As the National Hockey League season gets under way Thursday, we look at the five top storylines involving players with Madison and University of Wisconsin ties.
Check back Thursday for five additional storylines, and be sure to read Jason Karnosky's insightful look around the league, "30 NHL team previews in 30 words or less."
1. Will Adam Burish take on bigger responsibility with Dallas?
After bouncing between the lineup and the bench during Chicago's postseason run to the Stanley Cup title, the Madison native took his ring and his feisty attitude to the Dallas Stars during the offseason. The Stars are a perfect opportunity for the former UW captain, who will be joining a club in transition. Burish should bring much-needed leadership and experience to Dallas, and will see considerably more ice time with the Stars than the 'Hawks. But will Burish get frustrated waiting on the lengthy rebuilding process in Dallas?
2. Can Jack Skille and Jake Dowell make an impact with Chicago?
Due to debilitating salary cap issues, the defending champs were forced to shed players from their roster during the offseason. The trickle-down effect of that overhaul is the opportunity for forwards like Skille to step up and make an impact with club in 2010-2011. The Madison native has all the tools to a be a second- or third-line scorer in the NHL, so you can be sure that Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville took a long look at him during the preseason. If Skille can live up the potential that made him a first-round draft pick, Chicago will have filled a void.
Dowell, a gritty forward who was a member of the Badgers' 2006 NCAA championship team alongside Skille and Burish, also has the potential to find a spot with the Hawks. Dowell's game seems well-suited to that of a checking line center, but the Eau Claire native has yet to show consistency at the NHL level. This season marks Dowell's best chance to make a statement and stick with Chicago.
3. Is this Phil Kessel's breakout year?
All signs point to "yes" for Kessel, who managed 30 goals for Toronto last season despite coming off shoulder surgery and transitioning from Boston following a trade. The Verona native is healthy heading into this season, and Toronto looks vastly improved over the squad that finished last in the NHL's Eastern Conference a year ago. After a dominant preseason performance, Kessel appears primed to achieve elite status with a 40-goal season or better.
4. Will Joe Pavelski be the next captain of the San Jose Sharks, and what's next for Dany Heatley?
Defenseman Rob Blake retired during the offseason, and it's interesting to contemplate who is capable of wearing the "C" in his stead. Pavelski (right) seems perfectly suited for the job after stepping up big-time during San Jose's lengthy playoff run. The Sharks' second-line center earned the nickname "The Big Pavelski" after scoring nine goals and 15 points during the first two rounds of the playoffs.
One darkhorse candidate for the position is former UW star Dany Heatley. He normally shies away from such a public role, and maybe avoiding that sort of scrutiny will help the power forward regain his 50-goal form.
5. Can Brian Rafalski and Nicklas Lidstrom backstop Detroit to the Stanley Cup one more time?
Through the first half of the 2009-2010 season, the veteran defensive pair of Rafalski (right) and Lidstrom appeared to be showing their age with the struggling Red Wings. But the tandem's resurgent play in the second half helped trigger Detroit's dramatic turnaround. With a solid mix of talent throughout their lineup, a healthy Red Wings squad will be one of the favorites for the Stanley Cup. However, for Detroit to win it all, the 40-year-old Lidstrom -- likely playing in his final season -- and Rafalski, who turned 37 on Sept. 28, will again have to be at the top of their games.