With the exhibition season drawing to a close, it’s time to anticipate some of the story lines I think we’ll see develop over the course of the season.
Here are the 10 top things I’m expecting to emerge over the next 7 months.
- Ryan Johansen
Johansen is the oft forgotten graduate of the Class of 2010 that also includes Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. The 6’3″ 225 centre came close to a PPG last season and, now that he has Brandon Saad patrolling his left wing, I expect Johansen to take another step forward and emerge as a true superstar. Worth noting that Johansen led the NHL pre season scoring with 4G and 12P in only 4 games while his right winger, Nick Foligno finished with 9 points and Saad recorded 8. This is setting up as one of the premier lines in all of hockey.
2. McDavid vs. Eichel vs. Sam Bennett
Most observers expect McDavid and Eichel to be the top two in an outstanding rookie class but it needs to be remembered that both are playing on teams that don’t score much, have huge holes on the blue line and questionable goaltending. None of those things apply to Bennett whose Calgary Flames were 6th in goal scoring last season and promise to be even better this season with a healthy Mark Giordano, the additions of possession darling Michael Frolik and puck moving wizard Dougie Hamilton as well as further maturation of young stars Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Others to keep an eye on are Artemi Panarinin in Chicago and Nikolaj Ehlers in Winnipeg.
3. Jamie Benn
Benn won the scoring title last season despite playing with two bad hips which he had operated on in the offseason. He’s now healthy and will have Patrick Sharp and Tyler Seguin as line mates. Will he win the Hart Trophy? When asked which player he would build a team around, Sidney Crosby immediately identified Benn as his choice. I don’t disagree.
4. Tyler Seguin
The Yin to Benn’s Yang is Tyler Seguin who emerged last season as a bonafide superstar. Seguin would have easily topped 40 goals last season had he not missed 10 games to a dirty low bridge hit. He may be one of the few players with a legitimate chance to hit 50 this season and I wouldn’t bet against him.
6. Bo Horvat
Horvat was a revelation last season starting out on the 4th line and later in the season centering Vancouver’s 3rd line. In camp this season, he’s already moved up to the Canucks 2nd line C position and there are more than a few observers who believe he will soon make Vancouver fans forget all about Ryan Kesler.
7. Vladimir Tarasenko
Tarasenko is another member of that sweet 2010 draft class that should hit another level this season. After scoring 37 goals and 73 points in 77 GP last season, I expect Tarasenko will soon join Seguin atop the pinnacle of that draft class.
8. Buffalo vs. Edmonton
The Oilers finished 8 points ahead of the Sabres last season and, while adding Connor McDavid, trading for Cam Talbot and signing Andrej Sekera, the Sabres have blown them away in making substantive changes to their roster.
Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, David Legwand, Jamie McGinn, Zach Bogosian, Cody Franson and Robin Lehner trump everything the Oilers have done in the offseason. I expect they’ll improve much more than the Oilers. and….by the way…the Oilers are almost cap strapped while the Sabres have almost $12M in free cap space.
9. The Detroit Red Wings
This is the season that the Wings finally fail to make the playoffs. It’s not so much that they will decline by a large margin but the hard charging Florida Panthers, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Ottawa Senators all are likely to finish ahead of them.
10. There is always one team that surprises with their success and at least one other that does a face plant. This season, I think the Calgary Flames are going to surprise and will win the Pacific Division. My candidate for the team likely to fall furthest is the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks made the playoffs last season by a mere 3 points and with the changes they’ve been forced make and the surging Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets, they could well finish 6th in the tough Central Division.