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September 13, 2010
Summer Skate
Southeast Division

by Richard Pollock

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Using the Puck Prospectus projection system, VUKOTA, PP and ESPN team up to take a look at one breakout and one declining candidate per team for the 2010-2011 season. This week we begin with the Southeast division.

(Note: For a definition of GVT, Goals Versus Threshold, click here)

Summer Skate: Washington Capitals

Last season was a disappointment for Capitals fans as the team bowed out to the Montreal Canadiens in a seven-game series after holding a supposedly insurmountable 3-1 series lead. With last season behind them, the Capitals are looking to flat-out dominate the opposition on the scoreboard once again. The question, however, will be whether the team can prevent goals -- particularly in the playoffs. This year will be an important one for Alex Ovechkin & Co., but they're fortunate to have the added help of a young blueliner on the rise.

Trending Up: D John Carlson

Last Season: + 2.0 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 3.1 GVT

WCarlson made a name for himself in the 2010 world junior hockey championship by scoring the overtime winner in Saskatchewan to capture the tournament gold medal for the U.S. The American rear guard is a terrific skater with strong hockey sense and puck skills. Carlson did not play much in the NHL last season but did make a significant contribution for the Capitals in the playoffs. With as much talent as he has, and with some questions on the Capitals' blue line, do not be surprised if Carlson exceeds VUKOTA's expectations for him in 2010-11 -- he has the talent to do so.

Trending Down: RW Mike Knuble

Last Season: + 12.7 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 6.6 GVT

Knuble certainly exceeded VUKOTA projections last season, posting 29 goals and 53 points and very efficient scoring numbers at even strength. The veteran winger is 38 years old, and although playing in a Washington system that emphasizes offense should help his totals, VUKOTA still projects the winger to finish with 19 goals and 42 points in 2010-11. If Knuble continues to work hard along the boards and goes to the net as he usually does, the Capitals probably will be satisfied with those totals.

For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Washington Capitals, click here.

Summer Skate: Florida Panthers

The days of playoffs in South Florida are long gone. Luckily, the 'Cats now have new ownership and a GM, in Dale Tallon, who constructed the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. On paper this year's squad is nothing to write home about; however, there is talent on the roster under the age of 25 and the system has some promising players expected to make a big impact within the next year or two. The light may finally be shining at the end of the tunnel for this long-time struggling franchise.

Trending Up: LW David Booth

Last Season: + 1.9 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 5.6 GVT

After an injury-riddled 2009-10, David Booth will be looking to pick up where he left off a season earlier. The American winger is projected to have his GVT almost triple next season which is due in part to the fact that he only played 28 games last season. VUKOTA projects the speedy Booth to play just below 50 games next season, so if he manages to somehow stay healthy for the entire season, Booth could smash his GVT projection. Make no mistake; he has the talent necessary to do so.

Trending Down: G Tomas Vokoun

Last Season: + 26.8 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 15.1 GVT

With a 15.1 GVT projection goalie Tomas Vokoun is predicted to lead the entire Panthers team in GVT. Alas, he also has a predicted GVT drop of over 10 points, and that is certainly significant. This drop is somewhat a product of goaltending statistics fluctuating year-to-year and also a product of the Panthers' lackluster lineup. Vokoun may not post the tremendous numbers he did last year, but he is still a top NHL netminder -- one who will probably finish the upcoming season with a team other than the Panthers.

For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Florida Panthers, click here.

Summer Skate: Atlanta Thrashers

Instead of worrying about whether their superstar players will stick around, the Thrashers have changed their organizational focus in the post-Kovalchuk era -- and handed the keys to veteran hockey executive Rick Dudley. Dudley has done a good job of accumulating some nice talent this offseason, with the acquisitions of Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Chris Mason. This team seems to finally be headed in the right direction, but patience will be necessary moving forward.

Trending Up: LW Andrew Ladd

Last Season: + 5.4 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 6.5 GVT

Last season, Ladd played limited time for the Chicago Blackhawks (13:41 per game). The bigger problem? He played only 36 seconds per game on the power play. In Atlanta, expect Ladd to log more minutes at even strength and more time on the power play. The two-time Cup champion is willing to go to the net and has good hands. Ladd will be counted on to change the dressing room atmosphere and Dudley is expecting improved offensive totals with his increased on-ice and off-ice responsibility.

Trending Down: D Tobias Enstrom

Last Season: + 8.9 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 7.2 GVT

It is tough to pick out a player trending down in Atlanta; two of the three players on the roster that exceeded a GVT of 10 last season are no longer with the franchise (Ilya Kovalchuk and Johan Hedberg). Enstrom is projected to see his defensive GVT actually improve; the hit to his overall value is projected to be in his offensive GVT. Overall, Enstrom is still projected to be the team's top defender and he has the talent to fill that spot -- until Zach Bogosian takes over that title for the next decade.

For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Atlanta Thrashers, click here.

Summer Skate: Tampa Bay Lightning

Few organizations had better summers than the Lightning. Hiring Steve Yzerman and Guy Boucher and acquiring the likes of Simon Gagne, Pavel Kubina and Dominic Moore should do absolute wonders for a roster that possessed a lot of talent but lacked depth at the end of the 2009-10 campaign. With the theme in this division being new leadership, many expect Yzerman to rise to the top of the GM chain, not only in the Southeast Division but throughout the entire NHL. So far he has proved those beliefs to be well-founded and that should instill loads of confidence in the Tampa fanbase.

Trending Up: C Vincent Lecavalier

Last Season: + 9.2 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 10.9 GVT

After a down year with 70 points in 82 games, VUKOTA projects a 1.7 jump in GVT for the former No. 1 draft pick. Lecavalier's experiment with Alex Tanguay did not work out, but with the arrival of Gagne -- a winger who should complement Lecavalier's talents -- a new offensive-minded coach and a lack of distractions off the ice, the former Stanley Cup champion could be in for a nice rebound season.

Trending Down: RW Martin St. Louis

Last Season: + 16.4 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 12.3 GVT

The Bolts collectively had an awful season in 2009-10, so it is difficult to find a player that is actually projected to play worse in the coming campaign. That led us to St. Louis, who is actually projected to have the second-highest GVT on the team, yet that projection sees the numbers drop over four GVT points for 2010-11. VUKOTA projects Steven Stamkos to score fewer goals than he did last season and probably not coincidentally it also projects St. Louis' assists total to take a hit. Still with a projection of over a point-per-game at age 35, can you really go wrong with St. Louis?

For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, click here.

Summer Skate: Carolina Hurricanes

It may not seem like only two seasons ago that this team was competing with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the right to qualify for the 2009 Stanley Cup finals, but that is indeed the case. The Hurricanes have decided to rebuild their club, transforming from an expensive veteran unit to a cheaper, young blend of players. Unlike most rebuilding teams, the Canes won't be tasked with finding a franchise center and netminder since they have Eric Staal and Cam Ward to build around. Unfortunately for fans in North Carolina, hockey is a team game and this team just does not have the depth to compete with the big boys in the Eastern Conference in 2010-11.

Trending Up: C Eric Staal

Last Season: + 13.4 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 14.5 GVT

The Hurricanes do not exactly have a load of players trending up, so if only a few players are going to fit the bill it might as well include the team's best skater. Eric Staal has proven himself to be a consistent offensive force averaging just under a point per game over the past three seasons. Not surprisingly, VUKOTA projects Staal to finish next season with 75 points in 76 games, so consistency is certainly expected of the Thunder Bay native. Unfortunately for Staal, the lack of veteran help around him may make this a long, long season in Raleigh.

Trending Down: LW Jussi Jokinen

Last Season: + 14.3 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 8.3 GVT

Last season was a breakout one for the Finnish winger as he tallied 65 points, 10 more than his previous career high. Unfortunately for Jokinen, VUKOTA projects his goal total to drop down to 21 next season, which is due in part to his exceedingly high shooting percentage in 2009-10. His shootout value is also slated to drop from an impressive team high of 0.9 to 0.1. Even so, VUKOTA still projects Jokinen to finish with the third-highest GVT on the Canes. On one hand that speaks to Jokinen's abilities. On the other hand it speaks to Carolina's lack of overall depth up front. That lack of depth, though, works to Jokinen's advantage, as he won't lack for opportunity or ice time.

For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Carolina Hurricanes, click here.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Richard Pollock is Editor for the hockey website Illegal Curve.

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