Don’t let that fool you, this season is going to be exciting. the story lines just happen to common; Can the stellar sophomore class that includes the likes of Conor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Artemi Panarin begin right where they left off at the end of their rookie campaign? Will we see Austin Matthews and Patrik Laine have similar immediate success with their new teams? Last but not least, who will the Blackhawks defeat to capture a fourth Stanley Cup in the last 7 years?
Okay, get your sighs and head shaking out of the way. The Blackhawks, really? After what we saw from St. Louis, San Jose, and Dallas? YES! Don’t worry about playoff seeding, we know that the playoffs are a new season, you just need to get in. Chicago will challenge for the Central Division, but even a wild card will put them right where they want to be. Led by their all-world, reigning Hart and Art Ross trophy winner, Patrick Kane, and arguably the best Captain in hockey, Jonathan Toews. They’re always poise with that core to make a run. I’ll be first to admit they still aren’t in the top tier when it comes to netminders, but, just put the house on Chi-town. It doesn’t end there, there is only about nine teams in the West good enough to get in, and five of those are definite. Chicago, Dallas, San Jose, St. Louis, and Anaheim.
The East on the other hand, is a totally different situation. Not, however, without your “oh they’re in for sure” teams. And yes, this is the year, (Detroit fans look away) this is the year that the meaningless playoff streak comes to an end. There very well could be 10 teams jockeying for the fourth through eighth playoff spots in the East, and only three teams left completely out of the loop. The cellar will almost assuredly be filled with Carolina, New Jersey, and yes, the Detroit Red Wings.
Predictions aside, the young talent will again be what we’re all watching from game one, through 82. Conor McDavid will hopefully give us a full season of what he showed us last year. Dazzling stick skills, and ice vision way beyond his years. For Buffalo, it begins and ends with Jack Eichel and Alexander Nylander. The two young guns will have broad shoulders to lean on with Rasmus Ristolainen and Evander Kane, who are coming off their own impressive seasons. But, will the rest of the lineup be able to follow suit of their all star caliber peers. As for Calder winner, and all star for years to come, Artemi Panarin, well his line mates reassure us that his will come back just as dominant. His production will be there, and he has the abilities to supplement everything the Blackhawks try to do this season.
Auston Matthews is the one that catches my eye first and foremost, of any of the rookies coming in, his expectations are obviously the highest. But, not unlike the normal expectations of a number one overall pick, but he has the unfortunate task of following up the phenomenal rookie class I touched on earlier. He has the speed, passing ability, and awareness of a perennial superstar, and could be an intricate part of returning glory to Toronto. Meanwhile, Patrik Lane will be given every and any opportunity to find his place on a Winnipeg team that has a very solid mix of young and veteran experience. Like Matthews, Laine comes in with the usual through the roof expectations, but unlike Auston, Laine is coming off an undisclosed knee surgery that initially had the Jets big wigs skeptical to whether or not he can be the spark plug for a team only a piece or two away from competing.
All that said, nothing should truly surprise you during the 2016-17 season. The gap between the great and good teams will continue to shrink, and the leagues best, well they don’t show any signs of slowing down. There may be subtle questions as to how Anze Kopitar can change the attitude of the L.A. Kings. Or, when will we really see Jonathan Drouin tap into the superstar potential it’s widely believed he possesses. Nobody is doubting that your usual on-ice power house forwards Evgeni Malkin, “Jumbo” Joe Thornton, and Ryan Getzlaf will be their usual self, but could this season be the beginning of the end for their bruising style that lasts 82 games? Just remember, during the first week of the regular season, and after the last season, your perception of who the teams to beat are, won’t have changed much at all. But, as we always say, that’s why we play the game.