This week we'll wrap up our 2014-15 team previews with the remainder of the Central Division. Training camps are less than a month away from opening, so don't forget to pick up Rotoworld's NHL Draft Guide to get ready for the upcoming season.
2013-14 Finish: 40-31-11 record, lost in first round to Anaheim (4-2)
Last season's breakout performance/pleasant surprise: The Stars lacked secondary scoring last season, but they received strong contributions from grinders Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel. Roussel stood out a little more because of his agitating style and his penalty minutes, but we'll focus on Garbutt here. He produced personal bests with 17 goals, 32 points and 106 penalty minutes in 75 games. He was rewarded with a three-year, $5.4 million extension in January.
Can he do it again? Garbutt should fit in comfortably on Dallas' third unit this season, likely alongside Roussel and Cody Eakin. That will give the Stars a strong energy line that can succeed defensively and is capable of chipping in offensively. Garbutt should be able to post similar numbers this season.
Last season's biggest disappointment: Sergei Gonchar collected just two goals and 20 assists in 76 games last year. He also had a minus-12 rating. The 40-year-old defenseman can still contribute on the power play, where he scored 63.6% of his points, but he did so with a reduced role which culminated in him averaging just 13:24 of ice time during the playoffs.
Will he bounce back? I wouldn't count on it. The aging blueliner could lose time on the man advantage this season due to the arrivals of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, which would severely limit his chances of producing. He also won't get an increase in ice time with the Stars looking to push their younger defenders, while leaning heavily on Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley.
2014-15 Outlook: The Stars improved their team immensely a year ago when they acquired scoring leader Tyler Seguin. They made another exciting addition to their roster this off-season when Jason Spezza was obtained from Ottawa. Dallas also signed former Senators winger Ales Hemsky to provide the club with two good scoring lines. The Stars attempted to strengthen their goaltending depth as well by agreeing to terms with free agents Anders Lindback and Jussi Rynnas. The changes make Dallas a deeper team, but the Central Division is highly competitive. A Wild Card spot is a strong possibility if the Stars can't sneak into a top-three position.
Player to Watch: Valeri Nichushkin oozes potential and he displayed some of it during his rookie campaign. His role on the Stars is expected to increase in 2014-15 after he was brought along slowly last season. Nichushkin is penciled in to play with Spezza when training camp opens, but he could also see time with Seguin and Jamie Benn again too.
2013-14 Finish: 43-27-12 record, lost in second round to Chicago (4-2)
Last season's breakout performance/pleasant surprise: Darcy Kuemper was thrust into action last year when injury struck Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding experienced complications in his battle with multiple sclerosis. He had a rough introduction in a relief appearance against Toronto on Oct. 15, but he performed well as the team's starter and helped the Wild qualify for the playoffs.
Can he do it again? Minnesota expects to have Harding and Backstrom available for training camp, so that will relegate Kuemper to a third-string option. Their injury issues could open the door for him again, though. At this time, Kuemper is still a restricted free agent and there has been speculation that it could turn into a holdout situation. He will be solid when called upon, but there is a chance that he may not get to see much action.
Last season's biggest disappointment: Charlie Coyle started the year as Minnesota's second-line center, but he suffered a knee injury on Oct. 5 that sidelined him for the next 11 contests. His struggles in the faceoff circle shifted him to the wing on the top line, but injuries to Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu played a role in limiting his opportunity. Coyle registered 12 goals and 30 points in 70 games.
Will he bounce back? Coyle should be able to make positive strides in 2014-15 if he can cement a spot on a line with Koivu and Parise. Mikael Granlund has taken over as the club's second-line center, but Coyle can still be a productive winger as long as injuries, including those to his teammates, don't hold him back.
Notable Additions: Thomas Vanek
2014-15 Outlook: Minnesota gave Chicago all they could handle in the second round of the playoffs, but the best sign for them was the way their youngsters performed during the series. Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula and Charlie Coyle elevated their games during the postseason. With Parise, Koivu, Jason Pominville and off-season signing Thomas Vanek also in the fold, the Wild have plenty of depth up front. Their question marks in the crease are concerning, but Minnesota has the potential to be a dark horse team in the Central Division and a playoff spot should be well within their reach.
Player to Watch: Mikael Granlund took some time to get going last year, with head injuries being an issue, but he was great in the second half and during the playoffs. He will look to carry the momentum he built into the 2014-15 campaign and he should be able to surpass the 50-point mark.
2013-14 Finish: 38-32-12 record, sixth in Central Division
Last season's breakout performance/pleasant surprise: Craig Smith broke out offensively with a team-high 24 goals last year. He also generated a career highs with 52 points and 215 shots in 79 games.
Can he do it again? It's thought that Smith's quickness and budding scoring ability will be a great fit in coach Peter Laviolette's high-octane, offensive system. He should have a top-six spot this campaign alongside one of Nashville's talented off-season additions, which will help him post similar numbers.
Last season's biggest disappointment: Pekka Rinne's hip infection resulted in him missing 51 games. He posted a 10-10-3 record with a .902 save percentage and a 2.77 goals-against average.
Will he bounce back? Rinne has been a reliable goaltender for years in Nashville. When the team lost him their chances of a good season went up in smoke, so getting him back will benefit them greatly. The Predators went to great lengths to improve their offense during the off-season, which will help Rinne out as long their defensive play doesn't suffer. He shouldn't be drafted as a top-five netminder anymore, but he can still be squeezed into the top 15 and his fantasy owners will be pleased.
2014-15 Outlook: It will be an interesting transition period in Nashville this season. Coach Peter Laviolette has taken over behind the bench for Barry Trotz and the team is expected to take on a more offensive approach, with James Neal and Mike Ribeiro likely serving as the club's top forward duo. Nashville's defense led the league with 52 goals last season, with Shea Weber (23) and Roman Josi (13) leading the charge. The Predators could surprise this season and snatch a Wild Card spot, but it 's more likely that they'll fall just short of a playoff spot.
Player to Watch: Seth Jones had six goals and 25 points in 77 games last season, but you can expect him to improve on those statistics in 2014-15. He already has a feel for what it's like to play for Laviolette when the two of them were on Team USA for the World Championship. Jones was named the best defenseman at the tournament and he received glowing remarks from his new coach. The talented sophomore could reach the 45-point mark this season.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
2013-14 Finish: 52-23-7 record, lost in first round to Chicago (4-2)
Last season's breakout performance/pleasant surprise: Alexander Steen led the Blues in scoring with 33 goals and 62 points in just 68 games. Steen got off to red hot start while playing on the team's top line with David Backes and T.J. Oshie.
Can he do it again? Steen will remain a productive player for St. Louis this season, but matching the torrid pace he set in 2013-14 is very unlikely. His goal production dried up considerably in the latter part of the year and he can't be counted on to stay healthy. Steen shouldn't be expected to hit the 60-point plateau this year.
Last season's biggest disappointment: Ryan Miller's arrival from Buffalo was supposed to help St. Louis go on a lengthy playoff drive, but he put up pedestrian numbers during the regular season and sub-par stats in the postseason. The Blues decided it was best to move on from Miller in the off-season, so he was allowed to test the market as a free agent. That leaves St. Louis with another two-goalie system for the 2014-15 campaign when Brian Elliott and Jake Allen will share the crease. That's a disappointing development as well from a fantasy perspective.
Will he bounce back? Miller's tenure in St. Louis was brief and he'll look to rebound with the Vancouver Canucks. He should be able to post decent peripherals with his new team, but he may struggle to win games if the Canucks can't bounce back themselves from a rough season.
2014-15 Outlook: The Blues made a splash in free agency and added some scoring depth down the middle when they signed Paul Stastny. Jori Lehtera is projected to replace versatile forward Vladimir Sobotka and Carl Gunnarrson will probably step into a second-pairing spot on the back end after he was acquired from Toronto for Roman Polak. St. Louis is a strong team on paper this season at forward and defense, but they are still underwhelming in goal. However, they don't surrender many shots and will still be one of the better teams in the league during the regular season.
Player to Watch: As previously mentioned, the club's goaltending situation is a bit concerning. Brian Elliott has mostly served as a 1B option for the Blues, but he'll be given the chance to be the team's 1A starter in 2014-15. That's a pretty stark turnaround after he was viewed as expendable following St. Louis' acquisition of Ryan Miller. He tends to run very hot and very cold for stretches and he's alternated strong and poor seasons in three years with the Blues. That kind of inconsistency doesn't inspire confidence. That will leave the door open for Jake Allen to steal starts and perhaps even overtake Elliott for the top job at some point in the year.
2013-14 Finish: 37-35-10 record, seventh in Central Division
Last season's breakout performance/pleasant surprise: Rookie defenseman Jacob Trouba turned heads early and he played impressively throughout the 2013-14 season. He led all first-year players in average ice time with 22:26 per contest. Trouba also posted 10 goals, 29 points and a plus-4 rating in 65 games.
Can he do it again? Don't expect to see a sophomore slump from Trouba this campaign. The 20-year-old defenseman is a multi-category contributor, who can pick up hits, shots and blocks, while flirting with the 40-point mark. Reaching that total would be a lot easier if he gets a boost in power-play time.
Last season's biggest disappointment: Evander Kane was penciled in for a breakout year after he netted 30 goals and 57 points in 74 games prior to the lockout-shortened season. However, he ended up producing just 19 markers and 41 points in 63 matches.
Will he bounce back? Kane should be able to rebound in 2014-15 if he can stay healthy. He missed 10 combined games with a hand injury that later became infected and another six because of a lower-body injury. He was starting to build some chemistry with Mark Scheifele before they both ran into injury concerns. Look for Kane to challenge the 30-goal mark, while collecting plenty of hits, shots and penalty minutes along the way.
Notable Additions: Mathieu Perreault
2014-15 Outlook: The Winnipeg Jets didn't do much lineup tinkering in the off-season after finishing 11th among 14 teams in the Western Conference. Olli Jokinen will be replaced by Mathieu Perreault on the third line and they'll have a new backup goalie, but that's about it. Trade rumors have been linked to Kane and there's the possibility of making a move for a goaltender, but it looks like the Jets will enter the 2014-15 season as they currently are. Their Central rivals all made roster improvements in the summer, so it's not far-fetched to believe that Winnipeg will finish seventh in the division again.
Player to Watch: Mark Scheifele had a sluggish start prior to warming up at the end of the November. He missed the last 19 games of the regular season due to a sprained MCL, but he's recovered from that and is likely to build off the success he enjoyed before getting hurt. Scheifele will center the second line and 50 points is a probable outcome.