L: Samsonov, Tanguay, Oliwa, Brashear, Picard-P1
Samsonov needs to stay healthy and prove he is a ppg winger to earn his keep as franchise player after two disappointing years in a row. Tanguay could well supplant Samsonov as the team’s top portsider, but his concussion history is worrisome. Oliwa and Brashear will round out the wing with lots of fisticuffs and the occasional goal. Neither is a threat to score 20 goals though. Picard has offensive flash, but will need another year to round out his game in the minors.
C: Ribeiro, Handzus, Bonk, Arnason, Zigomanis-P1
Ribeiro may well be a ppg centre with new look in the NHL, but he’s still lacks blazing speed, is undersized, and I suspect will under-point as a top line pivot. Handzus is line change away from being Joel Otto. He should be on a bench. Bonk has demonstrated sound offensive instincts and a solid wrist shot, but is slow and could be doomed to third line status for his team, essentially ending the dream of him living up to his high draft status. Arnason is an energy line checker who is unlikely to get free reign in Chicago. He could surprise, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Zigomanis lacks both foot-speed and hockey sense and will be a career AHL player.
R: Sullivan, Ekman, McEachearn, Hunter, Hemsky-P3
Sullivan will have to over-perform as the top line winger to warrant the role. He’s capable of ppg stats, but usually only in bursts. Ekman is a 4th liner miscast in his role for the team, he belongs on the Waiver Wire. McEachearn has solid stats when healthy, but right now he isn’t. Hunter could emerge as the teams 2nd line gunner, but his all-round game doesn’t lend itself to high scoring totals. Still he is physical and has a strong shot, so he could surprise. Hemsky is running out of time in his quest to reach stardom. This may be his last kick at the cat, but if he gets his act together there is lots of room on this wing to promote him.
D: Gonchar, Tarnstrom, Poti, Rafalski, Bergeron, Klee, Hutchinson, Rathje, Barker-P1, Tyutin-P1, Purinton-P1
Gonchar is still an elite pp quarterback and will get his game on track to be an All-star again. Tarnstrom is an offensive specialist who may be made redundant by Gonchar’s presence, still it’s a solid 1-2 punch. Poti and Rafalski round out the top 4, and give the Dogs their strongest position. Bergeron is starting to develop along the lines of small rearguards like Rafalski and Liles, he could hit for 40 if the planets move into position. The rest are either WD cuts, or way over age. Barker looks like Rob Blake, but will need another year to round out his considerable game. Tyutin also looks like a solid performer for the long haul, and is already drawing heavy minutes for the Rangers in all situations. Purinton is a one dimensional goon more likely to be suspended then dressable.
G: Belfour, Kolzig, Biron-P1, Fleury-P2
Belfour is pushing 40, which is never a good sign for goaltenders, but in his case may not be an issue. What is an issue is whether his creaky back will keep him in the games till the end of the year. If so, he’ll be a solid if unspectacular starter. Kolzig will get bombed too many games to be worth the trouble of starting. He could well lose as many points as he gets. Biron is still waiting to be anointed as the Sabres full-time starter, and the wait for him to seize the role is getting desperate. Fleury has perplexed mgt thoroughly, and it remains to be seen if he’ll feature in their long run plans at all now that Biron is on board.