2022-23 Central Division Preview

Photo: John Russell/Getty Images

With the start of the 2022-23 NHL season 12 days away, NoVa Caps begins their annual division previews. We will start with the Central Division.

Arizona Coyotes

2021-22 Result: 25-50-7, last in Western Conference

2021-22 Leaders:

  • RW Clayton Keller (28 goals, 63 points)
  • D Shayne Gostisbehere (32 assists)
  • D Jacob Chychrun (23:00 average TOI/game)
  • G Karel Vejmelka (13 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: D Patrick Nemeth, C Nick Bjugstad, D Josh Brown, D Troy Stetcher, RW Zack Kassian

Key Offseason Subtractions: RW Phil Kessel, D Kyle Capobianco

The Coyotes are still at the beginning of a long rebuild as they get set for their first season playing at ASU in Tempe.

The team will look for more growth from youngsters like center Barrett Hayton (who tallied 10 goals and 24 points in 60 games last season) as well as players from the system such as right-wing Dylan Guenther (45 goals, 91 points in 59 OHL games) to make an impact.

Rumors surrounding Chychrun’s future in Arizona have gotten louder over the past few weeks and it appears likely that he will be traded prior to opening night.

While the Coyotes have done a lot of things well during the rebuild, they are still ways away from being competitive.

Chicago Blackhawks

2021-22 Result: 28-42-12, seventh in Central Division, 14th in Western Conference

2021-22 Leaders:

  • RW Patrick Kane (26 goals, 66 assists, 92 points)
  • D Seth Jones (26:13 average TOI/game)
  • G Petr Mrazek (12 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Mrazek, G Alex Stalock, RW Andreas Athanasiou, C Max Domi, RW Buddy Robinson, D Jack Johnson

Key Offseason Subtractions: G Kevin Lankinen, C Dylan Strome, C Henrik Borgstrom, G Collin Delia, RW Dominik Kubalik, RW Brett Connolly, C Kirby Dach, LW Alex DeBrincat

Going into a position similar to where the Coyotes are now, the Blackhawks are tanking after making a few moves to try and put themselves in the postseason picture last offseason.

Rumblings continue to swirl surrounding Kane and captain Jonathan Toews’ futures with the team as both have just one year remaining on their respective contracts. It is expected that both will be dealt ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline at 3 PM ET on Friday, March 3.

The Blackhawks will almost certainly be a contender for center Connor Bedard, the consensus first overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.

Winnipeg Jets

2021-22 Result: 39-32-11, sixth in Central Division, 11th in Western Conference

2021-22 Leaders:

  • LW Kyle Connor (47 goals, 46 assists, 93 points)
  •  D Josh Morrissey (23:40 average TOI/game)
  •  G Connor Hellebuyck (29 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Capobianco, G David Rittich, C Sam Gagner, head coach Rick Bowness

Key Offseason Subtractions: LW Zach Sanford, RW Evgeny Svechnikov, C Paul Stastny, head coach Dave Lowry

The Jets had a very quiet offseason which did not see a lot of change at all. Though, they made some headlines when they stripped right-wing Blake Wheeler of the captaincy.

There was drama ending last season surrounding the future of centers Mark Schiefele, who has two years left on his deal before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency, and Pierre-Luc Dubois (one), who has said that he will test the market when he becomes eligible, but both are still in Winnipeg.

Hellebuyck had his worst season in five years last season with a .910 save percentage and a career-high 2.97 goals-against average and must be better this season.

The Jets have a talented roster but there is too much uncertainty surrounding this team.

Nashville Predators

2021-22 Result: 45-30-7, fifth in Central Division, eighth in Western Conference, lost in first-round of Stanley Cup Playoffs to Colorado Avalanche

2021-22 Leaders:

  • C Matt Duchene (43 goals)
  • D Roman Josi (73 assists, 96 points, 25:33 average TOI/game)
  • G Juuse Saros (38 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Sanford, Lankinen, C Mark Jankowski, D Ryan McDonagh, RW Nino Niederreiter

Key Offseason Subtractions: C Luke Kunin, C Nick Cousins, D Philippe Myers, D Matt Tennyson, RW Mathieu Olivier

The Predators added some help over the offseason after exceeding expectations last year by adding Niederreiter, a six-time 20+ goal-scorer, and McDonagh, a shutdown defenseman and two-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Lightning.

The team will count on Duchene (86 points in 78 regular-season games) and Johansen (26 goals, 63 points in 79 regular-season games last season) to replicate their renaissance seasons after both of their top-six centers disappointed in their previous two campaigns. The two’s production this season will be the biggest difference maker for Nashville.

The Predators have one of the best defensemen in Josi, who was the runner-up for the Norris Trophy, and goaltenders in Saros, who tied for eighth with a .918 save percentage and 14th with a 2.64 goals-against average in an NHL-high 67 games played last season. Though, they may want to decrease Saros’ workload to have more success.

Another key for the Predators will be to build on their 24.3% power-play efficiency last season (tied for fifth in the NHL), which followed a three-year span where they ranked 29th with a 15.6% conversion rate.

The team definitely got better over the offseason and should feel confident with two special players but will need a few things to be as, if not more successful from last season.

Dallas Stars

2021-22 Result: 46-30-6, fourth in Central Division, seventh in Western Conference, lost in first-round of Stanley Cup Playoffs to Calgary Flames

2021-22 Leaders:

  • LW Jason Robertson (41 goals)
  • RW Joe Pavelski (54 assists, 81 points)
  • D Miro Heiskanen (24:53 average TOI/game)
  • G Jake Oettinger (30 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: D Colin Miller, RW Mason Marchment, D Nils Lundkvist, D Will Butcher

Key Offseason Subtractions: D John Klingberg, RW Vladislav Namestnikov, G Braden Holtby

The Stars are still grinding away at re-signing star left-wing Jason Robertson, who is currently a restricted free agent, after the 23-year-old notched 79 points in 74 regular-season games last season.

Even once Robertson gets under contract, the Stars will need more depth scoring after their top-line of he, center Roope Hintz, and right-wing Joe Pavelski scored over 45% of the team’s goals last season. The addition of Marchment (29 assists, 47 points in 54 games with the Florida Panthers) should help but they also need center Tyler Seguin, who notched just 24 goals and 49 points in 81 games; left-wing Jamie Benn (18 goals, 46 points in 82 games), and right-wing Denis Gurianov (11 goals, 31 points in 73 games) to bring their games to another level.

Oettinger is coming off of one of the best individual series performances by a goaltender in a long time when he posted a .954 save percentage and 1.81 goals-against average in last season’s first round. He had a strong regular season where he earned a .914 save percentage and 2.53 goals-against average in 48 games but will have to build on how the postseason ended.

The team’s defense underwent some changes in the offseason after Klingberg signed with the Anaheim Ducks and they brought in three new blueliners.

Expect the Stars to be a bubble team this season but with some teams on the rise, their defense getting worse, and a top-heavy forward group, will it be too much for them to overcome?

St. Louis Blues

2021-22 Result: 49-22-11, third in Central Division, fourth in Western Conference, lost in second-round of Stanley Cup Playoffs to Avalanche

2021-22 Leaders:

  • RW Vladimir Tarasenko (34 goals, 82 points)
  • C Robert Thomas (57 assists)
  • D Colton Parayko (23:34 average TOI/game)
  • G Jordan Binnington (18 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: C Noel Acciari, G Thomas Greiss, RW Martin Frk, RW Matthew Highmore, RW Josh Leivo

Key Offseason Subtractions: G Charlie Lindgren, G Villie Husso, LW MacKenzie MacEachern, LW David Perron

The Blues had a couple of big losses in free agency after Perron and Husso left. That will leave room for a young forward such as left-wing Jake Neighbours, who appeared in nine NHL games and scored 17 goals and 45 points in 30 WHL games, to make the roster.

Pressure will mount on Binnington this season after the 29-year-old went 18-14-4 with a .901 save percentage, a 3.13 goals-against average, and two shutouts last season and Husso left. He lost the starting job before going 4-1 with a .949 save percentage and 1.72 goals-against average in the postseason and got injured.

The Blues’ 24% power-play efficiency over the last three seasons ranks third in the NHL but they lost their leading power-play goal and point scorer from 2021-22 when Perron signed with the Detroit Red Wings. The team will need to adjust accordingly without their most potent threat on the man advantage.

Even without Perron, the Blues have eight 20-goal forwards from last season returning and one of the best top-six units in the NHL. Tarasenko has yet to rescind his trade request made in July 2021, which would leave a mark but a move would likely not be made unless it helps St. Louis improve now.

The Blues should be a top team this season but their goaltending could make it or break it.

Minnesota Wild

2021-22 Result: 53-22-7, second in Central Division/Western Conference, lost in first-round of Stanley Cup Playoffs to Blues

2021-22 Leaders:

  • LW Kirill Kaprizov (47 goals, 61 assists, 108 points)
  • D Jonas Brodin (23:26 average TOI/game)
  • G Marc-Andre Fleury (28 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: C Nic Petan, RW Steven Fogarty, D Andrej Sustr, G Jonas Gustavsson, C Sam Steel

Key Offseason Subtractions: Bjugstad, D Jordie Benn, G Cam Talbot, LW Kevin Fiala, D Dmitry Kulikov

The Wild are a team expected to take a step back after losing their top goalie from a majority of last season and their second-leading scorer for no immediate help.

They also still lack a true No. 1 center even though Joel Eriksson Ek is one of the best two-way forwards in the game and coming off of a season where he tallied 26 goals and 49 points in 77 regular-season games. That will prevent this team from taking the next step in trying to be a Stanley Cup favorite.

To replace Fiala, the Wild will look to some young cornerstones such as center Marco Rossi (18 goals, 53 points in 63 AHL games) and left-wing Matt Boldy (15 goals, 39 points in 47 regular-season games) to take the next step.

Excluding Fiala, Kaprizov had 13 more goals and 29 more points than anyone else on their team last season, which ended up killing them in the postseason. An issue will be getting repeat performances out of forwards such as right-wing Mats Zuccarello (who set career-highs at age 34 last season), center Ryan Hartman (who never scored 20 goals or 35 points in a season before notching 34 and 61, respectively), and center Frederick Gaudreau (who struggled to establish himself as a full-time NHLer before putting up 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games).

The Wild have some talent but a lot of things that they are missing. Though, they should be good enough to hover around a wild-card position.

Colorado Avalanche

2021-22 Result: 56-19-7, first in Central Division/Western Conference, Stanley Cup Champions

2021-22 Leaders:

  • RW Mikko Rantanen (36 goals, 92 points)
  • D Cale Makar (58 assists, 25:40 average TOI/game)
  • C Nathan MacKinnon (1.35 points-per-game)
  • Gs Alexander Georgiev/Pavel Francouz (15 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Georgiev, D Brad Hunt, C Evan Rodrigues, LW Anton Blidh

Key Offseason Subtractions: Johnson, G Darcy Kuemper, LW Nicolas Aube-Kubel, LW Andre Burakovsky, C Nazem Kadri, D Ryan Murray

The defending Stanley Cup Champions have a couple of holes after losing Kadri and Kuemper. Though they won it all with Kuemper posting a .902 save percentage in the postseason, can they really count on having the same results if that happens again?

The team may not need elite goaltending but they will need Georgiev, who posted an .898 save percentage and 2.92 goals-against average in 33 games behind the Vezina Trophy winner with the New York Rangers, to be better than he was last season.

Even if it was tough to envision Kadri replicating his career season from last year, the loss of him and the addition of Rodrigues (19 goals, 43 points in 82 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins) definitely makes them worse up front, which will be tough considering left-wing Gabriel Landeskog will likely miss the start of the season recovering from a lower-body injury suffered last year.

This team’s star power cannot be bested by many with MacKinnon, Makar, and Rantanen around but the salary cap was detrimental to their depth. 21-year-0ld center Alex Newhook (13 goals, 33 points in 71 regular-season games) and 22-year-old right-wing Martin Kaut (19 goals, 31 points in 46 AHL games) could be among those who will get a close look to get some NHL time this season.

The Avalanche will still be a powerhouse but have a couple of holes where key contributors from last season played, which could hold them back this season.

Breakout Candidates

LW Arturri Lehkonen — Avalanche

The 27-year-old set career-highs in goals (19) and points (38) in 74 regular-season games with the Montreal Canadiens and Avalanche last season, including six goals and nine points in 16 games after the trade. Lehkonen followed it up with eight goals and 14 points in 20 postseason games for the Stanley Cup Champions. After the Avalanche lost Burakovsky and the news that Gabriel Landeskog will miss the start of the season with a knee injury came out, Lehkonen could see more time next to MacKinnon and Rantanen.

LW Matt Boldy — Wild

The 21-year-old notched 15 goals and 39 points in 47 regular-season games before recording one goal in the team’s first-round series last season. He also notched four goals and 10 points in 10 AHL games. With Fiala gone, Boldy will see more opportunity in the team’s top-six.

C Yakov Trenin — Predators

The 25-year-old scored 17 goals and 24 points in 80 games last season but was one of a few bright spots during the team’s first-round where he co-led the Predators with three goals. Trenin has the makings of a strong power forward at 6’2” and 201 pounds.

G Jake Oettinger — Stars

Oettinger was a workhorse during the second half of last season, starting in 32 of the Stars’ final 42 games, and showed no signs of fatigue in the postseason. He posted a .913 save percentage in his first two seasons, solid but his play in the first round left something more to be desired.

Standings Predictions

1. X – Avalanche

2. X – Blues

3. X – Predators

4. X – Wild

5. Stars

6. Jets

7. Coyotes

8. Blackhawks

* X – denotes postseason teams

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
This entry was posted in News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply