Four NHL Teams to Watch This Year
With the NHL pre-season now underway and the regular season right around the corner, I decided to take a look at the moves teams have made this off-season and compile a shortlist of teams that could potentially surprise a lot of people and end up having successful seasons.
2018 record: 37-37-8
2019 Projected Record: 45-33-4
If the Philadelphia Flyers are the question, goalie trouble is almost certainly the answer. The Flyers have had the misfortune of jumping between starting goalies year after year for almost a decade now, but maybe, just maybe now their prayers have been answered. Sophomore goalie Carter Hart put up promising stats last season in the 31 games he played; posting a 16-13-1 record with a .918 save percentage and 2.84 GAA, now these aren’t Vezina award-winning numbers by all means, but it was great to see a netminder show some glimpses of success in a Flyers uniform. Philadelphia’s talent outside of the crease can’t be denied either; their forwards consist of a great mix of young players and guys who are still in their prime; names like Giroux, Couturier, Voracek, Konecny and newly acquired free agent Kevin Hayes headline the Flyers forward core along with exciting prospects like Nolan Patrick, Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee; it’s safe to say that they won’t be finding it hard to score in the upcoming seasons. As for the defensive core, the Flyers noticed that now with Hart as the bonafide starter, they need to find a way to make the 20-year old’s job as comfortable as it can be; picking up veteran defensemen Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun to play with their youthful defensive core; doing this added security and a bit of veteran leadership to the team. If all goes well for the Flyers and they can stay healthy this year, I feel that they can really make an impact; Hart seems like the real deal between the pipes, and they were able to make some intelligent moves this off-season that will really benefit the team’s performances this season.
2018 record: 33-39-10
The Buffalo Sabres haven’t made the playoffs since the 2010 season, they haven’t finished outside of the bottom two teams in their division since 2012, so I think it’s safe to say that the city has waited long enough for this phase to end. The Sabres have acquired pieces for a playoff run over the years and finally were ready to make a push last season after starting out as one of the hottest teams in the league. But unfortunately it all fell apart at a bad time and the Sabres weren’t able to repair themselves and get back on track. With good production from the forwards last year and two new additions in Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey, the Sabres piece together a dangerous top six; capable of providing enough offense for a playoff team. The defenseman, as we know, is not Buffalo’s problem; with one of the best young defensemen in the NHL today in Rasmus Dahlin, backed up by the likes of Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen and Brandon Montour, this D core is solid enough to at least contend for a top 8 spot. Where the question comes into play with the Sabres is in goal, last season Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark created a tandem and each played around half the games, the problem was they both sucked! The Sabres need to find some stability in goal; whether they roll with the gruesome twosome of Ullmark and Hutton, try to make a move for a starting goalie before the deadline or maybe, something I’d personally like to see would be if they give 2019 OHL Goaltender of the year Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen a chance in goal, the 20-year old looks towering in net and is coming off a tremendous year with the Sudbury Wolves and with his country as he won gold with Finland at the World Junior Hockey Championship.
There shouldn’t be any doubt that at the very least the Sabres will provide some very fun hockey to watch this season just by looking at their roster, the key for them will be staying consistent; they finished 12-24-5 on the road last season, this is something that can’t repeat if they wish to make the playoffs this year and personally I think they can, if one of or both Hutton and Ullmark add some consistency to their game the Sabres could easily become a force to not be reckoned with.
2019 Projected Record: 42-28-12
2018 record: 37-36-9
The Pacific division is very, very difficult to play in. It’s so evenly matched that last season, not one of the teams finished with a losing record; the Wild finished dead last in the Central last year which was a bit of a head-scratcher because the year before they finished in 3rd with 101 points and nothing really changed within the team; this turned out to be the problem, the Central is so tight that if you aren’t improving after every year, you’ll be left in the dust by the other seven teams. And that’s just what happened to the wild, they sat back last season and the division past them. Obviously the Wild noticed this; getting rid of the old and bringing in the new, the wild made a number of trades this past season to give themselves a new look. Getting rid of top 6 forwards Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund in exchange for Kevin Fiala, Ryan Donato and Mats Zuccarello. A few changes here and there and the Wild are looking like the dangerous wild card that they have been known as recently. Taking a look at their forwards they have a really nice balance of play styles and a good ratio of veterans to youth players. And defensively the Wild has been one of the most sound teams in recent years; with the likes of Suter, Dumba, Spurgeon and Brodin and a goalie who I think just misses out on top 10 in the league in Devan Dubnyk. I admire the changes the Wild made to their offence and I think it will benefit them in the scoring department this season. Zuccarello and Fiala are natural goal creators, Donato will be an effective role player for years and years to come and they didn’t lose any pieces that I think are key for them. Of course, being in the Central; just about anything can happen but, I am confident in saying that the Wild will be a playoff team this season.
2019 Projected Record: 47-26-9
New Jersey Devils
2018 record: 31-41-10
Saving the best for last here, oh boy what an off-season the Devils have had. Not only were they fortunate enough to win the draft lottery where they went on the pick who is supposed to be the next Patrick Kane in Jack Hughes. But they were also able to acquire one of the best defensemen in the NHL today; P.K Subban. These two alone is enough for me to be convinced that the Devils could contend for the playoffs this season, but they also went along and added veteran power forward Wayne Simmonds from Philadelphia who has eleven seasons under his belt in total and five of them finishing with 28+ goals. They also were able to add Nikita Gusev; an elite playmaker who put up 17 goals and 65 assists in 62 games playing for St.Petersburg SKA of the KHL last season. These four added to the Devils roster help their team and especially their offence. They added three guys that, to say the least, know how to score, and also strengthened their back end with an all-star defenseman. In goal this year, New Jersey should go with a tandem this season, much like what Cory Schneider had success with way back in Vancouver with goaltender Roberto Luongo, both goalies will benefit immensely in sharing the workload, it will keep them fresh and in a confident mindset, This could be just what Cory Schneider needs to get back on track after his shocking performances in recent years and it’s just what Blackwood needs in order to grow into the starter that the Devils hope to have in the future.
2019 Projected Record: 49-30-3