Category: NHL Divison Breakdown

NHL: New York Rangers Season Preview, Shattenkirk and McDonagh, Questions at Center

New York Rangers:

The New York Rangers, despite being written off as a “bubble team” entering the last few seasons, have a Stanley Cup Finals appearance and a Conference finals appearance under their belts in two of the last four years. And if not for a couple disastrous late game defensive breakdowns in last season’s Second Round of the playoffs, could very well have been facing off against the Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in the Conference Final. But franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist is now 35 years-old, and after seeing his game slip somewhat in 2016-’17, the Rangers are hoping an offseason face-lift is enough to push the team back into a category with the league’s best.

 

Forwards:

By far the biggest question mark on the Rangers roster this season is a hole at Center, created when GM Jeff Gorton traded No. 1 centerman Derek Stepan to Arizona for the seventh-overall pick in the 2017 draft, and defensive prospect Anthony DeAngelo.mika Stepan, who turned 27 in June, has put up over 50 points in five of his six full NHL seasons. The Rangers are hoping 24 year-old Mika Zibanejad, acquired from Ottawa last off-season, can step into the first-line center role. After suffering a broken-leg which sidelined the young forward for most of last season, Zibanejad still finished the year with the highest points-per-game of his career. If he can stay healthy, expect no. 93 to hit the 60-point mark in 2017-18. Expect a higher point total from center Kevin Hayes, who will also take on a bigger role in Stepan’s absence.

 

Filip Chytil, the ultra-talented no. 21 pick in this year’s draft has made the team out of training camp after an excellent pre-season, and will start the season as the youngest player in the NHL. New York hopes the 18 year-old can help to ease the center situation as well. With the return of of veterans Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, and Michael Grabner, as well as young players returning with more experience in Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey, and JT Miller, the Rangers boast one of the deeper forward cores in the NHL.

 

Defense:

New York went from having one of the most mediocre defensive groups in the NHL a season ago to one of the deepest in 2017-’18. Workhorse captain Ryan McDonagh will return as the team’s surefire number one blueliner, and sophomore Brady Skjei will look to continue his excellent play from a season ago while skating next to newly extended Brendan Smith. Kevin Shattenkirk, elite puck-moving D-man and the prize of free-agency, took somewhat of a hometown discount to play for his favorite childhood team.shatty Expect he and McDonagh to form one of the more lethal defensive tandems in the league, as one of the most analytically-sound defenseman in the NHL is replacing McDonagh’s old partner, Dan Girardi, who has effectively become, analytically, one of the worst D-men in the NHL. Girardi’s partner-in-crime when it comes to horrendously bad possession statistics, Marc Staal, will be expected to play less, more-sheltered minutes this season next to 21 year-old, offensively gifted Anthony DeAngelo. DeAngelo, the centerpiece of the trade which sent Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta packing for Arizona, has only played 39 NHL games, in which he performed moderately well on a not-very-good Coyotes team last season, notching 14 points in that span. Both Shattenkirk and DeAngelo are expected to vastly improve a Ranger power play that finished 11th in the NHL last season while looking disheveled at times in the playoffs.

 

Goaltending:

Assuming Henrik Lundqvist will perform better behind a better defensive group, it is not unlikely that Hank rebounds from a disappointing 2016-’17 and returns to his former self for the Rangers in ‘17-’18.NHL: MAR 03 Rangers at Penguins The 35 year-old has missed the playoffs only once in his 12-year career, and after a stellar playoff last season (2.25 GAA, .927 Sv. %, 1 SO), is looking improve coming off his worst regular season yet. It remains to be seen if newly-signed backup Ondrej Pavelec can benefit from training under goaltending guru Benoit Allaire, who has earned both Cam Talbot (EDM) and Antti Raanta (ARZ) starting roles since playing for the Rangers. Pavelec has not had a winning record since 2014-’15, and has reached the postseason only once in his career.

 

Division Rank: 2nd

Points: 106

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Pittsburgh Penguins Season Preview

The Pittsburgh Penguins captured their second straight Stanley Cup this past year, making them the first team to win the historic trophy in back to back seasons since the Detroit Red Wings in 1996-1997 and 1997-1998. Coach Mike Sullivan is an absolute juggernaut, with skill from the goaltender on out. They will be right in the mix and contend for their third Stanley Cup in as many years.

Forwards; Crosby, Malkin. Good here. 

The forward position is where the Penguins are golden from top to bottom. Of course any time you have the best player in the game in Sidney Crosby and another offensive superstar in Evgeni Malkin, you already are in a better situation than most NHL teams. Where the penguins excel higher than other teams is their depth up front. With players like Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, and a young star in the making in Zach Aston-Reese, the Penguins are just as deep as last year. The loss of Nick Bonino and Chris Kunitz will hurt but, it is next man up for Pittsburgh and they have the power to replace the two pieces that are no longer with the club. Sidney Crosby will be the same Crosby, Malkin will be Malkin, and even after that, you have high-powered players leading the charge in Patrick Hornqvist, Jake Guentzel, and Phil Kessel. Look for Pittsburgh to be a top offensive team in the league yet again. 

Sidney-Crosby-Pictures

Defense: Aside from Letang, Penguins face some question marks…

As it is with every team after winning a championship, you lose players because of contracts and the salary cap. The same went for the Penguins on the defensive end losing two solid pieces of their blue line in Trevor Daley, who signed a free agent contract in Detroit, and Ron Hainsey who took a three-year deal to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pittsburgh was able to sign free agent defenseman Matt Hunwick but still, even doing so those are two big losses. On the bright side, Pittsburgh has a magnitude of young prospects on the back end looking to crack the NHL roster. With a healthy Kris Letang and Olli Maatta who is expected to have a bounce-back year, their defensive core is just fine. Returners like, Justin Schultz, Derrick Pouliot, Ian Cole, and Brian Dumoulin are expected to round out the rest of the defense.

Murray To Dominant the Crease… 

In terms of the goaltending situation, the Penguins lost longtime goalie and fan favorite Marc Andre Fleury to the expansion draft, with him heading to the Vegas Golden Knights. In order to fill this hole, they went out and signed Antti Niemi, the former Dallas Star. Expect Murray to carry most of the workload, and be dominant as he has been for the first few years of his career. Niemi is a suitable backup to Murray that will do just fine in his role.

matt-murray-feat

Prediction

Even with the many losses Pittsburgh encountered in the offseason, they are still the best team in the Eastern Conference and quite possibly the entire league. They will land a spot in the postseason and are legitimate contenders for Lord Stanley. 

Points: 108

Division Rank: 1st

NHL: Washington Capitals Season Preview, Relying on Veterans, Blue-Line Deficiencies

Washington Capitals:

After their second President’s Trophy in as many years (2015-16, 2016-17), it’s safe to say that for the first time in recent memory, the Washington Capitals can no longer be considered a powerhouse in the National Hockey League. Not that any of their regular season success has ever translated in the postseason, (see: the most second-round exits ever, probably), and with the departure of almost half of their starting blue-line from last season, expect the Caps to take a step in the wrong direction in 2017-2018.

 Forwards:

Superstar winger Alex Ovechkin is yet another year on the wrong side of 30, and after some of the lowest point-totals of his career in 2016-17 (33-36-69 in 82 games), there are questions surrounding the Capitals’ captain as he enters the 13th season of his NHL career. Ovechkin, who weighed in at 240-pounds a season ago, was asked by management to train differently this offseason in order to get lighter and faster.ovi Along with having a bigger role up-front this season for the Caps, expect Ovi to raise his point totals from a year ago, as he’s expected to carry much of the offensive workload.

Center Nicklas Backstrom will also be expected to continue his elite-play, likely to be skating alongside Ovechkin in both even-strength and power-play situations. Evgeny Kuznetsov (19-40-59 in 82 GP last season), who signed an eight-year, $62.4 million contract in July just after turning 25 years-old, will be expected to live up to the worth of that monstrous contract. T.J. Oshie, fresh off signing a monstrous contract of his own (8-years, $46 million), will be expected to the near the 50-60 point mark this season as well. With the departure of wingers Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, both 20 goal scorers in ‘16-’17, Washington will rely heavily on young winger Andre Burakovsky to step up his production this season. Though not as potent an offense as it once was, Washington’s forward core should provide enough goal-scoring to win games.

 Defense:

By far the area which has taken the biggest hit, the Caps lost three of their seven rostered defensemen from last season without having any proven talent to replace them. Two of these defensemen were in Washington’s top-four last season, those being Kevin Shattenkirk (signed with NYR in July) and Karl Alzner (with MTL). Shattenkirk, though only acquired at the deadline last season, will be missed for his elite vision and offensive abilities, while Alzner will be missed more for his shut-down capabilities. shatReplacing the two experienced and reliable D-men are two inexperienced and unproven young players in left-handed Christian Djoos (2012 seventh-round draft pick), and right-handed Madison Bowey (2013 second-round draft pick). Depending on the performance of the two youngsters, and if 26-year-old Dmitry Orlov can handle the role of No. 1 D-man, there is the potential for real regression on Washington’s back-end.

 Goaltending:

The saving-grace of Washington’s stripped defensive core comes in the form of proven-elite netminder Braden Holtby. Holtby, who posted the best stat-line of his career in 2016-17 (42-13-6, 2.07 GAA, .925 Sv. %), will continue to be one of the league’s most reliable goalies in 2017-18.holtby Though he will be relied on more heavily than in his past two seasons, in one of which winning the Vezina Trophy for league’s best netminder, all arrows point to Holtby being up to the task. 

Another positive for the Capitals is back-up Philipp Grubauer, who very well may be dangled in a trade with a team desperately in need of help in goal this season. The return could possibly bring needed support on the wings or the blue-line for the Caps.

 Prediction:

The Washington Capitals will not perform as the league powerhouse in the 2017-18 season. There are too many holes and uncertainties up-front and on the back-end, for Washington to sustain the type of regular season play that was seen for the last two seasons. They will, however, relying on the performance of their proven-stars, win games and compete again in the postseason.

Points: 101

Division Rank: 3rd

NHL: Winnipeg Jets Preview, Scheifele Laine Impact, Sturdy Blueline

Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg finished 5th in the division a season ago, and they remained in the playoff race for pretty much the entire year. People may not realize, but points-wise, they finished 9th in the Western Conference, making them the first team out. Winnipeg failed to string together a series of wins that could ultimately keep them close to a playoff spot. The biggest thing for this team will be consistency because we saw flashes of what they can be last season.

Impact of Laine & Scheifele 

If Winnipeg is going to go anywhere, they’re going to need Patrik Laine to come back healthy and with as much pop as he had in his rookie campaign. You can make a legitimate case that Laine could have won the Calder, and that’s saying a lot considering the season that Auston Matthews had. Laine at 19 years old already has one of Mark-Scheifele-Winnipeg-Jets-featuredthe deadliest shots in the league. There was certainly some hype surrounding Laine going into his rookie year, and he sure lived up to it. Mark Scheifele is a center that Laine will probably be playing with a lot this year. Scheifele is arguably the most underrated player in the league, he provides high-level playmaking ability. His 82 points were good enough for 7th in the entire league. It is time to start talking more about this guy! Scheifele will be working most of the year with Laine and Blake Wheeler. Wheeler, the team captain, has scored 26+ goals in 4 straight years. If these 3 guys play together, it could be one of the top lines in the league this season. In terms of depth, another guy that broke out last season on forward was Nikolaj Ehlers, who quietly had 64 points last season.

Efficient Blueline 

Moving to the Blue Line, Winnipeg will be led by Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba. Byfuglien is a force that no one wants to mess with, and you can’t avoid him because he led the league in average time on ice per game. Trouba is a steady Defenseman who plays a complete game. Despite trade rumors more most of the last season, Trouba is back and ready to spend the season in Winnipeg. In goal, the team has moved in a different direction by signing UFA Steve Mason. I still expect Connor Hellebuyck to get plenty of time between the pipes, but expect Winnipeg to ride the hot hand during the year.

What to watch for: Overall Forward Depth. I’m a little concerned with the depth, I wonder if it’ll cause coach Paul Maurice to break up that top line.

Breakout Player: Kyle Connor. This will be Connor’s first full season in the NHL, the 20-year-old has tremendous talent, and I expect him to break out and to catch some eyes around the league early.

Prediction: 6th in Central

NHL: Winnipeg Jets Preview, Mason WE Trust, Youth Growth

Winnipeg Jets, I am fully aboard on the Jets bandwagon for the 2017-2018 season, their offense is arguably one of the top forward groups in the league, they now have five to six solid defenseman and a pretty respectable starting goaltender. This post does not need to be nine-hundred words because there’s not much detail to go into, but here it is my outlook for the Jets is pretty simple.

Top Forward Core in the NHL?

Mark Scheifele, posted 82 points a 21 point increase from 2015-16 to 2016-17, he’s on the rise and there is no denying it. Laine came in missed a few games during the regular 161108-Jets2.jpgseason and still posted 36 goals and 64 points in 73 games. Blake Wheeler is an absolute workhorse and probably the most undervalued player in hockey. Wheeler does it all for Winnipeg, plays an amazing 200-foot game and leads by example. Wheeler posted 74 points through 82 games and has been consistently doing this for four years now. Nikolai Ehlers had a breakout season with 64 points and 39 assists paired with veterans such as Mathieu Perreault and Bryan Little who are also 50 plus point producers each year, the Jets have six forwards that are capable of scoring 55 plus points each year and then a bottom six with a ton of upside. Such as Kyle Connor, Nicolas Petan, and Marko Dano. The core is remarkable and if they all can stay healthy and consistent all season they will be a top-five offense in the NHL.

Blueline questions? None here.

With the addition of Dmitry Kulikov, the Jets now have a solid and reliable six defenseman. The Jets defense has size, speed and offensive ability all throughout the lineup. Dustin Byfuglien leading the charge offensively and physically, along with Jacob Trouba coming off his best season these two have all the eyes on them. Add in Tyler Myers, Tobias Enstrom, and Josh Morrissey, one cannot bat an eye and tell me seriously that these six are not one of the best six in the NHL.

In Mason We Trust

That’s the motto in Winnipeg right now, as it is their only concern for next season, if Mason holds up and can win 35 plus games, keep his goals against to a 2.50 or lower and give the Jets a chance to win night in and night out, the Jets have a legitimate chance at a playoff spot. I’m not fully sold on Mason but throughout the season if he proves to be reliable and not hit any rough patches the Jets will be smooth sailing for the 2017-2018 season.

What to watch for:

  • Kyle Connor, Josh Morrissey, and Patrik Laine growth. These players are the future of Winnipeg and this will be another test for them to see if they can hold up in the NHL consistently. Also, watch for Laine to win the Rocket Richard and score 40 plus next season.
  • Mason consistency, the Jets blue line holds up and the offense stays consistent, Mason should fare fine. His situation in Winnipeg is much better than what it was in Philadelphia, battling for a starting job and playing on a streaky team was not the best for Mason.

Prediction: 96 points, 4th in Central

NHL: St. Louis Blues Preview, Tarasenko Scoring, Parayko Improved Role

St. Louis Blues:

The Blues are a team that continues to look for answers that will take them to next step. A consistent playoff team for years now, St. Louis has struggled to win the big game in the playoffs that would bring them to where they want to go. St. Louis took a step back this year getting knocked out in Round 2, after making it to The Western Conference Final the prior year. With the season in question, St. Louis opted to make a coaching change mid-year, removing Ken Hitchcock and promoting Mike Yeo to Head Coach. Yeo provided an instant spark as St. Louis went on a good run and went into the playoffs on a high note (no pun intended).

Questionable D-Core?

Knowing the team likely wouldn’t resign him in the offseason, the team dealt star Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington at the trade deadline. Despite this, St. Louis was able to stay the course and make the playoffs. With Shattenkirk’s departure, this gave young Defenseman Colton Parayko more opportunity to play big minutes, including the Power Play. This season I expect to see even more of Parayko, fresh off his new five-year contract. Also eating up big minutes on Defense is team captain Alex Pietrangelo. Pietrangelo plays in all situations and was 8th in the league last season in average time on ice per game. With Jay Bouwmeester starting the year injured, St. Louis will need some guys to step up and play more minutes if this D core is going to hold up in this high-powered Central division.

Tarasenko & Company

Switching gears to St. Louis’s offense, they are led by their Russian sniper Vladi Tarasenko. Tarasenko finished 5 goals off the league lead with 39. Year in and year out, Screenshot 2017-08-29 at 3.18.27 PMhe has proven that he can consistently put the puck in the net. Tarasenko has started to take on more of a leadership role and has worked hard to improve his overall two-way game. To help Tarasenko on the goal scoring front, St. Louis acquired Brayden Schenn in the offseason from Philadelphia in exchange for Jori Lehtera. Schenn has scored 20+ goals in 3 of the last 4 seasons, and it can be argued that the 26-year-old is now entering the prime of his career. Two more forwards that I want to highlight are #17 and #71. #17 Jaden Schwartz is not a big forward, but he battles for any puck and has tremendous vision. Having him back healthy for the majority of last season helped St. Louis, and I expect him to play sometime this year with Tarasenko. #71 Vladimir Sobotka is back, and here to make a difference in St. Louis’ lineup. Having left to go play in the KHL for 3 seasons, Sobotka is a highly skilled guy that provides another dynamic look to this lineup. He returned last season in the playoffs and his presence was felt right away. In net, Jake Allen took big steps last year in terms of playing more consistent. When St. Louis let Brian Elliott go, they were going all in on Allen, and he has definitely shown that he can be the guy. Look for Allen to build off his solid season last year.

What to watch for: Who steps in in the D Core? This will be the first full year without Shattenkirk, and Bouwmeester is currently on the shelf, there are top 4 minutes that need to be eaten up. Watch for Joel Edmundson to assume a larger role.

Breakout Player: Ivan Barbashev. This will be his first full NHL season, the former 33rd overall pick has shown tremendous skill in juniors and into the AHL, he will be a crucial part of St. Louis’ forward depth, and I think he gets a good look on the Power Play.

Prediction: 5th place Central

NHL: Nashville Predators Preview, Is Smashville back?

Nashville Predators:

Smashville is back, and ready to make another run. This is a team that had pretty decent expectations a year ago, and people began to question that midway through the season when Nashville was way out of the playoff race. All of the sudden things started clicking, and they started playing like the team people thought they could be an even better than that. As the lowest seed to make it into the playoffs, they drew the division rival Chicago Blackhawks. To say Nashville dominated this series wouldn’t be doing it justice. After sweeping Chicago, people started believing in this team, who went all the way and eventually lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the final.

SMASHVILLE IS BACK

Expectations will be high coming into this season, but I believe Nashville has only gotten better. They will miss Mike Fisher for sure, not only for his on-ice production but mainly his leadership. Fisher deserves a lot of credit for making Nashville the exciting city that it has become. With a couple key signings, Nashville seemed to have addressed any lineup questions they may have had. Bringing in Nick Bonino was one of the best offseason moves, Bonino provides a steady presence down the middle of the ice behind Ryan Johansen. Scott Hartnell was also added as a good depth guy who can still put the puck in the net.

D-CORE STRENGTH 

However, Nashville is built on their strong D core. Arguably the best in the league, this D core has it all. Roman Josi will now take on the role of captain, and I think it is only right NHL Previewthe captain resides in the Defense. Ryan Ellis will be out for some time, but I believe that this team will be just fine without him, and having him return at some point will be a great bonus. Then, of course, there is P.K. Subban, who will be even more motivated to win The Cup after coming two games away last year. Subban helps quarterback the power play and will look to improve it from 16th overall a year ago. Even if all of this goes according to plan, nothing will be accomplished without Pekka Rinne playing consistently. For the majority of last season, Rinne was on his game. However, there were times, including in the Final, when Rinne let his game slip and people started to question his consistency. He is more than capable, and I believe a trip to the Final will only benefit Rinne and perhaps give him more confidence going forward.

What to watch for: The Defensive core without Ryan Ellis. Ellis is expected back around January, so it’ll be interesting to see who steps into his top four role. I’m confident the Defense will remain strong, and when Ellis comes back it will be a tremendous lift that can carry Nashville right into the post-season playing solid hockey.

Breakout Player: We got to know Kevin Fiala a bit last season, and we all remember his brutal injury against St. Louis in the playoffs. I expect the 21 year old former first round pick to break into the league with authority this season, including top six minutes and power play time.

Prediction: 1st Place Central