamic of the game with every shift, as defenses are forced to play at his pace. If Ovi is on, there’s just no easy way to stop him.
Winnipeg Jets: LW – Evander Kane
Evander Kane is, without question, one of the NHL’s most promising young stars. In his third season, and first in Winnipeg, Kane put up career highs in both goals and assists, tallying thirty and twenty-seven, respectively. The sky is the limit for Evander. His developing skill-set is as impressive as anyones in the league. Kane can skate, snipe, and create for teammates at a high level, talents that are unique for a two-way, power forward. He is primed for another big season in Winnipeg and now its only a matter of time until he blossoms into one of the game’s best forwards.