5 NHL Teams to Watch this Season
The 2016-17 NHL Season – 5 Teams to Watch
By: Will Kay
The puck has finally struck ice on the 2016-17 NHL season. The Pittsburgh Penguins finished their 2015-16 campaign with a Stanley Cup to show for it. While a repeat remains historically unlikely, it definitely isn't out of the question. Many teams have restored and revamped their rosters in preparation for a season of stiff competition. Others have rebuilt through the draft and the trust in their young talents. The 2016-17 season is sure to be a roller coaster ride and below we'll dive into the 5 teams that may surprise us this year. Along with the current odds to win the Stanley Cup!
Let's start with a few teams that show signs of young potential. The first obvious choice is the team sporting the league's number draft pick, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs finished their 2015-16 campaign with the league's lowest amount of points for. This resulted in their selection of Auston Matthews. Matthews showed no signs of inexperience as he lit the red light four times in his debut. This marks the first time in NHL history that individual has scored 4 goals in their debut. He looked very comfortable in the team's system, fitting into his line and power play positions just fine. William Nylander also looked sharp in his team debut, which boasts well for the future of the team. The team also added Seth Griffin just before the season started, which will create for a balance at the Center position. They have the pieces they need now to contend, so we'll see if the hot start holds up over the course of the season.
The second young team that is really pulling things together in the Winnipeg Jets. After a lack-luster season in 2015-16, the Jets look to rebound. They didn't make any key off-season moves as far as trades/signings are concerned, but they did build in the draft. They added the talents of Patrik Laine to their young roster. Laine also fared well in his team's debut, netting himself his first NHL goal. More of the same would be preferred from this young star. The team is also featuring the use of two other young players in prevalence this year. Nikolaj Ehlers was featured in 72 contests last year. His performance was mid-tiered and will need to be higher in order for his team to perform. Connor Hellebuyck will be featured a ton this year between the pipes. His AHL performance last year was phenomenal and he looks to build off that steam as he heads to the big-league level. The team doesn't lack stardom when it comes to names like Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Dustin Byfuglien. If they can pull together their talent and have them working together, they could create for tough combinations to face-off against.
A third team that is no stranger to the postseason is the St. Louis Blues. The Blues lost their captain in David Backes during the off-season and would go on to promote Alex Pietrangelo to the position. The team had a rough go after getting knocked out in the second round last year. The team took a flyer on their addition of Nail Yakupov. Yakupov is a former #1 overall draft pick and will provide solid relief to third-line play. The talent is definitely prevalent with names like Tarasenko, Steen, Stastny and Shattenkirk. The names with talent could be listed for days, leaving this team as the top contender for the cup this year. This year could really be their year, but they'll have to back up their talent with their play on the ice.
Fourth is a team that is hurting right now, but will contend when healthy. The Boston Bruins are missing their veteran leadership in Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron right now. The weight falls onto the shoulders of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Boston newcomer, David Backes. The loss of veteran leadership leaves the door open for some younger and less experienced players to get a taste of the NHL. The injuries to their veteran leaders are minor, leaving only a week or two of mixed up roster combinations. Their first contest was a strong showing and they should be able to continue to produce during this recovery period.
The fifth and final team up for discussion is sort of a wildcard pick. No, this is not a bad pun in favor of the Minnesota Wild (sorry Minnesota fans), no this is a plug in favor of the Carolina Hurricanes. This team features a bevy of talent and a key short-list of off-season additions. The team added winger Teuvo Teravainen and goaltender Eddie Lack. Both provide an additional boost as key positions for the team. The team already features some solid NHL veterans in Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk. If they can locate some sort of depth combinations on their 2nd and 3rd lines, they could prove to be a surprise this year. It will be interesting to see how their season campaign starts as it should set the tone for things to come.