Sunday, August 16, 2015

2015-2016 National Hockey League Preview: Teams 25 and 26

25.New Jersey Devils-With Lou Lamoriello now a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a new coin has been turned over as the Devils look to regain their late ninety/early two thousand prominence that had many observers considering this organization as a model franchise with the likes of Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens and one of my personal favourites Sergei Brylin leading the way through New Jersey's glory days. Now, as we approach 2015-2016, former Pittsburgh Penguin General Manager Ray Shero has been given the keys to the city whilst leading a very young nucleus that some including myself projecting this squad as being a few years away from contending.

Who's going to provide the bulk of the Devils offence this year? It's a question that I don't have a reasonable answer so that leaves me no choice but to spurt complete non-sense  which is a staple of this blog and pretend to act like an expert when scouting out the Devils scoring woes. Let's begin with analyzing Jacob Josefson. As a twentieth overall pick in 2009, it's  safe to assume he's been a underwhelming commodity for the fans of Newark and much more will be required from newly minted coach John Hynes to even receive a sniff of playoff contention. It would be a step in the right direction if Josefson could go a full season injury free as he has yet to even come close to playing a full eighty-two games. He's a down right terrible skater, and although this may seem unfairly harsh, his play hasn't merited a full time presence on the roster but it just goes to show the lack of depth they have and the conundrum the coaches will face when plotting out the lineup. As a World Junior "historian" my first taste of Mike Cammalleri came when playing for Team Canada while going to school for the University of Michigan.  In that 2002 tournament, he was phenomenal which led me to at the time to proclaim that Cammalleri had the pre-requisite skill set to be a no doubter first liner in the National Hockey League. If you would've told me immediately after the 2002 WJHC that Cammalleri's career plight would be that of a journey man I would have never believed that.  Better suited for  a second line role, he'll be forced to encounter minutes that he frankly is no longer suited for which is usually the case when playing for below mediocre teams.  His one timer is his famed penchant but he needs to better adapt to finding open areas as I've noticed there's been an increased entitlement from him when in the offensive zone. This is no longer NCAA hockey Mike, the puck doesn't automatically appear on your stick, you have to work to regain the puck. Work ethic for Cammalleri has been abysmal as of late and as a veteran, it's this kind of play that will rub off negatively on his teammates. The acquisition of Kyle Palmieri this summer may prove as one of the league's most unheralded moves as Palmieri on a team with an abundance of depth as was the case with his former employer the Anaheim Ducks didn't allow Kyle to show off his real potential but now as a member of the New Jersey Devils, I'm expecting a break-out campaign for the Smithtown,New York native.  The likely grouping of Cammalleri and Palmieri may provide Cammalleri the battery mate he has lacked since Jarome Iginla, and as a clarification those thinking that Jaromir Jagr was a capable  battery mate for him last year are being embarrassingly delusional as this is no longer 1992, and this is coming from one of Jagr's biggest fans!

Move over University of Michigan Wolverines, a new "fab five" has arrived. Eric Gelinas, John Moore, Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill and Damon Severson can boast the stigma of being the National Hockey League's brightest young defensive core. I could go in many directions with how I want to profile the defensive core, and I'm going to begin with Eric Gelinas.  I think so highly of Gelinas that I will prognosticate that he will surprise the hockey masses and crack the 2018 Team Canada Olympic roster. A deceptive shot is what stands out for me along as well with being a defensive leader who has already been, and will continue to be utilized in all facets.  I suppose you could argue to whether or not Gelinas was the go-to option on defence last year, but no argument can be made any longer as he definitively will be looked upon as the # 1 d-man.  Gelinas > Scott Niedermayer??? Not yet, but the potential to match the herculean achievements of Niedermayer are certainly there. I remember at some point convulating the theory that prior to the 2010 National Hockey League draft that Jon Merrill will be seen down the road as one of the better defenceman from that draft class and low and behold, and as penning this I'm patting myself on the back, he is. He's such a smooth skater and by being so seems to work his way out of trouble simplistically.  The area to which Merrill has to refine  his skill-set is his physicality in the defensive zone. It's a tad concerning for a player listed at 6
3, 205 that he shows no desire to compete in the rigorous areas and as much as I do believe, if it wasn't obvious enough already that the Devils are prime for great years defensively, a lack of truculence is something that is missing which stresses the importance for Merrill to find that physical edge.

Cory Schneider is an interesting case study. When he was brought in from the Vancouver Canucks which abruptly brought to the end the whole Luongo-Schneider not so controversy, it was thought that the Devils had found their heir apparent to the great Martin Brodeur.  One of the problems was that Brodeur didn't get the memo in 2013 when the trade was made which landed the Schneider-New Jersey relationship on rocky territory. Brodeur didn't feel like the gas was empty in his tank, which it clearly was as he was riding the name on the back of his sweater for the two years prior but because he thought he could play, and because he was Martin Brodeur, he played leaving a younger, more polished at that time Schneider on the bench where he should've been receiving all the starts. It's like when in basketball, when Hakeem Olajuwon came to the Toronto Raptors thinking he could still play, and sadly for Raptor fans so did then coach Lenny Wilkins which created futile times in T.O. When a star wants to play, he'll play which just like the case of New Jersey it will more than not hamper the franchise. With Brodeur finally gone, Schneider was given ample leeway to succeed but to the demise of the Devils last season, Schneider was horrendous leaving some Devil fans to ponder, "Can we bring back Martin Brodeur?"

26.Vancouver Canucks-Falling victim to the "Red Mile" in Calgary during last years playoffs, are expectations higher for Vancouverites this go around?  After intense and thorough research(kinda) I've come to the realization that any team led by the Sedin twins, who are what, closing in on the big 5 0, cannot be taken seriously. The Sedin's were great player, were being the operative word but any follower of this franchise must now have come to the sad realization that being fronted by the Sedins has led to zero playoff success in the last four years now. A new chapter needs to be written in the Canucks aura but it's apparent that the stubbornness of Trevor Linden and Jim Benning may prevent from the new chapter being published anytime soon.

A Sutter in Vancouver?  The two seemingly won't mesh very well but with the acquisition of Nick Bonino being sent to Pittsburgh in exchange for Brandon Sutter, the hard working Sutter who hasn't exactly established a goal scoring touch will very much bring the Sutter way of hockey into British Columbia, Sutter hockey is chippy, hard working, dump and chase which could be a positive implementation in contrast to what the Canucks have to offer otherwise featuring a lot of fringe players who have decent skill but to refuse to battle in the corners, ala the Sedins. I could go on and on reminiscing my distain towards the twins, the Canucks in general but unlike the Sedins, I will battle to find the positives in this forward group. Although Radim Vrbata doesn't provide the aforementioned need for physicality, I have to give credit where credit is due. Back a few years ago,  as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes, I had selected Vrbata along with a whole bunch of other Coyotes in a playoff hockey pool and my premonition of loading up on Coyotes nearly paid off remarkably and for that I hold a great deal of respect for Radim.  On a more serious note, he's a world class sniper and what's impressed me as of late is his willingness to crash the net searching for rebounds. He accumulated thirty one goals a year ago and normally I would say replication of these statistics would be viable however with the poor outlook on the team's season, a diminishing stat line should be no concern for the individual. You have to wonder what kind of look coach Willie Desjardins will give fresh out of junior Cole Cassels. A Memorial Cup champion with the Oshawa Generals, and son of Andrew could be suited to make that dashing jump because of his 180 foot game. His offensive instincts are admirable, although not great but what got scouts and Canuck personnel buzzing was the job he completed shutting down Connor McDavid in the OHL final. From my view point, if you can shut down McDavid you're NHL ready and it'll be interesting to see if Canuck brass share similar sentiments.

Chris  Tanev, unless you're  a diehard hockey fan like myself is probably an unfamiliar commodity to yourself. Tanev first came to the forefront during the 2011 Stanley Cup finals against the Boston Bruins starting that playoff run as the seventh defenceman. As those playoffs progressed his role increased as in total, he got in five playoff games which was a pre cursor for better things to come. It's a tremendous feel good story of  a player that wasn't drafted, didn't get any tangible scholarship offers when attempting to play NCAA hockey to now as a twenty five year old quite possibly being considered a top two defenceman on the roster. Another player of note worth profiling is Alexander Edler. The Swede and former Kelowna Rocket(had to give a shout-out to a WHL alumnus, it's been a while) is Mr.Everything from an offensive standpoint.  Even though he's put up two hundred and fifty nine career points which is great when documenting a nine year career as a defenceman but I can't help but get the feeling that he has much more to offer. There aren't many defenceman who I would rate have more sustainable offensive production with only really P.K Subban, Drew Doughty,Shea Weber and Alex Pietrangelo coming to mind. Edler's a fantastic asset that will be required to again be the offensive dynamo along with being much more stingy in his own end.

Completing these previews, from my Western Hockey League teams to now nearly completing the National Hockey League, it's become all but a formality for me to focus on the STARTING goaltender and for good reason as they're the individuals that become the last resort in fulfilling an organization's lofty championship dreams. For the Canucks, we have starter Ryan Miller but I've elected to throw a curve ball and discuss the back-up goaltender Jacob Markstrom. A friend and I had a debate recently arguing the validity of the Florida Panthers organizational decision to let go of Jacob Markstrom while focusing to shift the direction to  a more veteran goaltender in Roberto Luongo. I'm of the belief that Markstrom never got a fair shake in South Florida. Markstrom, ladies and gentlemen was seen somewhat as a goaltending prodigy before entering the professional ranks never got to strut his stuff in his first destination and unbeknownst to me judging from Miller being on the roster for the forseeable future, this current destination may not allow Markstrom to shine either. I could go on an endless rant based off of teams now a days coddling goaltenders and not allowing younger goaltenders to learn via playing through rough situations and always being under the mindset that you  need to have a veteran to win. There was a time where Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and Mike Vernon were young goaltenders looking for a chance and I would say it worked out pretty well for the teams that employed these goalies so on behalf of the likes of Markstrom, Jack Campbell, Calvin Pickard and others, give them a chance, they may just be great.

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