I liked the Florida Panthers to be the surprise team of the 2008-09 season. Specifically I liked their goaltending and improved blue line.
Well, the Panthers have sure made me look good, haven't they? They are one of the hottest teams since January 1st. They're clinging to a playoff spot right now, something most pundits did not see happening by this stage of the season.
I also liked the Panthers because of their group of young forwards. I figured it was time for some of them to break out, although that has not necessarily happened, at least not in terms of offense. Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton and David Booth are having okay seasons.
Where I really missed the boat was Rostislav Olesz. I picked him to be one of ten break out candidates for the 2008-09 season. I was half right - he broke, not broke out.
I liked his size, skating, versatility and above average defensive intelligence. I thought he would get better ice time with a new coach, but he struggled early and then got hurt. He scored just 2 goals and 5 points in 23 games before a groin injury has sidelined him since early December.
How are my other break out candidates doing?
Martin Havlat, Chicago - I said all he had to do was stay healthy and he'd have a good season. So far - knock on wood Mr. Havlat and coach Quenneville - Havlat has been healthy and responded with 20 goals and 53 points in 60 games. To be honest, I was envisioning higher numbers than that, but I can say that about a lot of Hawks players.
There's a lot of talent in Chicago, and only one puck.
Andrew Ladd, Chicago - Here's another Hawk I had high hopes for. After his strong finish with the Hawks last season I had him penciled in on the 2nd line and 2nd PP unit. It hasn't worked out that way. He's been stuck on the third line, getting 4-5 minutes of ice time less than I had envisioned when I made my list.
Eric Fehr, Washington - I'm kind of proud of this one, even if it hasn't really worked out.
After missing significant time in the past couple of seasons due to a back injury, Fehr had to work his way back into the lineup this season. He's done that, thanks to some unlucky injuries to other players. He's shown signs of becoming an imposing figure, but he's got a ways to go.
Remember, he's missed some considerable development time in that past couple of year. I still think some team out there would be wise to take a chance on this guy, perhaps at the trading deadline.
Washington has too much depth up front for him to flourish in DC.
Steve Bernier, Vancouver - I got all caught up in the pre-season hype about him playing with the Sedin twins. Daniel and Henrik set him up time and time again early in the season, but Bernier was snake bitten.
Let this be a message to all you kids out there - keep your stick on the ice!
Ryan Clowe, San Jose - He's having a career year in every category, and is a big part of San Jose's success - 3rd in goals, 4th in points, and 1st in power play goals.
I can call this one a success.
Wojtek Wolski, Colorado - Great hands. Good size. But he has not matured and committed himself to doing what it takes to get to the next level.
Colorado really need him to step up this season, especially with the injuries they've been saddled with.
While I can't say I've watched Wolski too closely this season, I do not hesitate to call him a big disappointment.
Corey Perry, Anaheim - At the time there was some debate if I should have considered Perry as a break out candidate given his success last year. I was looking for Perry to take it a level higher.
Has he? While he's on pace to improve his points total by 16 points, I have to say the answer is no, not significantly.
Mikko Koivu, Minnesota - This pick looked brilliant early in the year, as Koivu challenged for the scoring lead early on. He's still on pace to better his best season by 20 points, but his offense comes a lot more quietly these days. That's mainly because Marian Gaborik's injury forces Minnesota to stick to that stifling defense-only system, not that coach Jacques Lemaire minds that probably.
Still, I really think the world of Koivu. He's near flawless defensively, amazing on faceoffs and has a laser of a shot. If he could ever get some offensive linemates and a more open game plan, we would be championing him as a bigger version Pavel Datsyuk.
Ales Hemsky, Edmonton - Ah, Ales. How you tease with that talent. But you insist of being a passing fancy instead of taking charge and leading your team to wonderland. Hemsky's game did not mature like I, and certainly the Edmonton Oilers, had hoped. He may be the most talented player in the game, but he needs to also become one of the more assertive players. If he ever does, look out.
So there we have it. How have I done, so far? I think I did okay so far with my Panthers pick. Most of my break out candidates have had solid seasons, but maybe not spectacular break out seasons like Zach Parise, Jeff Carter, and David Krejci have.
Tell me what you think of my picks!