The look on New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano‘s face in the picture to the left of your screen is one that the organization’s fan base hope they see much less often than a big smile talking about a post-game victory.
With the NHL’s move to realignment comes new challenges for all the teams that used to reside in the now defunct Northeast and Southeast divisions. Make no mistake about it, this is not just an Islanders problem.
The newly minted Metropolitan division welcomes newcomers Carolina, Washington and Columbus to a stack of good hockey teams that already had, along with the Islanders; the Rangers, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
It will be a very exciting eight team race for the three guaranteed playoff spots before you have to start thinking on a conference level in determining who picks up the remaining two wild card berths.
This begins an eight part series (two parts per division) here at Eyes where I will take a look at each team in the National Hockey League and offer my take on one player primed to take a big leap forward from last season and subsequently one who is preparing to fall short of the expectations previously set.
The discussion will revolve around real-life value and not for fantasy purposes (although the two are so closely inter-twined that you could this at your draft……if you trust me). So sit back, grab an ice-cold beverage of your choice and see if you agree or disagree with my selections.
(Stats are GP-G-A-PTS)
Plus: #19, Beau Bennett, Right Wing, 21 years of age, 26-3-11-14
The 6’2″, 207 lb California born Bennett is a very speedy and shifty skater. He fits right into Pittsburgh’s high tempo style and that even earned him some playing time on the right side of world-class center Sidney Crosby. Possessing a sneaky good shot, he will find a role on one of the top two lines and produce in the range of 20-20-40 over the course of a full season.
Minus : #71, Evgeni Malkin, Center, 27 years of age, 31-9-24-33
This choice has nothing to do with Malkin’s incredible skill but has everything to do with his durability. After playing 242 of 246 games in his first three seasons (98.3%) he has played only 216 of 294 (73.4%) in the following four, missing substantial chunks of time in three of those. The feeling is he will struggle again to stay healthy this season and play in 55-60 games for the Pens, hurting their bottom line offensive output.
New York Rangers
Plus : #16, Derick Brassard, Center, 25 years of age, 47-12-17-29
Brassard shined since making his way to New York from the Columbus Blue Jackets, posting 5-6-11 in 13 games wearing the red, white and blue. An excellent playmaker, if he was to find his way to the Rick Nash line, look for his production to sky-rocket into 20-45-65 territory.
Minus : #21, Derek Stepan, Center, 23 years of age, 48-18-26-44
After 2 years of nothing to write home about seasons in the WCHA, Stepan put up two respectable campaigns for the Rangers. In his contract year, he took off and that is no coincidence to me. The thinking here is that he returns to normal levels of 20-35-55, especially if he lures Glen Sather into a long term deal and not a bridge contract this season.
New York Islanders
Plus : #12, Josh Bailey, Center/Left Wing, 23 years of age, 38-11-8-19
Bailey was rushed to the NHL and the ramifications clearly showed in his early play. Now completely comfortable, he was a key part of last season’s playoff squad and continues to improve almost with each shift. He shoots more this year and finishes in the neighborhood of 20-30-50, producing his best professional season to date.
Minus : #11, Lubomir Visnovsky, Defense, 37 years of age, 35-3-11-14
Visnovsky is a tremendous transition defenseman but begins to feel his age this season and fails to carry the weight left over from the departure of former captain Mark Streit. That burden will quickly have to fall to Travis Hamonic and young Matt Donovan‘s shoulders.
Plus : #74, John Carlson, Defense, 23 years of age, 48-6-16-22
Carlson has a booming slap shot from the point and is a smooth, quick skater to boot. Confident enough now to join the offensive rush more effectively, his game has grown leaps and bounds as he enters his fifth NHL season. Ready to join the upper echelon of offensive defenseman with 15-35-50 this year.
Minus : #20, Troy Brouwer, Right Wing, 28 years of age, 47-19-14-33
Don’t let Brouwer’s offensive explosion last year fool you. He is a working man’s forward, and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you count on a 30-40 goal pace from him, you will be extremely disappointed. Has always been in the 18-20 goal, .50 point per game range and that is where he falls back to this season.