Players To Watch – Breakout Candidates

It’s the Eve of the 2016-2017 season, beyond excited to get this year going. Most people have already completed their fantasy drafts for the upcoming season, but here’s who I think will be the player to watch for each team this upcoming year.

Arizona Coyotes – Dylan Strome. Although he didn’t have as great of a year last year in Erie as many would have thought, the 3rd overall pick from 2015 is set to begin his rookie campaign this season. Adding his size and talent to the young-and-improving Coyotes is a combo that should work out well for both sides. He could wind up 45-50 points in his first year.

Anaheim Ducks – Nick Ritchie. He’s excelled at every level he’s played so far, and managed 30 points in 38 AHL games last year. He struggled last year when called up, but coming into his first full season Ritchie has a lot left to prove. He should get minutes on the ducks top 6, and surrounded by guys like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry should help Ritchie get to 45 points.

Boston Bruins – David Pastrnak. Slipped a bit in production last year with 26 points in 51 games, however I expect a big season coming from the young forward. He should open the season on the top line with Bergeron and Marchand, which only boosts his value. If he remains there all season, and gets some PP time, he could be near 60 points at the end of the year.

Buffalo Sabres – Sam Reinhart. This is the year where the 2nd pick in 2014 really makes an impact with the Sabres. He showed great chemistry at the end of the year with Jack Eichel, and started to see more ice because of it. He’ll carry that momentum into this season and continue to increase production. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t hit 65 points this year.

Calgary Flames – Sam Bennett. Centering the Flames second line, Bennett has steadily improved his overall game in each of the last 2 seasons. While I don’t expect him to shoot the lights out this year, I think it’s reasonable to expect him to approach the 50 point mark in his second full season. If Matthew Tkachuk sticks with the Flames all year, it will give him better linemates than the likes of Michael Frolik and Lance Bouma.

Carolina Hurricanes – Elias Lindholm. Should see some time on the top PP unit coming into his third season. His numbers have held steady at 39 points, should be no reach to see him get close to 50 this year. He’ll have some more skilled linemates this year in Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, which could also boost his production.

Chicago Blackhawks – Nick Schmaltz – I don’t particularly believe Schmaltz will have a stellar year, but he is someone to keep an eye on during the season as a late waiver-wire grab. I think eventually he will replace Artem Anisimov on Chicago’s second line between reigning MVP Patrick Kane and most recent breakout star Artemi Panarin. But until then, only choose the top dogs when it comes to the Hawks. They have a very thin bottom 6.

Columbus Blue Jackets – Zach Werenski. Right now he’s been playing top pairing minutes with Seth Jones. That right there is enough to take a gamble on, not to mention the 14 points he had in 17 AHL playoffs games leading to the Calder Cup win. Kid can play. Could he be the newest young d-man to take the NHL by storm? Yes please.

Colorado Avalanche – Nathan MacKinnon – Last time I’ll say this – this is HIS year! It’s always felt as if he’s on the cusp of an 80-point campaign, but just hasn’t gotten there yet. He showed brilliance at the World Cup, it’s time to start putting it all together. I truly believe he can be among the elite in the NHL.

Dallas Stars – Jiri Hudler – Not exactly lining up with most of my other picks, in that he’s not exactly ‘young’ anymore. Hudler gets a chance to play with a few of the best offensive forwards in the NHL today in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Will he take full advantage of this? He’s an upgrade on the role Patrick Eaves was playing on this line the last few seasons, and even if he bounces off the top line, he’ll still be lining up with Jason Spezza as his centreman. Hudler could hit 60 points if the Stars can manage to stay fairly healthy this year.

Detroit Red Wings – Gustav Nyquist. Expect a bounce back season from Nyquist, he’s far too skilled to be a 40-point player. Will he break 60? Doubtful, only because of the surrounding cast he currently has in Detroit, but he should be a lock for 50-55.

Edmonton Oilers – Connor McDavid. Just kidding, I expect Leon Draisaitl to take another step forward after putting up 51 pts last year. The Oilers have gotten better around him, and this should free him up a little more. He’ll get plenty of looks on the PP this season, especially with the departure of Taylor Hall. I’d be willing to bet that Draisaitl breaks through the 60 point plateau this season.

Florida Panthers – Jonathan Marchessault. With the nasty injury to Jonathan Huberdeau, this opens up a spot on the top line in Florida. Marchessault has put up great numbers in the AHL (263 pts in 306 games), but the 25 year old has never had a full season in the NHL. This is his chance to take the ice-time while it’s available and make the most out of it. If he sticks there for a few months, he should hit 40 points by year end.

Los Angeles Kings – Teddy Purcell. This team doesn’t really possess a potential breakout candidate in my opinion. Their forward depth is ugly when you look past Kopitar, Carter, Toffoli, and… well that’s it. Purcell will get plenty of ice time in the top 6 and on the powerplay, but it looks like this team will struggle to score. Don’t expect more than 40 points out of Purcell.

Minnesota Wild – Matt Dumba. Here’s a guy I would gamble on for a late defensemen to breakout. He showed in junior he can score, and show glimpses last year he can as well. Problem he’s facing is playing time. If he can gain more minutes, he could push past the 30 point mark, and potentially 15 goals if the Wild use him on the PP.

Montreal Canadiens – Alex Galchenyuk. If they ever give this guy the chance to play on the top line, and it looks like he will this year, he could easily breakout for 65 points. Play him a full season with Pacioretty and see if it works. If not, then bring in a centre who does work. Galchenyuk has all the skill, I just feel he hasn’t been fully given the opportunity to play with the best players. Let’s do that this year.

Nashville Predators – Kevin Fiala. The Swiss winger looks to be a lock to make the team and stick there all year. He’s been practicing on the top line with Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen, so if he can stick there… lookout. Adding PK Subban to the mix has only increased the scoring opportunities that will come to this team, and Fiala looks to be right there in the mix. The rookie should be right in between 40-50 points in his first year in the big leagues.

New Jersey Devils – Adam Henrique. Re-united with his old buddy Taylor Hall, Henrique’s value has never been higher. He had 50 points last year with weaker linemates, expect 60-70 this season as he teams-up again with the speedster Hall, who will be playing this season with something to prove.

New York Islanders – Ryan Pulock. The key here will be if Pulock can bump Boychuk off of the top PP unit in New York. He’s got a HEAVY shot, and can put that on display with the likes of John Tavares on your team. He showed some poise late last year when he was called up, and played well in the playoffs for Isles. He had 17 goals 2 years ago in the AHL, so if he can bring that touch to the NHL level, he could be a force from the back-end.

New York Rangers – Pavel Buchnevich. Highly regarded as a rookie to watch, Buchnevich will see plenty of ice on the Rangers’ second line. Will he hit 50 points? It’s tough for many rookies to get to this level, especially in his first year coming over from the KHL, but Buchnevich possesses the skill-set to do so.

Ottawa Senators – Derick Brassard. A trade to Ottawa looks to have sparked Brassard as he’s looked great on a line with Bobby Ryan so far (yes, I know it’s only preseason). He didn’t quite have the most productive linemates last year, but he’s still a top 75 fantasy player in today’s NHL. Don’t reach too high for him, but he should be a lock for 50, and could hit 60 points if the chemistry with Ryan is real.

Philadelphia Flyers – Ivan Provorov & Travis Konecny. Technically cheating, but both of these rookies should have solid campaigns. Provorov has dominated junior for the past couple of seasons and with the injury to Del Zotto, will have plenty of ice-time available. Look no further than the Flyers again this year to have the breakout defensemen of the year on their team, as he could easily put up 40 points for a rookie. Konecny should be able to manage the same, as currently he’s playing alongside Jakub Voracek who has looked to be back to his old-self after an off-year.

Pittsburgh Penguins – Connor Sheary. A full season on a line with Sid the Kid? Sheary possesses the speed needed to keep up with Crosby. If he can continue the chemistry shown late last year and in the playoffs, he could be the new and improved Chris Kunitz. If Crosby recovers from this most recent concussion scare, he should return immediately to the dominance he showed at the World Cup and in the second half of last season. Look for Sheary to put up 25 goals minimum if he sticks with Crosby for an extended period of time.

San Jose Sharks – Tomas Hertl. He showed some great chemistry late in the season with the two Joes. Can he carry it over to this season? If he does, expect high 50’s. He’s got loads of talent, just needs to finally breakout.

St. Louis Blues – Nail Yakupov. I was picking Robby Fabbri here until the trade for Yakupov, but I’ll take one last gamble on the Yak. He’s got the skill, and the work ethic. If he finally gets a chance with good linemates, I think he can regain the magic that made him a 1st overall pick. He sure looked good on McDavid’s wing until the injury earlier last season. I’d take a gamble on 50 points this year, it’s now or never.

Tampa Bay Lightning – Jonathan Drouin. Easy pick, he’s coming into his last season on his rookie contract, and Tampa will have a tough time keeping him. Expect him to perform very well, to showcase his skills for whomever he’ll be playing for in 2017-2018. That is, unless Tampa unloads some other contracts, which is a possibility considering the magic Steve Yzerman has been able to wield recently (see Kucherov contract).

Toronto Maple Leafs – Morgan Rielly. Auston Matthews is hyped to get anywhere from 40 to 60 points. Morgan Rielly looked like a top defensemen at the World Cup this year, logging big minutes for the young guns. Add to the Leafs a much improved offense, and the smooth puck-mover could be in for a good season offensively. Time will tell how much time he gets with the man-advantage, but I’d be willing to be he creeps over 45 points this year.

Vancouver Canucks – Bo Horvat. It’s time to move on from the Sedins and start giving the future more minutes. That starts with Horvat. Give him more time at even-strength, and on the man-advantage. Start seeing what your future looks like, see how much further he can grow. But on a team I envision finishing dead last, I can’t see more than 45 points out of Horvat. If he can click with some linemates, maybe he’ll sniff at 50.

Washington Capitals – Andre Burakovsky. He’s shown some flashes of high-end skill, and it looks as though this year he’ll get the minutes. Playing alongside either Backstrom or Kuznetsov will only enhance his skill, as he did score 87 pts in the one year he played in the OHL. More than likely he’ll end up on the 2nd unit on the PP, however he should still be in reach of 50 points. I’d take a gamble on this young skater going even higher.

Winnipeg Jets – Mark Scheifele. He scored at a point-per-game pace near the end of the season, and proved he has what it takes to be a number 1 centre in this league for years to come. Add in the hard-shooting Patrik Laine, and Scheifele’s point totals should continue to rise. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t hit 70 points this year.

Follow me on twitter @RubberOnIce

(*Credit hockeydb.com – great place to look up historial stats easily)

 

Standings Predictions: 2016-2017

After reading the USA Today’s article predicting the standings of the upcoming season, I figured it was a good time to make some final predictions of my own (mostly because I disagree with some of their choices). I’m not going to predict exact point totals for each team, only the order of the standings as I see them today:

Eastern Conference

Metropolitan Division:

  1. Washington Capitals – This team remains fairly intact from last year, I see them again dominating on a nightly basis just like last year.
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins – Little bit of a Stanley Cup hangover in Pittsburgh. Finishing just behind the Capitals, just like last year.
  3. Philadelphia Flyers – Flyers get good seasons from both Mason and Neuvirth as they continue to battle for starts. Youngster Ivan Provorov has an impressive season, helping carry the Flyers up the standings
  4. New York Rangers – The decline continues for the Rangers. King Hank isn’t getting any younger, it looks as if this team’s chance for a Cup may have come and gone for the near future.
  5. New Jersey Devils – Newcomer Taylor Hall clicks with junior teammate Adam Henrique, and backstopped by one of the most consistent netminders in Cory Scneider. This is a team to watch if they can start scoring goals.
  6. New York Islanders – It looks as though this team will take a minor step back, while I believe it will only last one year. Tavares loses long-time linemate Kyle Okposo, and it will be hard to fill his void – I don’t think Ladd provides what they need.
  7. Columbus Blue Jackets –  I do see Columbus taking strides and getting better, however they’re unfortunate to be in this division. I think overly they improve their wins/loss ratio from last year, just not enough to climb into the playoffs.
  8. Caroline Hurricanes – this team is built on the backend for years to come, the only questions remains is who will score for them? They’ve got a couple young prospects they can slot into their lineup, but not enough to compete in this division.

Atlantic Division:

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning – With the majority of their stars now locked up for the future (other than Kucherov), this team can get back to focusing on winning hockey games. A full year of Jonathan Drouin will only help one of the NHL’s most potent offensive teams.
  2. Florida Panthers – Aleksander Barkov continues to grow under veteran leader Jaromir Jagr, and takes the next step into the elite player category. Adding James Reimer to back up Bobby Lu should keep the Panthers near the top of their division.
  3. Montreal Canadiens – There will be a point this season where the Habs struggle, and the media and fans will freak out. That being said, this team is too good to fall too far down the standings. A healthy Carey Price and this team is again a favorite to win it all.
  4. Buffalo Sabres – The biggest question mark coming into this season is one that was being asked last year, is Robin Lehner an NHL starter? Injury prohibited us from getting an answer on that, but Buffalo also added more firepower in Kyle Okposo. If the blueline and Lehner can perform, Buffalo could be a fun team to watch this year.
  5. Boston Bruins – Many question marks on Boston’s blueline coming into this season, as their Captain has looked as though he’s been increasingly slowing down as of late. Can Rask regain form? Can the Bruins score enough to outweigh their defensive weakness? My gut says no.
  6. Detroit Red Wings – Losing Datsyuk hurts, big time. But the real weakness for Detroit is on the blueline (a recurring theme in this division). I see Detroit taking a major step back this season. The playoff streak comes to an end.
  7. Toronto Maple Leafs – Will the Leafs be much better than last year? By a small amount yes. They will definitely be more fun to watch. The youth-movement is in full force in Toronto, as fans get to see Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner (hopefully) on a nightly basis. Frederik Andersen should provide more stable goaltending, and an improved blueline all point to signs of good things to come.
  8. Ottawa Senators – While I do believe bringing in Brassard makes the Senators a better team, I don’t believe they have the goaltending to compete this coming season. The Hamburgler took a major step back last season, and Craig Anderson is due to begin declining. I see this team as a whole taking a step back.

Western Conference

Central Division:

  1. St. Louis Blues – Even with a couple notable subtractions this offseaon in David Backes and Brian Elliot, the core of the Blues remains intact and as strong as ever. They will require Jake Allen to stay healthy all season, but with that, they look like the can roll through MOST other teams in their division. Vlad Tarasenko could potentially challenge Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard trophy with another great season.
  2. Dallas Stars – Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, and now add in Jiri Hudler. That’s an impressive group of players. Question marks? Two very shaky goalies. We’ll see if they can improve over their performances last season, that will make or break this team.
  3. Nashville Predators – I’m a firm believe that the Predators severly won the Subban for Weber trade. Pekka Rinne stays healthy and this team could win the Cup. They have the best defense corps overall in the NHL. Add in a full season of Ryan Johansen creating chemistry with Filip Forsberg, and potentially youngster Kevin Fiala? If Pekka Rinne stays healthy and returns to form, look-out.
  4. Chicago Blackhawks – The Blackhawks are overly due for a season of regression. How much more often can they continue this trend of being at the top of the NHL standings year in and year out? This was the hardest team to place for me. They could win the conference, or they could fall off to 4th in their division. I believe they will regress slightly in the goal scoring department, which will ultimately push them back in the standings.
  5. Winnipeg Jets – I really like where this team is headed. Can they bump up against a playoff spot? Yes. Adding a young gun in Puljujärvi only increases the firepower the Jets began to show at the end of last season. I expect big things from Mark Scheifele this year and Connoy Hellebuyck. I would love to see playoff games again in the Peg.
  6. Minnesota Wild – I don’t believe the Wild have the offensive power to compete in the Central Division. They have a great goaltender in Devan Dubnyk, and a young blueline in Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, and seasoned vet Ryan Suter. They’re hoping this is the season that Nino Niederreiter hits his potential, but if  he doesn’t and no one else has a breakout season, they won’t even sniff at the playoffs.
  7. Colorado Avalanche – While I consider losing Patrick Roy as a coach a positive, this team is too weak outside of the top 2 lines to push their way into a playoff spot. Only thing that can change this is a huge season from Semyon Varlamov, and they’ll need Nathan MacKinnon to finally breakout. Having one of these things happen is likely, having both would be lucky. And Colorado will need all the luck they can get.

Pacific Division:

  1. San Jose Sharks – This has to be the year the Sharks win a Cup. If not, they could be waiting a few years before being back at the big dance. Patrick Marleau was showing his age last season, and Joe Thornton can only put off the age factor for so much longer. They are built deep, and strong. This is the team to watch this year.
  2. Anaheim Ducks – John Gibson is now the man in Anaheim. Is he ready to shoulder the heavy workload that comes with being a full-time starter? Time will tell. This is another team, like the Sharks, that is slowly ageing, and counting down the years it has left to be in the Cup conversation.
  3. Arizona Coyotes – The future is now in Arizona. This team is built DEEP in the prospect pool. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair looked great last season, and the Coyotes are likely to add a couple more high-potential prospects to their NHL roster including Dylan Strome and potentially (likely) Christian Dvorak. Add this to their already talented group and it smells of success. Will it be instant? Most would guess no, but there’s plenty of opportunity in this division for Arizona to win games.
  4. Edmonton Oilers – Is Connor McDavid enough to push these guys out of the basement? Short answer is yes. But they’ve also improved on defense in adding Adam Larsson (sorry Oilers fans), and adding some grit and size up front in Milan Lucic. It’s only a matter of time before Edmonton FINALLY puts it all together.
  5. Los Angeles Kings – Sure they still have the best defensemen (overall) in the NHL in Drew Doughty, and boast the likes of Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick, but their bottom six forwards are… yikes. They’re no longer the powerhouse they once were. They need to add a few key pieces in order to even have a chance to squeak into the playoffs.
  6. Calgary Flames – The problem in Calgary is their bottom six group of forwards. They posses some good young talent in Johnny Hockey, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett. However, beyond that, it begins to stretch thin. They’ve addressed their biggest flaw from last season in bringing in a proven start in Brian Elliot. While this team has taken strides forward, they still need to improve their bottom six before they can be looked upon as a Cup contender.
  7. Vancouver Canucks – Hands down, the Canucks are the worst team heading into the 2016-2017 season. They are aging on forward and in net, and do not boast the prospect pools such as Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary. Vancouver is due for a dead-last, draft lottery winning rebuild. The time is now.

Playoff Picture:

Eastern Conference:

  1. Washington Capitals
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins
  3. Tampa Bay Lightning
  4. Florida Panthers
  5. Montreal Canadiens
  6. Philadelphia Flyers
  7. Buffalo Sabres
  8. New York Rangers

Western Conference:

  1. St. Louis Blues
  2. San Jose Sharks
  3. Dallas Stars
  4. Nashville Predators
  5. Anaheim Ducks
  6. Chicago Blackhawks
  7. Edmonton Oilers
  8. Winnipeg Jets