Ottawa Senators 2021-22 Season Preview

The Senators were expected to be bad last year, as the one team in Canada with absolutely no playoff hopes, and the result was… a fun team with young and exciting players that didn’t finish in last place and took a huge step in the right direction? Didn’t see that coming. Ottawa is still not good, but at least they are more enjoyable than say, the other Ontario team.

Offseason Additions: F Zach Sanford, D Michael Del Zotto, D Nick Holden, F Tyler Ennis (PTO).

Offseason Subtractions: F Evgeny Dadonov, F Ryan Dzingel, F Derek Stepan, F Artem Anisimov, G Joey Daccord, F Logan Brown.

Forwards

The team’s likely future captain Brady Tkachuk is yet to be back after a long offseason of being a restricted free agent. He is the definition of a power forward in hockey, scoring goals while crowding the net and using his body as a weapon. Tkachuk scored 17 goals with 36 points. He had a nice 69 penalty minutes with 248 hits in 46 games. That is a pace of 25 goals and 363 hits over 82 games. The Senators need to sign Tkachuk, and soon. Josh Norris just about matched Tkachuk’s scoring production in his rookie season, and finished fourth in Calder voting. The product of the Erik Karlsson trade scored 17 times with 18 assists without missing a game. He does not have the amount of hits as Tkachuk, but Norris still is physical, averaging over a hit per game. Just like his line-mates, Drake Batherson scored 17 goals with a ton of hits, 102 for him. The six-foot-three Indiana native completes a line of young forwards who can score, but also scare the crap out of opponents. Connor Brown scored a career-high 21 goals in his second season as a Senator, including a league-leading five while short-handed. Sure, it did require a 17.1 percent shooting rate to get there. But Brown established himself as a legitimate scoring threat. Tim Stützle had an entertaining rookie season, although overall he was not exceptional. Punctuated by a hat trick, Stützle scored 12 goals with 17 assists in 53 games. The third overall pick in 2020 is just 19, so of course anything decent at the NHL level would have been progress last year. Ottawa extended Colin White for six years after a breakout 2018-19 season with hopes that his $4.75 million cap hit would be a bargain for a top-six center. However, White has quickly flamed out. He scored ten goals with eight assists in 45 games. The Senators just acquired big winger Zach Sanford as he enters a contract year. Sanford struggled last year, attracting the ire of many Blues fans. But he did score 16 goals in 58 games in 2019-20, so the goal scoring talent is there. Four of his ten goals in 2020-21 came on special teams. Alex Formenton was great in the OHL and in the AHL in 2019-20, so his rough 2020-21 was understandably disappointing. He had just four points in 13 games for the Belleville Senators, all of which were goals. In 20 NHL games, he matched that goal total with two assists as well. The first pick of the second round in 2019, Shane Pinto was dominant at the University of North Dakota. He scored 15 goals with 17 assists in 28 games before going pro. Pinto had seven points in 12 contests for the big club at the end of the season. Supreme defensive forward Nick Paul had exactly 20 points in exactly 56 games for the second year in a row. Five of his points were goals this year. Only Brown averaged more time on the penalty kill per game among regular Senators forward. Tied with Paul in that category was Austin Watson. Watson reached the 100 hit mark for the fifth year in a row despite playing in just 34 games. Watson also had ten points while averaging 12 minutes on ice per game. Chris Tierney scored at a second line rate in his first two seasons with the team, but he crashed and burned last year. Tierney had six goals with 19 points in 55 games. Tierney’s face-off percentage of 45.6% was his worst since his rookie season of 2014-15. Veteran Tyler Ennis returns to Ottawa on a PTO. He scored 14 goals with 33 points in 61 games with the team in 2019-20 before a trade to the Oilers. He had nine points in 30 games for Edmonton last season. Clark Bishop provides the team some center depth. He had five points in eight AHL games last year, plus three assists in 13 NHL contests.

Defensemen

Thomas Chabot had another good season, showing why he is the king of the Ottawa defensive core. He recorded 31 points with 72 blocks and 68 hits in just 49 games. You can definitely argue that Chabot was not worth his $8 million cap hit, but having him locked up through his prime is going to be huge as the Senators try to exit the rebuild. Chabot averaged 26 minutes and 17 seconds of ice time last year. That was second in the NHL by six seconds, behind just Drew Doughty. The Senators may have found something in Artem Zub. In his first NHL season, he managed to get a Calder vote as a defensive defender, which is not easy to do. He had a 51.32 GF%, as well as 70 blocks and 89 hits in 47 games. He signed a two year, $2 million per season extension in the offseason. Nikita Zaitsev’s contract really looks rough. In 55 games, he averaged 22 minutes and 44 seconds of ice time with a putrid 38.82 GF%. Somehow it was not the team’s worst. Zaitsev reached triple-digit blocks and hits, as he has done so in all five of his NHL seasons. Coming in on a two-year deal is Michael Del Zotto, a prime example of “he’s still in the league?!” syndrome. Del Zotto played in all but three games for the Blue Jackets last year, with 13 points and 125 hits. The Senators will be his eighth team in his 13th NHL season. Victor Mete was surprisingly waived by the Canadiens late in the season, and the Senators pounced. Mete was great in 14 games after the move, with two points and a 52.25 xGF%. He will have to beat out some veterans to get consistent ice time this year, but the 23-year-old passed his first trial. The main return of the Mark Stone trade, Erik Brannstrom produced at a good clip last season, with 13 points in 30 games, for a 35.5 point pace over 82 games. From a 21-year-old playing sixteen minutes a night, you will definitely take it. Nick Holden came over from Vegas in an offseason deal that was mostly a dump of Evgeny Dadonov’s salary. He is a fine veteran, shot-blocking defender who can play sheltered minutes well. Holden only played in 17 games for the Golden Knights last year, with two assists and 20 blocks as well as 28 hits. Remember when I said that Zaitsev didn’t have the team’s worst GF%? Yeah, Josh Brown was worse. In 26 games, he had a straight 35% ratio. YIKES. Brown did at least pass the physical defender test, with 40 blocks and 71 hits.

Goalies

Matt Murray’s first season under an expensive four year deal was nothing short of disastrous. In 27 games, he was the league’s worst starting goaltender. Murray had an .893 save percentage with a 3.38 GAA as well as a GSAA of -11.0. The main goaltending competition will come behind him. Filip Gustavsson, acquired back in 2018 as a part of the Derick Brassard trade, was very impressive in his NHL debut. In nine outings, Gustavsson had a .933 save percentage with a 2.16 GAA. That’s not easy to do with the team in front of him. Anton Forsberg is a more veteran option. He played in eight games last year, with a .909 percentage.

Projected Lines

Brady Tkachuk – Josh Norris – Drake Batherson

Tim Stützle – Colin White – Connor Brown

Alex Formenton – Shane Pinto – Zach Sanford

Nick Paul – Chris Tierney – Austin Watson

Extras: Tyler Ennis, Clark Bishop

Thomas Chabot – Artem Zub

Victor Mete – Nikita Zaitsev

Michael Del Zotto – Erik Brannstrom

Extras: Josh Brown, Nick Holden

Matt Murray

Filip Gustavsson

Extras: Anton Forsberg

Prediction

So the Senators may not have been pure awful last year, but they were still bad. They were a sixth place team in a bad division. This team could take the next step in their progression, but their veterans may actually hold them back. Murray and Zaitsev have been very costly to their teams in recent seasons, with most of those games coming for the Senators. They could easily play Brown and Holden over Brannstrom and Mete. If the Senators make the right choices, this could be a fun and exciting season while still being a non-playoff team. Where the two philosophies overlap is that neither will be playing competitive hockey in the Spring.

New York Rangers 2021-22 Season Preview

Most of the Rangers’ moves this summer were so very obvious. After Washington’s Tom Wilson attacked Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin at the end of the season and was not suspended, a statement calling for NHL Department of Player Safety head George Parros’ dismissal was released, the team’s GM and President were fired, and the new approach was clear: this cannot happen again. The young and skilled Rangers are no more. They want the grit.

Offseason additions: F Barclay Goodrow, D Patrik Nemeth, F Ryan Reaves, F Sammy Blais, D Jarred Tinordi, F Dryden Hunt.

Offseason subtractions: F Pavel Buchnevich, F Colin Blackwell, D Brendan Smith, F Brett Howden, F Phillip Di Giuseppe, D Tony DeAngelo, D Jack Johnson.

Forwards

Artemi Panarin only played in 42 games last year, missing time after allegations that were quickly deemed to be politically-motivated from his old Russian coach. Despite that, Panarin still scored 17 goals and led the team with 58 points. He showed in his second season with the team why he is one of the league’s best players and arguably the best winger. Mika Zibanejad kept up his goal scoring prowess after an insane 41 goals in 57 games the season prior. He played in one less game this past year, although was not as proficient. Zibanejad scored a team leading 24 times, with 26 assists for 50 points, second on the team to Panarin. He has lost one of his normal line-mates in Pavel Buchnevich. Chris Kreider reached the 20 goal plateau for the sixth time, and for the third consecutive season. Kreider combined his 20 goals with 10 assists. The big, fast veteran had 115 hits with 34 penalty minutes, showing off his physicality. Alexis Lafreniere’s highly anticipated rookie season was not exactly what Ranger fans hoped it would be, as he did not receive any Calder votes. Of course, committee-based vote totals are not the best way to judge a 19-year-old. Still, New York hoped for more than 12 goals on a 17.9 shooting percentage with nine assists. Ryan Strome must really enjoy playing with Panarin. Since joining the Rangers, he has transformed into a much better player on the scoresheet. Strome averaged over 18 minutes a night last year, while scoring 14 goals with 49 points. He was third on the team in the latter. Strome has played center for most of his career, although he won just 43.2 percent of draws in 2020-21. If there is any disappointment regarding Lafreniere, at least he has been better than Kaapo Kakko. The 2019 second overall pick has been a good defensive winger, but has failed to produce anything offensively. In his sophomore season, Kakko scored nine times with 17 points. Playing more with Panarin can help him. Also, he’s just 20, so it is not wise to give up on Kakko when he is four years younger than last year’s Calder winner. The expectations are high for Vitali Kravtsov, the ninth overall pick in 2018. He started the season in the KHL, scoring 16 goals in 49 games. When he came to North America, Kravtsov had just two goals with two assists in 20 games. Filip Chytil had an encouraging rookie season as a 19-year-old in 2018-19, but has plateaued out since then. His 22 points in 42 games last year was his best pace by far. He’s still just 22, but Chytil seems to be just a third line center at best. After winning two Stanley Cups with the Lightning, the Rangers absolutely paid Barclay Goodrow, giving him six years. The main question for Goodrow is that he will now play away from Yanni Gourde and Blake Coleman. Goodrow was the pure checker of the line, as he had 111 hits last year. He had six points in 18 games with 68 hits for Tampa Bay in the playoffs. Kevin Rooney’s first year as a Ranger resulted in a career high eight goals, six assists, and 54 games played. The fourth line center was third on the team in penalty minutes with 54, behind the departed Brendan Smith and Brendan Lemieux. That does not necessarily mean that Rooney will be first in penalty minutes this year, as Ryan Reaves is now a Ranger. In the most obvious Wilson-repellant move, the Golden Knights’ enforcer was brought in. Reaves only played in 37 games last year, with five points, 27 penalty minutes and 141 hits. He joins New York with 2322 hits over 11 seasons. Coming from St. Louis for Pavel Buchnevich, Sammy Blais rode an insane 25.8 percent shooting rate to a career high eight goals in 36 games. What is more notable than his goal scoring prowess is his grit, as Blais had 103 hits last season. Former first-round pick Julien Gauthier could be the odd-man out. Gauthier played in 30 games last season, with eight points. He scored just two goals on 38 shots. Former Cornell star Morgan Barron provides center depth. He played in five NHL games at the end of the season. Before that, Barron scored 10 goals with 11 assists for 21 points in 21 AHL games.

Defensemen

Is Adam Fox the best Ranger defenseman since Brian Leetch? After how good he was in 2020-21, there is a serious case for it. Fox not only won the Norris Trophy, but he also finished 13th in Hart voting. He had 47 points, 42 of which were assists, in 55 games while averaging 24 minutes and 42 seconds on ice per game. Fox also blocked 102 shots. The best part? Fox is only 23. The Rangers extended Fox’s partner, Ryan Lindgren, for three years in the offseason. He is a much more defensive-oriented player. Lindgren had 16 points with 98 hits while averaging exactly 20 minutes a night in 50 games. Lindgren is exactly six days older than his partner. Jacob Trouba is a good player, although his $8 million AAV through 2025-26 is still looking ugly. Trouba only played in 38 games last year, but that did not stop him from recording 84 blocks and 111 hits. From a guy who had 50 points in his last season before coming to New York, Trouba’s 39 points in 108 games with the Rangers is very disappointing. K’Andre Miller showed flashes of his talent in his rookie season, but also reminded viewers that he is only 21-year-old. He finished 12th in Calder votes after posting 12 points in 53 games with 77 blocked shots and 93 hits. The six-foot-five lefty has a bright future. This year’s former first rounder to debut on defense will be Nils Lundkvist. The small righty scored 14 goals with 32 points in 52 games for Lulea HF in Sweden last year. The Rangers brought in a veteran partner for Lundkvist in Patrik Nemeth, who struggled his way out of Colorado last postseason. Nemeth was very solid for Detroit at the start of the year, and he combined to have ten points in 53 games. Another gritty addition is Jarred Tinordi. The six-foot-six defender had an assist with 56 hits in 21 games for Nashville and Boston. Child Ranger fan Anthony Bitetto was impressive in 14 games for the team, scoring a goal with three assists in sheltered minutes. It was his first NHL goal since 2017-18.

Goalies

In what was still considered to be his rookie season, Igor Shesterkin was very solid. He finished fifth in Calder voting with a .916 save percentage and a 2.62 GAA. Shesterkin also had a 7.9 GSAA in 35 games, 31 of which were starts. He has a solid backup in Alex Georgiev, who had the worst save percentage of his career in just 19 games last year. Georgiev posted a .905 percentage with -1.2 GSAA. His 2.71 GAA was a career best, though. Veteran Keith Kinkaid got into nine games last year. He had just an .898 save percentage, but his 2.59 GAA did lead the team.

Projected Lines

Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Alexis Lafreniere

Artemi Panarin – Ryan Strome – Kaapo Kakko

Barclay Goodrow – Filip Chytil – Vitali Kravtsov

Sammy Blais – Kevin Rooney – Ryan Reaves

Extras: Julien Gauthier, Morgan Barron

Ryan Lindgren – Adam Fox

K’Andre Miller – Jacob Trouba

Patrik Nemeth – Nils Lundkvist

Extras: Anthony Bitetto, Jarred Tinordi

Igor Shesterkin

Alex Georgiev

Extras: Keith Kinkaid

Prediction

If the Rangers left their team from last year alone and only added health, they could be in a better position than they are now. But still, this is a very good team. The Metropolitan Division is tough, but they are good enough to break through. A fourth place finish, which they could certainly obtain, should be enough to make it to the postseason.

New York Islanders 2021-22 Season Preview

These perennial underdogs are starting to get recognition. The Islanders have made it to the third round in two consecutive seasons, but in both years they fell to the Lightning en route to a Tampa Bay championship. This past series was close, as they ended up losing by one in game seven. New York added some grizzly veterans while clearing cap space in an attempt for third time’s the charm.

Offseason additions: F Zach Parise, D Zdeno Chara, F Richard Panik, D Erik Gustafsson (PTO), D Paul LaDue, F Andy Andreoff.

Offseason subtractions: F Jordan Eberle, D Nick Leddy, F Travis Zajac, D Braydon Coburn.

Forwards

Once again, Mat Barzal showed that he is the team’s best player. Still the reigning fastest skater in the league, Barzal’s 45 points led the team by 10. He scored 17 goals, for a pace of 25 that would have been the highest of his career. He also had 14 points in the playoffs despite missing one of his top wingers. One thing that Barzal has to work on is his discipline. His 48 penalty minutes led the team. It was not brute physicality, rather carelessness. The return of Anders Lee is what the Isles hope get them over the hump. Lee tore his ACL after 27 games, ending his season and diminishing the team’s hopes. The captain was playing his best hockey prior to the injury, with 12 goals and seven assists already in his pocket. For the second season in a row, the team’s big trade deadline acquisition stuck around for more. Kyle Palmieri was near invisible in the 17 regular season games he played in as an Islander, scoring twice. But he woke up when his beard, and the playoffs, returned. Palmieri played in all 19 games and scored seven times. The Islanders have utilized Brock Nelson as the whole package. His 18 goals led the team, and he averaged 17 minutes and 50 seconds on ice, second to only Barzal among forwards. Nelson plays big minutes on 5v5, as well as on both special teams units. The wildly inconsistent Anthony Beauvillier scored 15 goals last year, which was both his lowest since he was 19 and his best pace in a regular season. Beauvillier turned it on in the Spring, scoring five times in the playoffs, with his game six overtime winner against Tampa Bay being the most important. Josh Bailey once again had a quietly good season, as his 35 points was second on the team. The reason for this silence was probably because 27 of his points were assists. Among the team’s regulars, his four penalty minutes were the fewest. The other deadline player to dominate in the playoffs as well as sign an extension was Jean-Gabriel Pageau. In his first full season on Long Island, Pageau scored 14 times with 14 assists with a healthy diet of defensive minutes. He only scored three goals, but did have ten assists in the postseason. Rookie Oliver Wahlstrom was Wally Pipp’d by Travis Zajac in the potseason, but that should not take anything away from his impressive rookie campaign. He scored 12 times in 44 games, including four times on the power play, providing a much-needed spark to the struggling New York unit. Wahlstrom has a great shot and even bit into the team’s grit, with 57 hits. 18 years after the team passed on him in the 2003 draft, Zach Parise is New York Islander. Parise scored 25 goals in 2019-20 for the Wild but he fell off quickly last year, leading to his buyout. Parise scored seven goals in 45 games, riding a 7.8 percent shooting rate. A small contract and less ice time will be beneficial for him in his new situation. With Casey Cizikas signed for the next six years, the trademark fourth line is back. Cizikas is easily the best of the bunch, both defensively and especially offensively. He scored seven goals in 56 games, with 112 hits, extending his triple-digit hits streak to eight. Speaking of hits, both Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck are pretty good at them. From 2013-14 to 2016-17, Martin’s lowest hit total was 300. He has not hit that mark yet, but he did have 181 in 54 games last year. He scored six goals, tied for his highest since 2015-16. His 43 penalty minutes in the playoffs led the league. Clutterbuck surprisingly only had ten PIMs in the regular season. He had four goals and just missed his eleventh 200+ hit season, with 191. The extra forward spots will be won in a massive camp battle. Richard Panik was acquired for Nick Leddy this offseason. Panik is a decent checking forward who can score, which fits the Isles mold pretty well. If he gets in a game, New York will be his seventh team in his ten seasons. Veteran Leo Komarov went from extra forward to top line winger after Lee’s injury. He obviously is not that type of a player, as he only scored once last year. He still had 83 hits in 33 games and is a key locker room presence. A first-rounder in 2016, the clock is running out on Kieffer Bellows. He played in 14 games last year, scoring three times. Bellows is not waiver eligible, so there are serious questions to ask about him. Another competitor is Anatoli Golyshev, the 26-year-old Russian import. He was a consistent scorer in the KHL, netting 12 in 53 games last year.

Defensemen

Over the past two seasons, Adam Pelech has shown his excellence. Arguably the game’s best defensive defenseman, Pelech still received a Norris vote despite having just 14 points. That’s impressive for a generally point-driven award. He had 73 blocks with 66 hits. He had 62 hits in 19 playoff games. His partner, Ryan Pulock, has significantly more offensive talent, but only had 17 points in the regular season. He scored just twice in the regular season but doubled that in the playoffs. He blocked 106 shots with 97 hits, finishing ninth in Lady Byng voting as well. Defensive defender Scott Mayfield contracted the ire of Lightning fans after a cross-check to Nikita Kucherov, which led to boos every time he touched the puck. Mayfield blocked 108 shots and one of his two postseason goals was a game six snipe that saved the season versus the Lightning. 21-year-old Noah Dobson is yet to have the chains fully removed from him. He was sheltered like crazy in 2019-20, and still didn’t play against the best of the best last year. Dobson has a future as the team’s power play quarterback, as five of his 11 assists were on the man advantage. Any defensive issues with his game could be patched up by his new partner, Zdeno Chara. Chara is starting his second stint with the Islanders, with only two decades separating the two. The 44-year-old is still a commanding force on the ice. He had 88 hits while only missing one game for the Capitals. Just like he did in Boston, Chara will pair with a young, right-handed shot defender. It feels crazy to say that Andy Greene has a teammate who is five-and-a-half years older than him. Greene played in 55 games for the Isles last year, his first full season with the team. He blocked 99 shots, sadly ending his streak of triple-digit blocks seasons at seven. Swift-moving defenseman Sebastian Aho is the favorite for the seventh defenseman role. He had two points in the three NHL games he got into last year, but struggles defensively. In 49 AHL games, Aho had 30 points. 2017 second-rounder Robin Salo is coming to North America after a good season for Orebro HK in Sweden. Salo had 30 points in 51 games, six of which were goals.

Goalies

Both of the Islanders goaltenders return. The net has been a strength of theirs over the past two seasons, especially being able to utilize the two together. Semyon Varlamov finished fifth in Vezina voting, as playing in only 36 games seemingly held him back. Varlamov’s 22.0 GSAA led the league, and he had a very impressive 2.04 GAA and a .929 save percentage. He then had a .922 percentage in the playoffs, starting in most of the second and third rounds. Ilya Sorokin’s rookie season started off weak, but he got increasingly better as the season continued. In 22 regular season games, he had a .918 save percentage with a 2.17 GAA. He was absolutely clutch in the first round versus Pittsburgh. In his seven playoff games, Sorokin had a .922 save percentage. Veteran Cory Schneider is back as the third goalie again. He was with the team for the entire season but never got into a game in 2020-21.

Projected Lines

Anders Lee – Mat Barzal – Kyle Palmieri

Anthony Beauvillier – Brock Nelson – Josh Bailey

Zach Parise – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Oliver Wahlstrom

Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck

Extras: Richard Panik, Leo Komarov, Anatoli Golyshev

Adam Pelech – Ryan Pulock

Zdeno Chara – Noah Dobson

Andy Greene – Scott Mayfield

Extras: Sebastian Aho, Robin Salo

Prediction

They may not be flashy on paper, but this Islanders team is good, and very deep at every position. The Metropolitan Division is tough, but they are one of those teams that make it tough. They could easily win the division. While I do not see that happening, look for them to make another long playoff run.

New Jersey Devils 2021-22 Season Preview

Last year’s East Division consisted of eight teams, but really six teams trying to beat up on the Devils and Sabres the most. The return of the Metropolitan Division will have the Blue Jackets fill Buffalo’s role, but the Devils will try to become a seventh good team. They got aggressive in the offseason, signing the top free agent available and didn’t stop there. They may not be a powerhouse yet, but New Jersey is making the right strides.

Offseason additions: D Dougie Hamilton, F Tomas Tatar, G Jonathan Bernier, D Ryan Graves, Jimmy Vesey (PTO), Frederik Gauthier (PTO), D Christian Jaros, F Mark Jankowski (PTO).

Offseason subtractions: D Ryan Murray, F Nathan Bastian, D Will Butcher, G Aaron Dell, F Nick Merkley, F Mikhail Maltsev.

Forwards

Will this be Jack Hughes’ big breakout season? The 2019 first overall pick showed his flashes of talent this season, although the overall production was not there. Hughes finished second on the team with 31 points, but he is capable of much more. His overall shooting percentage was low again, at 7.7% for 2020-21. Tomas Tatar was a great scorer in his first two seasons for the Canadiens, but he struggled last year. Still, his ten goals and 20 assists in 50 games rivaled Hughes’ final total. If he wants to stay at center, he has to win more than the 35.4% of draws that he did last year. Despite not really deserving it, Tatar was a healthy scratch throughout Montreal’s long playoff run. Yegor Sharangovich finished tenth in Calder voting in his debut year, as the Belarus native was an overachiever. He scored 16 goals with 14 assists, finished third on the team in the former. Nico Hischier’s first season as Devils captain was a rough one, as he was in-and-out of the lineup with multiple injuries. He played in only 21 games, scoring six goals with five assists. He wasn’t great in 2019-20, scoring 14 goals with 36 points. Playmaker Jesper Bratt played in his fourth NHL season last year, all of which have ended in 30-35 points. Last season was the 30, and 23 of them were assists. Bratt had the most power-play minutes on average among returning wings. After three years of playing a few games a season, Janne Kuokkanen played a full season, missing just six games. Kuokkanen averaged half-a-point per game, with 25, eight of which were goals. Despite being behind Hughes and Hischier on the depth chart, Pavel Zacha had a huge breakout season. His 17 goals were tied for the team lead, and his 35 points cleared Hughes by four. Zacha spent significant time on both special teams units, and won 51.5 percent of face-offs. Matching him in goals was the fast-and-physical Miles Wood. A major development for Wood was him cutting back on that physicality. He had 29 penalty minutes with 38 hits, which is a huge difference from his 57 and 102 the season before. Andreas Johnsson’s 20-goal 2018-19 season has held his value up, although 2020-21 was a rough year for him. He played in 50 games, scoring just five goals with six assists. He has offensive talent, but he has just 13 goals over his past 93 games. Michael McLeod took Wood’s spot as the grinder in stride. In his first full season, McLeod scored nine goals with 42 penalty minutes and 89 hits. He is mostly a center, but could move to the wing this year. A 2019 first-round pick, Nolan Foote made his NHL debut, scoring a goal in six games. 2020-21 was also his first AHL season, as Foote scored seven times with ten assists in 24 games. The product of the Blake Coleman trade is hard to miss, standing six-foot-three-inches tall. Jesper Boqvist is once again trying to play every night, after appearing in roughly half of the team’s games in each of the past two seasons. He scored four goals with three assists in 28 appearances last year, averaging just over 11 minutes a night. A fifth rounder in 2017, Marian Studenic broke into the NHL, scoring a goal with an assist in eight games. He is an option for a fourth-line role. Both Jimmy Vesey and Mark Jankowski were once highly touted, but are in camp on professional tryouts. Vesey had 10 points in 50 games for Vancouver and Toronto last year, while Jankowski had 11 in 45 for Pittsburgh.

Defensemen

It may not look pretty on their salary cap situation, but Dougie Hamilton is a New Jersey Devil. This is a massive boost for them, on both sides of the ice. In his final season with the Hurricanes, Hamilton scored 10 goals with 32 assists for 42 points. Only Zacha had more points than Hamilton had assists. He finished fourth in Norris voting, his highest placement yet. It also extended his streak to five consecutive seasons of receiving nominations for the prestigious award. As one of the Calder favorites entering the season, it was no surprise to see Ty Smith finish seventh for the award. The most shocking thing about that is that he wasn’t higher. Smith had a very nice first campaign, scoring 23 points in 48 games. If he plays with Hamilton, that will be a huge boost to the 21-year-old’s game. The presence of Hamilton also moves Damon Severson down to the second pairing, which is a much better spot for him. Severson is a solid two-way defender, and has averaged over 22 minutes on ice a night in each of the past three seasons. He blocked 50 shots with 21 points without missing a game in 2020-21. Like they did in 2017, the Devils took advantage of their salary cap space and the expansion draft to benefit their team. This time, it was Ryan Graves instead of Mirco Mueller joining town. Graves may struggle to start as he has to move from the stacked system in Colorado to the still re-building Devils. He was a decent bottom-four player for the Avalanche over the past two seasons. In 2020-21, Graves had 15 points with 91 blocks and 77 hits. He had 150 and 112, respectively, in the prior season. From an on-ice standpoint, the trade for PK Subban has not been too successful for New Jersey. His production has crashed over the past two seasons, down to 19 points in 44 games last year. He is also not the total physical menace that he was in Nashville and Montreal for a few seasons, although Subban did average nearly a hit per game last season. They would have to eat a ton of salary, but the Devils could move him at the deadline if they slip down the standings. New Jersey attempted to buy low on Jonas Siegenthaler at the trade deadline after he was pushed down Washington’s depth chart. After he was great defensively in 2019-20, there is hope for the 24-year-old. He got into eight games at the end of the year for the Devils. Six-foot-six Kevin Bahl made his NHL debut at the end of the season, playing in seven games, recording a pair of assists. He played in 27 AHL games prior to that, and was also on Team Canada for the World Juniors.

Goalies

He has competition now, but Mackenzie Blackwood should still be the 1A for the Devils entering the season. He shined in 2019-20, but suffered some regression last season. Blackwood played in 35 games in 2020-21, posting a .902 save percentage with a .304 GAA. He had a negative GSAA for the first time in the NHL, at -6.4. Blackwood is actually getting paid less than Jonathan Bernier, who was brought in to be a backup who could easily take over the starting job. Playing with the Red Wings was not easy last year, but Bernier managed to put up a .914 save percentage. His 4.7 GSAA was his best since his 2013-14 season with Toronto. Scott Wedgewood returns as the third goalie, a demotion from last season. Wedgewood had a .900 SV% in 16 games.

Projected Lines

Tomas Tatar – Jack Hughes – Yegor Sharangovich

Janne Kuokkanen – Nico Hischier – Jesper Bratt

Miles Wood – Pavel Zacha – Andreas Johansson

Nolan Foote – Michael McLeod – Jesper Boqvist

Extras: Marian Studenic, Jimmy Vesey, Mark Jankowski

Ty Smith – Dougie Hamilton

Ryan Graves – Damon Severson

Jonas Siegenthaler – PK Subban

Extras: Kevin Bahl

Mackenzie Blackwood

Jonathan Bernier

Extras: Scott Wedgewood

Prediction

The Devils are looking a lot better than they have in years past. But they could easily suffer from the same syndrome that they did when Subban was acquired, when expectations were high but they still flopped. The main issue for them is going to be their defense. The Devils don’t have the scoring or the goaltending to make the playoffs. They probably still won’t have that scoring even if Hughes breaks out. A significant improvement for sure, but not enough.

Nashville Predators 2021-22 Season Preview

The Predators made the playoffs last season thanks to elite goaltending. But this offseason, they made their team even more dependent Juuse Saros, by getting worse. Nashville shipped out multiple veterans while watching Pekka Rinne retire, although they did not get a ton of picks and prospects back, either. The strategy by General Manager David Poile does seem a bit odd. Will it work out? Probably not this year, at least.

Offseason additions: D Philippe Myers, F Cody Glass, G David Rittich.

Offseason subtractions: D Ryan Ellis, F Viktor Arvidsson, G Pekka Rinne, F Calle Jarnkrok, F Erik Haula, F Brad Richardson, D Erik Gudbranson.

Forwards

With only a year left before unrestricted free agency, is this year it for Filip Forsberg in Nashville? Despite playing in just 36 games, the right-winger led the team’s forwards with 32 points, 12 of which were goals. That ended his streak of six consecutive seasons with more than 20 goals. He should get back there again this year barring injury. The top-two centers for Nashville are both expensive and underwhelming. Ryan Johansen has never been a big goal scorer, but to see him score just seven times last year was extremely rough. He has the playmaking ability to make up for that, except he had just 15 assists in 48 games last year. That is far from enough. Matt Duchene has also crashed and burned since signing with the Predators. For a player of his caliber, an 8.2 shooting percentage should still equal more than six goals. Add that with seven assists, and his 34 game season was a complete and utter disaster. He is 30-years-old, which means that he should still have some competitive years left. Former top prospect Eeli Tolvanen finally got enough playing time to establish himself in the NHL after multiple years of hype. He signed a three-year deal as a restricted free agent after a nice season, scoring 11 goals with 11 assists in 40 games played. For his efforts he finished 14th in Calder voting. For the second year in a row, Mikael Granlund went to free agency with the expectation that he would walk. And for the second year in a row, he returned. It shouldn’t happen next year, as he got a four-year contract. Granlund is a solid second-line player, although his new $5 million AAV is heavy. He tied for the team lead with 13 goals last year, along with 27 points. In his first season after a trade from Minnesota, Luke Kunin played in only 38 games, but managed to score ten goals. He added two more in the postseason, including an overtime winner. The 23-year-old moved to the wing full-time after playing some center for the Wild. The Predators will attempt to build Cody Glass back from the ground up. The 2017 sixth overall pick comes to Nashville after failing to capture a center job in Vegas. He scored four goals with six assists in 27 games last season. In 14 AHL games, he did have the same amount of goals and assists. 2019 first-rounder Philip Tomasino will have the chance to join Glass on his right. In his first professional season, the 20-year-old scored 13 goals with 32 points in 29 games for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. Undrafted Tanner Jeannot started the season in the ECHL, then proceeded to light up the AHL. In 13 games for the Wolves, he scored 10 goals with 11 assists. In 15 games for the big club, Jeannot scored five goals, earning himself a spot in five of the six playoff lineups. Veteran Nick Cousins is back for his second year with the team. In his first, he scored five goals with 18 points in 52 games. This was off the back of a 10 goal, 25 point year for Montreal and Vegas. Rocco Grimaldi scored exactly ten goals for the second season in a row, this time in 40 games. The major difference for Grimaldi was not his goals, rather his drop from 21 assists to just three. His 16.1 shooting percentage is very high, so don’t expect that much production again. Signed for five more seasons, Colton Sissons is a very expensive bottom-six player. He scored eight goals with 74 hits and an elite 54 percent face-off percentage last year. His $2.857 million AAV may jump out, but Sissons was worth the cost last season. A second-rounder back in 2015, Yakov Trenin played in a career-high 45 games last year. He scored five goals with six assists, but more importantly, had 94 hits, as the Russian imposed his physicality. Another option who had a ton of hits last year is right-winger Mathieu Olivier, the first player from Mississippi in the NHL. Don’t worry, as the man with the most French sounding name possible did grow up in Quebec. He had five points in 30 games last year.

Defensemen

Roman Josi was one of the few defenders in the NHL to lead their team in points in 2020-21. He just narrowly beat Forsberg, with 33 points, eight of which were goals. That ended seven-year streak of double-digit goals. An equally long triple-digit blocked shots streak was ended with 83. He should thank the shortened season for that. Nashville tried to bail themselves out of the impending doom that they think Ryan Ellis’ contract would be, and for that they get a severe downgrade from Ellis to Philippe Myers. A second-pairing player in Philadelphia, Myers could be asked to play with the captain on the top pairing. The six-foot-five, right-handed shot had 11 points with 40 blocks and 69 hits in 44 games last year. Mattias Ekholm dodged trade rumors all season as the Predators went from long shots to a playoff team. The great two-way skater scored 23 points with 46 blocked shots in 48 games. Like Josi, the shortened season ruined a triple-digit blocked shot streak, at six years for Ekholm. The Predators may have unlocked something in Alexandre Carrier, the 24-year-old right-hander who made the most of his 19 game trial last year. He had three points with 31 blocks and 22 hits. Not only was that enough to get him into all six playoff games, the Preds protected him from the Kraken over forward Calle Jarnkrok. When the Predators traded PK Subban to New Jersey before 2019-20, the hope was that Dante Fabbro would jump into the top-four. Fabbro has been decent, but Carrier may have leap-frogged him. In 40 games, the 23-year-old scored 12 points with 57 blocked shots. Big ol’ on-ice meanie Mark Borowiecki returns for his second season in Nashville. He played in just 22 games in the first one, with 38 penalty minutes and 54 hits. From the six prior seasons with Ottawa, Borowiecki’s hit totals ranged from 199 to 364. The right and left handed dynamic could get him a starting spot over Matt Benning. The former Oiler played in all but three games last season, with four points. He blocked 53 shots with 55 hits. An ex-teammate of Borowiecki’s in Ottawa was Ben Harpur, who got into 34 games for the Predators last year. He had seven assists, with 44 hits. He was much more disciplined than in his Senators days, with only 17 penalty minutes.

Goalies

The Predators owe a ton of debt to Juuse Saros for his efforts in 2020-21. His sixth place Vezina finish did not do him justice. Saros played in 36 games, with a .927 save percentage and a 2.28 GAA. He saved 20.9 goals above average. This was his first season with the chains fully free from Pekka Rinne. Now with Rinne retired (and likely soon to the rafters), Saros is ready to go nuts. “Big Save Dave” Rittich is the new backup. He had been capable for that position for multiple seasons for the Flames, although he did struggle for Calgary and Toronto last year. Rittich had a combined .901 save percentage with a 2.86 GAA.

Projected Lines

Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Eeli Tolvanen

Mikael Granlund – Matt Duchene – Luke Kunin

Tanner Jeannot – Cody Glass – Phillip Tomasino

Nick Cousins – Colton Sissons – Rocco Grimaldi

Extras: Yakov Trenin, Mathieu Olivier

Roman Josi – Philippe Myers

Mattias Ekholm – Alexandre Carrier

Mark Borowiecki – Dante Fabbro

Extras: Matt Benning, Ben Harpur

Juuse Saros

David Rittich

Prediction

A late season hot streak really saved the Predators from a complete and utter blow-up at either the trade deadline or this offseason. They did rebuild a bit this summer, but instead of really committing they made their lineup worse without the good returns. Nashville has the young players to make this season exciting, but they are not good. The question is, will Forsberg be traded?