2017-2018 NHL Season Preview Metropolitan Division

In the first of four division previews we have the Metropolitan Division. Thanks to Damon Macioce for the write up!

METROPOLITIAN DIVISION

CAROLINA HURRICANES
2016-2017 Season Finish: 3rd Place, 95 points, lost in second round of playoffs to Boston
The Carolina Hurricanes had an all around solid season last year finishing third in the Metro Division one point behind the New York Islanders. They advanced in the playoffs defeating those Islanders in 5 games only to be swept by the Boston Bruins in the second round. The core of the team has remained in tact which gives fans hope that another strong season is ahead.

Offense
The Canes offense will once again be led by the Staal brothers – Jordan and Eric. 32-year old C Eric Staal showed he still has plenty left in the tank netting 28 goals and 52 points while playing in all 82 games last seaosn. The top line of C Jordan Staal – LW Jeff Skinner – RW Elias Lindholm is a primier unit that not only can score, but are very solid defensively and play a 200-foot game. Carolina will get some moderate offensive contributions from players like LW Scott Hartnall, C Victor Rask and RW Nathan Gerbe, but overall the Hurricanes will need their core players to carry the team offensively.

Defense
The Hurricanes were dealt a major blow in the preseason when All-Star D Justin Faulk went down with a radial nerve compression in the elbow when he collided with the net. He’s not expected to be back in the line up until March. This will put a lot of pressure on their younger defeneseman to try and fill the void at both ends of the rink. 20-year old Noah Hanifin, 21-year old Joshua Jacobs and 24-year old Ryan Murphy will have to rally the D-corp to try and meet the challenge.

Goaltending
One big move the Canes made this offseason was signing free agent G Johnathan Bernier to a 3-year $6,020,000 contract. Last season G Eddie Lack performed very well with most of his stats in the top of the league leaders, but management felt he may have been performing over his head and that signing Bernier gave them a solid goaltending tandem. With the recent loss of D Faulk, it may be up to Bernier and Lack to keep the goals against down while the young defense develops and gels.

Prospect Watch
Carolina has two very good defensive prospects in their system including 2017 first round pick Nickolas Hague (23rd overall). Hague is only 18 though, and probably won’t be in the NHL for another season or two. 19-year old D Charlie McAvoy may have to be rushed into service due to the Faulk injury, but he is still fairly raw as a prospect. McAvoy should be an elite defensemen someday though, so maybe getting him some seasoning will hurry that process along.

Key Player
Jordan Staal – not only is Jordan a huge part of the Carolina offense, he is one of the best defensive forwards in the league. He can give other team’s #1 centers fits while still putting pucks in the net. He also is on the #1 PP and is a penalty killer. Lose Jordan Staal, and the Canes would have multiple holes to fill.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
2016-2017 Season Finish: 8th Place, 69 points
Last season the Blue Jackets finished last in the league with 69 points, but several talented young players made improvements over the season including rookie of the year LW Nikolaj Ehlers. Most feel the Jackets will be much more competitive this season, and could make a push for a playoff spot.

Offense
The Blue Jackets are very deep talent-wise with players like LW Ehlers, LW/C Sam Bennett, C Sean Couturier, C Boone Jenner, RW Radim Vrbata and LW Patrick Sharp. Most feel Bennett and Couturier have the potential to be elite players in the league, as both have shown flashes of domination. Couturier led all Blue Jacket forwards in scoring last season with 18G and 35A for 55 points, but Ehlers had 21G and 21A in just 35 games with the Blue Jackets after being traded from Winnipeg. All in all Columbus should have the potential to produce offensively.

Defense
Elite defenseman Dougie Hamilton led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 14G and 58A playing in all 82 games. He and Ryan Murray form an impressive #1 defensive pair. The rest of the defensive unit consists of veteran presences such as Trevor Daley, Andrew Ference and Andrej Sekera. All three are steady defensively, but only Daley will be counted on for offensive contributions. Columbus also signed Vladislav Gavrikov from the KHL this offseason, and are hoping the 21-year old can develop into a no. 3 or 4 defenseman.

Goaltending
Columbus will rely on two average but capable goaltenders in Ondrej Pavalec and James Reimer. Both will make the saves they are supposed to, but won’t steal many games. With the talent they have on offense and defense, this may be all they need.

Prospect Watch
The Blue Jackets selected 18-year old offensive talent C Gabe Vilardi in the 2017 draft (second overall), and are hoping he will be making contributions at the NHL level as early as next season. Vilardi had 102 points in 68 games for the Windsor Spitfires last season. They also have two 20-year old top prospects in D Gabriel Carlsson and RW Timo Meier at the AHL level that may be called up at any point during the season.

Key Player
Dougie Hamilton – Hamilton may not lead the team in scoring again this season, but his offensive contributions are at the elite level. Not only that, he is a shutdown-type defenseman that will log a lot of important minutes.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS
2016-2017 Season Finish: 4th Place, 83 points, lost in first round of playoffs to Tampa Bay
Last season, New Jersey traded elite C Evgeni Malkin to the Winnipeg Jets in a move toward the future. The players had other thoughts though, as they battled their way up the standings making the playoffs on the last game of the season. Even though the Devils were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Lightning, they have a lot to hope for this season and the future.

Offense
Even though they traded Malkin last season, the Devils still have elite forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kyle Palmieri. Nugent-Hopkins may play wing and center at times during the season. Newly acquired young talent RW Kasperi Kapanen will be looked on to provide offense from the 2nd or 3rd line. Centers Nic Petan and Tyler Bozek – players acquired in the Malkin deal from Winnipeg – will also contribute some offense with Bozek also providing PK time and leadership. C Mike Cammalleri is another upper-echelon talent who should contribute from whichever line he centers. New Jersey should be able to expect consistent offensive contributions from their top three lines.

Defense
Leading the Devil defense corp is “veteran” Adam Larsson who is expected to contribute offense as well as playing in all key situations. He heads a relatively young defense group who are a little raw, but have tons of upside. Jan Kostalek was another player acquired in the Malkin trade who showed flashes of top-pair talent before a season-ending injury. Top 2017 draft pick Nolan Kneen is very raw, but could see playing time this season because of his tremendous potential. The elder of the group is 29-year old Jarkko Nappila who will start the season on the top defensive pair.

Goaltending
New Jersey made a huge move this offseason goaltending-wise dealing Cory Schneider to the Maple Leafs with Cam Talbot as part of the return. Talbot should provide steady minutes while 20-year old Mackenzie Blackwood develops. Blackwood looks to be a top-ten level talent in the future. The Devils are hoping Talbot can log 50-60 games this season (at least) and keep the Devils in games enough that the offense can put them away.

Prospect Watch
Along with D Kneen and G Blackwood (the future is now!), the Devils also have good prospects at the AHL level in D Steven Santini, LW Linus Weissbach and RW Blake Speers. All three could spend time at the NHL level at certain points this season.

Key Player
Kyle Palmieri – Palmieri is not only the Devil Captain, but he is a force at both ends of the rink. If he can duplicate last seasons’ stats (34G, 26A, 60P in 67 games) and provide steady contributions in his own end, he can possibly push the Devils into another playoff birth.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS
2016-2017 Season Finish: 3rd Place, 96 points, lost in first round of playoffs to Carolina
The Islanders made a strong push last season to finish in 2nd place one point ahead of Carolina, but that momentum faded in the first round of the playoffs losing 4-1. This team is very young though with only three players over the age of 30, so all signs are pointing up for an even better season in 2017-2018.

Offense
The Islander offense has no shortage of elite talent lead by captain John Tavares who registered 36G, 44A, 80P in 72 games. LW Anders Lee lead the team in scoring last season and also finished 2nd in the league with 48G, 49A, 97P while playing in all 82 games. RWs Ryan Strome and Kyle Okposo are also elite talents who will produce numbers in the 20-25G, 35-40A range. The Islanders also have a couple future elite players in RW Josh Ho-Sang and C Matt Barzal who will contribute at their current capabilities as well. Offense should not be one of New York’s problems this season.

Defense
While the Islander offense should be tops in the league, their defense may find itself more middle-of-the-pack. Calvin de Haan is their best all-around defenseman, and should improve on his offensive numbers from last season (11G, 26A, 37P). Nick Leddy can put up offensive numbers in the 10G, 35A range. Johnny Boychuk is a good two-way defenseman who will see some PP time. Travis Harmonic is a solid stay-at-home style defensman that should log a lot of ice time against the opponent’s top line. All of the Islander defenseman should finish with good offensive numbers mostly due to their overall team offensive talent. How they play team-defense will be the key to their success though.

Goaltending
Veteran Jaroslav Halak is a steady, dependable presence in net for the Islanders. He will probably face a lot of shots every game due to the offensive fast-pace game the Islanders like the play, but that is when he shines the most. They may be in trouble if Halak gets hurt though, with Patrik Bartosak as the back up.

Prospect Watch
The Islanders best prospect is 2017 first round draft pick RW Bastien Lafreniere, but he is very raw and may not make it to the NHL level for a couple years. They have two other good prospects at the AHL level in D Mitch Vande Sompel and C Maxym Fontaine, but only injuries would force them up to the Islanders this season.

Key Player
Anders Lee – it would have been easy to choose John Tavares, but with the numbers Lee is capable of putting up, he would be a major loss if he spent any time on IR. That could be said for anyone who finishes in the top 3 in scoring.

NEW YORK RANGERS
2016-2017 Season Finish: 6th Place, 76 points
The Rangers had a major drop off from 2015-2016 to 2016-2017 (110 points vs. 76 points). Unlike their New York counterparts, the Rangers have several players over the age of 30. Management feels last season was an enomoly, and age was not the problem. Fans are counting on a strong rebound and a playoff birth, and the motivated Rangers look to prove all the naysayers wrong and deliver.

Offense
The New York Rangers have a solid offensive line up from player #1 through #12. They arguably only have one upper echelon player in Emerson Etem, but they are loaded with good, dependable players like LW Mats Zuccarello, LW Chris Kreider, C Derrick Brassard and C Derek Stepan. RW Etem lead the team in goals (34) and points (58) last season, but he and the others will need to improve on their point totals if they want to move up the standings. The potential to improve is there, so maybe the enomoly-theory is right.

Defense
Like the offense, the defense is very solid – on the top two pairs. The defense corp is lead by team captain Dan Girardi who had 10G and 25A last season, but is also elite defensively. He is paired with Ryan McDonagh (6G, 36A) to form a tandem that gives other offenses fits. The second pair – Keith Yandle and Marc Staal – could be considered a 1A pair because they are both solid offensively and defensively. There is a drop off to the third pair with Kevin Klein and Dylan McIlrath, but neither will hurt the team when they are on the ice.

Goaltending
When you think of elite NHL goaltenders, Henrik Lundqvist is a name that comes to most minds. Even at age 35, he is still among the top netminders in the league. The problem is he had a down year from his standard in almost every statistical category last season – 2.77 GAA which is higher than his 2.20ish expected range, 0.911 save percentage lower than his 0.922ish average being the most noteworthy. Those numbers could be due to the team’s down year, but it has Ranger management at least keeping an eye on the situation. This season may be as simple as – however Lunqvist goes, so go the Rangers. New York has a young backup goaltender in Magnus Hellberg who is raw, so the plan is for him to be limited to around 15 games in net this season.

Prospect Watch
Not only are the Rangers an older team, but they are also relatively thin in the prospect area. They do have 2017 first round draft pick Rickard Hugg, and 18-year old centerman who should be a top talent some day. Another player of interest is 18-year old LW Johnathan Bendorf who is very raw right now, but shows signs of everything coming together in the future and being a solid NHL player.

Key Player
Henrik Lundqvist – the Rangers have a solid offense and defense throughout, so losing a piece here or there wouldn’t impact the team as much as losing Lundqvist would. And it isn’t close. The Rangers need Lundqvist to be Lundqvist if they plan on making it back to the playoffs this season.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
2016-2017 Season Finish: 7th Place, 73 points
The Flyers have struggled to find their way over the past three seasons with two 7th place finishes and one sixth. This has forced a front-office shake up in an attempt to right the ship and give this once proud franchise direction. Philadelphia has key pieces to build around, it’s just a matter of completing the puzzle.

Offense
The Philadelphia offense is a diverse group – there are elite to very-good players that the team can build around and depend on for offense, then there are players who seem to simply fill out the bottom half of the roster. The elite players are recognizable names like captain RW Claude Giroux, RW Jakub Voracek and LW Nikita Kucherov. Giroux led the Flyers in all offensive statistical categories last season with 36G, 37A, 73P – 15 of those goals on the PP, and 6 game-winners. Philadelphia has a few other noteable players like LW/C Sam Gagner and C Nick Cousins to contribute offense, but they may struggle to get much production out of their bottom two lines.

Defense
The Flyer defense is led by their blossoming superstar Ivan Provorov who had 13G, 28A and 41P last season. Provorov should expand on those totals this season as he will log more ice time, be put in more key situations, and lead the power play due to the loss of Michael Del Zotto to free agency. Philadelphia also has two 22 year old defensemen that will also see a lot of ice time – Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg. Both are solid defensively, but only moderate offensive production is expected. All in all the Flyer D may have their moments, but also may suffer from growing pains due to their youth.

Goaltending
The Flyers return last season’s goaltending tandem of Andrei Vasilevskiy and Jonas Hillier. The younger Vasilevskiy (23) will look to start about 2/3 of this season’s games similar to last season. He needs to improve on last season’s 3.02 GAA and .910 save percentage if they plan on improving their divisional position. Same can be said for Hillier (3.06 GAA, .913 save percentage).

Prospect Watch
Philadelphia was without a first round pick in the 2017, but they had two high second-round picks who should be excellent players some day. 34th pick, 18-year old C Jake Leschyshyn may take some time to develop, but will be a top-line playmaking center. 37th pick, 18-year old RW Aaron Meger will be an offensive force in the future, but not for another 2-3 years.

Key Player
Claude Giroux – all of the Flyer elite players are key to the team’s success this season, but their leader and most productive offensive talent would be a huge loss if he were to miss any time to injury.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
2016-2017 Season Finish: 5th Place, 79 points
Pittsburgh’s first season without C Evgeni Malkin did not go as well as planned, and the Penguins failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in ten years. The team made a late charge for the last playoff spot, but fell short in the last week of the season. Management, coaches and players are all saying the right things, and vow the Penguins will be back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season.

Offense
When you talk about the Pittsburgh Penguins and offense, you have to start with C Sidney Crosby. Last season Crosby had 37G, 51A and 88P in 73 games. He centers the top line with 20-year old LW Pavel Zacha and 29-year old Phil Kessel. Zacha is very good with the talent to be elite, while Kessel is already elite. The other three lines are average to below average though, which has allowed other teams to key on Sid’s line. LW Beau Bennett and RW Patric Hornqvist will be counted on the contribute some offense, but the Penguins don’t seem to be the offensive juggernaut as in the past.

Defense
The Pittsburgh defense corp is led by 30-year old Kris Letang who on most nights dominates both ends of the rink. Letang had 12G, 42A for 54 points last season, but has the capacity to score even more. He is paired with Olli Maatta, another elite two-way defenseman. Ian Cole and Fedor Tyutin are solid stay-at-home defenseman. Last season the Penguins decided to throw first round pick Jacob Chychrun into the fire, and not send him back to juniors. He struggled at times, but showed some signs of growth.

Goaltending
The Penguins have a solid goaltending tandem in Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray. Fleury has been carrying the load in recent seasons – last season he played in 71 of the 82 games with a record of 31-35-4. Although his save percentage and GAA weren’t elite (.909 and 2.86), most of that can be attributed to the team’s down season. Both Fleury and Murray will be key contributors if the Pens turn things around and make the playoffs this season.

Prospect Watch
Two of the Penguins most elite prospects are already at the NHL level – LW Pavel Zacha (20) and D Jacob Chychrun (19). Management feels they can learn and develop quicker by being thrown into the fire. The Pens also have 2017 first round pick 18-year old Austin Pratt who was drafted out of high school. Pratt is very raw right now, but in 2-3 seasons he should be a very good player.

Key Player
Sidney Crosby – it’s easy to choose on the best players in the league as the Penguins key player, but the reason I have chosen him as key is for him to stay healthy. If Crosby plays 82 games, he will be at the top or near the top of the league in scoring. Pittsburgh are counting on all that contribution to help propel them to the playoffs again.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS
2016-2017 Season Finish: 1st Place, 100 points, lost in first round of playoffs to Boston
Washington followed up their first Stanley Cup with a 100-point season and captured the Metropolitain Division crown in 2016-2017. They ran into a Boston Bruin team surging at the right time though, and fell in the first round of the playoffs 4 games to 2. The Capitals are ready to get at it again though, and look to get back to the Cup Finals once again.

Offense
The Capital offense has been lead by goal-scoring machine LW Alex Ovechkin since 2005, and this season should be no different. Ovechkin had 47 goals in only 64 games last season. He is part of an impressive top line with C Nicklas Backstrom and fellow Russian RW Nail Yakupov. That trio should put up impressive numbers again this season. The Caps have several other excellent forwards like C Kyle Turris (lead the team in scoring with 21G, 60A, 81P), RW David Perron, RW Tomas Jurco, LW Evgeny Kuznetsov and 40-year old veteran Jerome Iginla. This team should have no problem generating offense this season.

Defense
Washington has two top-end talent defenseman with captain John Carlson and Damon Severson. Both are not only tremendous offensive talents, but also very sound defensively. There’s a bit of a drop off to the other two defensive pairs, but Jake Muzzin and Jake McCabe should hold their own. The Capitals signed Slater Koekkoek this offseason to help fill out the bottom four. The defense just needs to keep the other team within range and allow their offense to win games.

Goaltending
The Capitals have a solid goaltending tandem in Braden Holtby and Andrew Hammond with Holtby getting the majority of the starts. Last season Holtby was 32-18-3 with a 2.96 GAA and .911 save percentage while Hammond was 16-12-1, 2.52 GAA, .920. Even though Hammond posted better stats, Holtby is the clear #1 and will face most of the difficult opponents.

Prospect Watch
Washington didn’t pick until #89 late in the 3rd round this past draft, so they didn’t really exapnd on their talent pool. With that pick they selected 18-year old C Steven Haskell from the Edmonton Oil Kings, who may wind up being a decent player in the NHL someday, but nothing spectacular. Their two best prospect in the system are 20-year old C Mitchell Stephens and 21-year old Desi Kidd. Of the two, Stephens is the furthest along in his development, and projects to be a very capable offensive center.

Key Player
Alex Ovechkin – Players with the knack to put the puck in the net are always key on a club, so Ovi is an easy choice. He can put up 50-60 goals in a season almost automatically – if he stays healthy. Even though Washington has several players capable of putting up offensive numbers, losing Ovechkin would eat up a large chunk of the Capital offense.

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