The NHL pre-season has officially wrapped up, and now hockey fans across North America are anxiously awaiting the opening puck drop of the 2019-20 NHL season on Wednesday. Whether your team faired well in exhibition play or didn’t live up to expectations, hockey fans can agree that the regular season is a whole different ball game (or, puck game in this case!)
So, as some look around the block to the start of the season, other hockey fans are looking across the city to this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, and whether or not their team has a shot at raising the most valuable trophy in hockey. Today, I am counting down the top three teams that were non-playoff teams last season, that will make the big showdown this year.
1. New York Rangers
What’s not to like about this year’s Rangers squad? GM Jeff Gorton has assembled a pretty legit roster this off-season, bringing in some key pieces that I think will push them over the edge and be a contender for the Stanley Cup in April. Gorton brought in coveted Russian free agent Artemi Panarin for the next seven years, which will see Panarin be paid over $11 million a year. He also brought in some help on the blue line, signing Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox to multi-year deals, and snagged some bottom-six forward depth in Brendan Lemieux and Micheal Haley. When you team up all of these new players with second-overall draft pick Kaapo Kakko, you have a Rangers team that not only looks a little bit different, but one that just might grab a playoff spot in a stacked Metropolitan Division.
2. Edmonton Oilers
This is a risky pick, but I think the Oilers make the playoffs this year based on two main reasons: the staff/players they’ve brought in, and a weak Pacific Division. I don’t see Anaheim, Los Angeles, Vancouver or Arizona in the mix again this season, and Vegas and San Jose will be the number one and two spots in the division, so I think it will be a battle of both Alberta teams for the third spot. Whether Calgary or Edmonton grabs spot number three, the other team may grab a wild card position in the playoffs. Nevertheless, the Oilers have a lot to look forward to this season, and expectations are high as superstar Connor McDavid enters his prime. New GM Ken Holland along with new Head Coach Dave Tippett are two very experienced individuals, and the crew that these two added to the team this summer will fit in nicely. Newcomer Tomas Jurco looked great in the pre-season, and young defenseman Ethan Bear looked elite on the blue line. The Oilers will control their own destiny for a spot in the big show this spring.
3. New Jersey Devils
Like the Rangers, the New Jersey Devils are another team looking to make a statement in the competitive Metropolitan Division. There’s no mistaking that the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins are still arguably the top two teams in the division, but the Devils could be battling with the Rangers for the number three spot. Rookie Jack Hughes, chosen by the Devils first overall in this summer’s NHL entry draft, has looked extremely impressive in the pre-season and is a favourite to win the Calder Trophy this year, which is given to the most outstanding rookie. Shortly after selecting Hughes in the draft, the Devils traded for elite defenseman P.K. Subban, who will add an enormous amount of depth to the Devils’ defensive lines. GM Ray Shero also picked up feisty free-agent, forward, Wayne Simmonds who will provide a dominant bottom-six role. The Devils, who already boast first-overall picks Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier, are only going to get better.
Buckle your seatbelts, folks. We’re in for a thrilling ride that is the NHL season.
Feature Photo courtesy of Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press
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