- Henrik Lundqvist, 25 – You can say all you want about the importance of Jagr, Shanahan and others to the Rangers hopes. But goaltending wins Stanley Cups. Luckily for the Rangers, Lundqvist has recovered from a bit of a sophomore slump and is performing at the level he was in his rookie season.
- Ryan Hollweg, 24 – It seems only yesterday people were saying Ryan Who? But since the Chris Simon incident Hollweg has become somewhat infamous. He’s a model pest and the definition of an agitator – but those are often the unsung heroes who help teams win playoff series. (See Avery, Sean)
- Ryan Callahan, 22 – Callahan was called up from the AHL towards the season and was on board for the Rangers’ playoff push. Going almost directly from the minor league to the Stanley Cup playoffs has to be a little intimidating...it’ll be interesting to see how Ryan handles it.
- Ilya Kovalchuk, 24 – Although prone to bouts of divadom, Kovalchuk still shows flashes of brilliance that belie his #1 draft spot. The questions about his consistency and dedication will definitely come into play as he takes the ice for his very first playoff series. The Thrashers need him to play at top level if they have a chance of earning their very first playoff series win.
- Kari Lehtonen, 23 – Lehtonen has already been yanked in favor of backup goaltender Johan Hedberg after the Thrash dropped game 1, a somewhat bizarre move by seasoned playoff vet Hartley. Still, he can win games for Atlanta – if he gets another shot.
- Brendan Shanahan, 38 – His birthday was celebrated by two of the youngest players in the game at this year’s All-Star game, but at 38 Shanny is still going strong and has had yet another rebirth with the Rangers. And hey, any guy who throws down with Donald Brashear in defense of Jagr deserves a freakin’ medal, if not another Stanley Cup.
- Jaromir Jagr, 35 – That’s right, the former mullet king of Pittsburgh is getting on in years. Wearing the ‘C’ for the Broadway Blueshirts brings with it a lot of responsibility, which Jags reportedly is happy to take on. I guess it’s a good thing there’s no shootout in the playoffs to make him eat his words.
- Michael Nylander, 34 – Nylander’s puck-handling skills haven’t waned as he’s gotten older and he continues to rack up the points, registering in the top 20 in the league in assists with 57. That’s on top of the 26 goals he picked up over the season...not to mention the three points he had in Game 1.
- Scott Mellanby, 40 – Mellanby is one of those heart and soul, gritty kind of players that a young team desperately needs. He was named team captain in 2005 and continues to lead the Thrashers right into their first playoff berth. His 12 playoff appearances are impressive but his scoring touch has faded a bit with age and he may not provide the spark the Thrash need at this point.
- Keith Tkachuk, 35 – One of the more surprising trade deadline acquisitions, Tkachuk has had a rebirth after being plucked out of St. Louis obscurity. Like Mellanby, he brings 12 playoff appearances to the young squad and has proven a brilliant addition to Atlanta’s roster.
- Bobby Holik, 36 – Holik brings the wisdom of a multi-Cup winner to Atlanta and can provide the steadying influence to calm some first-time jitters...as well as the occasional goal. His offensive production has fallen off a bit in recent years but he was never a 50-goal scorer and his ability to score the well timed goal far outweighs the fact that they don’t happen that often.
Sunday, April 15, 2007