Wednesday, July 29, 2015

2015-2016 National Hockey League Preview: Teams 17 and 18

17.Minnesota Wild-When Chuck Fletcher signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter back in 2012, the expectation wasn't just to squeak into the playoffs every year but that's exactly been the case thusfar with this regime. Granted they've provided their fanbase with back to back upsets in the first round(Colorado in 2014, St.Louis in 2015), the design that Fletcher had for this team when he handed the keys to the city to Parise and Suter was to be perennial Stanley Cup Contenders. Goaltending arguably has been a set back in recent Wild memory but that excuse can only be carried so far and it's time to put up or shut up in Minnesota in a year where Fletcher sits on the hot seat.

Who is the player up front that contributes the most, but gets talked about the least? If this were Jeopardy, it would be "Who is Erik Haula". Coach Mike Yeo hasn't exactly enthralled Haula with a ton of responsibility which have negatively affected his numbers but due to the Wild being shockingly quiet in the off-season, Haula may be inserted into more of a scoring role, something where if you watch him skate he very well could have the presence of mind to produce substantially more.  I remember him specifically in that first round series two years ago versus the Colorado Avalanche and he was electric as the Avs D had no match to comprehend his blazing speed.  So let's talk about the lack of activity Fletcher showed when refining the forward group. In my mind, which at times can scatter a million directions the weakness of the Wild is indeed up front. Zach Parise is unquestionably a world class player, but can I say the same about Mikko Koivu, not exactly. He's no Saku to put it mildly. His highlight year came in 2009-2010 when he accumulated seventy one points but the totals have diminished each year since. The first thing that comes to mind when analyzing Mikko's game is laziness. The Wild, at least before Parise and Suter came to St.Paul were very much a grind away, sit on mistakes by the opposition, just quintessential Jacques Lemaire hockey and Koivu ironically enough excelled more in that system then he does in Mike Yeo's system which is more run and gun which would seemingly suit Koivu's game to a T, but as the team captain the lack of heart shown has me wondering how content he really is in Minny. At some point in time, I will enlist my prognosticated top twenty scorers for the 2015-2016 season, and the way I stand right now, on that list is surely to be Jason Zucker. An actually talented J.Z.....apologies go out to R & B fanatics, if Zucker can avoid injury, I forecast a ninety point season may be on the horizon. I could go on all day about Zucker but the greatest compliment I can give him is his play reminds me a lot of New York Rangers Chris Kreider. For some reason, other then the fact that they're A) Both American B) Both amazing skaters C) have deceptive hands D) look the same, I can't seem to pinpoint why I always compare the two.

Somewhere in the NBC studios, Pierre McGuire is hopefully reading this, who I am kidding, he's still critiquing his iconic Jordan Eberle goal call from the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championship, and remembering the  way Marco Scandella beast moded through the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championships. This twenty five year old Montreal native was a huge steal for the Wild who selected him with fifty fifth overall pick back in 2008 has slowly transitioned into Minnesota's most reliable defenceman.  The jist on Scandella is that he's a big defenceman standing at 6'1 205,  but what impresses me the most is his penchant for just getting pucks to the net as he put a team leading 112 shots right onto opposing goalies in 2014-2015. Scandella has yet to garner that type of respect when it comes to the offensive side,  but I believe the best comparable of Marco would be a Markov, Andrei to be exact. I think Markov's game is evidently more polished because he's a cagey veteran of the league but the up side Scandella has makes him the most important member of the back-end and the sky is the limit for this Quebecois. If  a professional team ever comes to their senses and employs me in the administration side of things which is only a matter of time as my knowledge is too great to pass up on, they'll be quick to understand when it pertains to asset management, there isn't a more important quality to have then having winning experience. Jared Spurgeon is a winner, albeit on a smaller scale. He was a key cog, the backbone of the 2008 Memorial Cup Champions Spokane Chiefs. The fact that he's went through a gauntlet which is the  Western Hockey League playoffs proves to me that he's adjucitable to becoming a number two defenceman on this club because he's someone who won't panic under high pressure situations, which is imperative at this professional level.

Stability. Stability. Stability. The Edmonton Oilers finally have goaltending stability in Devan Dubnyk. Oh wait....right, the Oilers bailed on Dubnyk the same way Marc Crawford bailed on using Wayne Gretzky in the shoot-out in the Nagano Olympics. I don't know what the Oilers possibly expected from Dubnyk as when the modern day Ken Klee was your number one defenceman at that time, ie Justin Schultz it wouldn't of mattered whether it was Dubnyk, Martin Brodeur or Ken Dryden. Dubnyk after fizzling through the Montreal and Nashville organizations, finally found a permanent home in Minnesota.  The NHL's best goalie in the second half posting an astonishing .936 save percentage, it's quite ascertainable that the expectations held by the fans of Minny may be a tad too high coming into the 2015/2016 campaign and now the ball is Dubnyk's court to prove he's not the next Jim Carey, a one hit wonder if there ever was one. Jim Carey the goalie, not the actor although one could make a reasonable argument that aside from his Ace Ventura hit,  the actor Carrey's been a Hollywood afterthought.

18.Nashville Predators- Been to Nashville recently, gorgeous city, the Bridgestone Arena seems first class, and from the goaltending through the back-end, the Predators have the making of being a first class organization. Journeyman coach Peter Laviolette enters his second year at the helm and he will look to remain consistent, something that has been a benchmark of his coaching resume. "Smashville" is ready for an extended playoff run, I'm just not entirely sure 2015/2016 will be that season.

Factually, the forwards are the sour spot on an otherwise solid hockey club. A quick scan of their expected depth chart and I'm having immense trouble figuring out who will find their offensive niche in this group. The one exception to that rule is the young Swede Filip Forsberg.  No relation to the great Peter but the Predators are reaping the benefits of one of the most lop sided trades in NHL history when they acquired the rights to Forsberg, who by the way was the eleventh overall selection in 2011 for  Martin Erat. Yes, the same Martin Erat who in the Washington Capitals playoff run the same season after acquiring him was a healthy scratch along the way. Wouldn't Forsberg look sensational on the wing with Alexander Ovechkin for the Capitals? Even though there's no relation to Peter Forsberg, when you watch him play it's not hard to notice a lot of tangible similarities. The symmetry in which both control the puck and give off the impression that they have eyes on the back of their head as their vision is world class. I will say howev er, that the one difference that was apparent between Peter and Filip, and keep in mind that Filip just completed his rookie season is when the game got bigger, ie the playoffs, Filip's compete level tailed off. It's hard to argue with his playoff statistics as he was good for six points in six games, but in that first round series against Chicago, he constantly was playing from the perimeter and if he would've been less passive at times, Nashville could've reigned victorious in that series. As is aforementioned earlier, the Predators lack a solid amount of depth up front which makes Forsberg significantly elevating his point total of sixty three points from a year ago. This kind of pressure that will be put on Forsberg is border line unfair, but this comes with the territory of General Manager David Poile not addressing the actual needs properly. The jury is still out on who won the transaction between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Preds involving James Neal and Patric Hornqvist.  Neal is more of a pure sniper where in my opinion Hornqvist is just a better overall hockey player.  Neal lacks top-end speed which hinders his overall productivity which is why I feel the Penguins made out like bandits. James Neal is such an anomaly because when you watch him play, he looks like a top twenty player but solely based on numbers, he tops out as a second liner. As much as Forsberg needs to take on a leadership role, it's equally important that Neal try to replicate his golden 2011-2012 forty goal romp. A player to watch out for a little under the radar is Austin Watson. The former Windsor Spitfire put up average statistics with the Milwaukee Admirals in the  American Hockey League  but it's his Evgeni Malkin type frame that has Predator supporters salivating. I can't imagine a scenario in which Laviolette doesn't provide Watson an opportunity to play every day as the coddling is over and it's time to for Watson to become a consummate professional that we all know he can be.

Shea Weber gets a lot of praise, and deservingly so, but I'm not as high on him as others, including Nick Kypreos who labelled Weber the "best defenceman in the National Hockey League". I believe he fits within the top tier conversation but to me, the cream of the crop revolves around Drew Doughty and P.K Subban. Basically, I don't see the Sicamous, B.C product boasting enough of an all around game like Doughty and Subban possess. He has the hardest shot in the game of hockey a skill he has showcased over the course of several NHL Skill competitions but desperately needs to improve upon his work in his own zone. Aside from my minor concerns involving Shea, the Predators have the defensive depth in the league as arguably one through six they have players that would top two defenders on most teams. The player that I want to focus on is Ryan Ellis, as much as I would like to sing the tune of former Regina Pat Barrett Jackman, Ellis is much more noteworthy concerning the current state of affairs in Predator land.  Ellis was a unprecedented case in a sense that unlike most before him, he was blessed with the fortune of suiting up for Team Canada at the World Juniors three times.  And unlike two particular examples in Jason Spezza and Jay Bouwmeester who also donned the WJHC Canada sweater three times, they weren't used in impact roles like Ellis was.  The obvious offensive gifts stick out like a sore thumb but it's his rigorous work in the d-zone which is often times overlooked but the physicality that  he plays with makes him someone coach Laviolette can start employing on the penalty kill. This "soft" reputation that Ellis has falsely developed is insulting to people like myself who got to see him at a World stage in juniors and soft would be the last descriptor I would use regarding Ryan. The only knock on Ellis, and I can't stress only enough is that he had some lower body injuries that hampered him throughout last season which saw him appear in fifty eight games. A full healthy season on Ellis' behalf will only aid the Predators in accomplishing their team goals.

Pekka Rinne has been the rock that most Tennesseans account as the sole reason why the Predators have turned the corner from their previous obscurity which plagued this franchise from the early to mid two thousands to where they are now. The king from Kempela, Finland is someone that over the course of his career has posted a .919 save percentage and if it wasn't for a blemish on the card from 2013/2014 it would be muuuuccccch higher. As good as this defenceman has the potential to be, this group will only go as far as Pekka takes them.

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