Thursday, July 23, 2015

2015-2016 National Hockey League Preview: Teams 13 and 14

13.New York Rangers-Aside from the Chicago Blackhawks, the New York Rangers take the cake for being the league's most consistent team the past two seasons. The most paramount reason for the Rangers successes is how former General Manager Glen Sather who recently passed the torch to Jeff Gorton was able to keep in touch with the modernized game and has followed a regiment put in place by the Los Angeles Kings in that size wins. The  Rangers are big, fast, and just continually come at you as it's becoming the trend that is getting picked up by more organizations, the Rangers were just one of the first to accept the premise of the new National Hockey League.

There's not a lot you can fault the Rangers on as making the Eastern Conference final in back to back years is no small feat but Rick Nash has to start elevating his game when the importance lifts. Nash is widely perceived as a world class player, a classification that I myself am not comfortable agreeing with but what I see in Nash is a player that feasts on inferior opponents but becomes invisible when faced with a  little adversity. He's hockey's version of what Russell Westbrook is to basketball, dynamic in the regular season but heads on vacation a tad prematurely. From a Rangers perspective, Nash is no longer the star on the Big Apple not withstanding his forty two goals in 2014-2015, that designation belongs to Americans Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider. Kreider particularly is a player that I've been a fan of for a long, long time. His speed is game changing and it's combining that foot speed with that fearlessness of crashing the net with has forced the rest of the league to quickly take notice. Sure, you might be reading this and are under the belief that Kreider does not possess high hockey I.Q, but I think it's important that you don't overlook the natural ability he has because natural ability in sports will take you a long way. If Kreider puts the time and effort into the skill department throughout the off-season he's one of those players that by the end of the year might sneak up on you and be the Rangers team leader in scoring. Every now and again, I like to focus on a more unheralded player and I think a profile on Jesper Fast is deserved. An appropriate surname because as with Kreider, Jesper's a burner and is slowly transisting into my favourite athlete named Jesper starting to pass the great nine fingered golfer Jesper Parnevik.  Fast fulfilled a fourth line role during the playoffs and because Fast gained trust with coach Alain Vigneault, he saw spot duty alongside Derek Stepan at times. If the playoffs were indeed a sign to come, expect massive things from Jesper this campaign as if the 180 foot game continues, more playing time will be enlisted for this twenty three year old Swede.

Some, most may consider the defence to be a strength in the big apple, but if this was 2012, then I would concur with that assessment, but in 2015, the core of the defence is aging and were exposed greatly in the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs especially against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Keith Yandle came over from the Arizona Coyotes where he was the d-man counted upon in all facets but preceding the move to the Rangers his role diminished and what I saw was a player who struggled to adapt to his surroundings. In some form, the coaching staff will have to work with Keith to re-instill the confidence in his game because that drives his creativity, something that wasn't evident during the final half of the season. Another thing that's bugged with me Yandle to take a less serious note, you play your junior hockey in Moncton but yet when pressed by a Coyotes reporter for a website hit, you claim you have no idea what Lays Ketchup chips taste like....#hardtobelieve. To shift gears, long gone are the painful memories of having to watch Scott Gomez in Red,  White and Blue as thoughts quickly transitioned to now captain, Ryan McDonagh. When I watch McDonagh play, I get Brian Leetch vibes which is extremely high praise in Ranger circles. The way he thinks the game not to mention his shaking is Leetch-esque and aside from Yandle, he's the one defenceman that has any offensive instincts which is the singularly glaring weakness with the Rangers output. It would be advised that newly appointed Gorton address this concern and being how Cody Franson is still currently an unrestricted free agent, that would be a wonderful fit.  One of the more controversial draft selections came in 2010 when with the tenth overall selection the Rangers selected Moose Jaw  Warrior alum Dylan McIlrath. Controversial if for no other reason then by selecting McIlrath they passed on Cam Fowler, and if you're buying what I'm selling then you'll understand that Fowler would've of addressed an offensive team need. McIlrath has had a lot of doubters and it started from a young age, as a buddy of mine delivered one of the more memorable sound bites I have heard at a hockey game when the Warriors were facing off against the visiting Regina Pats shortly before Hockey Canada were to announce their World Junior Selection camp invites, he shouted out" Hey Dylan.....have fun watching the World Juniors.......on T.V".

Goaltending is a security blanket for New York as Henrik Lundqvist has now been a staple in the net for many years. Henrik provides a sense of relief and stability for the Ranger defenders as unlike Rick Nash, when the games get bigger, he becomes that more clutch between the pipes. The fact that Lundqvist continually posts numbers such as last year's .922 save percentage, one has to wonder what it'll take for Henrik to push the Rangers over the top.

14.Edmonton Oilers-To say the Edmonton Oilers have divulged themselves in years of futility would be a gargantuan understatement. Due to unprecedented  draft lottery luck, the fortunes may be starting to turn in a positive direction. A management team has come into the fold with former Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli now in charge with former San Jose Sharks bench boss Todd McLellan the new coach. Anytime you can replace the incompetent Craig McTavish with someone who has a Stanley Cup ring as a manager in Chiarelli, it's an certifiable upgrade. Can this uber young nucleus finally break through and start to show the promise and potential that according to the Oiler faithful, should've happened years ago?

Up front, all eyes will be on the rookie that has received as much if not more hype then Sidney Crosby did back in 2005, that being Connor McDavid. McDavid will be viewed as the savior for Oiler nation, and if I was a conservative prognosticator, I would say that it's probably wise to temper expectations but considering there is nothing conservative about my blog, I'll stipulate that it's very plausible that he's   a candidate for finishing top ten in scoring. Connor annihilated the Ontario Hockey League ranks playing for the Erie Otters and I'm excited to see the progression he'll have worked on this summer to prepare him for the National Hockey League. The truth is, as much as I admire the work of McDavid, he'll need a capable supporting cast to flourish and this ties into my opening paragraph when I say the time is now that these other young stars finally live up to the phenomenal potential that they all have. We'll begin with the former Windsor Spitfire Memorial Cup Champion Taylor Hall.  On the surface, Hall is the terrific compliment to McDavid because he'll be able to keep up stride for stride with the player they affectionately call "McJesus", and has a finishing touch to counter Connor's pass first mentality. Numerous minor injuries, including a nagging shoulder issue has hampered Taylor's productivity over the last few years but when healthy he's as good as anyone in the NHL. Only tallying thirty-eight points, albeit only playing fifty three games was a disappointing and frustrating season but as is always the case, a new season breeds profound optimism. When I say the Oilers laurels rest heavily on Taylor Hall, this surely could be reciprocated by the media who covers the Oil on a daily basis because as Hall goes, the rest of the team will follow. McDavid may be the future leader, but Hall is the present. I hate ragging on players, actually I really don't mind it, but when comes to the category of the league's most overrated players, the name Ryan Nugent-Hopkins stands out. Although not shown with my criticism of RNH, I'm actually an Oilers fan but I was pulling hard that during Ryan's draft that the Oilers would've instead targeted Jonathan Huberdeau. His physical build does not mesh with the way the game is now played, and watching him get constantly pushed around is cringe worthy.

This defence needed a rebuild, not going out on a limb by proclaiming that. However, I'm concerned that the defensive rebuild overseen by Chiarelli may be met with flaws.  The defence in 2014-2015 drew comparisons to that of an ECHL squad did a lot of  re-tooling but unforgivably acquired two defenceman who can't skate, which I'm no star player but I'm pretty sure is a pre-requisite of making your way to the National Hockey League. Griffin Reinhart and Eric Gryba are lumped in the same category. I grant you by bringing these two players in, the physicality and toughness on defence which was lacking last year has been fixed, but the physicality is only one facet which makes a defenceman in this league tick. After further consideration, I see a little more potential with Gryba then I do Reinhart.     The Saskatchewanian Gryba has a booming shot which makes up for his awkward skating style. The huge coup in the off-season was Andrej Sekera. I didn't think a player like Sekera would choose to spend his prime years with a re-tooling team but Sekera's surprise decision is the Oilers gain. The best descriptor for Sekera is that's he a complete player and can play in all situations.

Cam Talbot is the new Jussi Maarkanen in town and the Oilers feel like they've finally found the goalie of the future, but the question I have to Peter Chiarelli who signed off on this acquisition with the New York Rangers is if throwing all of their eggs in one basket with a goaltender who's been a career back-up was a wise strategical endeavor.  Talbot will certainly be under a great deal of scrutiny as the tandem of Ben Scrivens and Victor  Fasth piled on tons of anxiety to previous two coaches    Dallas Eakins and Todd Nelson but the hope is that Talbot will at least bring partial stability.                                                                                                         

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