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Three players to keep an eye on as the league heads toward its second season


Any concern that a defensive-minded coach like Barry Trotz would have a deleterious effect on Ovechkin's scoring touch evaporated last month when the 29-year-old Capitals winger went on a 12 goals in 13 games scorched-ice tear. In the process he vaulted to the top of the league scoring race, with 31 goals. Almost as important, he has improved his plus-minus rating from an abysmal -35 last year to +11. With Washington solidly in playoff position, Ovechkin's next challenge will be to lead the Capitals deep into the postseason, something he has yet to do in his nine previous NHL seasons.


It's not a happy time to cheer or play for the Maple Leafs. Disgusted fans are tossing jerseys onto the ice at Air Canada Centre, and players spurned an end-of-game stick salute in November. With the team in a free fall (Toronto is 3-16-1 since Dec. 18), Kessel has borne the majority of the blame, especially after coach Randy Carlyle was dismissed last month. Reports have suggested that the irascible winger is uncoachable, and columnists have recently endorsed the idea of trading him despite the fact that Kessel—who has led the team in scoring every season since he came to town in a trade with the Bruins in September 2009—is the team's best player.


The 18-year-old center from Ontario won't play an NHL game until next October, but as the most highly touted prospect since Sidney Crosby, McDavid will be the focus of intense scrutiny in the lead-up to the NHL draft in June. With 72 points in just 28 games this season for the OHL's Erie Otters, the prohibitive favorite to go No. 1 represents a gleaming consolation prize for one of the league's bottom-dwelling teams, probably the Oilers or the Sabres.