Every year before the season starts, we take a look at the players expected to make the roster and come up with a ranking of who will impact the season the most (#1) to who will have the least impact (#25). With a short time to gear up for the season due to that pesky lockout business, we'll be consolidating these down into three parts. We've covered players 25-16 and players 15-6 on the impact rankings. Today we're looking at the top five players that will have the most impact on the team this season.
#5. Loui Eriksson
2011-2012: Dallas Stars (NHL): 26g, 45a, 71p, 12 PIMs, +18
Why he's here: Eriksson is annually the most underrated player in the entire league, and has been one of the most consistent scoring forces on the Dallas Stars for the last several seasons. His consistency is one thing that Stars fans never question they will get from him, and for the Stars to make the jump to a playoff team he will need to continue to score on the consistent pace he usually does as well as continue to play his strong defensive game that he's become widely known to exhibit.
#4. Jaromir Jagr
2011-2012: Philadelphia Flyers (NHL): 19g, 35a, 54p, 30 PIMs, +5
Why he's here: Jagr was the one free agency acquisition that many didn't see coming, as most figured he would re-sign with the Philadelphia Flyers. Instead, he signed in Dallas. He was brought in for more than his scoring ability -- Jagr offers many intangibles off the ice and in the locker room for a team that is looking to make the transition to their younger players. His leadership, work ethic and being a role model/mentor to younger players is what ranks him so highly on our list (oh, and that whole scoring thing too...) He left an indelible mark on the Flyers, changing Claude Giroux into a scoring machine and showing him how to succeed at a high level in the NHL. Imagine what he can do with some time next to Jamie Benn. The affect Jagr will have on players like Benn has the potential to have a lasting impact on this franchise for seasons to come.
#3. Jamie Benn
2011-2012: Dallas Stars (NHL): 26g, 37a, 63p, 55 PIMs, +15
Why he's here: Benn is expected to anchor the Dallas Stars' top line as a center. In just his second season at the position, he will be expected to produce points and help lead the team into the playoffs this season. The reason he is ranked so high, however, is what impact he will have on the team now that he has some scoring help lined up around him -- the Stars added depth with acquisitions like Ray Whitney, Derek Roy and Jaromir Jagr. Without having to put the entire team on his shoulders and seemingly carry the full scoring load of the team, can Benn keep up the consistency in play and not fade at the end of the season like Stars fans have seen recently?
#2. Derek Roy
2011-2012: Buffalo Sabres (NHL): 17g, 27a, 44p, 54 PIMs, -7
Why he's here: With the trade of Mike Ribeiro to Washington, Roy will need to step up and provide at least a good portion of the points the Stars lost in Ribeiro's production. As a guy that was the return in a trade that sent away a big fan favorite in Steve Ott, the expectations for Roy to produce on the ice might not be higher for any other player on the team. The Stars seem to be committed to Roy as part of the long term solution, but he will need to prove his worth for the next contract he's looking for from the Stars.
#1. Kari Lehtonen
2011-2012: Dallas Stars (NHL): 32-22-4, 2.33 GAA, .922 SV%
Why he's here: In a 48 game sprint to the finish, there is not a singular position that is more important than in between the pipes. Lehtonen is a goaltender that does well with a heavy workload -- he played in 59 games last season -- but the Stars will need to be conscious of the way they use Lehtonen in such a shortened season where the teams are playing a higher number of games on average than in the regular season. With Lehtonen's history of groin injuries, he must stay healthy to give the Stars a chance at the postseason. However, he shouldn't be overused either as some coaches are wont to do when the stakes are so high and points are that much more meaningful every game. In a season where a losing streak of multiple games can put you in the hole very quickly, the Stars will need Lehtonen to be their best player as he has been for them the last few seasons to give themselves a chance to steal points on nights where they aren't playing at their top form (especially in these early games of the season.)
What does your top five impactful player ranking look like?