2012-2013 NHL Atlantic Division Preview:
*Teams listed in order of projected division standings by seasons end*
New York Rangers
Last season’s #1 seed in the Eastern Conference will look to show that newly acquired Rick Nash can be the offensive spark the team needs to win the cup. New York will not struggle on the defensive side of the ice, however the concern is in the goal scoring department. Despite big names like Gaborik, Nash and Richards up front the team lacks scoring depth in the bottom 6. Rangers fans should look for an improvement in the offensive zone.
Top Player– The reigning Vezina trophy award winner Henrik Lundqvist is arguably the best goaltender in the league and will look to repeat as the league’s top goalie.
Player to Watch- The talk of the town in NY last postseason was young Chris Kreider who came up from Boston College to join the blue shirts in the playoffs. The 21-year-old winger showed the ability to come up large clutch moments. Look for him to grow into a serious offensive threat this season.
The Penguins (the national media’s team) are dying to get back on the ice. It’s never fun being on the wrong side of the handshake line after a playoff series, but having to shake the hands of your much hated rival is torture. Naturally the league decided to start their season by sending them back to place the last one ended. However, the Penguins have more on their minds than revenge. They are geared up for a cup run. However they will need to stay off the injury report. Even though the team showed they can win without him in the regular season, the Penguins will need a healthy Crosby to bring home Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Player to Watch- Look out for Brandon Sutter to prove he was a fair return for Jordan Staal in a summer trade. He is the ideal 3rd line center; strong defensively, offensive promise, kills penalties and shows a good amount of toughness. Watch for the 23-year-old to improve on his point totals while helping the team shut down opposing players.
After a heated and emotional series victory last postseason against the cross state Penguins, the Flyers forgot to show up for the second round. The team was outcoached and could not adapt to the Devils forecheck. However this team has a bright future. They can put the puck in the net as much, if not more than any team in the league. Goals won’t carry this team, the success depends on how the defense works with the owner of a beautiful white hair, blue-eyed husky (Bryzgalov.)
Top Player- “G” as his teammates call him is one of the top 5 players in the world. Not only does he have the ability to create offense by himself, but the Hearst, Ontario native makes players around him better (see Hartnell, Scott.) Giroux will push for the Art Ross and Hart Memorial trophies this year.
Player to Watch– In Philadelphia fans love tough hard-nosed players. Schenn fits that mold perfectly. Which one? Both of them. Look for the brothers Schenn to step up their play this year. Luke leads the NHL in hits over the last two years and will look to bring some needed toughness to the Flyers blue line. Brayden just needs to pick up where he left off. He tallied 9 points in 11 playoff games last season and 33 points in 33 games in the AHL during the lockout. He may be able to put up 55-60 points while playing on the first line with Giroux.
New Jersey Devils
Despite losing top forward Zach Parise to free agency the devils still have the talent to make a playoff run. Coach Pete Deboer runs a system that haunts opposing teams in their own zone. The forecheck makes it difficult to get out of the zone causing turnovers and we all know turnovers lead to goals. Also keep in mind that whenever Martin Brodeur is between the pipes the Devils have a pretty solid chance to win.
Top Player- 2 weeks ago we would have said Kovalchuk, but after he publicly stated he would have rather stayed in Russia than come back to the NHL it is just too tough to predict where his head is at. Brodeur is playing like his is 30 not 40 so we give him the nod.
Player to Watch– Keep an eye on Adam Larsson this season. The young Swede was drafted fourth overall in 2011 and played in 65 regular season games last season. While he put up 18 points during the season, he really began to show his talent in the postseason. His only point was a big goal against the Flyers, but he showed his ability in his own zone. When he adds weight to his 6’3” frame he will cause all sorts of problems for forwards.
New York Islanders
Often overlooked in New York the Islanders struggle to gain the notice they sometimes deserve. While they finished near the bottom of the Easter Conference last season, the Islanders look to be a team on the rise. This all starts with All-Star forward John Tavares. He doesn’t seem to get the attention he should. He put up 81 points in 82 games last season. Despite having a budding star in Johnny Tavares the team will not compete for a playoff spot this season, but they are making progress.
Top Player- 7th in the league in scoring at age 22, great hands, vision, skating ability: John Tavares
Player to Watch– It seems like this guy’s name is never mentioned in articles or on hockey television shows but it often shows up in the goal column. In 3 seasons with the Islanders Matt Moulson has potted 97 goals. Look for him to have about 15-20 goals in the shortened season.