Photo: Kelly L. Cox/USA Today Sports
NoVa Caps has just recently finished its Capitals player previews for the 2017-18 season. The NoVa Caps team will now shift and focus on the rest of the NHL with previews for each Division. To begin the series, we will start with the highly competitive Pacific Division.
2016-17 Record: 46-23-13; 105 points
Division finish: 1
Key Players: Ryan Getzlaf, John Gibson, Hampus Lindholm
2017-18 Outlook: The Ducks have won the Pacific Division 4 years in a row, and they should be one of the favorites to win the Division again. The Ducks have a young and very stable blueline. Defensemen Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, and Josh Manson are all under the age of 26. If John Gibson can stay healthy and deliver the Ducks strong goaltending, this team will be competing for the top spot in the Pacific Division and in the entire Western Conference.
2016-17 Record: 30-42-10; 70 points
Division finish: 6
Key Players: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi, Derek Stepan
2017-18 Outlook: The rebuild continues for Arizona, but they have stacked their prospect pool nicely over the last few seasons. Gone is former longtime coach Dave Tippett, and in is former Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet. A coaching change likely won’t be enough to speed up the rebuild process in Arizona. The Coyotes are still a young team, and will probably stick near the bottom of the Division.
2016-17 Record: 45-33-4; 94 points
Division finish: 4
Key Players: Johnny Gaudreau, Mike Smith, Mark Giordano
2017-18 Outlook: The Flames had a productive offseason and could shoot up near the top of the Pacific Division. At the 2017 NHL Draft, they spent a draft pick fortune and acquired NY Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic. With Hamonic added to the mix that already includes Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton, the Flames will have one of the deepest bluelines in the entire league. The Flames also made a deal with the Arizona Coyotes and acquired veteran netminder Mike Smith to bring more stability to the goaltending position. While Edmonton and Anaheim are the likely favorites to win the Division, the Flames have a fully capable roster to sneak into the top spot.
2016-17 Record: 47-26-9; 103 points
Division finish: 2
Key Players: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Cam Talbot
2017-18 Outlook: The Oilers have bounced back into the playoff picture, and it appears they are there to stay for the foreseeable future. Led by 20-year old hockey sensation Connor McDavid, the Oilers will be expected to contend for the Pacific Division title. McDavid and fellow linemate Leon Draisaitl earned big contract extensions over the summer, and they will lead the Oilers scoring attack for years to come. The Oilers are poised to be good for a very long time, and now they will have added expectations. The Oilers will likely contend for the Pacific Division title and could be a Presidents’ Trophy favorite for 2017-18.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
2016-17 Record: 39-35-8; 86 points
Division finish: 5
Key Players: Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick
2017-18 Outlook: The Kings were without star netminder Jonathan Quick for most the 2016-17 season. Quick is expected back and should be fully healthy to begin 2017-18. While Quick’s injury did not help matters last season, the Kings struggled to find consistent offense in their game. Tanner Pearson and Jeff Carter were the only two Kings to record over 20+ goals last season. The Kings had a quiet offseason, but they will now have John Stevens as their fulltime bench boss. The Kings will still likely have trouble scoring goals consistently, but if Jonathan Quick can stay healthy and win close games for them, they could sneak into the wildcard spot in the Western Conference.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
2016-17 Record: 46-29-7; 99 points
Division finish: 3
Key Players: Joe Pavelski, Martin Jones, Brent Burns
2017-18 Outlook: The Sharks lost veteran forward Patrick Marleau to the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency. While the Sharks have a quality defensive core and excellent goaltender, the core group of Sharks are well into their 30s. The Sharks have a veteran group that has not been able to get over the playoff hump. Because of the ages of the core veterans, the Sharks could be in a position where they slip out of the playoff race.
2016-17 Record: 30-43-9; 69 points
Division finish: 7
Key Players: Bo Horvat, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin
2017-18 Outlook: The “rebuild” is officially a go in Vancouver. The club made a couple of moves during free agency to try and speed the process up. They signed Sam Gagner to a 3-year deal after he recorded 50 points with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. Veteran netminder Ryan Miller is now in Anaheim, so the Canucks added Anders Nilsson from the Buffalo Sabres to the mix. Jacob Markstrom is expected to become the new starter for the Canucks in net. Travis Green is the new young and energetic coach behind the Canucks bench. The Canucks will likely place some more young players like Brock Boeser into their lineup, but they will be on the outside looking in for the playoffs.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
2016-17 Record: —
Division finish: —
Key Players: Marc-Andre Fleury, James Neal, Shea Theodore
2017-18 Outlook: The Vegas Golden Knights are the new kids on the block, as they are the 31st team in the NHL. The Golden Knights will have a young team, but they will probably have to wait a few years before they make any kind of playoff noise in the NHL. The Golden Knights did as well as they could to help build their foundation through the expansion draft, but they have a slew of draft picks at their disposal for the next number of years.
2017-18 PROJECTED STANDINGS
1. Edmonton Oilers*
2. Anaheim Ducks*
3. Calgary Flames*
4. Los Angeles Kings
5. San Jose Sharks
6. Vancouver Canucks
7. Arizona Coyotes
8. Vegas Golden Knights
*Denotes playoff teams
BREAKOUT PLAYERS AND DIFFERENCE MAKERS
BROCK BOESER – VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Analysis: The 20-year old Minnesota native saw a little bit of action late last season. He recorded 4 goals and 5 points in 9 games with the Canucks in his brief stint. The former North Dakota hockey product is known for his excellent shot and scoring ability.
JESSE PULJUJARVI – EDMONTON OILERS
Analysis: The 19-year old Finn was taken by the Oilers with the #4 pick at the 2016 NHL Draft. He saw limited action last season, but is expected to compete for a roster spot in training camp. The big rangy winger won the World Junior Championship with Finland in 2016. Puljujarvi is known for his excellent hockey IQ and playmaking ability.
MATTHEW TKACHUK – CALGARY FLAMES
Analysis: The 19-year old made an immediate impact for the Flames in his rookie season. Coming out of London (OHL), Tkachuk recorded 13 goals and 48 points last season. Tkachuk also made his physical presence known around the NHL, as he racked up 105 penalty minutes.
CHRISTIAN DVORAK – ARIZONA COYOTES
Analysis: Dvorak is another former London Knight that burst onto the NHL scene last season. In 78 games, Dvorak recorded 15 goals and 33 points for the Coyotes. Dvorak was selected in the 2nd round by the Coyotes in the 2014 NHL Draft.
By: George Foussekis