The NHL is finally back and it’s time to preview the Central Division! After you’re done here, check out our Pacific Division Preview.
The Yotes may not be a playoff team yet, but they’re finally building something that might last in Arizona (or wherever the organization goes next). Young forwards like Logan Cooley, Dylan Guenther and Matias Maccelli will continue to grow while Clayton Keller, Nick Shmaltz and Lawson Crouse get into the prime of their careers.
This season should once again be focused on growth and taking steps in the right direction, but the organization did make some moves to speed that process up in the offseason. Newly added veterans Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker should help guide this team and become important voices in a very young dressing room. The Coyotes have been rebuilding for too long, but this season we may finally see some of the hard times pay off. I don’t think they’ll make the postseason but expect this team to hang around in the Central for most of the year.
The Blackhawks did a decent job of at least getting a few talented veterans to put around Connor Bedard this season, but don’t expect this team to turn it around just yet. Bedard will sell tickets and garner national attention, but the rest of this Blackhawks roster just isn’t exciting. Their defence and goaltending is well below average on paper, and if Bedard goes through any normal rookie growing pains, there’s not many other people that can step in and score consistently. In an ideal season for Blackhawks fans, I think you’d love to see Bedard play well while the team loses games. At this point, lottery picks are still a great thing for the future of this franchise.
After being bounced in the first round by Seattle last year, the Avs got a lot more time off to get healthy. While the players were resting, the front office was hard at work, signing key forwards like Ryan Johansen, Jonathan Drouin, Ross Colton and Tomas Tatar. Johansen will be the most important new piece, as he figures to slot in as the second-line centre. Colorado’s depth at forward was an issue last year, and with that seemingly figured out, I expect the Avs to be one of the best teams in the NHL again this year.
Their defence is still one of the best and most offensive in the league, and Mikko Rantanen and Nathan Mackinnon will still be incredible at forward. They’ll be in a battle with Dallas for the Central all year, but I’d put my money on this group to get it done.
And now for the other front-runners in the Central. Like Colorado, I expect Dallas to be better than they were last season. The roster is very similar to last year, with the addition of Matt Duchene at forward. In his last two seasons with Nashville, Duchene proved he can still get it done, collecting 142 points in 149 games. In Dallas, though, he won’t be relied on as much for points. The top line of Robertson, Hintz and Pavelski should be one of the best in the league, while depth scoring will come from a variety of players including Duchene, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Wyatt Johnston and Evgenii Dadonov.
On the blueline, Miro Heiskanen will once again lead a very competent group in front of Jake Oettinger. The Stars are a deep, experienced team, and I fully expect to see them challenging for the division crown all season long.
Despite having $14 million in dead cap space, the Wild should once again be a playoff team. In today’s day and age, it’s very difficult to build a championship caliber team with $14m going to non-roster players. Minnesota should be able to get to the postseason anyways, but doing anything after that is much more difficult with their expensive handicap.
Many eyes will be on young players Marco Rossi and Brock Faber this year. If Rossi can establish himself as the third line centre and Faber can come up big for them on the blueline, this Wild team will have the depth to match a lot of teams in the NHL. The goaltending duo of Filip Gustavsson and Marc-Andre Fleury will also always give them a chance to win. Unfortunately, the biggest problem for Minnesota will always be having to play either Dallas or Colorado in the first round.
If the Preds can get a big year out of their young forwards, this team could surprise a lot of people in the Central. With a top four of Roman Josi, Ryan McDonough, Tyson Barrie and Luke Schenn on the backend and Juuse Saros in net, Nashville should be able to keep most teams from scoring a lot of goals. This, in turn, will open up the opportunities for their forwards to win games.
Outside of Ryan O’Reilly, Gustav Nyquist and Filip Forsberg, the forward group is an inexperienced one. Guys like Cody Glass, Denis Gurianov, Filip Tomasino, Luke Evangelista and Juuso Parssinen will have ample opportunity to make a difference for the Predators, and whether they can or not may ultimately decide the fate of the team this season.
St. Louis Blues
For the Blues, the biggest question heading into this season is goaltending. I feel like most people know what to expect from their forward and defence groups, but it’s hard for anyone to EVER predict the play of Jordan Binnington. If Binnington finds his game, the Blues could be a wild card team. If he plays like he has the past few seasons, I think this team misses the postseason for the second straight year.
Outside of the crease, the Blues will be looking for a big contribution from their new addition Kevin Hayes. St. Louis does have decent depth up front, and if he can be effective, they’ll be very strong at the centre ice position. This team could certainly make some noise in the Central, but either way, they’ll likely be a good case study on the importance of goaltending.
With Connor Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele both signing long-term deals, the Jets organization showed everyone that they’re not ready to give up on the core of this team just yet. Many people speculated that both players would be gone by the deadline, but now that they’re locked up, the outlook has changed in Winnipeg. The Jets have a talented lineup, but they have holes as well. Outside of Josh Morrissey, the blue line isn’t a very scary one for opponents to go up against.
If Winnipeg can get over the thin defence and get some stellar play from Hellebuyck, this team could very well be in the playoff race all season long. The off-season distractions are now behind everyone, and it’s time to prove why the organization made the right call in remaining competitive and keeping two of their best players.
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