Ones to Watch

Six NHL players that excite this

die-hard fan:

PETER BONDRA: My lowest point as a Caps fan came in February 2004 when my favorite player, the lightning-fast sniper, was sent to the Ottawa Senators as part of the late-season salary dump. It was a bitter pill indeed, especially when Bondra made it clear in an emotional press conference how sad he was to leave the city in which he had spent his entire career. The Caps could have signed him during the off-season, but the team and his agent weren't able to reach a deal and he ended up with the Atlanta Thrashers. Since Atlanta also competes in the Southeast division, I'll have plenty of opportunities to catch Bondra at the MCI Center, starting on Friday.

SEAN BURKE AND JOHN GRAHAME: The last team to hoist the Stanley Cup, the Tampa Bay Lightning, got to the finals on the back of star goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. Now the "Bulin Wall" makes his home in Chicago, and the Lightning will find out if their explosive offense is enough with either Burke or Grahame in the net. Burke, a 16-year veteran, was most recently the back-up in Philly, while Grahame, Tampa's young back-up from 2003-04, has never been a starter. Whether either of them can carry Tampa deep into the playoffs is one of this year's more compelling questions. The Lightning first visit town Oct. 16.

SIDNEY CROSBY: The most anticipated rookie since Eric Lindros, Crosby, left, shows all the signs of becoming a hockey great, including that special vision for the ice shared by only the game's best playmakers. The fact that he was selected by the Penguins and will begin his career with longtime great Mario Lemieux, creates a poetic continuance -- and gives the young phenom an undeniable star lineage. The Pittsburgh Penguins visit MCI Center on Feb. 11.

ERIC LINDROS: Once thought to be the best prospect since Wayne Gretzky, big 88's career has instead been held back by injuries and fallen short of fans' high expectations. Still, when healthy, Lindros has always had the potential to be one of the sport's most explosive game-breakers. Now rested after the lockout, he finds himself playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team he says he has longed to skate for since he was first drafted. Toronto faces the Caps at home on Nov. 6.

ALEXANDER OVECHKIN: After winning the draft lottery in 2004, the Caps used their selection on the much-heralded young Russian forward. Ovechkin, left, has shown finesse and grit and has already performed well in international competition. He gives us a strong foundation on which to begin building a contending squad. Although he could be a solid contender for the Calder trophy (the award given to the year's best rookie), most feel the honor is Crosby's to lose.

-- Justin Rude