The 2015-16 preview going into training camp continues with five more teams from the Metropolitan Division. We will get to Carolina and start the Central Division next week.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
2014-15 Finish: 47-28-7 record, first round loss to Washington Capitals (4-3)
Noteworthy Gains: Thomas Greiss
Noteworthy Losses: Lubomir Visnovsky
Biggest Strength: The Islanders have a young and talented offensive group that takes plenty of shots. New York led the league in team shot differential per game (5.5) and the team placed second in the NHL in shots per game (33.8). With the help of their shooting totals, the Isles ranked fourth in the league with 2.99 goals per game. The offense is coming together nicely with superstar center John Tavares leading the way.
Biggest Weakness: The Islanders tried to address their defense with the acquisitions of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy. They had strong seasons and Jaroslav Halak did a decent job in the crease, but New York still had problems preventing goals. The club placed 23rd in the league with a goals against per game of 2.73. The penalty kill especially struggled and finished 26th overall at 78 percent.
Player to Watch: Ryan Strome is making great progress at the NHL level and the Islanders have another excellent prospect awaiting his chance with Michael Dal Colle. Dal Colle, who was the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft, starred for the OHL's Oshawa Generals last season en route to a Memorial Cup championship. He should be watched closely at training camp because he isn't far away from making the NHL and when he does it's expected that he'll make an impact.
2014-15 Finish: 43-27-12, first round loss to New York Rangers (4-1)
Biggest Strength: Pittsburgh has a plethora of top-end scorers. Superstar forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will be joined by gifted sniper Phil Kessel this season following a blockbuster trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the summer. Patric Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz and defenseman Kris Letang supply plenty of offense as well. Kessel's arrival should help spark a power play that dropped to 10th overall in 2014-15.
Biggest Weakness: The Penguins biggest strength plays a part in their biggest weakness. The team is so top-heavy that it lacks depth in the bottom-six group. Pittsburgh sought to fill those holes by bringing in Nick Bonino, Eric Fehr and KHL import Sergei Plotnikov. The Pens have some other issues that must be ironed out if they are going to be successful in the coming year. During the 2014-15 regular season, Pittsburgh was the only club that didn't win a single game when they trailed after two periods. A team loaded with this many game breakers should be able to score some comeback wins. Pittsburgh also had an incredibly poor record against Metropolitan Division opponents (9-17-4), which nearly cost them a playoff berth. That will have to improve this year.
Player to Watch: David Perron didn't become the dominant producer that many pundits thought he would be after his trade to Pittsburgh. He scored 12 goals and 22 points in 43 games after he was acquired from Edmonton. However, he shouldn't be written off just yet. James Neal didn't come out guns blazing with the Penguins either after he was obtained from Dallas in 2010-11. He had one goal and six points in 20 appearances before exploding for 40 goals and 81 points in 80 contests the following season. Perron would have to be extremely fortunate to have that kind of success, but if he sticks in the top-six group then he has the potential for 60-plus points to go with hefty shot and hit totals.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
2014-15 Finish: 42-35-5 record, 11th in Eastern Conference
Biggest Strength: Columbus has placed a high priority on adding hard-working, two-way players to their roster and star center Ryan Johansen fits that mold perfectly. Off-season acquisition Brandon Saad as well as Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner possess those qualities too. The Blue Jackets have assembled a very good group of forwards that could help them challenge for a playoff spot in 2015-16.
Biggest Weakness: As good as the forwards look, the defense corps leaves a lot to be desired. Jack Johnson and David Savard posted good offensive efforts, but Columbus needs to get deeper on the back end. Columbus used first-round picks on defensemen Zach Werenski (eighth overall) and Gabriel Carlsson (29th), but they probably won't be in the NHL for at least a couple of years. A healthy Ryan Murray would help after he missed nearly the entire 2014-15 campaign due to injuries. The Blue Jackets were hit hard by the injury bug last year, which certainly played a part in their inability to qualify for the playoffs. The team had a league-high 508 man games lost.
Player to Watch: Boone Jenner was scoring at a 24-goal pace last season, but he appeared in just 31 games because of injury. He potted 16 goals in 72 games during his rookie campaign. Jenner will play with Johansen or Dubinsky in 2015-16, where he stands a good chance to rack up hits and points.
2014-15 Finish: 33-31-18, 12th in Eastern Conference
Biggest Strength: The Flyers have Jakub Voracek locked up through 2024 and Claude Giroux is signed until 2022. The team's dynamic duo combined for 154 points last season, including 70 on the power play. The efforts of Giroux and Voracek, as well as Mark Streit and Wayne Simmonds, helped the Flyers place third overall in power play efficiency last season.
Biggest Weakness: Philadelphia is still lacking on the back end. Michael Del Zotto and Mark Streit had good offensive years, but it doesn't excuse their defensive shortcomings. KHLer Evgeni Medvedev will join the group this season and Philadelphia will finally get a look at rugged blueliner Radko Gudas, who had his season ended in December because of a knee injury when he was still with the Tampa Bay Lightning. They probably won't make that big of a difference, but the Flyers have some great defenders in the pipeline with prospects Samuel Morin, Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Robert Hagg waiting for NHL shots.
Player to Watch: Sean Couturier was locked up to a six-year, $26 million contract last month. He is slated to occupy Philadelphia's second-line center position this season and will finally get a chance to flex some offensive muscle. Couturier has great two-way ability and he should be able to pick up points with more talented linemates.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
2014-15 Finish: 32-36-14, 13th in Eastern Conference
Noteworthy Gains: Kyle Palmieri
Biggest Strength: Cory Schneider posted five shutouts (eighth in the NHL), a .925 save percentage (fifth in the NHL) and a 2.26 goals-against average (ninth in the NHL) last season. Unfortunately, he also had a 26-31-9 record because the Devils weren't able to provide him with any goal support. Clearly, he deserved better, but he wasn't left with much margin for error. New Jersey's winning percentage in one-goal games was .324, which was the worst in the league.
Biggest Weakness: That leads us into the team's troubles on offense. The Devils placed 28th in the league with 2.15 goals per game and they ranked 29th in shots per game at 24.5. Scott Gomez and Steve Bernier are listed as "noteworthy losses" because Gomez tied for third on the team in scoring last season and Bernier was right behind him. That paints a fairly clear picture of their offensive woes and aside from the acquisition of Palmieri and the signing of John Moore, it has been a quiet off-season.
Player to Watch: One player who could make a difference, if given the opportunity, is 2015 first-round choice Pavel Zacha, who was selected sixth overall. He was signed to an entry-level contract yesterday and he is likely to be given every opportunity to make the Devils out of training camp. If he doesn't make the team then he will continue to hone his skills in the OHL.