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2018-19 Preview: Part 2

Thursday, August 2, 2018


Part Two of our 2018-19 season preview will complete the remaining teams in the Atlantic Division and start with the top-two clubs in the Central Division, according to last year’s standings. You can view out Part One of the series here if you haven’t already done so.

 

Don’t forget, for everything NHL, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_HK and @CoreAbbott on Twitter.

 

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Montreal Canadiens

 

2017-18 Finish: 29-40-13 record, 14th in the Eastern Conference

 

Noteworthy Gains: Max Domi, Joel Armia, Tomas Plekanec

 

Noteworthy Losses: Alex Galchenyuk

 

Biggest Strength: Carey Price struggled last season, while posting career lows in goals-against average (3.11) and save percentage (.900), but he remains the most important player on the roster and should be able to prove that was an aberration. Antti Niemi played well for the Canadiens after he was bounced between teams earlier in 2017-18. They have the potential to be a decent goaltending duo for a Montreal team that has glaring problems on defense and offense. Price will have to recapture the form he had in previous years when his ability to steal wins was among the best in the league.

 

Biggest Weakness: As previously mentioned, Montreal ranked near the bottom of the league in goals for per game (29th overall) and goals against per game (25th overall). Shea Weber’s absence for most of the year left a significant hole on the back end and he may not be available to play in 2018-19 until at least mid-December. It’s been well-documented that the Canadiens lack depth down the middle and that wasn’t addressed during the off-season. That will hold true even if 2018 first-round pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who was selected third overall, makes the roster.

 

Player to Watch: Kotkaniemi will make for an intriguing story to monitor, but Jonathan Drouin is a key player who has to step up in 2018-19. Drouin had trouble adjusting to center during his first season with Montreal. He also failed to make an impact on the scoresheet with 13 goals and 46 points in 77 games. Much more will be expected from him this year, especially after he made some progress late last season.

 

Ottawa Senators

 

2017-18 Finish: 28-43-11 record, 15th in the Eastern Conference

 

Noteworthy Gains: Mikkel Boedker

 

Noteworthy Losses: Mike Hoffman, Alex Burrows

 

Biggest Strength: There hasn’t been much to be excited about in the land of the Ottawa Senators this off-season. Problems on and off the ice plagued the team throughout the year and they have carried over into the summer. A bright spot is that they haven’t rushed into a trade involving Erik Karlsson. There was plenty of trade speculation surrounding the superstar defender last month, but he remains with the organization for now. If Ottawa insists on trading him then the return will need to provide immediate help as well as add something for the future. They can’t afford to mishandle this situation.

 

Biggest Weakness: Uncertainty surrounds Ottawa beyond the fate of their team captain. Mark Stone has a possible salary arbitration hearing around the corner. He can become an unrestricted free agent next summer if an arbitrator rules on the deal, which can only be a one-year agreement. Cody Ceci recently had his hearing with the Senators to try to settle his next contract. Matt Duchene is also eligible for unrestricted free agency following the 2018-19 campaign. They are all integral pieces who need to be taken care of by Ottawa promptly. Brady Tkachuk expects to make his decision to turn pro or play college hockey by August 12. The Senators hope to see him at training camp. Aside from contractual problems, the Senators will have to find a way to keep the puck out their net this year after the team finished with the second-worst goals against per game (3.46) last season.

 

Player to Watch: Tkachuk will get chances to produce as a top-six forward if he decides to join the NHL. Another player who could get opportunities is Colin White. He is a skilled player who can succeed at both ends of the ice. White was granted some time on Ottawa’s top line during the 2017-18 campaign. If he receives more opportunities like that then he could be in store for a productive rookie season.

 

Buffalo Sabres

 

2017-18 Finish: 25-45-12 record, 16th in the Eastern Conference

 

Noteworthy Gains: Jeff Skinner, Rasmus Dahlin, Patrik Berglund, Conor Sheary, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, Carter Hutton

 

Noteworthy Losses: Ryan O'Reilly, Robin Lehner, Chad Johnson

 

Biggest Strength: It’s a case of out with the old, in with the new for the Sabres. The roster will have a different look this coming season with Skinner, Berglund, Sobotka and Sheary joining the top-nine forward group. The Sabres will have some new players to try out alongside Jack Eichel. Casey Mittelstadt and Dahlin could both be in the conversation for the Calder Trophy, as the league’s top rookie, when they will likely take on large roles with the team in 2018-19. Buffalo still has some fine-tuning to do, but the forward group looks deeper on paper and there are some talented young players in place poised to make a difference.

 

Biggest Weakness: Even though the forward group appears to be improved, the team may continue to struggle to score goals. Buffalo ranked dead last in the league with a mere 2.41 goals for per game last season and the forwards they added, with the exception of Skinner, won’t exactly be lighting up the stat sheet. The Sabres also still have question marks in the crease with Hutton and Linus Ullmark poised to replace the former duo of Lehner and Johnson. Hutton has been a career backup to this point, while playing on strong defensive teams, while Ullmark has limited experience at the NHL level.

 

Player to Watch: Mittelstadt and Dahlin have the potential to be immediate contributors this year. They also possess plenty of flashiness and deserve to be watched closely. However, Sam Reinhart gets the nod here. Reinhart has been a highly-touted prospect of the Sabres since he was chosen second overall in 2014, but he hasn’t broken out offensively yet. He had a slow start to 2017-18 before exploding for 30 points, including 15 goals, in his last 32 appearances. If he can take up permanent residence alongside Eichel this campaign then a true breakout performance could finally be on the horizon.

 

Nashville Predators

 

2017-18 Finish: 53-18-11 record, second round loss to Winnipeg (4-3)

 

Noteworthy Gains: Dan Hamhuis

 

Noteworthy Losses: Scott Hartnell, Mike Fisher

 

Biggest Strength: The defense corps of the Nashville Predators is as deep as they come. Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm form an outstanding top-four group. The Predators also brought back Hamhuis, who played the first 483 matches of his career with the organization, on a two-year contract. He is capable of logging 20 minutes per game, while contributing points, blocks and hits. Adding him to the bottom-pairing with Matt Irwin or Yannick Weber provides further depth to what was already a stacked defense. Nashville’s rearguards also are among the team’s top producers offensively and as a group they led the league in 2017-18 with 206 points.

 

Biggest Weakness: Nashville has a great first line, but point production beyond Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen needs to be more consistent. The Predators got deeper down the middle with the acquisition of Kyle Turris last year. He helped elevate Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala, but the team needs more from them especially after they struggled to produce during the playoffs. Rookie forward Eeli Tolvanen and Ryan Hartman have the potential to contribute offensively from the third line. Nashville also needs to be more disciplined after the club was shorthanded a league-leading 299 times in 2017-18.

 

Player to Watch: Tolvanen didn’t burst onto the NHL scene the way most hoped he would when he joined the Predators at the end of the 2017-18 campaign. He only had three shots and didn’t post a point in three outings during the regular season, while averaging just 12:07 of ice time per contest. He didn’t get any playing time during the playoffs, but stands a great chance to crack the team’s roster out of training camp. Tolvanen could see action on the power play, where he can be a dangerous finisher.

 

Winnipeg Jets

 

2017-18 Finish: 52-20-10 record, Western Conference Final loss to Vegas (4-1)

 

Noteworthy Gains: Laurent Brossoit

 

Noteworthy Losses: Paul Stastny, Toby Enstrom

 

Biggest Strength: Winnipeg has a wealth of talent up front led by the skillful trio of Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine. When Nikolaj Ehlers’ back-to-back 60-point efforts and Kyle Connor’s impressive rookie campaign of 31 goals and 57 points are also factored into the equation it is easy to see why the Jets ranked second overall in goals for per game (3.33) last season. Winnipeg did lose Stastny during the summer, but the offense was rolling along before he joined the team from St. Louis and there are plenty of options available to take his place.

 

Biggest Weakness: Winnipeg locked up Connor Hellebuyck to a six-year contract a few weeks ago after he had a stellar season. He was second in Vezina Trophy voting following a season to forget in 2016-17. The play of Hellebuyck was a strength for the Jets and he should be able to carry that play into this campaign. However, the Jets don’t have a quality goaltender behind him on the depth chart. His backups struggled mightily last year and Brossoit was the only netminder added to the mix as a possible understudy. However, he didn’t look good in 14 appearances for Edmonton last year. He will probably compete with Eric Comrie for the number two job at training camp. Winnipeg may be forced to place a heavy workload on Hellebuyck again, which could take its toll as the season progresses.

 

Player to Watch: Jack Roslovic showed some promise last year with 14 points in 31 NHL matches. He could be a player that sees time up and down the lineup, but there will be a tantalizing spot up for grabs at training camp. If Roslovic plays between Ehlers and Laine at five-on-five then his value will skyrocket.



Corey Abbott is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him Twitter @CoreAbbott.
Email :Corey Abbott



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