Hockey is inching closer and the 2015-16 NHL season begins less than a month away. The Metropolitan Division is shaping up to be one the most competitive divisions in the NHL.
In the 2014-15 NHL season, the Metropolitan Division had four teams that reached the postseason. For the upcoming season, I am expecting (at least) the same amount, if not one more team (Columbus) added to the playoff mix.
There is a lot of star power in the Metropolitan Division and each team has at least one or two stars who can make a big major impact. But who will lead the way for the Metropolitan Division for the upcoming 2015-16 season? Who will lead their respective clubs into the playoffs? Who are some dark horse players to keep a close eye on?
Listed below are various forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders that should make the biggest impact in the Metropolitan Division for the upcoming season.
John Tavares (NYI): the NHL’s runner-up in points in 2014-15 had a career year in pretty much every category. He finished with career highs 38 goals and 86 points. Tavares is the biggest piece to the Islanders puzzle and he is one of the most complete players in the NHL. There are not many flaws in Tavares’ game and he is the leader and face of the Islanders franchise right now.
Sidney Crosby (PITT): Sid the Kid had a little bit of a down year in 2014-15 compared to his prior seasons, but he is still one of the greatest players in the game right now. He finished 3rd in the NHL with 84 points, and he also registered 31 powerplay points. Crosby will have a new star linemate to play with for the upcoming season with Phil Kessel. If they are able to grow chemistry together, watch out NHL. This duo has the potential to cause many problems for opposing clubs.
Alex Ovechkin (WSH): Ovechkin has put the Capitals on his back for a good number of seasons in his career. He was the only skater in the NHL in 2014-15 to cross the 50+ goal mark again as he potted 53 goals. Ovechkin has proven the doubters wrong, and he has become a more complete player under Barry Trotz. Is there another 50+ goal season coming for Ovechkin? I would not put it past him to have a few more 50+ goal seasons.
Phil Kessel (PITT): the Penguins invested a lot in order to acquire Phil Kessel over this summer. The former Maple Leafs forward had a pretty productive season in 2014-15 as he scored 25 goals and 61 points. The Maple Leafs are in the rebuild process and it was time for both sides to move on, but Kessel has shown that he can be a very consistent productive player in the NHL. Now that Kessel will have an elite centremen skating next to him with Crosby or Malkin, will that catapult his numbers skyward? I am interested in seeing who Kessel grows the most chemistry with on the Penguins roster. With Crosby, Malkin, and now Kessel, the Penguins should have one of the best powerplay units in the NHL again. This team should score a lot of goals and they should be very fun to watch.
Jakub Voracek (PHI): the Flyers power forward had a career year in 2014-15 as he registered 22 goals and 81 points. Voracek is not often mentioned in the same sentence with Ovechkin, Crosby, or Tavares, but he has taken tremendous steps in his development as a player. The 26-year old got a massive eight-year extension over this summer and got paid big bucks, so I am sure people will begin to wonder if he will live up to his new long-term deal. I think Voracek will have another very good season and I do expect him to continue to grow his game. If the Flyers are still in the playoff mix late in the regular season, it will be because of Voracek and linemate Claude Giroux.
John Carlson (WSH): the Capitals most complete defenseman set career highs in 2014-15 as he registered 12 goals and 55 points. Carlson is still growing his game as he is only 25-years old. I am putting Carlson’s name up as an early nominee for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman for the 2015-16 season. Carlson is a guy that can play in any situation for the Capitals. On special teams, he can play the powerplay point and he can kill penalties well. I am expecting Carlson to set career highs again and he should get more powerplay time with the departure of Mike Green.
Johnny Boychuk (NYI): Boychuk is not the flashiest or biggest name defenseman in the NHL. He does not get enough recognition for the things he does really well. Boychuk is a guy that goes unnoticed, with a blue-collar mentality. He set career highs with the Islanders in 2014-15 as he netted 9 goals and 35 points. Boychuk has a booming shot and he is a tough defenseman to play against. He is the anchor of the Islanders blueline and will be for the long-term future.
Kris Letang (PITT): Injuries have probably derailed Letang from winning a Norris Trophy already. But he is one of the top offensively gifted defenseman in the Metropolitan Division. He makes his presence felt most on the Penguins powerplay. Letang did set a career high with 54 points last season, despite missing 13 regular season games. If Letang can be blessed with good health in the upcoming season, he should be one of the most productive NHL blueliners.
Jack Johnson (CBJ): Johnson had a pretty good 2014-15 season for the Blue Jackets who were depleted for a good portion of games. Johnson is the do-everything guy for the Jackets blueline. He registered 8 goals and 40 points for the Jackets and registered just over 24 minutes per game. The Blue Jackets still have a weak defensive core and could use one or two more pieces, but Jack Johnson’s presence keeps it from being absolutely terrible.
Ryan McDonagh (NYR): the Captain of the NY Rangers is not their top point producing blueliner (Keith Yandle), but he is a quiet leader and he gets the job done. The 26-year old St. Paul, MN native registered 8 goals and 33 points for the Rangers in 2014-15. McDonagh is coming off a broken foot injury that he sustained during the 2015 playoffs, but he should be ready to go for the Rangers at the beginning of the regular season. The Rangers Captain eats a lot of minutes on the blueline and he does everything the Rangers need him to do. He led all Rangers blueliners with 12 powerplay points in 2014-15 and he was second among Rangers blueliners with shorthanded icetime.
Braden Holtby (WSH): the Capitals franchise goaltender had a career year in 2014-15 and he got paid handsomely for it this summer. He played in a whopping 73 regular season games last season and registered 41 wins, 2.22 goals against average, and .923 save percentage. With Holtby’s new five-year deal in place, he can continue to focus on hockey and he does not have to worry about anyone else pushing him for the immediate future. The Capitals have found their long-term solution in between the pipes and Braden Holtby should be one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders for many years to come. I am expecting Holtby to become a Vezina Trophy finalist in the very near future.
Marc-Andre Fleury (PITT): Fleury has had his good and bad spells over his career. Most of his bad ones came in the postseason. But he has erased those playoff demons and has been one of the Penguins most consistent players over the past several years. Despite only winning one playoff game in the 2015 postseason, Fleury posted a very respectable 2.12 goals against average and .927 save percentage. In the 2014-15 regular season, he went up against a depleted Penguins defensive core and still managed to put up 34 wins, 2.32 goals against average, and .920 save percentage. I will state that Fleury had the odds stacked against him to perform poorly, but he managed to have a pretty good season.
Henrik Lundqvist (NYR): King Henrik missed a ton of games last season because of a throat injury. But in the 46 regular season games he played in, he managed 30 wins, 2.25 goals against average, and .922 save percentage. It was a down year for Lundqvist, but he still played a major role in the Rangers winning the Presidents’ Trophy. Lundqvist has been one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders for a number of years, and even at age 33, he is still considered the King of the NHL.
Jaroslav Halak (NYI): Halak had an up and down year for the Islanders in 2014-15. While he did manage to get 38 wins, his performances were all over the place. On some nights, he was the best goaltender on the ice. Other nights, he was the worst player on the ice. The former Capitals goaltender has always been a little streaky, but the Islanders have shown patience and faith in Halak moving forward. While I think some of Halak’s poor performances are on him, he does not have the deepest defensive core in front of him either. I expect Halak will continue to be the workhorse, but he will also get pushed by backup Thomas Greiss for starts. Greiss is capable of a 20-30 game workload, which should take some pressure off of Halak.
Cory Schneider (NJD): Schneider might be one of the most underrated goaltenders in the NHL. He has fantastic numbers, but does not have the wins to show for it. In 2014-15, Schneider played in 69 games for the Devils and managed to get 26 wins, 2.26 goals against average, and .925 save percentage. Those are quality numbers considering that the Devils have a hard time scoring goals. The Devils are attempting to get younger and faster, and it will take some time for them to accomplish that mission, but Schneider is the goaltender for the Devils long-term future. Cory Schneider will keep the Devils from ever hitting rock bottom in the NHL.
By George Foussekis