2017-18 NHL Western Conference Preview

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Hey Jack, hockey’s back!

The puck will drop this Wednesday, October 4 on the 2017-18 National Hockey League season and once again HockeyClan has got you covered. This is part one of our two-part series previewing the Eastern and Western Conferences.

Here are team-by-team previews letting you know who’s new, who’s where and where they’re going along with predictions on how it will all play out:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Central Division

Nashville Predators

Can Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators make a return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals? (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The secret in Smashville is out. Music City captured the hearts and minds of a nation while picking up many new fans along the way en route to its memorable run to the Stanley Cup Finals. While Nashville’s Cinderella Season didn’t produce a glass slipper, hopes still run high and rightly so.

The Predators’ Cup team returns nearly intact led by Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson up front and a vaunted defensive unit consisting of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis on the blue line. Pekka Rinne, who backstopped the Predators’ deepest playoff run in franchise history, anchors between the pipes.

Key Additions: Scott Hartnell

Key Losses: Mike Fisher, James Neal, Colin Wilson

Chicago Blackhawks

Don’t blink — these aren’t the 2013 Blackhawks. Despite the return of a couple of familiar faces in Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp, Chicago, which has captured the Stanley Cup three times in the last eight years, is trying to hang on. The Blackhawks will always be a formidable foe as long as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews lace ’em up, but the years are starting to take a toll.

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook continues to log heavy minutes on the blue line in front of goaltender Corey Crawford. They will be counted on more than ever with the loss of several key defensemen. Artem Anisimov, Richard Panik, Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz and rookie Alex DeBrincat have some big shoes to fill.

Key Additions: Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Lance Bouma, Tommy Wingels, Connor Murphy

Key Losses: Marian Hossa, Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Johnny Oduya, Brian Campbell, Scott Darling

Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild’s Devan Dubnyk is the one of the most dependable goalies in the league. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Coming off franchise records in wins and points and a surprising second-best goals-scored, the Wild are poised to take the next step with another year under their belt. Offensively, there isn’t a lot to be excited about, but what the Wild do is roll all four lines and employ one of the best set of defensemen in the league.

Minnesota possesses two of the oldest centers in the league in Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal, but surround them with youthful speedburners up and down in the wings in Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker. A return to form from Zach Parise should help too. Defensively, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Kyle Quincy rival any top-five blueliners in the league and Devan Dubnyk remains one of the best goalies in the NHL.

Key Additions: Marcus Foligno, Tyler Ennis, Kyle Quincy

Key Losses: Martin Hanzal, Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella, Erik Haula, Alex Tuch

Dallas Stars

The Stars arguably made the biggest splash in NHL free agency during the off-season by adding Ben Bishop, Alexander Radulov, Martin Hanzal, Brian Flynn and Marc Methot to the fold. Goaltending has always been the Stars’ Achilles’ Heel but the addition of Bishop should improve the league’s worst save percentage.

Dallas will not have a problem putting the puck in the net thanks to the chemistry between center Tyler Seguin and winger Jamie Benn. Jason Spezza is a solid No. 2 pivot and the addition of Radulov and Hanzal provide depth. John Klingberg is a swift, offensive puck-moving defenseman while Methot is an in-your-face shutdown blueliner. The arrow is pointing up in the LoneStar State.

Key Additions: Ben Bishop, Alexander Radulov, Marc Methot, Martin Hanzal

Key Losses: Antti Niemi, Patrick Sharp, Cody Eakin, Jiri Hudler, Ales Hemsky

St. Louis Blues

Vladimir Tarasenko, who scored 39 goals last season for the St. Louis Blues, is one of the most lethal snipers in the NHL. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Mike Yeo breathed new life into the Blues after the departure of previous coach Ken Hitchcock and the hope is the team’s recent off-season transactions are enough to push for a playoff spot in a tough division. Vladimir Tarasenko continues to be one of the biggest snipers in the league and the addition of Brayden Schenn will add more grit and toughness that was clearly lacking as the Blues found themselves pushed around when push came to shove.

Tarasenko, Schenn and a return to form for the oft-injured Jaden Schwartz is a nice start and the Blues’ second line of Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny and Ivan Barbashev leaves reason for optimism. Robby Fabbri, Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka will have to step up in front of a what remains a solid defensive core in Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Jay Bouwmeester, Joel Edmundson and Carl Gunnarsson. Jake Allen proved last season he is capable of shouldering the load in between the pipes.

Key Additions: Brayden Schenn, Beau Bennett, Chris Thorburn

Key Losses: David Perron, Jori Lehtera, Ryan Reaves, Nail Yakupov

Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg may be the surprise team of the year in the west. While goaltending continues to remain an issue, there is no denying the oozing talents of Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler. Putting the puck in the net should not be a problem for the Jets nor should its play in its own zone thanks to an underrated unit led by the physical Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers.

The goaltending carousel continues, however. Winnipeg brought in the much-maligned Steve Mason this season and he will be given every chance to seize the reigns after neither Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson distinguished themselves.

Key Additions: Steve Mason, Dmitry Kulikov, Michael Sgarbossa

Key Losses: Ondrej Pavelec, Paul Postma, Chris Thorburn

Colorado Avalanche

A former No. 1 overall pick, Nathan MacKinnon is one of the leaders on a young Colorado Avalanche team. (Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

It can only get better from here. After a franchise-worst 22 wins and 48 points, the Avalanche were a mess last season mostly due to its indifference in playing at both ends of the ice and one of the worst defensive units in the league. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov has had success in the past, but he labored through a 6-17 season and a forgettable .898 save percentage.

The worst part is Colorado really didn’t do much to improve themselves during the off-season. Still, those growing pains should pay dividends this season. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Mikko Rantanen are all very talented offensive players, but their attention to detail defensively must improve. The addition of Nail Yakupov, reknown for his poor play in his own zone, was a curious one. Youngsters Tyson Jost, Sven Andrighetto, Tyson Barrie and Nikita Zadorov must take the next step if there is any hope for improvement in 2017-18.

Key Additions: Nail Yakupov, Colin Wilson, Jonathan Bernier

Key Losses: Francois Beauchemin, Mikhail Grigorenko, Calvin Pickard, Patrick Weircioch, Rene Bourque

Pacific Division

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks are an annual contender for the cup and this season is no different. Anaheim finally silenced some of its own demons by winning a Game 7 playoff before falling to eventual conference champion Nashville last season. The seemingly ageless Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are back but defensive-center Ryan Kesler could miss half the season recovering from hip surgery.

Still, the best offensive player in the league that no one east of California is aware of is Rickard Rakell, who lit the lamp a team-high 33 times last season. He will be counted on more than ever to weather the storm along with Andrew Cogliano, Jakob Silfverberg, Patrick Eaves and Nick Ritchie. Defensively, the Ducks are solid with Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen in front of goalies John Gibson and Ryan Miller.

Key Additions: Ryan Miller

Key Losses: Shea Theodore, Jonathan Bernier, Nate Thompson, Clayton Stoner

Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid led the league in scoring last season en route to Art Ross and Hart Trophies. (Photo by Dan Riedlhuber/Getty Images)

The Oilers are a popular pick to contend for the cup — and rightfully so — but they are not there just yet. After qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2006 last winter, the Oilers are looking to build upon its success which saw it amass 103 points and advance to the second round. Generational talent Connor McDavid is capable of putting this team on his back and is the odds-on favorite to repeat as the league-leading scorer and most valuable player but ice hockey is a team game and he’ll need help.

Leon Draisaitl blossomed to the tune of 29 goals and 77 points last season. The former third overall pick is just scratching the surface of his potential. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Patrick Maroon, Milan Lucic, Ryan Strome and Jesse Puljujarvi will be looking to take the next step in front of a good, but not great, defensive unit in Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Kris Russell, Andrej Sekera and Darnell Nurse. Goaltender Cam Talbot, once given the chance to be a No. 1, did not disappoint going 42-22-8 with a solid 2.39 GAA and .919 save %.

Key Additions: None

Key Losses: Jordan Eberle, Benoit Pouliot, David Desharnais, Griffin Reinhart, Jonas Gustavsson

San Jose Sharks

One of the most consistent teams in the National Hockey League saw what may be a changing of the guard last season when it was sent home early at the hands of the youthful Edmonton Oilers. Is this the beginning of the end in San Jose? Joe Thornton is 38-years old and classmate Patrick Marleau was dealt to Toronto. His departure opens the door for Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture to bridge the gap, however, making the Sharks still a formidable foe out west.

Brent Burns, a defenseman by trade who happens to rank among the best offensive players in the league, is the ultimate wild card. Burns struck for 29 goals and 76 points behind an insane 320 shots on goal last season. Along with Mikkel Boedker, Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi, Tomas Hertl, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Paul Martin and Justin Braun at the rearguard, the pieces are still in place for the Sharks to vie for the cup but the sands of time are trickling away.

Key Additions: None

Key Losses: Patrick Marleau, Mirco Mueller, David Schlemko

Calgary Flames

Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames is one of the most exciting players in the league. Gaudreau. He led the team with 61 points in 2016-17. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

The high-flying Flames are a popular pick to take a leap up the standings. It was a popular pick last year, too. Calgary thought it solved their goaltending woes after signing Brian Elliott last season, but that proved to be a failure. This year, Elliott is out and Mike Smith and Eddie Lack are in. Is it an improvement? Smith saw a lot of rubber during his time in Arizona. He won’t see nearly the same amount with Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie and Travis Harmonic in front of him.

Offensively, sparkplug Johnny Gaudreau is one of the most exciting players in the league. The diminutive forward is complemented with a bevy of other talents including Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett, and valuable role players in Troy Brouwer, Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, Kris Versteeg and Curtis Lazar.

Key Additions: Travis Harmonic, Mike Smith, Eddie Lack

Key Losses: Brian Elliott, Chad Johnson, Deryk Engelland, Ladislav Smid, Lance Bouma

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings were dealt a blow from the get-go when goaltender and face of the franchise, Jonathan Quick quickly went down with a groin injury at the start of last season and Los Angeles never really recovered. Quick made a successful return late last season and all indications are the former NHL All-Star is back to form but it will take more than that to make a push in one of the toughest divisions in the league.

Up and down the lineup there are a lot of familiar names: Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik, Dustin Brown, Tyler Toffoli, Mike Cammalleri, Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin BUT is it enough to book a return trip to the playoffs for the once mighty Kings? The answer lies in a clean bill of health and the contributions from youngsters like Kyle Clifford, Nick Shore, Adrian Kempe, Nic Dowd and Andy Andreoff.

Key Additions: Mike Cammalleri

Key Losses: Ben Bishop, Brayden McNabb, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Greene, Jordan Nolan

Arizona Coyotes

Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes.  (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)

The future is bright in Arizona and the future may have just arrived. Long-time team captain Shane Doan has retired, long-time goalie Mike Smith was sent to Calgary and long-time coach Dave Tippett was given the pink slip ushering in a new era in the desert. The Coyotes made some moves, too, acquiring a potential No. 1 center in Derek Stepan and a potential No. 1 goalie in Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers. The team also added a nice defensive piece in Niklas Hjalmarsson so there is definitely reason for optimism.

The team has also been investing in its scouting department and the results can be seen with draft picks Max Domi, Clayton Keller, Brendan Perlini, Dylan Strome and Jacob Chychrun paying immediate dividends. Along with Anthony Duclair, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Arizona seems poised to shake things up in the standings.

Key Additions: Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Antii Raanta

Key Losses: Mike Smith, Radim Vrbata, Connor Murphy, Anthony DeAngelo, Alexander Burmistrov

Vancouver Canucks

It has been tough sledding in the Pacific Northwest these days and the Canucks appear to be in full rebuild mode. There is a new regime in place with coach Travis Green at the helm but he will have his hands full in the powerhouse Pacific.

Twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin are now 37-years old. With their best seasons behind them, expect the dynamic duo to be the next players out the door following the losses of Ryan Miller, Luca Sbisa and Drew Shore. Still, there are some exciting players to keep an eye on beginning with Bo Horvat who led the team in scoring with 52 points last season. It will be a patchwork lineup from there, however, with the likes of Loui Eriksson, Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, Brock Boeser, Sam Gagner and Brandon Sutter dressing on most nights. After serving as understudy, Jacob Markstrom will be given first crack in net.

Key Additions: Sam Gagner, Alexander Burmistrov, Michael Del Zotto, Thomas Vanek, Patrick Weircioch, Anders Nilsson

Key Losses: Ryan Miller, Luca Sbisa, Drew Shore, Phillip Larsen

Vegas Golden Knights

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury shakes hands with Bill Foley after being taken by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft at T-Mobile Arena on June 21, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Win or lose, the Vegas Golden Knights are winners. The NHL’s 31st franchise was awarded to Sin City and while history suggests the Golden Knights won’t have immediate success on the ice, every game will be must-see TV during its 2017-18 tour.

General Manager George McPhee did an admirable job amassing a great collection of veterans and promising young players to field his inaugural team this season. McPhee did well in bringing in former Stanley Cup champion and face of the franchise, Marc-Andre Fleury, who will tend goal on most nights. Forwards James Neal, Reilly Smith, Cody Eakin, Jonathan Marchessault, David Perron, Erik Haula, William Carrier, Vadim Shipachyov and Teemu Pulkkinen as well as defensemen Jason Garrison, Shea Theodore, Colin Miller and Brayden McNabb will get all the ice time they can handle.

Key Additions: 2017-18 Expansion Franchise

Key Losses: None

 

Projected Finish

Central: 1-Nashville. 2-Chicago. 3-Minnesota. 4-Dallas*. 5-St. Louis. 6-Winnipeg. 7-Colorado

Pacific: 1-Anaheim. 2-Edmonton. 3-San Jose. 4-Calgary*. 5-Los Angeles. 6-Arizona. 7-Vancouver. 8-Vegas

*Designates Playoff Wild Card

 

Main Image: Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf (15) smiles after right wing Corey Perry (10) scored in the 2nd period during the regular season game between the Anaheim Ducks and the Minnesota Wild on January 21, 2017 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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