2017-2018 NHL Season Preview: Atlantic Division

In our third installment we head out east to preview the Atlantic Division. Thanks to Nate Brooks for the write up!

Atlantic Division

Tampa Bay Lightning

2016-2017 Season Finish: 58-22-2 1st In Atlantic. Lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the San Jose Sharks

Outlook

The Tampa Bay Lightning had an incredible run last post-season that saw them fall one game short of winning the Stanley Cup to the San Jose Sharks. Going 3 series that lasted 7 games, the Lightning face a short offseason before embarking on the season ahead as they look to complete unfinished business in the playoffs this year.

Offense

The Lightning are loaded with talent up front. Captain Steven Stamkos leads the charge up the middle raking in 116 points last year in an Art Ross winning season.Stamkos is all world and is flanked by fellow Canadian LW Matt Duchene. This lethal combo looks to set the league afire again this season. Brandon Saad completes the top line in a June 22nd trade the brought him over from the Calgary Flames.Young Centres Reinhart and Eriksson Ek give the Bolts plenty of depth long term as they lead a loaded supporting cast behind the top flight line. Veterans David Backes, Mike Fisher and Valtteri Filppula give plenty of experience the Tampa Bay forward ranks.

Defense

The misery won’t be stopping for opponents as the Lightning defensive core has Assistant Captain Victor Hedman as well as Ryan Suter manning the points. Both players were deadly from the point offensively and are capable of taking over games. Youngster Cody Ceci looks to take another leap forward this year behind the top 2 and should get plenty of Power Play time to do some damage. Patrick Wiercioch provides veteran depth and is good in all situations. First rounder Josh Maniscalco could break camp with the team if he shows enough in camp.

Goaltending

Semyon Varlamov was merely average before a November trade last year brought him over. Varlamov was a new man in the Bolts uniform. Dropping his Goals Against Average by over 1 a game he showed GM Lövbergs’ confidence in trading for him was a sound decision. Varlamov will carry the load this year and the Bolts will need him to. Jason Missiaen and Karri Ramo will battle for the backup job.

Prospect Watch

Joel Eriksson Ek comes over from the SHL where he played 2 successful years against men as a teenager. Eriksson Ek has a fantastic shot that is NHL ready now while being a solid skater and great conditioning for a young player. Ek will need to work on his play away from the puck further which is common for young players. He may be better served spending a year in the AHL playing a key role in all situations but the Lighting will not hold him back.

Key Player

Steven Stamkos will look to defend the league scoring title this year and reach the 100 point plateau for the 2nd time in his career. The former 1st overall pick has been healthy for 3 straight season only missing 1 game in that time.Locked up for another 6 seasons,he gives the Lighting a window to compete for the cup every season. His playoff injury last season was a big loss for the Lightning and they believe with Stamkos in the lineup a Cup is within reach.

 

Montreal Canadiens

2016-2017 Season Finish:48-25-9 2nd in the Atlantic. Lost in the first round to the Detroit Redwings

Outlook

The Habs faithful still have not gotten over last season epic sweep at the hands of fellow original 6 members the Detroit Red Wings. Montreal had expected to make a long playoff run however they were golfing long before anyone had come to terms with the painful end to their season. The Canadiens look again to pick up the pieces and be one of the top teams in the Atlantic division and silence the noise that never ceases in Montreal.

Offense

Montreal has a great mix of veterans and players in their prime leading them. They hope top Center Alex Galchenyuk can take the next step and become a point per game player this season as he oozes offensive flair. Captain Max Pacioretty had 86 points last year including 47 goals and will be counted upon again for a similar total.Brendan Gallagher bring a tenacious game to round out the top line.Left Winger Sergei Shmelyov was a great find from the KHL last season and looks to be within reach of 20 goals this season.Centers Lars Eller and Tomas Plekanec give the Habs plenty of depth up front. Winger Jacob de la Rose hopes to work his way into the top 6 after breaking in as a 19 year old 3 seasons ago.

Defense

There is no bigger personality in the league today then PK Subban. The 28 year old from Toronto put together a fantastic season last year playing in all situations. With a great shot and skating Subban always makes an impact on the scoresheet. Subban looks to be one of the league leader again in offensive statistics from the blue line. Andrei Markov continues to defy father time and put up very respectable numbers at the age of 38.Entering his 17th year Markov should again provide great offense to the Habs. Markov has 1 year remaining on his contract. Alexei Emelin and Jarred Tinordi provide the d-corps with toughness and an edge while Nathan Beaulieu looks to expand his role this year. Lastly former 4th overall pick Griffin Reinhart will try and translate his AHL success into a full time NHL job.

Goaltending

Carey Price gives the Habs a chance to win every night. Routinely among the league’s best back stoppers, Price is a large mobile goalie with great reflexes and technique. Price has flirted with 40 win seasons the last 2 years and should again be able to come close to that total this year. Injuries have become a small concern for Price and an early pre season injury will keep him out 4 weeks possibly. While Price is out Jhonas Enroth will look to keep the Canadiens season from having a slow start. Enroth was able to get 13 wins last year in a backup role. Zach Fucale will enter the final year of his ELC looking to assert himself as more than AHL fodder after a couple of rough years to start his professional career. He looks to need more time in the minors.

Prospect Watch

Left Winger Matthew Strome was a 31st overall pick last year but many scouts believed he could have easily gone in the first round. An injury in February last year may have seen his stock lowered but Montreal was more then happy to get him in the 2nd round. Strome has great offensive instincts and a hard,accurate shot. He will need to work on his foot speed and defensive prowess with Hamilton in the OHL. Strome is probably 2-3 years away from making an impact at the NHL level.

Key Player

Carey Price is undoubtedly the Habs most important player this year. With $7 million of the cap put to Price and unproven starters behind him,Montreal needs Price to be healthy and at the top of his game this season. Montreal will be in win now mode with Price leading them from the crease and will need to get the 30 year old signed to an extension this year to keep the fan favorite from hitting free agency where he surely be one of the most coveted players available.

 

Detroit Red Wings

2016-2017 Season Finish: 48-27-7 103 Points 3rd in the Atlantic. Lost in the 2nd round to Tampa Bay

Outlook

The Red Wings surprised a lot of teams last year with a 103 point season and made quick work of their division rivals the Montreal Canadiens. The Wings blew the Habs away in 4 straight game and gave the Tampa Bay Lightning all they could handle in a 7 game series. The Red Wings look this year to keep their aging core going strong but will they be able to inject enough talented youth into their lineup for a repeat of last season success remains to be seen.

Offense

The Red Wings will once again heavily lean upon veterans Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.Datsyuk particularly has defied father time and had almost zero regression. Datsyuk provided great offense with 79 points but was even more adept in the defensive area of the game winning the Frank J. Selke award for the best defensive forward in the league. At 36 Henrik Zetterberg has less mileage on his body than Datsyuk and is coming off a great bounce back campaign that saw him distribute 58 assists and 81 points in total. “The Mule” Johan Franzen, Gustav Nyquist and Rick Nash will provide veteran help up front and both players will be expected to chip in on the power play and play big body games. The Red Wings will need youngsters Freddy Gauthier and Dylan Larkin to start stepping up their game to help prepare the Wings for the eventual change over of their storied core.

Defense

The Wings defensive corps could be the team’s achilles heel this year as it is composed of aging veterans and unproven youngsters. Niklas Kronwall should once again lead the way and his 50 points and 68 penalty minutes show that he still has the ability to generate offense and keep opponents on their toes with his infamous hip checks. Barret Jackman and Jonathan Ericsson will provide toughness but are not known to be fleet of foot or to chip in much offensively. The Wings will hope Xavier Ouellet takes another step this year and Ryan Sproul can build upon a great season last year. Lastly Ivan Vereschagin comes over from the KHL and could be a dark horse for the Wings as not much is known about the youngster but early indications in training camp are that he has a high skill level with and without the puck.

Goaltending

Petr Mrazek took over as the #1 netminder last year and ran with it. A 48 win season and 5 shutouts cemented his status as the goalie going forward in Hockeytown. Mrazek incredible reflexes and and positioning kept Detroit in many games last year and he will again be counted upon to face a barrage of rubber and stand on his head. Mrazek will be a RFA this summer and looks to play for a big extension. Tom McCollum will be the backup this year and hope to get into more than the 1 game he was able to play last year. Barely tested in his career, the Wings will not look to him to play more than 20 games this season.

Prospect Watch

Right winger Evgeny Svechnikov will continue to play in the KHL this year and hopes to have an expanded role with Salavat this year. A heel injury slowed the dynamic power forward last year and he only suited up for 9 games in total. With great speed and puck handling abilities, Svechnikov can be a force on the ice with his size and hockey sense. He could play 2 more years on his current KHL contract but the Red Wings cannot wait to get their prized prospect over to North America.

Key Player

Henrik Zetterberg will start the year as the number 1 center in Detroit and will be counted upon to lead the way to the playoffs again. Zetterberg is signed for 4 years still and most likely will take over the Captaincy once Datsyuk moves on. They will need the native of Njurunda, Sweden to once again play big minutes against opposing checking lines and continue to generate offense to his wingers. Dominant in the faceoff circle,he is a key cog in the Wings puck control system.

 

Boston Bruins

2016-2017 Season Finish: 38-34-10 86 points 4th in the Atlantic. Lost in the conference final to Tampa Bay.

Outlook

The Boston Bruins look to build upon a first round upset of the Washington Capitals last postseason when they defeated the 2016 Stanley Cup champions in 6 games to start a great run last spring. Following that series the Bruins blew through the Hurricanes in 4 games to eventually fall to the Lighting in a battle royale that lasted 7 games. The Bruins look to keep the momentum going this season and once again make life difficult in the Atlantic division.

Offense

At 21 right winger David Pastrnak already has 3 season in the NHL under his belt. A slight improvement on his 2015-2016 numbers last campaign, Pastrnak still looks to grow his game as he has become the go to man in the Bruins attack. 70 plus points is not out of reach for the highly skilled Czech. Ondrej Palat starts the first of 3 more years for the Bruins and is capable of joining Pastrnak and Bergeron on a great 2 way first line.Captain Patrice Bergeron continues to be one of the best 2 way players in the league however his offensive output took a serious hit last season falling to 50 points. At 32 age is no longer on his side but Bergeron will continue to lead the Bruins up the middle for the foreseeable future. Likewise David Krejci continues to put up solid if unspectacular numbers flanked by young wingers Jake DeBrusk and Seth Griffith.  Left winger Loui Eriksson followed up a career year with an absolute stinker last season. The veteran Swede was often invisible in games and struggled to put up points. It could be another tough year as he is penciled into the 4th line again.

Defense

At age 40, towering Zdeno Chara it still one of the most imposing blue liners in the NHL. Although not the most fleet of foot, Chara uses his large wingspan and is positionally sound making him a difficult opponent for opposing forwards to work against. Chara also chipped in an 32 points in 69 games. On the flip side, undersized Torey Krug is an offensive dynamo from the blue line. One of the best bang for your buck defenders in the league, his 64 points last year were a career high. Krug was a huge threat on the power play last season however he will look to improve his play in the defensive zone. Youngster Brandon Carlo looks to break camp with the Bruins this year after playing a year in the KHL. The former second round pick will not be counted on for points but plays a solid defensive game and brings some toughness to take the pressure off Chara. Joe Morrow and veteran Niklas Hjalmarsson will look to eat up some minutes in the top 5.

Goaltending

Tuukka Rask provides the Bruins with a no doubt number one goaltender on a nightly basis. Although an average year in the regular season for Rask, he was able to give the Bruins solid if unspectacular goaltending in the playoffs as they advanced to the conference final. A product of the goalie factory of Finland, Rask has a great glove hand and is a master and controlling his rebounds. He looks for a rebound year and return to the top of many statistical categories. Backing Rask up will most likely be Michal Neuvirth. The Czech native quietly goes about his business but proved Boston will very solid goaltending when called upon last year.

Prospect Watch

19 year old Luke Green had a mixed year last year for the Saint John Sea Dogs. While putting up solid offensive numbers and a great plus minus, more progression was hoped for from Green. The Halifax native is a great skater and moves the puck well but the Bruins will hope that he can put it all together in what should be his final junior season. Green however put together an absolutely dominant postseason and was named playoff MVP of the Quebec league. The former number 1 pick of the QMJHL looks to again lead the the Sea Dogs to a QMJHL championship and date at the Memorial Cup.

Key Player

Torey Krug has all word offensive ability. His dangerous puck handling skills and speed with the puck put teams on the defensive every shift. Krug makes the Bruins power play capable of being a lethal weapon over the course of a game. Although undersized at 5’9”, Krug will look to improve his defensive play in his own zone to establish himself as a true #1 defenseman. Locked up for one more season after this one the Bruins will be more then happy to pay him top dollar once it comes time to negotiate a new deal. The only thing standing in Krug’s way of a big pay day will be himself.

 

Florida Panthers

2016-2017 Season Finish: 38-37-7 83 points 5th in the Atlantic. Did not make the playoffs.

Outlook

The Florida Panthers narrowly missed making the playoffs last season, being nudged out by the New Jersey Devils for the last spot. The Panthers were never able to truly get their team in gear and finished with 38 wins and 37 losses. Attendance continued to be a concern for the team as their were often empty seat in the building. The Panthers management team however is confidant of a turn around,being one of the most active teams on the trade market year after year. An increase in wins and a trip to the playoffs will surely have the fans come back.

Offense

Aleksander Barkov gives the Panther a true #1 centerman up the middle. At the young age of 22, Barkov has now developed into his large frame and is starting to learn how to use it to his advantage. With a great first step and edgework, he is very shifty and posses fantastic vision to see plays develop and distribute the puck to his linemates. Florida anticipates a jump from his career high of 59 points last season, and 70 plus is not out of the question. Barkov is flanked by equally talented youngsters Jonathan Drouin and Jonathan Huberdeau. One of the youngest first lines in the game today, this line will look to give opposing teams fits each and every night. Drouin had a disappointing first year in Florida,only managing to score 6 times in 43 games before contracting Mono while in New York. 20 goals or more will be a great comeback year for the 2013 3rd overall pick. The elder statesman at 24, Huberdeau had an impressive 67 points while playing responsible defensively. After Barkov things get dicey for the Cats up the middle, with Markus Granlund taking over the 2nd line duties. With a career high of 21 points a lot of pressure will now be on Granlund to up the ante in secondary scoring. Captain Andrew Ladd will be heavily leaned upon to guide the youngsters to a playoff spot this season. Blake Wheeler and Jason Pominville will also look for bounce back campaigns for this team to have a shot.

Defense

The Panthers boast a good mix of young rearguards and established veterans patrolling the backend this season. Dion Phaneuf and Mike Green give Florida a great mix of offensive ability and defensive prowess. Both had brutal statistical seasons for plus minus ratings,however this should be an improved team on keeping the puck out of the net. #1 overall pick Aaron Ekblad currently is recovering from an infection in his hand but once healthy he will be counted upon to lead this unit in all situations. A Norris trophy worthy season will be the expectation fans have for the native of Windsor, Ontario. At age 21, the sky is the limit still for Ekblad. Russian Dmitry Kulikov will join youngsters Darnell Nurse and Scott Harrington in providing a great top 6 blueline. Nurse especially has the confidence and moxie to be a difference maker going forward.

Goaltending

At age 30, Ben Bishop is now in the prime of his career. Many pundits questioned the deployment of Al Montoya over Bishop last season. Bishop was believed to be the #1 goalie in Florida, but a slow recovery from a hand injury last January prevented him from having the coaches confidence. With a full season of rehab under his belt, Bishop looks to recapture the glory days of his time with rivals Tampa Bay where he twice surpassed the 40 win plateau. Signed for 5 more years Florida needs Bishop to return to form this season. Al Montoya will be the backup most likely and is capable of filling in if Bishop goes down. A fan favorite in Florida, Montoya was able to keep his head above water last season once the starter’s gig was handed to him.

Prospect Watch

Center Zachary Poirier of the North Bay Battalion has been one of the top all round forwards in the OHL the last two seasons. With 93 and 86 point seasons, he gives the Panthers hope of another top centerman to join young Barkov in the coming years. Poirier was signed to and entry level contract this summer,but will return for what should be his final season in the junior ranks. Fully recovered from a serious jaw injury he sustained last March, Poirier may need some time in the AHL to develop his skating and defensive play to NHL standards.

Key Player

Aaron Ekblad has had 3 solid seasons since being taken first overall in the 2014 NHL entry draft. The concern with Ekblad has been a relatively flat development since this time. Florida had hoped Ekblad would provide more offense and punishing defensive play as he matured. Still though the talent and work ethic is all there and the Panthers most likely will lock Ekblad up long term after this season. This will be an important year for Ekblad however looking to prove he can truly become the dominant #1 defenseman everyone believed he would be prior to the draft.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

2016-2017 Season Finish: 37-38-7 81 points 6th in the Atlantic. Did not make the playoffs.

Outlook

The Toronto Maple Leafs were another team that almost managed to scratch their way into the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year missing out by a couple of points for the final spot. This season the Leafs have reloaded and augmented their lineup on all fronts as they look to shake things up and usher in a new era of playoff success. GM Jason Arnett has made bold moves each year and is counting on the veteran goaltending tandem the Maple Leafs now employ to bring this team over the hump.

Offense

The Leafs have loaded up on offensive talent this offseason bringing Ilya Kovalchuk back from the KHL and former #1 overall pick Auston Matthews ready to start his rookie NHL campaign.  Matthews has spent the last two season playing against men in the KHL and Swiss pro league and is a favorite to win Rookie of the Year honors. The Scottsdale, Arizona native does not come from a traditional hockey area but is already one of the top offensive youngsters in the game today. With great wheels,vision and hockey smarts Matthews will be a tough matchup from the get-go for opposing teams each and every night. Expect him to start on the 3rd line but could rise as high as the first by seasons end. Kovalchuk returns to the NHL after a couple seasons away and should pick up right where he left off as a premiere sniper from the left side. Kovalchuk has an unbelieveable shot and is deadly when left alone at the top circle waiting for a cross ice pass. While not the greatest defensively the Maple Leafs were willing to offer a 1 year $7.5 million dollar contract to entice the Russian superstar to augment their offense. The attack doesn’t stop there though for what should be a high octane offense. Youngsters William Nylander and Mitch Marner flank the wings and both have plenty of offensive pedigree. Marner had a 12 game taste last year and then returned to junior for a dominant season with the London Knights. Son of the great Michael Nylander, William has 2 split seasons between the AHL and NHL but should graduate to be a regular this season. Nylander has many defensive issues still to work out but there is no question of his offensive talents. Jordan Eberle and James Van Riemsdyk however do stand in these youngsters ways from playing more minutes this season which is not a bad problem to have. Both are battle tested and have proven they can score at the NHL level consistently. Riemsdyk is a strong body up and down the wing who skates very well for his size, while Eberle is a smaller shifty forward who is able to cut in quickly on defenders. As if you haven’t read enough about what other teams will have to stop, the offense just keeps coming at you with Tyler Johnson, Nazem Kadri and big Kevin Hayes to beat you when you’re down. All 3 are capable of easily putting up 50 points themselves. The biggest question will be how will the playing time be spread around, and is there any hope for Toronto to keep these players together even this year as the Maple Leafs are right up against the cap.

Defense

The Maple Leafs boast a very mobile and strong 2 way defensive unit. Led by captain Morgan Rielly, the Leafs blueline is able to effectively transition the puck up to the forward units and then jump into the play to add pressure to opposing defenders. Rielly is just coming into his own as both a leader and catalyst for the Maple Leafs and will look to have a career year as he surely will want to sign a large contract extension this year. Tyson Barrie and Jake Gardiner are both offensive dynamo’s who will give the power play units plenty of production. Barrie has established himself especially as an offensive threat year after year. Both are risk takers though that can cause their coaches blood pressure to boil in the defensive zone. Dmitry Orlov and Swedish veteran Alex Edler will be asked to stabilize the play in their own zone and should be up to the task. Orlov also surprised last year with 38 points easily shattering his previous career high. Lastly Tobias Enstrom hopes to have one more solid season coming over from the Jets this offseason as he is in the last year of his contract.

Goaltending

The Leafs were not content to go forward with Jimmy Howard as their top goaltender this year. They went out and made a big splash acquiring Corey Schneider from the New Jersey Devils this summer. Schneider had a down year for the Devils last season although he was able to squeak the plucky team into the playoffs where he was promptly lit up in 4 games. Schneider has been very solid however in the regular season over the years and the Leafs are banking on a return to form going forward. With 5 years remaining on his contract at age 31, the Leafs are all in on Schneider being the goalie to lead them in their quests for a cup. Jimmy Howard should not be forgotten however. Although relegated to backup now, he does give Toronto an experienced backup capable of giving them solid outings when Schneider needs a rest or must come on in a relief. It will be an expensive couple years however

Prospect Watch

Auston Matthews comes in as the top prospect for the Maple Leafs and should also be considered one of the top 3 prospects in the NHL. The 6’2” 201 lbs centerman from Scottsdale, Arizona does not come from a traditional ice hockey market but is about to become specimen #1 on how expansion in the NHL has brought kids in who normally would have taken other sporting routes in life and made the hockey fans. Having played professionally in Switzerland and then Russia, his route to the NHL is far from traditional however he could be paving a new way for top prodigy’s to begin their career by facing the far more difficult challenge of pro men in their teen years. In both leagues Matthews acquitted himself very well finishing above 40 points each year and being a plus player. Matthews also was able to be deployed at the center position, a rarity in a pro league for such a young player and had great numbers in the faceoff circle. Matthews is a very fluid skater with a powerful stride and good first step. While not a burner his ability to make plays while maintaining this speed is what sets him apart from many others. A good hard shot and excellent puck handling skills in tight further augment his abilities. Matthews is also a good playmaker but will look to improve this going forward as he adjusts to the NHL game. Matthews has the potential to be a generational talent in Toronto, and will be well insulated by the Leafs to begin his career starting on the 3rd line. He could quickly rise though if he gets off to a hot start.

Key Player

Being named Captain of the Leafs at age 23, Morgan Rielly will have an immense amount of pressure on him to deal with the ups and downs of a season. Having to answer to media,fans and teammates alike while leading the squad on the ice, some think it could be to much for the young rearguard. Reilly however has 4 year under his belt and has improved at each season. While leaning heavily upon the veterans in the room, he will also be along with the young core that is about to take the mantle for this team in what Toronto fans surely hope is a decade of playoffs and a Stanley Cup championship in the near future. Reilly will be a free agent this summer and the Leafs must get their star defenceman under contract less the other managers of the league look to put this team into cap hell.

 

Ottawa Senators

2016-2017 Season Finish: 33-40-9 75 points 7th in the Atlantic. Did not make the playoffs.

Outlook

The Ottawa Senators struggled last season to a 33-40-9 season to finish second last in the Atlantic division. Ottawa had 18 wins at home last season but they were not road warriors suffering 25 losses on the road. The team made few moves this offseason but did manage to bring in twin giants Martin Hanzal and Jacob Markstrom respectively. It could again be a long year for Senators fans in a touch Atlantic division, however All World Erik Karlsson will try to lead the Sens up the standings as they look to get a sniff of the playoff picture.

Offense

Really we should be talking about Karlsson, but for now we will keep it to the Senators forward group. Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman are two gifted talents who play at a high level and bring something a little different. Sadly for the Send, Stone will be bringing crutches as a pre-season broken kneecap will most likely keep him out for the whole season. A brutal blow for the offensively starved Senators, Hoffman will be asked to try and reach the 30 goal plateau. Last season center Mika Zibanejad took a major step in asserting himself as the top line pivot. His 65 points were nearly 20 more than his previous best. He provided Ottawa with a spark many nights when there was not much happening. He will once again be asked to against other top lines each and every night. Now 30, Bobby Ryan seems to have lost a step in every facet of the game. While still an all round talented player, he has been unable to top 40 points each of the last two years. Ryan did manage 21 goals but the Sens will want more out of him with another 5 years locked up on his contract. Veteran Clarke MacArthur has battled man injuries but looks to step back in and help bring  a strong 2 way game once again to the team. He along with Adam Henrique and Martin Hanzal will all be asked to increase their offensive output this year for a Sens team that struggles to score goals.

Defense

Erik Karlsson is simply a stud. No defenseman in the league can control the pace of play like the 27 year old Swede. An exceptional skater who uses his legs to beat defenders one on one loves to jump up into the play at every opportunity.  Karlsson also has a great shot from the point and is a true Power Play Quarterback. What makes him even more deadly is his puck handling and playmaking skills. 83 points last season was a new career high in an eventual Hart winning season. Karlsson will need help though on the back end and it comes in the form of Thomas Chabot. At 6’4” and 219 lbs, chabot has the size for the NHL at age 20, and should develop into a top 2 defender. With 2 season already under his belt, Chabot looks to take on an expanded role this season playing in the top 4 and the second power play unit. Andreas Englund had a good first year in the capital city of Canada last year. The former 2nd round pick in 2014 never looked out of place and was a valuable member in all situations. Towering Jared Cowen now looks to be a disappointment after being drafted 9th overall in 2009, however he can still contribute in limited minutes to bring some sandpaper to a mostly skilled based unit. Mikael Wikstrand, Ben Harpur and Christian Jaros will round out this defensive unit starting the year.

Goaltending

At 36, the Sens hope Craig Anderson has at least one more year of being able to carry the number one load left in him. Anderson has spent the last 7 season in Ottawa and has given them solid if unspectacular net minding in that time. Anderson was able to keep his goals against average just under 3 last year and had to be good early and often in many games. The Senators brought in hulking Jacob Markstrom from the Vancouver Canucks this offseason to take some of the load off of Anderson. Markstrom was 11-6 last season and had a 2.64 GAA to go along with his steady season as backup. The Sens were very happy to bring him over and this could be a grooming year to ready Markstrom for potentially taking over the top spot next season.

Prospect Watch

Max Lajoie will start the season with the AHL Binghamton Senators but don’t be surprised if he forces his way to the NHL team as early as this season. Lajoie was one of the top defenders in the WHL last season and has a solid two way game that Ottawa management is excited to see develop. A great puck moving defenseman, Lajoie also has a sneaky good shot and has good defensive instincts. A year in the minors will undoubtedly serve his game well where he can play big minutes in all situations before moving up to the show.

Key Player

Erik Karlsson will once again be counted upon to be everything for the Senators. He has changed the perception in the league of what a high end defender is expected to do in his time in Ottawa. Signed for one more year after this season, all other teams have their calendars already marked should the Sens not be able to come to terms with the 27 year old on a contract extension. While not the biggest player on the team, the level of compete that Karlsson shows inspires his teammates each night. He is a true leader in the locker room, and an example to younger players how to conduct themselves off ice and in the gym. Karlsson will be in the running for a Norris trophy and another Hart this season as long as he stays healthy.

 

Buffalo Sabres

2016-2017 Season Finish: 32-44-6 70 points 8th in the Atlantic. Did not make the playoffs.

Outlook

It was a tough season for Sabres fans as the team finished last in the Atlantic division and were one point from finishing last in the league. As hard as the season was to go through, much of that pain was forgotten when the Sabres won the draft lottery and were rewarded with the first overall pick in the 2017 draft. Nolan Patrick was promptly selected first overall and now the Sabres look to start the hard work of building around him into a playoff team once again.

Offense

No team had a worse goal differential then the Sabres last season. While not the worst offense in the league,they were unable to score their way out of problems. Center Jack Eichel leads the way up front and was in tough a lot of nights seeing top checking units deployed against him. The captain of the team already at age 20, Eichel still was able to notch 54 points and will look to expand on that with more help around him. Often compared with McDavid, Eichel is a superbly talented centerman skates like the wind and brings a creative mind to the game each night. Eichel has a bit to learn away from the puck but Buffalo is in good hands with his leadership. Wayne Simmonds joins the Sabres after a great year in Tampa Bay. Simmonds is a beast in games and is well versed and putting pucks in the net and dropping bombs when the gloves are off. His 42 goals and 168 PIM’s will make the Sabres a much harder team to play against this season. The Sabres are also counting on production from winger Reilly Smith who came over from Florida. He provides some insulation to the young winger’s giving them time to develop without the pressure of playing on the first line. Nolan Patrick will step right into the NHL this season and will be a Calder trophy favorite. Already with a NHL sized body and speed, Patrick plays a solid all round game which coaches love and is more than willing to engage players physically. As with most youngsters his defensive game needs polishing. Buffalo though loved his blend of size and skill and look forward to him being a catalyst for the rebuild. Jesse Puljujarvi has already been traded 2 times in his young career and hopes to call Buffalo home for a while. Another large winger with great speed, he has been underwhelming so far on the scoresheet. There should be less expectations right away in Buffalo however and more of an emphasis on development for the young Finn as he looks to get his career back on track. Matthew Tkachuk has great lineage in the NHL, the son of former great Keith, Tkachuck is in the mold of mentor Simmonds,with great skill and snarl to his repertoire. The snarl has not been seen so much yet at the NHL level,however flashes of it are seen at times giving a preview for what Sabres fans hope of what will be brought on a night to night basis. Vets Tyler Ennis and Joffrey Lupul bring some skilled depth to the Buffalo forward ranks.

Defense

Rasmus Ristolainen leads the charge for the Sabres from the back. At 6’4” with a large wingspan, Ristolainen has great puck skills and a thundering shot on the power play. Entering his 5th season, Rasmus has gotten better year after year offensively and defensively. Ristolainen also brought a more physical edge to his game last year, showing the league and added element to his game not seen as much in the past. TJ Brodie is a smooth two way defender who skates and passes the puck well out of his own zone. The Sabres were happy to get Brodie to augment their defensive corps last year and he didn’t disappoint. While not flashy, he is a great example of the new modern defenseman in the NHL today. On the flip side, Erik Gudbranson is a throwback of the older days playing with a lot of snarl and bite to his game. Gudbranson is tough to play against and makes opponents pay a price to enter the zone or set up in front of the net. Not noted for his offense, his willingness to backup teammates is still respected and admired in the room. Daniel Gunnarsson comes across the pond from the SHL to join Andrej Sustr as a depth defenseman going forward.

Goaltending

It will be a shared crease this season in Buffalo with Robin Lehner and veteran Ryan Miller most likely splitting time between the pipes. Ryan Miller remains a fan favorite and capable goalie for Buffalo although he is no longer the undisputed number one. At 37, Miller now looks to continue to play 40 plus games this season while mentoring the younger Lehner. Still in fantastic shape and a student of the game, Miller is capable of playing 60 plus games if the need arises. Miller has continued to show he still has his form that made him one of the top US born goalies in his time.

Pushing to being the undisputed number one, Robin Lehner is a giant within the blue paint. Relying more on his size to take away the net rather than cat like reflexes, Lehner was slowed by a back injury and bad reaction to food he ate in New York last year. Buffalo still believes he has the ability to be a top tier goalie in the league and resigned him to a 3 year deal this summer for a $3.2 million cap hit. Lehner needs to work on his conditioning if he wants to have the endurance to take the reigns for a full season as he faded down the stretch in his last full year.

Prospect Watch

Nolan Patrick checks back in as the top prospect for the Buffalo Sabres. WIth the honor and pressure of being a first overall pick, the Sabres have a lot riding on the current management team that they got this pick right. While putting up solid numbers in junior, Patrick did not dominate offensively in any year the way some had thought he should. What makes Patrick stand out from his peers what his physical development and maturity that will serve him well starting the season in the NHL. At 6’3” and already almost 220lbs, Patrick still has room to grow into his body and the hope it once that is done he will be even more effective at using that size to his advantage. Some see Patrick as more of a winger but the Sabres will start him centering the fourth line and easing him into the games to begin. With more playing time earned this season, Patrick is a top choice for rookie of the year.

Key Player

Jack Eichel will be counted upon to go head to head with teams top players and defensive units all year and will need to be ready every night to do battle. Eichel has performed admirably since he arrived in Buffalo and has more help this year then he has previously. Eichel has an outstanding feel for the game and utilizes those around him creatively, giving his line-mates lots of room to work with. Buffalo believes this is the year Eichel breaks out offensively and could top 70 points if everything goes right. Resigned to a 3 year bridge deal, Eichel will be playing for a huge pay day going forward and all eyes will be on him to get it done.

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