As we start to turn the corner on summer, it's just about time to start gearing our minds towards next season's draft. To kick things off, let's take a look back to see which players had the strongest finish to the 2008-09 season. We'll ignore the obvious players who were strong from start to finish, and focus on players that turned it on in the last quarter. It's not always a perfect indication of things to come, but it's worth noting who ended the season on a high note.
- Eric Staal - Staal was the hottest player in the league in the last quarter, racking up 13 goals and 28 points. If he can keep up this pace for a full season, he'll be challenging the big 3 for the Art Ross next year.
- Alex Kovalev - Kovalev got the message after his shameful time off in early spring and turned in 12 goals and 22 points in the fourth quarter. With a change to Ottawa, we could be looking at a big season from #27.
- Alexei Ponikarovsky - Since Toronto was irrelevant in 2009, you may have missed the fact that Ponikarovsky contributed 22 points in the his last 20 games.
- Marc Recchi - The old man keeps plugging along, and he was the go-to guy in Boston heading into the playoffs. Recchi finished the fourth quarter with 10 goals and 22 points. Probably a big reason for getting a new contract.
- Steve Sullivan - It seems that Sullivan is fully recovered from his injury woes. He led the Preds with 22 points in the last quarter.
- David Backes - 13 of his 31 goals were recorded in the fourth quarter. Backes has become a huge part of the surging Blues offense.
- Steven Stamkos - Stamkos took the first half of the season to adjust to NHL life. If the final 20 games of last season are any indication, he has arrived. 12 goals and 20 points was better than Lecavalier and St. Louis.
- Rod BrindAmour - Brind'Amour had a horrendous start to the season, but seemed to right the ship down the stretch. He recorded 20 points in his final 18 games.
- Marian Gaborik - Gaborik only played 11 games down the stretch, but he played out of his mind, racking up 18 points in those games. If only he could play 82 games a year.
- Sam Gagner - Gagner was non-existent in the first 3/4 of the season, then turned it on with 10 goals and 21 points in the last 21 games. He seems primed for a big season in 2009.
- Anton Babchuk - Babchuk was the hottest defenseman down the stretch, scoring 9 goals and 17 points in that period. But don't get too excited. He was non-existent and even scratched come playoff time. Makes it hard to judge what to expect from him in 2009.
- Tobias Enstrom - Enstrom had an incredible rookie year, then looked headed for the sophomore slump. He turned it around in a big way down the stretch, firing in 17 points over 20 games.
- Kris Letang - Almost half of Letang's points last season came in the fourth quarter. Couple that with an impressive playoff run and you're looking at big time upward momentum for the rising star heading into 2009-10.
- Sergei Gonchar - No surprise here that Gonchar was among the leaders down the stretch. It's only noteworthy because he missed most of the season and was such a huge impact player when he returned. As with Letang, his playoff performance is pointing to another big season next year.
- Denis Grebeshkov - With the likes of Souray and Visnovsky on the Edmonton roster, Grebeshkov was barely on the radar heading into last season, and through most of the first half. He turned it on bigtime, contributing 14 points in his final 21 games.
- Marc-Andre Bergeron - Bergeron is an unpredictable as they come for defenseman. He looked headed for a sub-par season in Minnesota before he turned it on late, scoring 7 goals in his final 21 games.
- Chris Mason - Mason was a big part of the late season surge by the Blues. He finished up with 14 wins in the final quarter.
- Jonas Hiller - Like Mason, Hiller helped get the Ducks into the playoffs, and earn a starting job in the process, by playing big late in the season. He recorded 9 wins in 14 games over that span.
- Roberto Luongo - Nobody was hotter than Luongo heading into the playoffs. After missing a good chunk of the season, he played well enough to be considered for the Vezina by some. He piled up 14 wins and 4 shutouts in the final 20 games.
- Brian Elliot - Elliot stepped up big time for the hurting Senators late in the season, winning 9 of his last 15 starts. However, it may be all forgotten next season, if Leclaire is healthy. Either way, it showed that he's ready for NHL action.
So make a special mark on your draft sheets this fall next to these names and remember it's what they do for you lately that counts.