Kevin Allen: Who Needs to Rise Up in the Eastern Conference; Wed's Buzz
The NHL season opens tonight with the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning home to face the Pittsburgh Penguins and the expansion Seattle Kraken playing their first NHL game on the road against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Here is my ranking for Eastern conference, and one player from each team that needs to step up their game this season .
1.Florida Panthers: Rookie goalie Spencer Knight. He may start out as the team’s 1B goalie. But there’s an expectation that Knight will end up as the team’s No. 1 goalie at some point this season.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning: Coach Jon Cooper. The Lightning’s depth has been eroded by salary cap issues. They have lost secondary scoring and grit. The Lightning are not as difficult to play against. Cooper will have a greater task this season to get this team in position to win a third consecutive Stanley Cup
3. Boston Bruins: Goalie Linus Ullmark. Boston fans can be hard on their goalies. Ask Tuukka Rask. Ullmark has never played an NHL playoff game. He’s never played on a good NHL team. Following Rask won’t be easy. Ullmark’s opportunity comes with a layer of stress attached. Fans are probably happy they have another goalie option in Jeremy Swayman
4. Toronto Maple Leafs: Goalie Jack Campbell. If you are a Maple Leafs fan, how comfortable are you with your goaltending? Campbell played exceptionally well last season, But he’s only played 86 NHL games. Plenty of pressure is coming his way in Toronto. Petr Mrazek is Plan B.
5. Montreal Canadiens: Cole Caufield. The Habs had no chance to enjoy last season’s playoff success because so much has gone wrong for the team in the offseason. Defenseman Shea Weber may never play again. Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed an offer sheet. Phillip Danault left through free agency. Carey Price won’t be available at the start of the season. If Caufield could score 30-plus goals and win the Rookie of the Year, it could give Montreal fans something to cheer about if the team misses the playoffs.
6. Detroit Red Wings: Rookie defenseman Moritz Seider: He is the rock on which general manager Steve Yzerman’s Red Wings are being built. Seider will start out playing top four minutes and the hope is that he will quickly develop into one of the team’s most impactful players.
7. Ottawa Senators: Brady Tkachuk. Is this contract squabble just a garden variety money dispute? Or, is there a deeper problem here? He is one of the Senators’ rebuilding centerpieces. They can’t afford to alienate him.
8. Buffalo Sabres: Casey Mittelstadt. With Sam Reinhart gone and Jack Eichel as good as gone, Mittelstadt will be given every opportunity to show he can be a frontline performer. The Sabres need him to rise up and be a leader.
1. New York Islanders: Defenseman Ryan Pulock. With Nick Leddy gone, Pulock will need to do even more offensively for the team. The Islanders will be solid defensively. What they don’t know is how many goals they will score.
2. Carolina Hurricanes: Goalie Freddie Andersen. Carolina fans are upset that the Hurricanes traded away goalie Alex Nedeljkovic after he was a Calder Trophy candidate. It didn’t help that Petr Mrazek left through free agency. Andersen needs to rebound from last season’s sub-par performance to prove the Hurricanes made the right decision to sign him.
3. New York Rangers: Right wing Kaapo Kakko. He’s been a disappointment in his first two seasons, looking overmatched and scoring 19 goals in 114 games. He’s looked sharper in this season’s training camp. If he can develop into the dangerous scorer he is supposed to be, the Rangers will boast a formidable offense.
4. Philadelphia Flyers: Defenseman Ryan Ellis. If Ellis plays well, goalie Carter Hart should have more confidence and defenseman Ivan Provorov will have the kind of defensive partner he needs to make things happen.
5. Washington Capitals: Evgeny Kuznetsov. Coming off a poor season, Kuznetsov has something to prove in 2021-22. Niklas Backstrom will start the season on the injured list, creating an even greater imperative for Kuznetsov to be the player he once was.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins: Goalie Tristan Jarry: If he plays like he did in last season’s playoffs, the Penguins will have no chance to make the playoffs. Evgeni Malkin will be out for an extended period. The Pens didn’t do anything in the offseason to improve themselves. Jarry faces plenty of pressure to make a difference this season.
7. New Jersey Devils: Center Jack Hughes. He had 21 points in his rookie season, 31 last season and he should be in the 50-point range this season. If the Devils are going to make a run at a playoff spot, Hughes needs to increase his productivity.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets: Zach Werenski: With Seth Jones gone, Werenski becomes the flag carrier for this team. He is being paid like one of the NHL’s top defenseman and he needs to raise his performance level accordingly.