Sure Playoff Teams
As noted above, we like the Columbus Bluejackets a lot this season. The Jackets has a tough time scoring goals against the Penguins in the playoffs and so brought in more offense by trading for Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin. He’ll team up with premium assist-man Alexander Wennberg. The first two lines are very solid, while the blue line includes two premium young defensemen in Seth Jones, who had 12 goals and 30 assists, and Zach Werenski, who scored 11 goals and contributed 36 assists. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who is a premium netminder, is coming off a great season. If he can keep his level of play up in 2017, this team will be tough to beat.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will be there. That’s despite the fact that so many guys have moved on to other teams. It’s true that the team will miss the output of Bonino (18 goals), Cullen (13) and Kunitz (9), who helped them reach a NHL high last season of 278 goals. Still, the Quins have Sidney Crosby (44 goals) and Evgeni Malkin (33 goals). They will need to be healthy for this team to excel. Wingers Phil Kessel (23 goals), Conor Sheary (23 goals) and Patric Hornqvist (21 goals) will bring game. On defense, Kris Letang’s health is of major importance, and goalie Matt Murray needs to prove that he can play top-notch hockey for an entire season as the number one goal stopper.
They gave up a lot of goals last season, and we expect them to do the same this year. That’s the New Jersey Devils who are weak on defense and in net. Goalie Corey Schneider needs to step it up. The Devils have some amazing young players, including 2017 number one draft pick Nico Hischier on offense and Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher on defense. Plus, they have a fine group of young, talented players on the frontline. But it will take some time for this team to gel. And they desperately need depth on the blue line.
The New York Islanders are another team in need of a defense. The Islanders were 11th in the East in goals allowed, giving up 211 last season. On offense, the top line with Eberle, Tavares, and Lee, could be potent, as could the second attack line that is made up of youngsters. Starting goalie looks to be Jaroslav Halak. He brings questions concerning his durability. The Flyers have second overall draft pick, 19-year-old Nolan Patrick on offense. He has the potential to be a highlight reel. But a thin defense and a recently much-travelled Brian Elliot in goal raise some major red flags for this team.
Playoff Position Contenders
After the Bluejackets and Penquins, the Washington Capitals, who are not the team they were over the past two seasons, will be competitive. We expect them to make it into the playoffs, but unlike the last few seasons, we do not think they will be the top team in the Metro. Their defense is spotty and they need Ovechkin and Kuznetsov to find their form when it comes to goal scoring. Rookie Vrana can be a real wild card. If he has a great season, so too will the Caps.
We like the New York Rangers a lot and the Carolina Hurricanes have a lot of potential, especially when it comes to offensive output. The Rangers will have 35-year-old Henrik Lundqvist in goal. Although he’s had some injury issues, he’s still a major netminder. The defense is deep and the addition of Lias Andersson on offense could pay off quickly. Carolina will put a very sound defense on the ice, as Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin and Noah Hanifin offer quality play. Goalie Scott Darling has a major upside, while the addition of former Cap right winger Justin Williams to the offense should prove beneficial.
NHL 2017-2018 Central Division Preview: Overall Outlook
We see the Bluejackets, Penguins, and Capitals as making it into the second-season. After that, we think that either the New York Rangers or Carolina Hurricanes will nab a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s doubtful that either the Islanders or Devils will have a shot at the postseason. When push comes to shove, Columbus has the best shot at going deep due to their depth, evolving maturity, and goaltending. Pittsburgh will have some say as to how deep the Jackets actually get into the playoffs.
- It should be the Bluejackets division to lose, the Penquins division to divide and conquer, and the Capitals division to travel through into a playoff spot. All three will be in the hunt for the Stanley Cup.
- We like the Rangers a lot when it comes to the wild card. Our tendency to favor the Rangers is partly due to the fact that both the Islanders and Devils have such weak defenses and the Canes and Flyers have some major problems with depth.
- There are a lot of exciting young players in the Metro, especially on offense, and some major concerns in goal and on defense.
NHL 2017-2018 Central Division Preview: Predictions
- Columbus Bluejackets– 51-25-6, 108 pts*
- Pittsburgh Penguins– 46-32-4, 98 pts*
- Washington Capitals– 43-31- 8, 94 pts*
- New York Rangers– 42-34-6, 90 pts* (Wild Card)
- Carolina Hurricanes– 38-32-12, 88 pts
- Philadelphia Flyers– 37-34-11, 85 pts
- New York Islanders– 33-37-12, 78 pts
- New Jersey Devils– 30-32-10, 70 pts
*Denotes playoff team