Part five of our 2017-18 season preview will feature the bottom three teams in the Metropolitan Division and the top two teams in the Pacific Division, according to the 2016-17 standings. Feel free to check out Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four of the series.
2016-17 Finish: 39-33-10, 11th in the Eastern Conference
Biggest Strength: The Flyers have a few nice pieces on the defense, both on the big club and in the system. Ivan Provorov showed flashes of potential in his rookie season, as he accumulated six goals and 30 points 82 games. Shayne Gostisbehere, who had a down year, still managed to put up 39 points in his sophomore season. He should be able to bounce back in a big way next season. Philadelphia also has Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers coming through the pipeline.
Biggest Weakness: They’re clearly missing some punch offensively. Claude Giroux doesn’t look like the same player he once was, which limits their ability to create offense. Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds are capable of putting the puck in the net, but Jori Lehtera, Valtteri Filppula and Matt Read are all question marks. Also, they still don’t have a clear number one goalie on their roster. Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth will be battling for starts.
Player to Watch: Since they’ll likely have a hard time putting the puck in the net, the Flyers will need rookie Nolan Patrick to develop into a force quickly. The second overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft has a good size and offensive ability, but he’s been forced to miss a lot of time in junior due to injury. Health permitting, Patrick could very well be the best rookie in the league this season.
2016-17 Finish: 36-31-15, 12th in the Eastern Conference
Biggest Strength: The Hurricanes have plenty of solid defensemen on their roster. Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin are all solid and under the age of 27. Other teams would kill to have that kind of young depth on the blue line. The Hurricanes are still a few pieces away from being a competitive team, but they could opt to sacrifice one of their defensemen to strengthen an area of weakness.
Biggest Weakness: Speaking of weaknesses, it’s pretty clear that the ‘Canes simply don’t have enough firepower to go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the conference. Sure, Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal and Victor Rask are solid pieces, but they need more. Last season, Skinner was the only Hurricane to surpassed the 50-point mark (63).
Player to Watch: Elias Lindholm is an intriguing player. Carolina drafted him fifth overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Since coming into the league as an 18-year-old, he’s put up 21, 39, 39 and 45 points. With Carolina lacking in the scoring department, they’ll need the 22-year-old to take a decent step forward in his fifth year. Lindholm has all the tools to become a top-line player, he just has to figure out a way to put it all together.
New Jersey Devils
2016-17 Finish: 28-40-14, 16th in the Eastern Conference
Biggest Strength: There’s no doubt that the strength of this Devils team is between the pipes. Cory Schneider is consistently good for the Devils, but the play in front of him is often lacking. The Devils goalie has played at least 58 games in each of the last three years. If Schneider wasn’t their goalie, they wouldn’t have much else to lean on.
Biggest Weakness: The Devils added Marcus Johansson to the fold this summer, but they still don’t have much depth up front. Taylor Hall is the top offensive weapon they have. After him, they’re light at forward. Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac (injured) are nice complimentary pieces, but they can’t be relied upon as top offensive options. Let’s just say they aren’t exactly loaded on defense either. The Devils are a few years away from competing for a playoff spot.
Player to Watch: It’ll be interesting to see how Nico Hischier’s rookie season unfolds. Travis Zajac (shoulder) will be out until December, which means that the door is wide open for the rookie to make the team out of training camp. The top pick in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft is the dynamic offensive weapon New Jersey has been lacking for years. Is he ready to be a contributor from the first day of his NHL career? Only time will tell.
2016-17 Finish: 46-23-13, third round loss to Nashville
Biggest Strength: The Ducks have one of the more well-rounded rosters in the NHL. In a league where it’s hard to find quality centers, the Ducks have Ryan Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell and Ryan Kesler, who are all capable of playing big minutes. Anaheim also has a rock-solid defense, but their depth will be tested early as Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm are both out with injuries. In goal, they have a solid one-two punch with young John Gibson and veteran Ryan Miller.
Biggest Weakness: As solid as their group is, they do seem to be lacking quality offensive options on the wing. Corey Perry isn’t the same player he once was, and Jakob Silfverberg, Andrew Cogliano and Patrick Eaves are solid players, but the options remain thin behind them. Don’t be surprised if they try to add a winger or two before the trade deadline hits.
Player to Watch: Corey Perry surprisingly scored just 19 goals in 82 games last season. That’s his lowest total since he scored 15 goals in 44 games during the lockout. Was last year just a blip on the radar or has Perry really regressed that much? He’ll likely get every opportunity to produce at 5-on-5 and on the man-advantage again in 2017-18. Perry had scored 34, 33 and 43 goals in the previous three years.
2016-17 Finish: 47-26-9, second round loss to Anaheim
Biggest Strength: The Edmonton Oilers have a dynamic group of forwards led by Connor McDavid. In his second season, McDavid led the league in scoring and he captured the Hart Trophy as league MVP. Behind him, there’s Leon Draisaitl, Milan Lucic and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who are part of a strong supporting cast. With McDavid and Draisaitl both signed long-term, the Oilers future is looking very bright. The fact that they have a solid goalie in Cam Talbot also helps them quite a bit.
Biggest Weakness: Last off-season, the Oilers traded Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson. The trade has improved Edmonton’s situation on the blue line, but they could still use a lot more help. Outside of re-signing Kris Russell, they didn’t add much depth to their defense over the summer. If the Oilers make a long run, it’ll likely be because of their incredible attack.
Player to Watch: The Oilers traded Jordan Eberle to the Islanders for Ryan Strome mainly because they needed to rid themselves of Eberle’s $6 million salary. Since picking up 50 points in 81 games back in 2014-15, Strome has put up just 28 and 30 points in each of the last two seasons. A change of scenery might do him some good. The 24-year-old could get a really significant fantasy boost if he plays on a line with McDavid.