The Labor Day weekend has come and gone. Students are heading back to school, the leaves will soon begin to change, and the winter months won’t be too far behind. The change of the seasons brings joy to many hockey fans, in the fact that the NHL preseason is just a couple weeks away. If you’re like me, life without sticks, hits, fights, and Sportcenter Top 10 goals, seems empty. As the new season is quickly coming upon, many fans believe that this is their year; their year to lift the ultimate prize of the Stanley Cup. To kick off the new season I wanted to take a closer look at the teams that were at the bottom or near the bottom that could surprise people and make a push for the playoffs or even a run at the treasured Stanley Cup.
Oilers fans believe the hype. Connor McDavid will make a huge difference to the this years team but General Manger, Peter Chiarelli, has signed some impactful free agents that could cause the Oilers to climbing the standings in the Western Conference. Let’s start with talking about the man in between the pipes, Cam Talbot. After many years of being consist, and very good backup to best goalie in the world in Henrik Lundqvist, Talbot finally gets his chance to show people what he can do as a number one goalie in the NHL. If he can repeat his numbers from last season (.926 save percentage and 2.21 goals against average) Talbot alone, improves the Oilers dramatically. Mix in the signing of Andrej Sekera to enhance their blueline, the Oilers are team that no NHL should sleep on.
On the offensive end, firepower has never been the problem for the Oilers but having all the pieces mesh together right, has been. When you select first overall four out the last six years, you expect to accumulate some talent. The Oilers top two lines are loaded with young talented names like, Taylor Hall, Connor McDavid, Nail Yakupov, Benoit Pouliot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle.
The Oilers are still very young but they do have the talent this year to make waves in the Pacific Division.
The Dallas Stars may have had a disappointing season last year but the Stars look to be shining bright in Texas. With Tyler Seguin and Art Ross Trophy winner, Jamie Benn, healthy, Dallas looks to have a significant chance to make a run at the Central Division title.
To go along with Dallas’ young guns, they brought in a pair of veterans from the Chicago Blackhawks, Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya, who have tons of playoff experience and know what it takes to bring home the cup.
Another key piece to the puzzle, Valeri Nichushkin will be returning to the lineup, after only appearing in eight games last year. Nichushkin will jump out at the NHL this year. He is a young star in the making. Only 20 years old but is someone who has dynamic playmaking ability. Watch for him to light up the score sheet, as I expect he will be playing on a line with Seguin and Benn to start the season.
Question still lie in the crease for the Dallas Stars. During the offseason they brought in Antti Nemi but it looks like it’s still Kari Lehtonen’s job to lose. If the Stars want to make any kind of playoff push they will need one of their goalies to step up and have a big year.
Buffalo is booming with excitement for the first time in a long time. 2nd overall draft pick Jack Eichel is coming with huge expectations to point the franchise back in the right direction. The Sabres are hoping that Eichel can be that centerpiece to build around.
Eichel won’t have to do it by himself though. Last year, the Sabres started planning for the future, picking up Evander Kane from the Winnipeg Jets, who will be huge boost to the team’s offense. After an injury filled, and controversial breakup with the Jets in 2014, Kane will be looking for a bounce year and show off his talent that made with the 4th overall pick in 2009.
Another thing Buffalo has going for them is the young Tyler Ennis, who I think is one of the most underrated players in the NHL. Even with being on terrible Sabres’ team, Ennis has managed to put up back-to-back 20 goal seasons. And now playing with players such as Eichel and Kane, Ennis has a chance to put up a 60+-point season this year.
Buffalo may not make the playoffs this year but I promise you that they are on the rise and their young talent will make the Niagara Center, a fun and excited place to watch hockey again.
Hockey season is right around the corner and cannot wait. Who is going to be this year big surprise?