Tag Archives: Alex DeBrincat

DTFR Podcast #131- Hockey Plague

Pekka Rinne signed a two-year extension, John Stevens and Joel Quenneville were fired, Willie Desjardin’s back and there’s a new guy in Chicago (Jeremy Colliton), Philadelphia Flyers goaltending is in the news again, people in Ottawa are fired up about Uber, Lou Lamoriello reached 2,400 games as a GM as the New York Islanders lead the Metropolitan Division and is Halloween the new Thanksgiving? Nick and Connor discuss.

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Chicago Blackhawks 2018-19 Season Preview

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Chicago Blackhawks

33-39-10, 76 points, 7th (last) in the Central Division

Additions: D Andrew Campbell (acquired from ARI), F MacKenzie Entwistle (acquired from ARI), F Chris Kunitz, F Marcus Kruger (acquired from ARI), F Jordan Maletta (acquired from ARI), D Brandon Manning, G Cam Ward

Subtractions: F Lance Bouma (signed, Switzerland), F Michael Chaput (acquired from VAN, not tendered a qualifying offer and signed with MTL), D Adam Clendening (signed with CBJ), F Christopher DiDomenico (signed, Switzerland), F Anthony Duclair (signed with CBJ), G Jeff Glass (signed to a PTO with CGY), F Vinnie Hinostroza (traded to ARI), F Marian Hossa (contract traded to ARI), F Tanner Kero (traded to VAN), D Jordan Oesterle (traded to ARI), F Patrick Sharp (retired)

Still Unsigned: D Cody Franson, F Tomas Jurco, D Michal Rozsival, D Viktor Svedberg, F Jordin Tootoo

Re-signed: None

Offseason Analysis: It was bound to happen. The shine was going to wear off. All good things must come to an end. All things must pass.

Throw whatever cliché you want at it, but the Chicago Blackhawks tumbled in 2017-18. The 2010, 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup champions missed the playoffs for the first time in the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane era– and they missed it by a lot.

Granted, injuries ravaged the lineup from the crease to one of the game’s most prolific Slovakian scorers.

Marian Hossa’s contract was traded this offseason as part of a seven-player deal with the Arizona Coyotes. His last NHL game came in 2016-17 and he’ll be sidelined for the remainder of his contract due to a skin disease.

Corey Crawford, Chicago’s starting netminder for the 2013 and 2015 Cup runs, sustained multiple injuries during the 2017-18 regular season, leaving him on injured reserve since about a year ago now.

His upper body injury– while not officially disclosed– has kept him sidelined with General Manager Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks hoping he’ll be ready to go for training camp. Crawford doesn’t sound as optimistic.

The fact that Cam Ward is likely going to be Chicago’s starting goaltender for however long it takes for Crawford to return is cause for concern.

Tight against the cap through their Cup runs, the Blackhawks decimated their roster in the “non-essential” roles to keep their Cup winning core together.

There’s just one problem. Those “non-essential” roles have become exposed holes.

Duncan Keith, 33, and Brent Seabrook, 35, aren’t getting any younger with no clear-cut future top-pair defender to be found on the depth chart. Toews (a minus-1 in 74 games last season) all but disappeared from his prominent star-status as the ‘Hawks went from scoring more goals than they allowed to a minus-27 goal differential in 2017-18– their worst goal differential in the Kane and Toews era.

And Crawford is hurt.

No amount of Scott Foster can salvage the wreckage of time that takes a toll on Cup contending competitors.

Alex DeBrincat remains a bright spot, while Kane remains a face of the organization–  but all expectations should be set on resetting. Expendable assets should be moved before the true foundation of a rebuild sets in.

One chapter closes, but the next one begins.

In the meantime, Marcus Kruger is back (does playing for the Blackhawks count as starring in a soap opera where the characters never die and come back from time to time?), Chris Kunitz was brought in as the new Patrick Sharp (Sharp retired, Kunitz fills a roster spot for the time being) and MacKenzie Entwistle is totally a real person that was involved in the Hossa trade and not a made-up player from a video game.

Offseason Grade: C-

There’s not much to sell, but pieces will once again be worth selling at the trade deadline. Unlike the Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks are just starting to enter a rebuild, so there’s a little leniency towards filling roster holes with grizzled veterans (even if they do have four Cup rings to back them up). Also because Chicago did the smart thing and only signed Kunitz to a one-year deal– no more, no less.

DTFR Podcast #122- 2018-19 Central Division Season Preview

It’s the DTFR Podcast’s official season preview for all things Central Division in 2018-19 as Nick and Connor embark on season five of the show…

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Down the Frozen River Podcast #98- Do Or Donato, There Is No Try

Nick and Connor rambled about the remaining weeks of the regular season, who will finish last in the NHL, if Boston can catch Tampa, Columbus’s hot streak and more. They also previewed and predicted eight of the NHL’s annual awards. Anze Kopitar has 86 points on the season– get it right, Nick.

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January 10 – Day 95 – There’s no place like home

There’s only two games on the schedule today, but for once I’m not complaining about either failing to live up to NBC’s promotion of “Wednesday Night Rivalry.”

The action starts in Toronto when Ottawa pays the Maple Leafs a visit at 7:30 p.m. (SN/TVAS) and Minnesota at Chicago (NBCSN) cleans up the evening’s festivities half an hour later. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis and Vegas.

Is there any question of which game we’re featuring tonight? The winner of the Wild-Blackhawks game will be the eighth seed in the Western Conference! It’s off to the Windy City with us!

 

Tonight’s tilt is Game 4 in a five-game series between these clubs. Chicago owns a 2-1-0 record against the Wild so far this season, and another win tonight would clinch the season series – an important note considering it is the second tiebreaker at the end of the season and both of these clubs are currently competing for the last wild card.

Obviously, the 23-17-4 Wild, who currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference due to losing a games-played tiebreaker with both Chicago and Calgary, will have high hopes of leveling the series this evening. But do they have much of a chance of pulling it off?

I’m worried for them the answer is no. Minnesota has lost five of its last six road games (including one at United Center less than a month ago), including an active skid of four-straight. That run since December 17 makes the Wild the fourth-worst road team in the league, and it’s all because their defense simply doesn’t travel well.

Given, it’s not like Minnesota’s defense is all that spectacular in and of itself. The Wild allow 2.91 goals against per game for the season as a whole, the 14th-worst mark in the league.

However, in their six road games since December 17, the Wild have allowed a league-worst 25 goals against, or a second-worst 4.17 per game (the Wild would like to take this opportunity to thank the Islanders for allowing 16 goals in only three road games).

A major problem is Minnesota, even with LW Marcus Foligno throwing three hits per game, D Jared Spurgeon blocking 2.67 shots per game and W Jason Zucker averaging a takeaway-per-game, has allowed an average of 35 shots in each contest away from Xcel Energy Center since mid-December, a mark that is sixth-worst in the NHL in that time.

While Foligno’s, Spurgeon’s and Zucker’s efforts are impressive on their own, it seems to me to be a lack of commitment by the rest of the team on the defensive end – especially in terms of physicality. Foligno has not been afraid to rough up the opposition along the boards, but Matt Dumba has averaged the second-most hits-per-game during this section of games with only 1.67 to his credit. While physicality is only one aspect of playing defense, it seems to be lacking from Head Coach Bruce Boudreau‘s squad.

The icing… err, frosting, since icing is a penalty… on the cake though is the fact that the Wild’s defense has allowed all these shots of late against 7-8-2 G Alex Stalock. Most of this run came while 15-9-2 G Devan Dubnyk was recovering from his lower-body injury. Given how much he was getting peppered while filling in, I’d say Stalock did pretty well in his five most recent road starts. He posted a .914 save percentage and 2.93 GAA.

Dubnyk will be in goal tonight in only his second road game since returning to action. His first was that drubbing at the hands of the Avalanche where, due in large part to posing a .813 save percentage and 7.61 GAA, he lost his cool and tried to smash F Alexander Kerfoot‘s face into the ice. Perhaps the former Masterton Trophy-winner can keep his cool tonight, because his team desperately needs him to cover up for its defensive inefficiencies.

If last night’s 8-2 performance in Ottawa is any indication, it seems the 21-15-6 Blackhawks are starting to figure things out. Having won four of their past six games and earned a point in one of those losses, Chicago has surged into the second wild card and has pulled within three points of first wild card Dallas.

Since December 29, no offense has scored more goals than Chicago. The Hawks have managed an impressive 28 goals in six games, which averages into a second-best 4.67 per game behind Boston’s unbelievable 5.5 (for those that care, three of the top-five teams in goals-per-game since December 29 are in the Central Division).

While the usual suspects of C Jonathan Toews and F Patrick Kane have been impressive over this run, posting respective 5-4-9 and 3-6-9 totals, the Blackhawk that truly takes the cake is sophomore C Nick Schmaltz, who’s currently riding a four-game goal streak. He’s done it all for the Hawks lately, posting 5-5-10 totals to elevate his season marks to 12-19-31. Having already surpassed last year’s numbers, Schmaltz is poised to join the ranks of recent dominant Chicago forwards. How does one club get W Alex DeBrincat, Kane, LW Artemi Panarin (well, last season), Schmaltz and Toews all on the same team?

Just like Minnesota saved its top goaltender for the Hawks, 2-1-1 G Jeff Glass will probably be in net tonight for Chicago after 3-5-3 G Anton Forsberg played yesterday against the Sens. Playing his rookie season at 32-years-old, Glass has posted a .908 save percentage and 3.51 GAA in his first four NHL starts.

The United Center hasn’t been the imposing threat to road teams as it was only a year or two ago, but with an 11-6-2 record at home this season, I think the Blackhawks can find a way to pull this one out.


Though the Carolina Hurricanes gave them all they had, First Star of the Game F Tyler Johnson and the Tampa Bay Lightning was able to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 5-4 at Amalie Arena.

Johnson was an unstoppable force throughout the entire game, as he registered a goal in each frame. However, before he struck his tally for the first period, three others found the net. First was LW Brock McGinn (RW Justin Williams and D Jaccob Slavin), who gave Carolina the advantage 3:23 into play with a power play wrist shot. Tampa pulled the game back even 6:39 later courtesy of a wrister from D Victor Hedman (RW Nikita Kucherov and C Steven Stamkos). The exchange of goals continued with 7:50 remaining in the period when W Sebastian Aho bagged an unassisted wrister, but Johnson (D Anton Stralman and Second Star F Brayden Point) set the score at 2-2 on a tip-in 4:16 later.

In terms of playing time, Johnson didn’t have to wait too long to find his second goal of the night. Only 1:58 into the second period, he (Third Star D Jake Dotchin and Point) gave Tampa its first lead of the night with a backhanded shot. However, Carolina continued to show its resilience when D Justin Faulk (F Teuvo Teravainen and F Jordan Staal) scored a power play wrister 8:38 later, leveling the game at three-all.

The 3-3 tie held for a considerable time, even though both clubs combined to fire 26 shots in the second period. However, the draw was finally broken when Dotchin (Point and W Ondrej Palat) tickled the twine with a snap shot. 5:27 later, the Bolts went up what proved to be an insurmountable two goals when Johnson (Hedman) completed the hat trick with a wrister.

Johnson’s final goal was simply a pure spectacle of his superior speed to that of D Noah Hanifin. Hedman dumped the puck towards center ice from his defensive zone to enact a line change, but Johnson decided to race Hanifin to ensure there was no chance for icing. Once he realized he could take possession, Johnson squeezed past the defenseman, upending him in the process, to set up a one-on-one battle with G Cam Ward. The netminder fended off the first backhander from within his crease, but he couldn’t stop an immediate second try by Johnson: a wrister over his left blocker.

That’s not to say the Canes gave up on the remaining five minutes of regulation. In fact, the exact opposite is true, as F Elias Lindholm (Faulk and Teravainen) pulled Carolina back within a one-goal deficit with 1:18 remaining in the frame, but even with six attackers the Hurricanes couldn’t find a leveling marker.

G Andrei Vasilevskiy saved 28-of-32 shots faced (.875 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Ward, who saved 29-of-34 (.853).

It’s no surprise, but the 52-29-12 home teams are absolutely dominating the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts’ record in the series is 26 points better the roadies’, the same advantage Tampa Bay has on the Oilers for the Presidents’ Trophy.

DtFR Overtime: Where’s the Star Power?

Welcome to DtFR Overtime, where somebody on the most recent podcast offers some deeper thoughts on one of the points of discussion.

Today’s subject: Star power and the absence of it.

We all know the list of current NHL stars: LW Jamie Benn, D Brent Burns, C Sidney Crosby, G Braden Holtby, F Patrick Kane, D Erik Karlsson, G Henrik Lundqvist, C Auston Matthews, C Connor McDavid, W Alex Ovechkin, G Carey Price, G Jonathan Quick, C Steven Stamkos, D P.K. Subban, RW Vladimir Tarasenko, C John Tavares

OK, I think you get the idea.

But how important are these stars really? I mean, of the skaters listed above, they play an average of only 21 minutes – or barely over a third of a game.

While the top NHL teams put a strong value on depth scoring, I would argue that, over the course of a season, it is necessary for Team X’s star to be the best player on the ice for that team to have success.

It sounds basic, right?

It is, but even the clubs that seem to be built to withstand the unfortunately inevitable scoring droughts from its top players are struggling this season.

My first example is the 12-11-5 Chicago Blackhawks, a club that currently sits in 12th place in the Western Conference and is at risk of missing the postsesaon for the first time since the 2007-’08 campaign.

I brought up Kane in the list of stars earlier, but his team-leading 10-17-27 totals are not the reason Chicago finds itself on the outside looking in. Instead, this star-laden team is struggling to find leadership from its captain.

Getting outplayed by rookie F Alex DeBrincat‘s 11-9-20 effort, C Jonathan Toews has only 8-11-19 totals to his credit and is on track for the worst offensive production of his professional career. Perhaps it is no surprise that the Blackhawks have an 11-2-2 record when Toews finds his way onto the scorecard, but a 1-9-3 record when he doesn’t.

That was fun, especially for a fan of a Central Division team that hasn’t worn a lick of red since the 1997-’98 season. Let’s head east and examine another city where it looks like the local club is in an even more dire situation

Welcome to Ottawa, the national capital of Canada.  Expectations were high after forcing a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series with Pittsburgh back in May, but all the 9-11-6 Sens, who currently sit third-to-last in the conference, have done this season is disappoint.

To be fair, Karlsson at least has the excuse of an injury to partially explain his slump. The hard part in figuring out Karlsson’s 1-16-17 effort is that he’s mostly on track from a points-per-game standpoint. Given he missed the Sens’ first five games, his .81 points-per-game is, while not exemplary by his standards, still a solid output.

Unfortunately, this is where points can distract from goals. You probably noticed he only had one tally to his credit, which is where I think his team needs him most.

The 14-10-2 Sharks are facing a similar situation with their star defenseman Burns, who has managed only 1-11-12 totals in 26 games a year after posting 29-47-76 numbers to win the Norris Trophy. As such, San Jose does not have the solid footing in the standings it would like, as the Sharks are holding onto their second wild card position by winning only a games-played tiebreaker.

Now, I’m not going to sit here on my couch and pontificate about how to score a goal in the NHL against the 30-something best goaltenders in the world. I mean, I live in the South and can barely keep my skates underneath me the entire time I’m at the rink. But, I am going to say that Karlsson’s .05 goals-per-game for the season and Burns’ .04 is – you guessed it – the worst performances of their careers.

Last year, Karlsson scored 17 of the Sens’ 212 regular season goals. That may only be eight percent of the total, but Ottawa earned a 12-3-3 record when he personally put a goal on the scoreboard, including a perfect 2-0-0 record in the postseason. Similarly, Burns’ career-high 29 goals earned the Sharks an 18-7-1 record last season, though it might be of bigger note that Edmonton did not allow him to find the back of the net in their six-game first round matchup, the Sharks’ only playoff series of the 2017 postseason.

Now, don’t read this as all doom-and-gloom for these respective squads. All of these teams can get right back into the playoff discussion (yes, even Ottawa thanks to a weak Atlantic Division) or better cement their position in the tournament if their biggest players can simply rediscover their mojo.

Take for example Montréal, where as recently as two weeks ago it looked like the 13-13-3 Canadiens had never seen, much less used hockey sticks before. Then Price came back from his lower-body injury, and the Habs look better than ever.

Of course, things weren’t exactly peachy in Québec before Price took time off. In his 11 appearances before retreating to the press box, Price had managed only an .877 season save percentage and 3.77 GAA to earn a 3-7-1 record, forcing Habs fans and bloggers alike to wonder when exactly this injury occurred.

But since Price’s return on November 25, Price and the Habs have been almost unbeatable, as they’ve won five of their last six games with him in net. The goaltender himself has been extremely successful as well, as he’s posted a .94 save percentage and 1.67 GAA in that time.

But the turnaround hasn’t been simply in the defensive end. Even the offense is gelling now that its true leader is back (Sorry LW Max Pacioretty, but this is Price’s team. You’re captain by technicality), as success breeds success and positive energy. Since Price’s return, Montréal’s offense has managed a whopping 4.5 goals-per-game, highlighted by Saturday’s 10-1 shellacking of the Red Wings. Even taking out that major outlier, the Habs’ 3.4 goals-per-game is much better than the 2.32 goals-per-game they’d managed before Price’s return. This surge has propelled the Canadiens from sixth place in the Atlantic Division into third – a playoff spot.

Since we’re on the topic of Montréal and its stars and I already brought up Pacioretty, we might as well discuss my concerns over this team. Pacioretty is struggling something fierce right now. He’s only managed 8-8-16 totals so far this season, and is on pace for his worst professional season since his first two years with the Habs.

Unfortunately for Canadiens fans, this scoring skid is not limited to just this season. I don’t need to remind them of the magic disappearing act he performed in the playoffs against the Rangers, managing only a lone assist. In fact, since March 14 of last campaign, he’s managed only 10-14-24 totals in games that count (aka everything but the preseason).

While I belittled the letter Pacioretty wears on his sweater, he is still one of the leaders on this team. For the Habs to sustain this recent success, Pacioretty is going to need to snap out of his slump – even if it means he has to become a play-maker before resuming a goalscorer role.

Another team that has had more struggles than it would like is the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions. While they’ve had trouble finding depth scoring and are now facing even bigger goaltending issues than they had before, the 15-11-3 Penguins have held onto a playoff position for most of the year.

Now, the operative word here is ‘most.’ There was a point in late November when the Penguins had fallen outside the playoff picture, and – as you might guess from the other examples – I would pin a lot of the club’s struggles on Crosby.

It is very hard to point at a player that is contributing a point-per-game on the season and say he is not doing enough for his team. After all, isn’t this the same team that supposedly embodies the speed-based future of the sport while also trotting out RW Ryan Reaves onto the ice every game? Why can’t his lousy 1-2-3 totals be the problem?

And yet, it’s hard to ignore that Pittsburgh’s slump aligned almost perfectly with Crosby’s goal-scoring slump. Between October 21 and November 22, Crosby managed only 1-6-7 totals in 15 games, which led the Penguins to earning only a 6-7-2 record in that time.

You might say that 6-7-2 isn’t a terrible run while one of the league’s top players is on the schneid, and I’d agree if that team wasn’t in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division. The Penguins also have the luxury of employing RW Phil Kessel and F Evgeni Malkin, who were able to keep the team mostly afloat with their combined 10-18-28 effort.

If that stat does nothing other than stress the importance of Crosby to his team, I don’t know what does. The fact that the Penguins were losing, or at least treading water, while two players created nearly 30 goals in 15 games is unbelievable.

Anyways, Crosby has rediscovered his scoring ways since then, and the Pens are all the better for it. Starting with November 24, the captain has earned 6-6-12 totals that are closer to what fans expect from him. As such, the Penguins have found their way back into the win column, earning a 4-2-0 record in spite of G Matthew Murray missing Pittsburgh’s last three games with a lower-body injury.

Of course, the Penguins are doing a great job of poking a hole in my argument by falling from third in the division back into the second wild card spot while Murray is healing, but I’m still going to hold firm that G Tristan Jarry has earned a 3-1-0 record filling in not because of his solid .926 season save percentage (though that doesn’t hurt), but because Crosby has scored a goal in every game but – you guessed it – Jarry’s one regulation loss.

Confidence – which I am led to believe is the word people are actually looking for when they discuss momentum in sports (I mean, “momentum” is technically mass x velocity, so the momentum of a sports team cannot change without either a plane or a player transaction) – is like hitting in baseball: it’s a contagious thing.

Star players are not star players simply because they can score or stop goals no one else can. Stars are stars because they can make those plays and make the athletes associated with them feel like they too can contribute to the ultimate goal and find wins and success.

Stars are leaders.

And that’s why stars have to perform their best. That’s why they have to have the best numbers on their team. It’s not to belittle the third and fourth liners, but it’s their success that should drive a team to achieve more.

Success breeds success.

In that same train of thought, leaders can’t create success from the rest of their team while they themselves are struggling to find their groove. Stars are stars because they find that motivation to excel within themselves, and then use that flame to light the others’ torches.

You might have noticed the thread that connects all of the players called out in this column: Toews, Karlsson, Burns, Pacioretty and Crosby are all captains. These players have been selected by their coaches and peers based not only on their undoubted skills, but also on their work-ethic and leadership abilities. They were honored with that distinction, so it is time for them to step up and serve the letter and crest on the front of their sweaters and get/keep their squads on track.

These teams are capable of winning; it just takes a little input from a star.

December 2 – Day 59 – My exes used to live in Texas

Welcome to another Saturday in the NHL. With everybody else watching the college football conference championships, that leaves more hockey for you and me.

Oh, that’s not how television works?

While I get that figured out, the first Saturday of December brings with it a big bag of presents from the NHL, as there’s a dozen games on today’s schedule. The action starts at 1 p.m. with Boston at Philadelphia (SN), followed by the only other matinee of the day: St. Louis at Minnesota at 6 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time is chock-full of action with six games (Toronto at Vancouver [CBC/CITY], Detroit at Montréal [SN/TVAS], San Jose at Tampa Bay, Buffalo at Pittsburgh [NHLN], Columbus at Washington and Florida at Carolina) slated to drop the puck, with two more (New Jersey at Arizona and Anaheim at Nashville) in tow an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the start of Chicago at Dallas, while tonight’s nightcap – Edmonton at Calgary – will get underway 60 minutes after. All times Eastern.

What a collection of games! All but two matchups are between teams separated by eight points or less in the standings. As for our Game of the Day, I had a few picked out at the start of season…

  • Boston at Philadelphia: Ever since the Flyers beat the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals to become the first expansion team to win a title, these clubs have not gotten along.
  • St. Louis at Minnesota: Speaking of playoff rematches, this one was far more recent – as in, last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals, recent.
  • Detroit at Montréal: To keep the Stanley Cup theme going, no clubs have hoisted the trophy more than these two Original Six teams.
  • Anaheim at Nashville: The Ducks and Predators squared off in a gritty, nasty seven-game series for the right to represent the Western Conference in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.
  • Chicago at Dallas: F Patrick Sharp‘s two tenures with the Blackhawks was divided by two seasons spent with the Stars. Tonight marks his first trip back to Texas since moving back to the Windy City.
  • Edmonton at Calgary: In this rivalry, the teams don’t only represent only themselves, but also a stark feud between two Albertan cities.

Let me say it again for everybody in the back: What. A slate. Of games.

This is a tough pick today, because I don’t like featuring the same teams all the time (*cough* take a hint NBC and NHL *cough*). That being said, the contest that attracts my attention the most is taking place in the Lone Star State.

 

For those concerned, I’m not drawn to this game simply because of the Sharp story, though I suppose it is one worth noting.

After being a third-round pick by Philadelphia in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Sharp was traded to the Blackhawks during the 2005-’06. He would proceed to play 10 seasons in Chicago, scoring 511 points – including 239 goals – over 679 games en route to three Stanley Cup championships.

As seems to be the case following many championship seasons nowadays, Chicago faced some serious salary cap issues after the 2014-’15 season, which led to Sharp and D Stephen Johns getting shipped to Dallas in exchange for D Trevor Daley and C Ryan Garbutt.

Sharp spent the last two seasons with the Stars, but they only really got one good season out of him. During the 2015-’16 campaign, the forward provided 20-35-55 totals to help get Dallas back to the playoffs for only the second time since the 2007-’08 season when the Stars were Western Conference finalists.

Unfortunately, Sharp’s second season with the club was nowhere near as good as his first. Limited to a measly 48 games, he provided Dallas only 18 points and a -22 rating as the Stars failed to earn a postseason berth. Though I’m not going to argue that Sharp is the reason the Stars struggled last year (*cough* G Kari Lehtonen and G Antti Niemi *cough*), he was not renewed for this season, allowing him to return to his beloved Blackhawks on a one-year contract.

So far, Sharp has been rather uninspiring from Chicago’s third line, as he’s managed only 3-4-7 totals playing alongside young studs F Alex DeBrincat (11-8-19) and F Ryan Hartman (4-9-13). Considering he’ll turn 36-years-old before you hang up your 2018 calendar, his recent bodies of work might force him to consider the dreaded “R” word once this campaign is through.

In the meantime, he’ll try to help his 12-9-4 Hawks get back into the Western Conference playoff picture.

Figuring out why Chicago is on the outside looking in is a difficult task. After all, they back up a ninth-ranked offense (3.16 goals-per-game) with an even better defense (2.68 goals against-per-game) that’s ranked fifth-best in the NHL.

One of my biggest complaints with the Blackhawks is their incredibly unsuccessful power play. Converting only 17.1 percent of their man-advantage opportunities, the Hawks are tied with San Jose for the eighth-worst extra-man attack in the NHL.

This struggle has led Head Coach Joel Quenneville to try some crazy units to resolve his club’s problem. As of Friday’s practice, DeBrincat, D Gustav Forsling, D Duncan Keith, RW Richard Panik and C Jonathan Toews made up Chicago’s top power play team, with F Artem Anisimov, D Cody Franson, F Patrick Kane, W Brandon Saad and F Nick Schmaltz taking second-team duties.

Let’s see, what’s weird about Chicago’s first unit? Oh, maybe that there’s a rookie earning solid power play minutes alongside two defensemen… or maybe that Kane isn’t on the unit…

Like I said, crazy things.

One thing I really like about putting Anisimov, Kane and Schmaltz on the same unit is that it puts Kane in what I’m considering the “joker” position. Take into account that all seven of Anisimov’s power play points are goals (the most on the team), while all five of Schmaltz’ are assists – that makes them a logical pair.

Meanwhile, Showtime has earned a team-leading nine points this season with the man-advantage, but only two of them have been goals. Of course, with 295 career regular season goals to his name, Kane is far from a “pass first” player. Putting Kane with Anisimov and Schmaltz, he’s able to take on the role of goal-scorer or join Schmaltz as another play-maker.

If I’m an opposing goaltender, in this case G Ben Bishop, that versatility is a very scary threat.

Meanwhile, things seem like they’re going 14-10-1 Dallas’ way. They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak, including a 4-3 overtime victory over these Blackhawks Thursday night (more on that later).

We came into the season celebrating what the Stars’ offense could be capable of with LW Jamie Benn, RW Alexander Radulov and F Tyler Seguin combining to form an ultimate super-line. Instead, the story of late has been Dallas’ defense, which has allowed only seven goals since November 24, the (t)second-fewest in that time span.

12-7-0 Bishop has been solid over this run – he’s managed a .925 save percentage in these last three games – but I’ve been much more impressed with the defensive corps playing in front of him.

Behind the unexpected leadership of D Greg Pateryn – who’s thrown eight hits and blocked seven shots during this run – from the second defensive pair, Dallas’ D- corps has allowed only 94 shots to reach Bishop in the past week, the third-fewest in the NHL.

What makes this game especially fun – you know, beyond the Blackhawks trying to get past Dallas for fourth place in the Central Division – is that it’s a rematch of Thursday’s matchup. In that game, F Mattias Janmark scored two goals – including the game-winner – to earn the Stars a 4-3 overtime victory against the Hawks at the United Center. Something tells me Chicago would like to return the favor of sending the home fans at the American Airlines Center away unhappy.

That being said, I’m leaning towards the Stars taking this contest with their excellent defense.


The Los Angeles Kings showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the St. Louis Blues 4-1 at Scottrade Center.

In fact, the Kings were so on top of their game that they registered their game-winning goal before a full seven minutes had ticked off the clock. First Star of the Game F Tyler Toffoli (C Nick Shore and LW Tanner Pearson) opened the scoring with a wrist shot 1:43 after the opening puck drop, followed 4:29 later by Third Star C Anze Kopitar‘s (F Alex Iafallo and D Jake Muzzin) fourth game-clincher of the year.

The play that led to Kopitar’s goal stretched the entire length of the rink. Muzzin started with the puck in his own defensive zone and fed a quick pass to Kopitar at the red line. Once he established the offensive zone, Kopitar dished to Iafallo along the right boards, who fired a snap shot towards G Carter Hutton. Hutts made the save with his pads, but the rebound bounced right to the Slovenian, who deftly pocketed his wrister in the back of the net.

St. Louis finally got on its shiny new scoreboard with 4:43 remaining in the second period courtesy of a power play deflection from F Patrik Berglund (D Colton Parayko and D Vince Dunn), his first goal of the season. Unfortunately for the Notes, that positive momentum was erased 3:39 later when F Adrian Kempe (D Alec Martinez and D Drew Doughty) set the score at 3-1 going into the second intermission.

Only one goal was struck in the third period, but it was enough to signal defeat to the home fans. Toffoli (Pearson and Muzzin) scored his second goal of the game with a deflection 9:06 before the end of regulation, setting the 4-1 final score.

Second Star G Darcy Kuemper earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hutton, who saved 18-of-21 (.857) before being pulled in favor of G Jake Allen for the third period. Allen saved six-of-seven (857) for no decision.

Los Angeles’ road victory snaps a six-game winning streak by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but the visitors still trail the 33-20-6 hosts by 15 points.

November 28 – Day 55 – Welcome to Smashville

If you’re a hockey fan and don’t look forward to Tuesdays, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. This is one of the busiest and most exciting days of the week!

The final Tuesday of November is no exception, as the NHL as scheduled 10 games to take place today. Like it usually does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with five contests (Tampa Bay at Buffalo, Vancouver at the New York Islanders, Florida at the New York Rangers [TVAS], San Jose at Philadelphia and Carolina at Columbus), trailed half an hour later by Los Angeles at Detroit. Chicago at Nashville (NBCSN) drops the puck at 8 p.m., with two more tilts (Toronto at Calgary and Arizona at Edmonton) in tow an hour after. Finally, tonight’s nightcap finds its start at 10 p.m. when Dallas visits Vegas (SN1). All times Eastern.

Like every busy day, I have already circled a few games on my personal calendar (it’s actually an Excel spreadsheet, if we want to get really technical).

  • Chicago at Nashville: This rematch of a Western Quarterfinal has already occurred twice this season, but it’s yielded two stellar games.
  • Dallas at Vegas: D Marc Methot was a Vegas Golden Knight for five days this offseason before being traded to Dallas. But what a Knight he was!

Since the Chicago-Nashville series has already yielded two stellar games this season, I see no reason why we shouldn’t expect a third.

 

Somehow, 14-6-3 Nashville having only a four-point advantage over the 12-8-3 Blackhawks in the Central Division still undersells how competitive the games between these teams have been.

As hinted at before, these clubs are already well into their season series, having already played two of their four games this year. Game 1 at the United Center went the way of Chicago thanks to an overtime goal by W Brandon Saad, but home ice didn’t work in the Blackhawks’ favor 13 days later when the Predators beat them 2-1 on G Pekka Rinne‘s almost-perfect night. Those results mean Nashville has a 1-0-1 advantage against the Hawks so far this year.

Exactly one month has passed since the Predators made their second trip to the Windy City, but not much has changed in either team’s style. Nashville still plays stellar defense backed by Rinne – though the Preds’ offense has climbed to 11th-best in the NHL – while the Hawks continue to rely on the incredible play of G Corey Crawford to find wins.

Let’s jump into that for a minute, starting with tonight’s hosts, who currently occupy third place in the Central Division.

Averaging only 31.3 shots against-per-game to rank 11th-best in the NHL, the Predators play an above average defense that isn’t enough to write home about.

That being said, above-average is all Head Coach Peter Laviolette really needs when he has 13-3-2 Rinne in goal. It seems the Finn has finally bucked the trend of the past five seasons where he alternated yearly between success and misery, as he has followed up last season’s .918 save percentage and 2.42 GAA with superior .926 and 2.31 marks this campaign. Under Rinne’s leadership, the Predators have allowed only 2.78 goals against-per-game to rank ninth-best in the NHL.

Knowing Rinne can effectively dominate the defensive end on his own means the Preds’ blueliners can turn their attention to contributing on the offensive end. As such, defensemen Mattias Ekholm (6-9-15 totals), Roman Josi (5-10-15) and P.K. Subban (4-14-18) have all earned at least 15 points to rank among Nashville’s top-six point-earners. Mix in the incredible F Filip Forsberg (11-13-24 totals), and you have an offense that averages an 11th-best 3.09 goals-per-game.

No discussion about the Preds’ offense is complete without mentioning their special teams, as Nashville is home to the third-best power play in the NHL and best in the Western Conference. Of the players listed above, Forsberg and Subban are the brightest when the Predators have the man-advantage as both have at least nine power play points. The forward deserves special recognition for his seven power play goals, as he’s tied with the likes of C Sean Monahan, F T.J. Oshie and C Steven Stamkos for most in the NHL.

Facing the tall task of taking down a very complete team are the Blackhawks, who could use two points to hold off three teams trying to move into the top wild card position Chicago currently occupies.

When Chicago is at the top of its game, it’s the toughest team to score against in the division, as the Hawks allow only 2.61 goals against-per-game to rank fourth-best in the NHL. A major reason for that success has been the brilliant play of 11-7-1 Crawford, who has managed a .933 save percentage and 2.21 GAA (both second-best among goaltenders with at least 18 starts) behind a defense that allows a fourth-worst 34.1 shots against-per-game.

Unfortunately for Chicago, it seems unlikely that Crawford will see the ice tonight, as he played to 7-2 victory against the Anaheim Ducks last night at the United Center. Instead, the start will probably go to 1-1-2 G Anton Forsberg, who has earned only a .904 save percentage and 3.81 GAA.

I was surprised to see Crawford given last night’s start, considering the injury-riddled Ducks sport an offense vastly inferior to Nashville’s. Forsberg will need to put up a performance similar to his 40-for-42 (.952 save percentage) showing against the Oilers on October 19 to give the Hawks a chance in this game.

Since the odds of that aren’t exactly likely, the onus falls on Chicago’s eighth-ranked offense to find a way to earn a victory.

Usually this is when most would start talking about F Patrick Kane and C Jonathan Toews – and with good reason. Kane has managed 9-16-25 totals to lead the team, followed by Toews’ 6-10-16 effort for third-most points on the team.

However, it would be highly irresponsible to not highlight rookie F Alex DeBrincat. Having yet to celebrate his 20th birthday, DeBrincat has earned the second-most points for the Blackhawks this season with his 10-7-17 totals and is coming off the game of his life. Yesterday against Anaheim, the youngster had a four-point night that included the first hat trick of his career. Whether or not he can duplicate at least half of that effort tonight could determine the result of this contest.

If Vegas (the bettors, not the Golden Knights) is right, the Predators should be in line for a win tonight, as they’re favored at a -160 money line by most bookies. I’m siding with the bookies on this one since I believe Head Coach Joel Quenneville made a mistake in playing Crawford last night against the Ducks. The Predators’ offense should feast on A. Forsberg tonight.


In a game chock-full of momentum swings, the Pittsburgh Penguins emerged from overtime at PPG Paints Arena victorious over the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

All in all, the game started calmly enough with only one goal struck in the first period. First Star of the Game F Jake Guentzel (D Justin Schultz and G Matthew Murray) is the guilty party, as his snap shot with 3:57 remaining before the first intermission gave Pittsburgh the lead.

It was in the second period when all heck broke loose, which played right into the hands of the Flyers. For starters, both D Brian Dumoulin and D Olli Maatta earned seats in the penalty box to allow D Shayne Gostisbehere (F Nolan Patrick and F Claude Giroux) to score a five-on-three power play slap shot 3:40 into the frame. Philadelphia then took the lead with 4:55 remaining in the second period courtesy of a F Travis Konecny (D Brandon Manning and Third Star W Michael Raffl) tip-in.

The next major play took place only 34 seconds after Konecny’s goal, but it won’t show up on the score sheet. RW Jakub Voracek blew an edge and crashed into Murray with, according to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, his skates directed towards the netminder’s midsection. Whatever the injury was, it forced G Tristan Jarry to enter the game, who proceed to allow C Sean Couturier (D Ivan Provorov and Giroux) to set the score at 3-1 with 32 seconds remaining before the second intermission.

It seems power play goals are the way to steal momentum, because that’s exactly how RW Patric Hornqvist (Guentzel and Second Star C Sidney Crosby) pulled Pittsburgh back within a goal 67 seconds into the third period. The Penguins completed their comeback 39 seconds later courtesy of a W Bryan Rust wrist shot.

Courtesy of an unassisted backhanded shot by Raffl, Philly reclaimed a one-goal lead with 3:41 remaining in regulation to put the pressure on the hosts, but the Pens were up to the task. Guentzel (Schultz and Crosby) leveled the game at four-all with 64 seconds remaining before the final horn to force three-on-three overtime.

The overtime period lasted only 1:48 before Crosby (D Kris Letang and RW Phil Kessel) top-shelfed a redirection to win the game. Following Kessel returning the puck to the point while the Penguins were still on a four-on-three power play, Letang blasted a clapper intentionally wide of the goal to Crosby, who was waiting near the right post, at the same time the door opened to allow Voracek back onto the ice. The captain angled his stick just right to elevate the shot over G Brian Elliott and into the top of the netting.

Jarry earned the victory after saving eight-of-10 shots faced (.8 save percentage) in place of Murray, who saved 20-of-22 (.909) before exiting the game. Elliott, DtFR’s honorary Fourth Star, takes the overtime loss after saving 47-of-52 (.904).

Don’t all look at once, but home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a three-game winning streak. That elevates the hosts’ record to 30-19-6, which is 11 points better than the visitors’.

November 15 – Day 43 – Heading in opposite directions

We’re halfway through the month of November and only a week away from American Thanksgiving, an important benchmark in the NHL for separating the men from the boys in terms of probable playoff teams. Though it wouldn’t seem it with over four months of play remaining, this is a pivotal week.

Calgary makes its yearly visit to Detroit (SN/TVAS) to get this stretch started at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Chicago (NBCSN). Finally, this evening’s nightcap of Boston at Anaheim (SN360) will drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

All three games should be very competitive, as they are being contested by opponents separated by only two points or less in the league table. That being said, there’s going to be no game more exciting than the one between Original Six clubs taking place in the Windy City.

 

I apparently really like these Central vs. Metropolitan matchups, because this is the fourth game we’ve featured between these two divisions in the last five days.

9-7-2 New York’s wild ride through the month of November continues since the last time it was featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Starting with Halloween night against the Golden Knights, the Rangers have yet to drop a point in any of their past six contests, including tilts against Tampa Bay (you know, the best team in the NHL) and Columbus.

In fact, the Blueshirts have played so well they’ve converted their goal-differential, which was once an ugly -10 on October 23, into a positive number for the first time this season. And with that success, the Rangers find themselves in a tie with their crosstown rivals for eighth-place in the Eastern Conference.

This may seem elementary, but the best way to improve a goal differential – and by default, win – usually involves burying some goals. Offense has been all the rage at Madison Square Garden lately, as the Rangers have scored a league-high 26 goals since October 31, averaging 4.33 per game.

In the league-wide list of top-10 point earners since Halloween, there is only one defenseman listed: Kevin Shattenkirk. Managing 3-5-8 totals in his past six games, the New Rochelle, N.Y. native and first-year Ranger has been a major driver in this surge. Of note, half his points – both for the season and during this run – have come on the power play (an effort the Rangers rank third-best for the season with a 25.8 percent conversion rate), indicating his impact in all situations.

Not to be overshadowed too much, top-line C Mika Zibanejad has also earned eight points over this stretch, but he’s been earning his pay more as a play-maker than a goalscorer, as he’s buried only one goal in this stretch. His favorite player to assist of late has been sophomore W Pavel Buchnevich, who has scored four goals in six games – an effort eclipsed only by fourth-liner W Michael Grabner.

It’s also been a tale of two months for the 8-8-2 Blackhawks, but they’re not exactly as happy with the change as the Blueshirts. Going back to October 24’s 4-2 loss in Vegas, Chicago is an uninspiring 3-6-0. That includes losses to the Avalanche, Canadiens and Flyers, who among them have a combined 24-24-5 record and a -15 goal-differential.

What should be truly concerning for the Blackhawks is their record in meaningful games since April 1 of last season. They went 0-2-2 to finish out the 2016-’17 regular season campaign, followed by an 0-3-1 performance in the playoffs. Add that in with this year’s record and Chicago has gone 8-13-5 in its last 26 competitive matches.

If this is an April Fools’ Day joke, it should go down in the Guinness World Records as the longest and most convoluted, because this Hawks team should be in much better position than 11th in the Western Conference.

After all, the Hawks boast players such as F Patrick Kane (winner of 2016’s Hart, Lindsay and Ross Trophies), D Duncan Keith (a two-time Norris Trophy winner) and C Jonathan Toews (the 2013 Selke Trophy winner), all of whom have thrice hoisted the Stanley Cup.

What’s most frustrating is that the Hawks aren’t really doing anything wrong statistically. Sure, the offense’s 2.94 goals-per-game for the season could technically be better (it’s only [t]13th-best in the league, after all), but allowing a (t)ninth-fewest 2.72 goals against-per-game should be more than enough to keep Chicago competitive.

Of course, season averages have a way of camouflaging recent momentum – or lack thereof. Since October 24, the Blackhawks have scored only 21 goals, tying Detroit for sixth-fewest in that stretch.

Perhaps the most telling point about this squad during this nine-game stretch is that W Alex DeBrincat, a rookie on the third line, is leading the attack with his 5-2-7 totals (6-5-11 for the season), followed close behind by F Artem Anisimov‘s – a player that’s never scored more than 45 points in a season – 5-1-6 effort. Not Kane; not Toews; heck, not even W Brandon Saad.

DeBrincat and Anisimov.

Head Coach Joel Quenneville will never complain about depth scoring. Depth scoring is one of the top things that separates the best teams in this league from pretenders. But you can’t have depth scorers without stars like Kane and Toews doing their jobs as the primary forwards. Until they rediscover their groove, Chicago will continue to struggle.

It’s with that in mind that I’m forced to favor the Rangers in this contest. Though I’m sure G Corey Crawford – who’s having a Vezina-caliber season so far – will prove a solid test against New York’s red-hot offense, I don’t think the Blackhawks’ offense will be able to break through G Henrik Lundqvist and his defense.


A combined seven goals were struck in the second period of yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, but the Nashville Predators weathered the storm to beat the Washington Capitals 6-3 at Bridgestone Arena.

Though the middle act of this three-ring circus was the wildest, the first period still provided some excitement for the home fans when F Craig Smith (First Star of the Game LW Kevin Fiala and D Anthony Bitetto) scored a tip-in with 8:12 remaining before the first intermission. 5:55 later, Third Star C Nick Bonino (D Roman Josi and F Calle Jarnkrok) doubled the Preds’ advantage to 2-0.

It took only 6:28 of play in the second period for the Caps to level the game. Aided by Jarnkrok earning a seat in the penalty box for hooking him 45 seconds earlier, F T.J. Oshie (D John Carlson and F Evgeny Kuznetsov) scored Washington’s first goal of the night at the 4:29 mark with a power play tip-in. 1:59 later, RW Alex Chiasson (W Brett Connolly and Carlson) tied the game at two-all with a slap shot. That tie lasted exactly 17 seconds before F Filip Forsberg buried an unassisted wrist shot to reclaim a lead for Nashville.

Scoring subsided for almost two-and-a-half minutes before Fiala (Second Star D Mattias Ekholm) decided to get things ramped back up with a tip-in that proved to be the game-winner at the 9:04 mark to set the score at 4-2, but his tally was quickly answered by Oshie’s (F Chandler Stephenson and C Nicklas Backstrom) wrister 17 seconds later to pull Washington back within a 4-3 deficit.

Now that we’ve reached the midway point of the frame, let’s take a second and recap: five goals have already been scored in this second period! There’s still 10 more minutes to play! Meanwhile, the last three teams to face Wild G Devan Dubnyk have not been able to score even one goal against him.

Hockey is a fickle game.

Anyways, only two more goals were struck in the period, and they both belonged to the Preds. W Miikka Salomaki (C Colton Sissons and D Matt Irwin) scored his second goal of the season with 5:54 remaining in the frame, and Ekholm (C Kyle Turris and Sissons) finished the period off with a power play clapper two minutes before the second intermission.

It seems both teams used up all their offense in the second period, because not a single goal was struck in the third period. That left G Pekka Rinne with the victory after saving 26-of-29 shots faced (.897 save percentage) and G Braden Holtby, who saved 19-of-25 (.76), with the loss. Holtby was lifted for G Philipp Grubauer at the start of the third period, and he saved all six shots he faced.

Nashville’s victory is the second-straight by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. With their record now improved to 22-16-5, hosts now own a four-point advantage over the roadies.

Colby’s Corner Top five Players Poised to Breakout

A new season starts today, so it’s time for me to jump in and tell you five players to keep an eye out for as they could have breakout seasons. I didn’t limit myself to just rookies; I was also looking for players who could fill some big shoes or become a standout on their team.

First up,

  1. Oliver Bjorkstrand

This one may surprise a few, but after a strong preseason performance, Bjorkstrand could really step up this season and have a big role with the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a highly rated prospect, I believe Jacket fans have been waiting for him to show up in a big way.

Bjorkstrand only has 38 games played over the past two seasons, recording 10 goals and 11 assists in that time. I remember watching him play in World Juniors a few years ago and he had the ability to take over a game and control his team’s offensive flow. If he can provide that for the Jackets, this would give them another weapon with a nice scoring touch. Bjorkstrand could be a name that you hear more of this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 10-15 goals with another 10-20 assists.

Next up,

  1. Matthew Tkachuk

I have been a huge fan of Tkachuk for a long time – if you have listened to podcasts you know this. Tkachuk had a solid rookie season, recording 13 goals and 35 assists. If that’s what you get from a 6th Overall pick in his first year, you are not going to complain if you are the Calgary Flames. Tkachuk’s physical game and willingness to get into dirty areas allowed him to find some extra points this past season.

Last season in four playoff games, Tkachuk was held pointless and I think that left a bitter taste in his mouth. If he used that as a motivator in his offseason, than he should come back as an even better player. Not to mention the Flames signed the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal. Jagr can show Tkachuk how to use his big body to his advantage and give him other tips to have a great season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 30-40 assists.

Next up,

  1. Alexander DeBrincat

Rookie Alert: Alex DeBrincat makes my list as a player that could be the next Artemi Panarin in the Chicago Blackhawks organization. DeBrincat has been one of the best junior players over the past few seasons trying to crack the Hawks roster, and has finally done that this season. Yes, he is a rookie – and a small one at that – but he has proven he knows were the net is. DeBrincat has scored over 100 points in three-straight OHL seasons, including his final year with the Erie Otters when he finished with 65 goals and 62 assists for a 127 points.

The argument that it won’t convert over is nonsense as junior players like Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk are finding goals in this league. Another reason he is so high on my list is the opportunity he could have to play with some of the best players in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. If he can learn from either of them, this kid could become a star in no time.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 35-45 assists.

Next up,

  1. Jake Guentzel

Now you can say Jake Guentzel is already a star from his Stanley Cup-winning performance last season. I agree, but I think he can play even better than he was in the playoffs. Guentzel had 13 goals and 8 assists in 25 playoff games last spring. It was a performance so strong that he deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy – only have it ripped from him by Sidney Crosby. We haven’t seen Guentzel in playoff form for a whole season, but this is that season.

Thinking about Guentzel, Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin all performing in top form has me believing this team could be looking at a three-peat without question, as they are probably the favorite in the East again. Guentzel’s scoring touch and being on the same page and line as Crosby could see his numbers sky rocket and he could be an even bigger star in Pittsburgh.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Finally,

  1. Jack Eichel

Jack Eichel will look to keep pace with fellow 2015 first-rounder Connor McDavid‘s scoring this year after missing the start of last season with a high ankle sprain. In addition to ruining Jack’s chance to shine for all 82 games, his injury was also a major contributor to the Buffalo Sabres’ slow start that potentially cost them their first postseason appearance since 2011. And the fact that Eichel had to watch his buddies Auston Matthews and McDavid in the playoffs last season was surely his motivator this offseason. Just watching a few preseason games, Jack looks faster and smoother this than he did last year.

Eichel was very open about how he missed out on  a $1 million bonus for his points-per-game percentage last season. Jack had 57 points in 61 games played, but he hovered around one point-per-game for most of the season before finishing the season in a slump to fall short of his goal. After signing an 8-year, $10 million AAV Tuesday and with the potential to assume captaincy of this Sabres team and lead them to the playoffs, I bet Eichel will earn every cent of his bonus this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.