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Western Conference Predictions: Who's on the Rise?

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Western Conference Predictions: Who's on the Rise?

A new NHL season begins on Wednesday. Now it's time to put our experts to the test.

Tarik El-Bashir and J.J. Regan will cover the Capitals all season long for NBC Sports Washington. What do they think the NHL season will hold? It's time to get their season predictions. First, let's start with the Western Conference.

El-Bashir

Central
1. Dallas
2. Minnesota
3. Chicago

Pacific
1. Anaheim
2. Edmonton
3. San Jose

Wild card

1. Nashville
2. St. Louis

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The skinny: With Ben Bishop steadying a previously shaky situation in net, Alexander Radulov bolstering the O and Ken Hitchock back behind the bench, the Stars are ready to rise in the Central. Bruce Boudreau’s Wild will qualify for the postseason for a sixth straight year, but the question is this: can ‘Gabby’ get them past last year’s first-round flameout? The top-heavy Blackhawks have fizzled in the first round each of the past two seasons, but I’m not ready to write off a core headlined by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith. P.K. Subban and the Predators are still a playoff team but before you get all crazy about their 2017-18 prospects remember this: they were the tournament’s 16th seed a year ago. I’ve still got Blues getting in, despite a rash of injuries. Why? They were lights out defensively after Mike Yeo took over behind the bench last February, and I’d expect that trend to continue.    

In the Pacific, Anaheim will be banged up to start the year with Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Ryan Kesler sidelined, but they’re still formidable, with a stingy D and enough veteran savvy to hold off Connor McDavid and Oilers. Speaking of, McDavid feels like he’s primed to have another MVP year, doesn’t it? I’m not sure the Sharks have another Cup run left in them, but Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Co. are good enough to make some noise in a weak division that’ll see Calgary and Los Angeles keep things interesting before just missing out. It’ll be fun to track Vegas’ progress, but they won’t be close for a couple of years.

Conference winner: The Ducks, once they’re healthy, will have the skill and experience to win in the West.

Regan

Central
1. Dallas
2. Chicago
3. Nashville

Pacific
1. Edmonton
2. Anaheim
3. Calgary

Wild card
1. Minnesota
2. San Jose

The skinny: The biggest issue holding the Stars back has been their goaltending. Now that they have a legitimate No. 1 in Ben Bishop, the sky's the limit. Nashville looks poised for a big season after their coming out party last year, but keep an eye on Pekka Rinne who turns 35 in November. You should never count out a Bruce Boudreau team in the regular season, but that is an older team and you have to wonder how much confidence there is in the head coach after yet another disappointing postseason. We have seen this story play out with three different teams now and I believe the Wild are due for a major step back. Those four teams make the playoffs over an injury-riddled St. Louis, a dreadful Colorado and a Winnipeg team that is still a goalie short and a year away.

In the Pacific, Edmonton is on the rise. You may be worried about their salary cap situation, but for now Connor McDavid makes them a contender. Anaheim has won six division championships in a row, but they are getting older, have plenty of injuries to deal with already and it will be hard to stifle the momentum of the Oilers. Calgary is on the rise, but I do not think they have addressed their goaltending issues. I understand why they needed to move on from Brian Elliott, but I also do not see Mike Smith as an upgrade. San Jose’s time has passed and I think they will only just squeak into the playoffs as a wild card over Winnipeg and Los Angeles.

Conference winner: The conference looks wide open so I will go with the best player, McDavid, to lead the Oilers to a conference title.

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2018 NHL Draft: Caps add 7 prospects, 4 from WHL

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USA TODAY Sports

2018 NHL Draft: Caps add 7 prospects, 4 from WHL

The Caps made seven selections in the 2018 Draft this weekend. The group featured three defensemen, three forwards and a goalie. Interestingly, a couple of the picks have fathers who enjoyed lengthy NHL careers.

Meet the newest prospects:

1st round, 31st overall: D Alexander Alexeyev, WHL, 6'4", 196 pounds

The Caps' first first-round pick sine 2016, Alexeyev is a smart two-way defenseman with good size.

Read more on him here.

2nd round, 46th overall (from Florida, via New Jersey): D Martin Fehervary, Allsvenskan (Sweden), 6'2", 194 pounds

A physical style defenseman who is very strong in his own end, but does not have much offensive upside. Sort of a throwback style of play which makes him a surprise pick this high.


2nd round, 47th overall (From Colorado): F Kody Clark, OHL, 6'1", 179 pounds

Kody Clark boasts an NHL pedigree as the son of Wendel Clark, a first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs who recorded 330 goals and 564 career points in 763 NHL games.


3rd round, 93rd overall: F Riley Sutter, WHL, 6'3", 203 pounds

Riley Sutter also boasts a strong NHL pedigree as the son of Run Sutter and nephew of Darryl Sutter.

Riley is a power forward who played alongside Caps prospect Garrett Pilon on the Everett Silvertips in the WHL and recorded 53 points in 68 games last season.


4th round, 124th overall: G Mitchell Gibson, NAHL, 6'1", 187 pounds

A Harvard commit, Gibson posted a 1.59 GAA and .935 save percentage in the NAHL last season.


6th round, 161st overall (from Vancouver): D Alex Kannok-Leipert, WHL, 5'11", 194 pounds

The Caps certainly saw something they liked in Kannok-Leipert as they traded up from 186 to get him. That pick, along with a sixth-round pick in 2019, went to Vancouver.


7th round, 217th overall: F Eric Florchuk, WHL, 6'2", 174 pounds

Florchuk was taken with the last pick of the draft.

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

DALLAS—The Caps are “really close” to signing star defenseman John Carlson to a long-term extension, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday night.

“We’re getting closer,” MacLellan said following the first round of the NHL Draft. “Hopefully we can get it done here over the next few days. We’re really close.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps cleared significant space under the salary cap ceiling by trading Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round draft pick (47th overall). 

That space will now be used to lock up Carlson, who could become the best defenseman on the open market if he were to reach it.

MacLellan met with Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, here on Thursday night.

MacLellan did not divulge any figures, but it’s expected that Carlson’s new contract could come in at eight years and $8 million per—or perhaps a bit more. 

He earned $4 million last season.

Carlson had a career year in 2017-18 and was critical during the Caps' run to the Stanley Cup. He led all defensemen in the regular season with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists). The 28-year-old also skated a career-high 24:47 per game.

MacLellan has long said that re-signing Carlson was the Caps’ top priority this offseason. And now it looks like that could happen within days, assuming the talks do not hit any snags.

“We’re going to do our best to sign John,” MacLellan said. “We’ve said it all along. We waited until the end of the year. We’ve had discussions. We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

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