Commentary

Hottest players back from Europe

Updated: January 9, 2013, 2:40 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Malkin
1. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

The defending Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner clearly didn't suffer a drop-off in his production playing in the Kontinental Hockey League, as he has been lighting it up with Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Malkin was second in league scoring with 65 points in 37 games, which has to make Sidney Crosby, Dan Bylsma and James Neal pretty excited to get things going back at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

Gonchar
2. Sergei Gonchar, Ottawa Senators

Gonchar -- named by Malkin during his Hart Trophy acceptance speech at the NHL awards in Las Vegas in June as being a significant factor in his development -- played alongside Malkin this fall in the KHL and was third among all KHL defensemen with 29 points in 37 games. With Jared Cowen out for most, if not all, of this season following hip surgery, the Senators will be looking for the veteran defenseman to pick up more of the load for the young Sens as they hope to prove last year's playoff berth was not a fluke.

Varlamov
3. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche

Varlamov started to prove last season that he can be the durable, consistent No. 1 goaltender his skill set suggests he should be. Although he and the Avs fell short of the playoffs, his play in the KHL -- where his .946 save percentage was best among all netminders -- suggests he should be ready to get off to the fast start that will be so important to securing a postseason berth for the evolving Avs.

Tavares
4. John Tavares, New York Islanders

A shortened season will act as a leveling device, which means teams that are still maturing, like the New York Islanders, will have an improved shot at a playoff berth. So it must be reassuring to GM Garth Snow that Tavares was tearing it up for Bern, the second-ranked team in the Swiss Elite League, with 42 points in 28 games.

Brunner
5. Damien Brunner, Detroit Red Wings

One of the most intriguing players to come out of the lockout is this unheralded free agent signed by the Wings. Brunner developed significant chemistry with new Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg playing for Zug of the Swiss Elite League and had 57 points in 33 games, outpacing even Zetterberg's 32 points in 23 games.

Seguin
6. Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins

Seguin enjoyed his Swiss vacation, piling up an impressive 25 goals in 29 games with HC Biel. With the Bruins looking to regain their Stanley Cup composure after a first-round exit in the playoffs last spring, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft will be asked to shoulder a bigger offensive load and looks ready to step comfortably into that role.

Hedman
7. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning

Slowly but surely the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft is emerging as a solid top-four NHL defenseman. Coach Guy Boucher raved about his play last season before an upper-body injury in late December, but Hedman rebounded with a solid turn in the KHL this fall, when he had 19 assists and one goal in just 26 games for Barys Astana. Look for Hedman to play a significant role in a revamped Bolts blue line.