Edmonton Oilers 2022-23 Season Preview

Are the narratives that the Oilers are wasting Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl dead? Sure, Edmonton still hasn’t been to the Stanley Cup Finals with the best player in the league and another guy who is in the top-five. But they built a much better team last year, and in the heated Battle of Alberta, came out on top. After beating the Flames, they went to the Conference Finals, but lost to the Avalanche. But is there shame in losing to a team as good as Colorado? The Avalanche have taken a step back on paper. Is this Edmonton’s year?

Offseason additions: G Jack Campbell, F Mattias Janmark, D Ryan Murray, F Greg McKegg.

Offseason subtractions: D Duncan Keith, G Mikko Koskinen, F Zack Kassian, D Kris Russell, F Kyle Turris, F Colton Sceviour, F Derick Brassard.

Forwards

Of course, you have to start with McDavid. He is so ridiculously good that the Oilers will throw anyone on his line and he makes it work. He scored 44 goals with 79 assists for 123 points, capturing his fourth Art Ross Trophy in seven seasons. He received some heat after the Jets swept the Oilers in four games last year, and he scored just once. But McDavid responded in grand fashion, scoring 10 goals with a total of 33 points in 16 playoff games. The Zach Hyman contract still won’t age well in all likeliness, but he brought exactly what the Oilers needed in his first year. Hyman scored a career-high 27 goals with 54 points in 76 games. Despite a very good 3.11 xGF/60, Hyman had an actual goals for per 60 of just 2.54, signaling that his best could be to come. The controversial decision to sign Evander Kane midseason paid off on the ice enough to where the team extended him for four more seasons. Kane scored 22 goals with 39 points in 43 regular season games, then scored 13 goals in the playoffs. However, he served a costly suspension when the team was eliminated.

He only finished ninth in Hart voting, but Leon Draisaitl scored 55 goals while matching the 110 points he had in his Hart-winning 2019-20 season. Draisaitl doesn’t get enough credit for how good of a scorer he is. He has sustained a 17.6 percent shooting rate over his career. Even Alex Ovechkin is under 13. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has dialed back on his goal scoring in recent seasons, instead becoming a playmaker. He scored just 11 goals in 63 games, but had 39 assists. Nugent-Hopkins’ goal scoring rates increased in the playoffs, as he scored six times in 16 games. Following a tough 2020-21 season, Kailer Yamamoto rebounded with his first 20 goal season. He had a total of 41 points while playing with either McDavid or Draisaitl. Yamamoto gets judged a ton for his height, something that isn’t unique to him. But he is still a physical player, with 114 hits last season.

The Oilers and analytical darling Jesse Puljujarvi seemed destined for a divorce this offseason, but the two sides agreed to a one-year deal. Puljujarvi scored 14 goals with 36 points in 65 games last year. That isn’t anything special before you factor in the effects of playing on Edmonton. But Puljujarvi led the team with both a 59.1 xGF% and a 64.4 GF%. Only Kane and McDavid were on the ice for more goals for per 60 in the regular season. In his first full season, former second-rounder Ryan McLeod didn’t play a ton and had 21 points in 71 games. He was solid defensively, with the second-best xGA/60 on the team. The offense wasn’t there, but he also suffered the lowest on-ice shooting percentage on the team. Promising defender Ethan Bear was traded before last season for Warren Foegele, who gave standard bottom-six production. Foegele had 26 points with 127 hits in the regular season. But he didn’t help enough in the playoffs, with just one assist in 13 games.

Defensive forward Mattias Janmark signed with the Oilers. While his production, 25 points in 67 games, is similar to Foegele, Janmark is not as physical. He had just 19 hits with 21 penalty minutes, although the latter is more of a positive. Center Derek Ryan won 55.9 percent of his face-offs, just over his career number of 55.5 percent. He scored 10 goals and was one of 71 players to receive a Lady Byng vote. Journeyman Devin Shore played in 49 games in his second season with the Oilers. He gave the team no offense, which is to be expected, but his xGA/60 was bottom-six on the team. Another well-traveled player is Greg McKegg, who is entering his tenth NHL season. The Oilers would be his eighth team. McKegg played in 43 games for the Rangers last year, the third-most in his career.

Defensemen

As Darnell Nurse’s huge contract extension kicks in, there has to be some sense of regret at the $9.25 million cap hit that he carries. Predictably, he didn’t match the 16 goals and 36 points he had in 56 games the season prior, but Nurse still had 35 points in 71 games. Averaging over 25 minutes a game, Nurse blocked 132 shots with 196 hits. He has triple-digits in both of those categories in each of the past five seasons. Evan Bouchard finally got a shot to play consistently, and he flourished. Bouchard scored 12 goals with 31 assists for 43 points in 81 games. He added nine more points in the postseason.

The Oilers found a much-needed defenseman in Brett Kulak, who they extended after acquiring at the deadline. Kulak had good two-way numbers on a lowly Montreal team, then had a 57.9 xGF% with eight points in the regular season after the trade. Kulak has received third-pairing ice time for most of his career, but has shown that he can handle a bigger role. Tyson Barrie saw his ice time get cut back in his second season with the team, becoming more of a power play specialist. Of his 41 points, 21 of them were on the man advantage. His defense wasn’t crippling this year, as he had a 2.6 xGA/60 and a 2.49 GA/60.

Philip Broberg gets a ton of slack since he is not Trevor Zegras, the guy drafted directly behind him in 2019. Broberg made both his AHL and NHL debut last year, with 23 points in 31 AHL games, and three in 23 NHL matches. He had just a 36.85 GF%, but don’t read too much into that as he had a 92.7 PDO. Cody Ceci set a career-high in points in his first Oiler season. He had 28 points in 78 games with 121 blocks and 117 hits. Ceci’s 52.3 xGF% was the sixth-best on the team. Only Puljujarvi, McDavid, Nurse, Hyman, and Bouchard were better. For the second consecutive season, Slater Koekkoek was a depth defender who received limited ice time when he did play. Koekkoek has five points in 37 games over the past two years. Both Koekkoek and Ryan Murray were top-ten picks in 2012, with Murray going second behind famous Oiler Nail Yakupov. Murray signed a one-year deal with Colorado last year, playing in 37 games but none in the postseason. Injuries have long been a problem for him.

Goaltending

With Mike Smith expected to go on LTIR, the Oilers finally have their franchise goalie. After building his stock up and then down in Toronto, Jack Campbell signed a five-year, $25 million deal this offseason with Edmonton. Campbell had a solid .914 save percentage and a 2.64 GAA before struggling in the playoffs. His GSAx was nearly minus-eight. However, Campbell also had a 2.15 GAA in 2020-21 and was amazing in that year’s postseason. Keep an eye on Stuart Skinner, a 23-year-old who was impressive in 13 games last season. He had a .913 save percentage while both Smith and Mikko Koskinen were struggling.

Projected Lines

Evander Kane – Connor McDavid – Zach Hyman

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto

Warren Foegele – Ryan McLeod – Jesse Puljujarvi

Mattias Janmark – Derek Ryan – Devin Shore

Scratched: Greg McKegg

Darnell Nurse – Evan Bouchard

Brett Kulak – Tyson Barrie

Philip Broberg – Cody Ceci

Scratched: Slater Koekkoek, Ryan Murray

Jack Campbell

Stuart Skinner

Detroit Red Wings 2022-23 Season Preview

The Red Wings are yet to win anything since the Datsyuk and Zetterberg era, but the fanbase has trust in the ‘Yzerplan’. Team legend and general manager Steve Yzerman had himself a big offseason, going on a spending spree to make this team more competent. Detroit may not be in contention yet, but they are a big part of a shifting Atlantic Division.

Offseason additions: F David Perron, F Andrew Copp, D Ben Chiarot, G Ville Husso, F Dominik Kubalik, D Olli Maatta, D Mark Pysyk, F Austin Czarnik, D Robert Hagg.

Offseason subtractions: F Sam Gagner, G Thomas Greiss, D Marc Staal, D Danny DeKeyser, F Mitchell Stephens, F Carter Rowney.

Forwards

It is astonishing to even think about, but Dylan Larkin will be an unrestricted free agent after 2022-23. Larkin was in a decline in 2019-20 and 2020-21, but came back with a great season last year, leading Detroit in points in 69, with 31 of them being goals. His 2.86 xGF/60 led the team, although he struggled defensively. With how good Tyler Bertuzzi is, not being able to play in Canada is crippling for the team. Bertuzzi played in 68 games last year and scored 30 goals with 62 points. Bertuzzi and Larkin were two of the three Red Wings with over three goals for per 60 at five-on-five. The other one? It was veteran defender Marc Staal, oddly enough. He was overshadowed by another rookie on his team, but Lucas Raymond was in the Calder conversation for the first half of the season. He finished with 57 points, and his 18 on the power play was the most for a Red Wing forward.

The biggest thing that Yzerman has done since returning to Detroit has been revamping the second-line. Jakub Vrana’s first full season with the Red Wings was disrupted when he had preseason shoulder surgery and was limited to just 26 games. When he played, Vrana was great, scoring 13 goals with six assists. He has 21 goals in 37 games since coming over from Washington. That is eight more in 14 less games than Anthony Mantha, who he was traded for. Speaking of impressive deadline acquisitions, Andrew Copp was a game changer for the Rangers after coming over from Winnipeg. He had 18 points in 16 games, then added 14 more in 20 playoff games. The Rangers liked Copp for his center and wing flexibility. Detroit needs a center more. After completing his third stint with the Blues, David Perron signed a two-year deal with the Wings. While he was eighth on the team in scoring, Perron still netted 27 goals with 57 points in 67 games. The Wings will be missing Robby Fabbri for the first month of the season due to injury. Fabbri has had his career plagued by them. He scored 17 goals with 30 points in 56 games last year.

The third line will consist of two players signed after the Blackhawks non-tendered them as restricted free agents. Pius Suter had 27 points in 55 games as a rookie with Chicago. While his scoring rates dropped last season, he still scored 15 goals with 36 points. The only returning Red Wing forwards with a better xGF% last year than Suter are the first liners. After scoring 30 goals in 68 games as a rookie in 2019-20, Dominik Kubalik has fallen back to Earth in the two seasons since. He scored 15 goals with 32 points last year, with shockingly-low impact in the offensive zone. When Filip Zadina was drafted sixth overall in 2018, his shot was highly touted, but he has just a 7.6 percent shooting rate in 160 NHL games. Seventy-four of them came last year, with Zadina scoring 10 goals. Both his personal and on-ice shooting percentages were under seven percent.

Six-foot-six center Michael Rasmussen scored 15 goals in his best season yet, although you still want more out of a former top-ten pick and a center picked over other centers including Nick Suzuki, Josh Norris, and Robert Thomas. Rasmussen was on the ice for 3.37 goals against per 60, worse than every Red Wing forward but Larkin. The Wings acquired two roster players and a draft pick at the deadline when they sent Nick Leddy to St. Louis. The veteran coming back was Oskar Sundqvist. He had eight points in 18 games following the trade, but had a 37.66 xGF%. The plan for Joe Veleno will be interesting this year. The young forward was a regular last season, but had just 15 points in 68 games. Veleno had 10 points in 11 AHL games. The competition for him on the fourth line is Adam Erne, who knows new Head Coach Derek Lalonde from their time in Tampa Bay. Erne had 19 points in 79 games last year, less than he had in 45 games the season prior. Erne is in the lineup for physical play, and he did have 161 hits last year. In 46 games last year, Givani Smith had an impressive 2.27 xGA/60, the best on the team among semi-regular players. Smith added seven points with 108 penalty minutes.

Defensemen

The Wings will be down two men on defense to start the year, with both Mark Pysyk and Jake Walman injured. Walman barely got ice time in St. Louis, but his average ice time increased by over five minutes a game after a trade to Detroit. Pysyk has been a bit of an analytical darling for multiple teams in his career.

The reason why Raymond was not talked about a lot in the Calder race was because Moritz Seider ran away with it. He had 50 points with 161 blocks and 151 hits, becoming a force in both zones. Seider had 19 power play assists while averaging over 23 minutes of ice time. His main partner is gone in Danny DeKeyser, but the team did sign two veteran left-handed defenders. Ben Chiarot has a great reputation as a physical, top-four defender, but the numbers say otherwise. He was average relative to his teammates on Montreal last season, which was the worst team in the league. He improved after a trade to Florida, but his defense still wasn’t impressive.

In his fourth NHL season, 24-year-old Filip Hronek set a new career-high in points with 38. His expected goals for and against per 60 were only a small step down from Seider. After two seasons in Los Angeles, Olli Maatta signed a one-year deal with the Red Wings. He blocked 94 shots with eight points in 66 games in 2021-22.

The rookie to look out for at the start of the season is Simon Edvinsson, who was picked sixth overall in 2021. Edvinsson could at least play until Pysyk and Walman return, or longer if he looks good. In 44 games for Frolunda in Sweden last year, he had 19 points. Young Gustav Lindstrom finally got an extended look in the NHL, and the results were decent. He had 13 points in 63 games, and a 45.97 xGF%. Only Seider was better on the Detroit blue line. Veteran Jordan Oesterle is an option to start if Edvinsson isn’t ready. The Michigan native struggled in his first season, with eight points and a 41.5 xGF% in 45 games played.

Goaltending

Goalies are incredibly volatile, but Detroit has a big upgrade in net this year. A perfect example of their volatility is Ville Husso, who comes in on a three-year deal. Husso had a save percentage of .893 in 17 games in his rookie season of 2020-21. But he took the starting job from Jordan Bennington this season, with a .919 save percentage and a 2.56 GAA. He was seventh in goals saved above expected. However, Husso fell apart in the postseason. He had a 3.67 GAA in seven games. Alex Nedeljkovic was a Calder finalist in 2020-21 for Carolina. He was still eligible for the award last year, but only received one vote. He had a .901 save percentage and a 3.31 GAA, plus the 13th-worst GSAx.

Projected Lines

Tyler Bertuzzi – Dylan Larkin – Lucas Raymond

Jakub Vrana – Andrew Copp – David Perron

Dominik Kubalik – Pius Suter – Filip Zadina

Michael Rasmussen – Joe Veleno – Oskar Sundqvist

Scratched: Adam Erne, Givani Smith

Ben Chiarot – Moritz Seider

Olli Maatta – Filip Hronek

Simon Edvinsson – Gustav Lindstrom

Scratched: Jordan Oesterle

Ville Husso

Alex Nedeljkovic

Dallas Stars 2022-23 Season Preview

The new era of Stars hockey has hit us. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin aren’t the guys anymore, John Klingberg has left, and Ben Bishop has retired. The one thing saving them from a rebuild is a rise in young talent that has already replaced those four. But Jason Robertson, the new best player on the team, needs a new contract. Some really bad contracts are preventing them to take the step from fringe playoff team to legitimate contender. New coach Peter DeBoer has taken teams to the next level before. Dallas is his next challenge.

Offseason additions: F Mason Marchment, D Colin Miller, D Will Butcher.

Offseason subtractions: D John Klingberg, F Michael Raffl, F Alex Radulov, G Braden Holtby, F Vladislav Namestnikov, D Andrej Sekera.

Forwards

Dallas might have been a one line team last season, but that one line was dominant. Robertson scored 41 goals in his sophomore season after finishing second in Calder voting. He added 38 assists for 79 points in 74 games. Robertson was ninth among all skaters with at least 1000 minutes of ice time in xGF%, at 59.6 percent. Both of his linemates were in the top-20. Even in his age 37 season, Joe Pavelski set a new career-high in points, with 81. He was nominated for the Lady Byng and Selke awards, but should’ve finished higher than 22nd in the latter. Pavelski was top-20 in xGA/60 and 21st in xGF/60. In the second category, he was just behind Roope Hintz. After a breakout year in the shortened season, Hintz returned and scored 37 goals with 72 points. When the three of them were on the ice together at five-on-five, they had a GF% over sixty.

Seguin missed all but three games in 2020-21, so it was a relief to see him miss just one game in 2021-22. Unfortunately, he was nowhere near the player that got injured. Seguin scored 24 goals with 49 points, which is the lowest that he had in a full season since he was 19. He was on the ice for less than two goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five, although an on-ice shooting percentage of roughly 6.5 percent played into that. Seguin still produced more than Jamie Benn, who has scored under 20 goals in each of the past three seasons. Dallas paid Mason Marchment after he transitioned from depth piece to top-six winger. In 54 games for the Panthers last year, he scored 18 goals with 47 points. Marchment had a 64.75 xGF%. Only Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand can say that they played as much as Marchment and were better.

The Stars are still tied to Radek Faksa for three more years to be their third line center, and the results were not good last season. He had just 19 points last year with a team-low 44.24 xGF%. Denis Gurianov set a new career-high by one point, although he played in 18 more games than in his 30-point 2020-21. He had the best GA/60 among top-six forwards. A first-rounder in 2018, Ty Dellandrea only played in one NHL game last season, but he was second on the AHL’s Texas Stars in points. Dellandrea had 23 goals and 50 points in 68 games.

Dallas folk hero Joel Kiviranta played in a career-high 56 games, but had four less points than his 26-game 2020-21 season. Playoff success aside, Kiviranta was never expected to score. But you would’ve liked more than one goal and six assists. He was sneakily great defensively, with a 2.11 xGA/60. The only Stars forwards with an expected goals for percentage better than Kiviranta were the three on the top line. Longtime Red Wing Luke Glendening scored nine goals in his first year as a Star, while playing in 82 games for the first time since 2014-15. He won 58.7 percent of draws, raising his career percentage to 55.4%. Rookie Jacob Peterson broke camp with the team last year and scored 12 goals in 65 games. Peterson came from the Swedish league, just like Frederik Olofsson, who is in the competition for a role after having 42 points in 49 games overseas. Marian Studenic played in 16 games for the Stars after they claimed him off waivers from New Jersey. He had three points.

Defensemen

For the second time in his four-year career, Miro Heiskanen was nominated for the Norris Trophy, finishing twelfth both times. Heiskanen had 36 points in 70 games, the former a career-high. His 2.23 xGA/60 was the best on the defensive core. A good share of his time was spent with veteran Ryan Suter, a 37-year-old who is still under contract for three more seasons. Suter had 32 points last year, with four of his seven goals coming on the power play.

As Klingberg departs to Anaheim, the Stars will have a lot of big defensive defensemen. Esa Lindell was second on the team in total ice time behind Suter, as he played in six more games than Heiskanen. Lindell has been a steady presence on the Dallas blue line since his rookie season of 2016-17. In the last six seasons, he has at least 1000 minutes of ice time and 100 blocked shots in each of them. The Stars didn’t give Jani Hakanpaa a lot of ice time in his first season with the team, but he still managed 248 hits. Hakanpaa doesn’t contribute much offensively, but he was on the ice for the least shots against per 60 among Dallas defensemen.

Former top pick Thomas Harley debuted in 2021-22, with four assists in 34 games. The underlying results were certainly positive, as Harley’s xGF% was matched only by Heiskanen among defenseman. He also led them in xGF/60. Colin Miller only got into 38 games for the Sabres last year, but he added 14 points. His 2.75 GF/60 was the best on the team’s blue line. Journeyman Joel Hanley finally scored his first regular-season goal at age 30, while playing in 44 games. He averaged less than 12 minutes of ice time a game, so the Stars don’t trust him.

Goaltending

The full season for Jake Oettinger actually wasn’t anything special. In his sophomore season, the former first-rounder had a .914 save percentage with a 2.53 GAA. He is high up on many goalie rankings not only because of his youth, but also one of the best playoff series by a goaltender ever. The Stars didn’t end up winning because they couldn’t score against Calgary, but Oettinger had a .954 save percentage and a 1.81 GAA. When Anton Khudobin missed most of last season, the Stars sent a pick to Arizona for Scott Wedgewood. In eight games, Wedgewood had a respectable .913 save percentage, similar to what he had on an awful Coyotes team.

Projected Lines

Jason Robertson – Roope Hintz – Joe Pavelski

Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Mason Marchment

Denis Gurianov – Radek Faksa – Ty Dellendrea

Jacob Peterson – Luke Glendening – Joel Kiviranta

Scratched: Frederik Olofsson, Marian Studenic

Ryan Suter – Miro Heiskanen

Esa Lindell – Jani Hakanpaa

Thomas Harley – Colin Miller

Scratched: Joel Hanley

Jake Oettinger

Scott Wedgewood

Columbus Blue Jackets 2022-23 Season Preview

How did the Blue Jackets do it. Johnny Gaudreau was the best free agent available in years, and he chose Columbus?! No offense to the fans, but the franchise has built up a reputation for letting stars go. Now, they were able to lure in the player with the second-most points last season, behind only Connor McDavid. However, it doesn’t turn them into a great team. The Blue Jackets were average at best in 2021-22. They added a top winger, but holes remain.

Offseason additions: F Johnny Gaudreau, D Erik Gudbranson, F Mathieu Olivier, F James Neal (PTO).

Offseason subtractions: F Oliver Bjorkstrand, D Dean Kukan, D Gabriel Carlsson, D Scott Harrington.

Forwards

After years of superstardom, Gaudreau’s big year was 2021-22. He scored 40 goals with 75 assists for 115 points. Gaudreau led the league with a ridiculous plus-64 rating, and was nominated for both the Lady Byng and Selke Trophy, while finishing 4th in Hart voting. Following amazing production in an injured season, Patrik Laine was rewarded with an extension carrying an $8.7 million cap hit. In 56 games, he scored 26 goals with 30 assists, for a career-high points per game. While Laine produces, he is never one for great underlying numbers. He had a 39.4 xGF% last year, the worst on the team. Captain Boone Jenner scored 23 goals with 44 points, both the most since his 2015-16 season. In 2021-22, it was done in just 59 games. With Nick Foligno, David Savard, and Cam Atkinson leaving in recent seasons, Jenner is the longest-tenured player on the team.

He missed the entire 2020-21 season, but Gustav Nyquist returned with his third-best season in points. Nyquist scored 18 goals with 35 assists for 53 points. While bad goaltending luck played a role in it, Nyquist had a concerning 4.23 GA/60. The fire looked like it was running out on Jack Roslovic after a terrible start, as he had just 16 points in his first 39 games. He had 15 in his last 19 games, ending the season with 22 goals and 45 points. He is the only player returning to the Blue Jackets with a GF% over fifty. The cap repercussions of signing Gaudreau hurt the second line badly when Oliver Bjorkstrand had to be dumped off to Seattle. That allowed both Nyquist and Jakub Voracek to stay. Voracek led the team in points with 62 last season, with 56 of them being assists. He played in his 1,000th career game in 2021-22 and finished the year with exactly 800 points. The fact that over 72% of them have been assists is astonishing for a winger, but on brand for Voracek.

If Head Coach Brad Larsen allows it, Columbus could have a sick kid line headlined by Kent Johnson. Drafted fifth overall in 2021, Johnson played in both the Olympics and the World Juniors in this calendar year, and succeeded in both. He scored the golden goal in this year’s World Juniors, and had nine points in seven tournament games. After dominating at the University of Michigan, he had three assists in nine NHL games. While Johnson spent his season at Michigan and Beijing, the guy drafted seven picks after him, Cole Sillinger, had a full rookie season. While he didn’t receive any Calder votes, Sillinger scored 16 goals with 15 assists as an 18-year-old. The team thinks highly of 2018 second-rounder Krill Marchenko, who will come over from the KHL juggernaut that is SKA St. Petersburg. He scored 12 goals with eight assists in 39 games last year. The arrivals of Marchenko and Johnson would knock Yegor Chinakhov out of the lineup. A first-rounder in 2020, Chinakhov struggled during his rookie season, with 14 points in 62 games. He had a 40.1 xGF% and a feeble 32.07 GF%.

At least for 2021-22, the Blue Jackets found something in Justin Danforth. A former ECHL star, Danforth was nearly a point per game player in the KHL before making his NHL debut at age 28. In 45 games, Danforth netted 10 goals, with his 49.15 xGF% and 2.5 xGA/60 were both the best on the team. After setting a career-high in points, Eric Robinson received credit for getting Gaudreau to Columbus. Equipped with great speed, Robinson had 95 hits and 27 points in 67 games. The only forward with more short-handed ice time than Robinson was Sean Kuraly, the local kid who raised his single-season record of eight goals up to 14 last year, along with 16 assists. A fourth-round pick was sent to Nashville this offseason for Mathieu Olivier, who has 102 hits and seven points in 48 career games. Olivier played in just ten NHL games in 2021-22, but had 11 points in 46 AHL games with 76 penalty minutes. Emil Bemstrom played in exactly half of the games last year, with 11 points. He had a solid 49 xGF% and a 2.47 xGA/60.

Defensemen

After Seth Jones was traded, Zach Werenski became the number-one defender on Columbus, then set a new career-high with 48 points. In six career seasons, Werenski has not reached double-digit goals only once, when he had seven in 35 games in 2020-21. The strange choice to be his main partner is Andrew Peeke, who spent considerable time next to Werenski last year. Peeke is only 24, but he has the skillset of a bottom-four defender. In 82 games, he had 15 points with just 72 shots on net. Peeke blocked 169 shots with 191 hits in his first full NHL season with a 2.67 xGA/60, the best among regular Columbus defenders.

The most underrated player on a team that often has players labeled as underrated (the small market has a lot to do with that) is Vladislav Gavrikov, who was a legitimate top-four, two-way defender last year. He had 33 points in 80 games, with 138 blocked shots and 124 hits. Most of Columbus’ defenders had similar xGF/60 numbers, with Gavrikov being no different. The lead is held by both Werenski and Adam Boqvist at 2.41. Acquired from Chicago for Jones, Boqvist had 22 points in 52 games in a sheltered role, averaging roughly 17 minutes of ice time. While he scored 11 goals, Boqvist had a 17.2 shooting percentage. Not only would that be amazing for a forward, it is out of this world for a defender.

After never really getting a chance to play consistently in Carolina, Jake Bean had a solid first season with the Blue Jackets, and played a decent amount on the top pair with Werenski. In 67 games, Bean blocked 71 shots with 25 points. Part of the reason why the team had to trade Bjorkstrand was not just Gaudreau, but the interesting decision to give Erik Gudbranson $16 million over four seasons. He was a depth defender in 2020-21 for Ottawa and Nashville, but was a regular for Calgary last year. Gudbranson had 17 points in 78 games, with 92 blocks and 145 hits. Gavin Bayreuther played in more than half of the team’s games in 2021-22, but averaging just over 13 minutes of ice time, signifying that the trust was never really there.

Goaltending

The defense had its struggles last year, but the goaltending was far and away the number one reason why Columbus struggled last year. Despite that, they will be running it back with the same duo in net. They had to keep starter Elvis Merzlikins, who has five years left at a cap hit of $5.4 million. He was fine overall, with a .907 save percentage and a 3.22 GAA in 59 games. His goals saved above expected was negative 6.5. While that is obviously bad, it was better than some established goalies like Jack Campbell, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Jordan Binnington. Backup Joonas Korpisalo was the big issue, as he finished with a 4.15 GAA. Korpisalo had a -14.87 GSAx, the fifth worst in the league. The four goalies worse than him had at least 10 more games played.

Projected Lines

Johnny Gaudreau – Boone Jenner – Patrik Laine

Gustav Nyquist – Jack Roslovic – Jakub Voracek

Kent Johnson – Cole Sillinger – Kirill Marchenko

Eric Robinson – Sean Kuraly – Justin Danforth

Scratched: Mathieu Olivier, Emil Bemstrom

Zach Werenski – Andrew Peeke

Vladislav Gavrikov – Adam Boqvist

Jake Bean – Erik Gudbranson

Scratched: Gavin Bayreuther

Elvis Merzlikins

Joonas Korpisalo

Colorado Avalanche 2022-23 Season Preview

At the end of the 2020-21 second round, Nathan MacKinnon was defeated as can be as he spoke to reporters, telling them that he hadn’t won anything in his career. Now, MacKinnon can say that he has a championship under his belt. The Avalanche were far from a one man team. With stars all over the lineup, they cruised through the postseason with goaltending being the only thing close to a weakness. Now, their starter has left. Can they run it back with two fringe starters?

Offseason additions: G Alex Georgiev, F Lukas Sedlak, D Brad Hunt, F Anton Blidh.

Offseason subtractions: F Nazem Kadri, F Andre Burakovsky, G Darcy Kuemper, F Nic Aube-Kubel, D Jack Johnson, D Ryan Murray, F Nico Sturm.

Forwards

Even before he scored 13 goals with 11 assists in 20 playoff games, 2021-22 was another amazing season for MacKinnon. Playing in just 65 games, he scored 32 goals with 56 assists for 88 points. MacKinnon has 648 points in 638 career regular season games and is well on his way to the Hall of Fame. His bargain of a contract at $6.3 million a season ends after 2022-23. It would be a shock if he didn’t break Connor McDavid’s current cap hit record. Mikko Rantanen led the team with 92 points while also scoring 36 goals. Remarkably, he still didn’t get a vote for any major awards. At five-on-five, Rantanen was on the ice for 4.36 goals for per 60 minutes. That led the team by roughly .4 goals, the difference between MacKinnon in second place and seventh place. Captain Gabriel Landeskog played in just 51 regular season games, but returned to have 22 points in 20 playoff games. He scored 30 goals for the second time with a total of 59 points.

The Avalanche received outstanding second line production from Nazem Kadri, which also priced him out of Colorado. They will need JT Compher to help patch up the loss. His 18 goals and 33 points were both career-highs last season. With four major pending free agents, Colorado could only afford to bring back one in Valeri Nichushkin. He upped his value in the playoffs, scoring nine goals with six assists in 20 games. This production wasn’t as much of a surprise to Avalanche fans, as he scored 25 goals with 52 points in 62 regular season games. Nichushkin also led the team with 3.14 xGF/60 and was eighth in xGA/60. There’s already a new Nichushkin-in-training on the team after Artturi Lehkonen came over at the deadline from Montreal. Lehkonen’s stint with the Canadiens had him record an expected goals plus-minus relative to his teammates of one, which was the best in the NHL (per Evolving-Hockey). He scored six times in 16 games following the deal.

Many expected Alex Newhook to be incredible in his rookie season, and he did deliver with a solid campaign, albeit not an Earth-shattering one. Newhook didn’t have a huge role on the team, but he did score 13 goals with 20 assists in 71 games. He dressed for 12 playoff games, with four assists. Logan O’Connor had a 2.13 xGA/60 last year, behind only Landeskog among team forwards. In his first full season, he added eight goals with 16 assists and had four more in the playoffs. There is still a competition for bottom-six roles, with 2018 first-rounder Martin Kaut in the thick of it. Kaut played in six NHL games last year, spending most of the year in the AHL. He scored 19 goals with 31 points in 46 games for the Colorado Eagles. Journeyman Jayson Megna is also a possibility. He had three assists in 20 NHL games, with 33 points in 38 AHL ones.

Former NHL iron man Andrew Cogliano came over from the Sharks at the deadline and had just one assist in 18 games. However, he played in 16 playoff matches, scoring three goals with three assists. He’d been to the finals before with Dallas, but Cogliano won his first Stanley Cup in the same year that he eclipsed 1100 regular season games played. Another veteran with a minor role on the team was Darren Helm, who had one already from his seven games played for Detroit in 2007-08. Helm had 15 points in 68 games, but a low PDO led to 38.57 GF%. However, blaming PDO with Helm doesn’t tell the full story. He hasn’t had a PDO of 100 in a season since 2014-15. Colorado signed the top college free agent in Ben Meyers, who played in five games at the end of the year. At the University of Minnesota, Meyers scored 17 goals with 24 assists for 41 points in 34 games. Another option is Lukas Sedlak, who had 27 points in 162 games for the Blue Jackets from 2016-17 to 2018-19. Playing for Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL last year, Sedlak had 43 points in 49 games.

Defensemen

It feels like it would be a shock if Cale Makar doesn’t win another Norris Trophy in his career. He scored 28 goals with 58 assists in 77 games. Not only that, but Makar had 29 points in 20 playoff games to take home the Conn Smythe as well. He was also great defensively, on the ice for only 1.95 goals against per 60 at five-on-five. The pair of Makar and Devon Toews was dominant all season long, as both had a GF% over 64 percent. Toews doesn’t have the offensive skill of Makar, but he still had 57 points in 66 games with 15 more points in the playoffs. Toews had a 2.1 xGA/60 while having a shot differential per 60 of nearly eleven.

The big player for the Avalanche to get right is Sam Girard, who had 32 points in 48 games in 2020-21, but had just 28 in 67 games last year. Girard also played in just seven games in the postseason. Girard has five years left on his contract, and the Avalanche reportedly looked at every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse for a trade including him. He is still a good skater with upside. With their limited cap space, Colorado chose to extend Josh Manson after getting him from Anaheim at the deadline. He had seven points in 22 games, then eight more in the playoffs. There is a ton of skill on the blue line, but Manson is part of the big, tough guy school of defense.

Girard’s injury gave a lane for Bowen Byram to succeed, and he capitalized. Byram had 17 points in 30 regular season games. He played in every playoff game, recording nine assists and a playoff-high plus-15 rating. Veteran Erik Johnson was finally healthy after missing almost all of 2020-21. He played in 77 games in the regular season, with 25 points. Kurtis MacDermid’s most famous moment from his first year with the team was him falling over with the Cup in his hands, but he did dress for 58 games, a career-high. He had 89 penalty minutes with 105 hits.

Goalies

Without the money to bring back Darcy Kuemper or get a starter on his level, the Avalanche decided to go with a goalie split between Pavel Francouz and newcomer Alex Georgiev. Injuries have been a problem for Francouz, who missed all of 2020-21. In 21 games in 2021-22, he had a .916 save percentage and a 2.55 GAA. He got four starts in the playoffs and came into seven games total. Georgiev was the backup to Igor Shesterkin in New York, so he wasn’t needed often. He has his ups-and-downs, but his .898 save percentage was a career-low. The Avalanche have a better team in front of him, so his numbers can improve.

Projected Lines

Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen

Valeri Nichushkin – JT Compher – Artturi Lehkonen

Logan O’Connor – Alex Newhook – Martin Kaut

Andrew Cogliano – Ben Meyers – Darren Helm

Scratched: Jayson Megna, Lukas Sedlak

Devon Toews – Cale Makar

Sam Girard – Josh Manson

Bowen Byram – Erik Johnson

Scratched: Kurtis MacDermid

Pavel Francouz

Alex Georgiev