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Youngblood: 2014-15 NHL Hunches

It’s that time of the year when predictions and forecasts for the 2014-15 NHL season are littered throughout media outlets. Luckily for Youngblood readers, this piece is titled “Hunches” so it’s totally different than the repetitive mainstream publications.

Well, not really.

However, in keeping consistent with my prospect focus , I will concentrate on the youth of the NHL and dive deeper into some of the potential breakout players ready to take the next step, Calder Trophy candidate hunches (outside of the ever-so-popular Drouin/Gibson/Gaudreau picks) and eventually predict who might be in the lead for the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.

Let’s go!


Eastern Conference Ranking in (parenthesis)

Playoff Bound Teams in Italics

Wild Card Teams in Red


Atlantic Division:Boston Bruins (2), Tampa Bay Lightning (3), Montreal Canadiens(5), Toronto Maple Leafs (8), Ottawa Senators (10), Detroit Red Wings (11). Florida Panthers (14), Buffalo Sabres (15)

Metropolitan Division:Pittsburgh Penguins (1), New York Rangers(4), Columbus Blue Jackets (6), New York Islanders (7), Washington Capitals (9), Philadelphia Flyers (12), New Jersey Devils (13), Carolina Hurricanes (16)

Eastern Conference (1st Place):  Pittsburgh Penguins

Central Division: Chicago Blackhawks (1), St. Louis Blues (3), Dallas Stars (6), Colorado Avalanche (7), Minnesota Wild (9), Nashville Predators (10), Winnipeg Jets (12)

Pacific Division: Los Angeles Kings (2), Anaheim Ducks (4), San Jose Sharks (5),Arizona Coyotes (8), Vancouver Canucks (11), Edmonton Oilers (13), Calgary Flames (14)

Western Conference (1st Place):  Chicago Blackhawks (President’s Trophy Winner)


Stanley Cup Final: St. Louis Blues (Champions) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins


Hart Trophy: John Tavares, NYI

Norris Trophy: Drew Doughty, LAK

Vezina Trophy: Carey Price, MTL

Jack Adams Trophy: Jon Cooper, TBL

Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy: Steven Stamkos, TBL

Calder Trophy:  Jonathan Drouin, TBL


Breakout Candidates

Mikkel Boedker (Arizona Coyotes) – It’s been a steady but somewhat slow climb for the 25-year-old Boedker early in his NHL career but he has now cleared 50-points and the next step is to approach point-per-game numbers. The Coyotes are Boedker’s team now and we should see an elevation in his game.

Filip Forsberg (Nashville Predators) – I’m not a huge fan of Forsberg’s game as it’s a bit “vanilla” for my liking but there’s no doubt that the Predators will put him in a place to succeed. Opportunity is present and he should begin seeing ample time on the Preds second powerplay unit.

Alexander Galchenyuk (Montreal Canadiens) – With Galchenyuk moving back to his natural center position he is a prime candidate to take his game to the next level. It’s a matter of “when” this budding star breaks out and 2014-15 could be his launching pad. “Chucky” has been a favourite player of mine dating back to his Sarnia days (when I had him ranked 1st for the 2012 NHL Draft) so I will be rooting for his success.

Jake Gardiner (Toronto Maple Leafs) – The two time 30-point rearguard is only three years into NHL action yet he is showing all the signs of becoming an offensive stud. He may be contained under the watchful eye of Randy Carlyle but how long can the former Norris Trophy winner-turned head coach keep him down? He will persevere.

Mikael Granlund (Minnesota Wild) – There’s been a lot of hype surrounding Granlund since he was drafted 9th overall at the 2010 draft. After gaining NHL experience over parts of two seasons, Granlund actually had quite the productive 2013-14 season but an injury derailed his momentum. Don’t be shocked to see this young Finn push for the team scoring lead soon.

Dougie Hamilton (Boston Bruins) – Apprenticing alongside Zdeno Chara is a great way to study the NHL game and while most young defenders take years to develop, my gut feeling is that Dougie Hamilton is ahead of the curve and could breakout offensively.

Evander Kane (Winnipeg Jets) – Under the critical spotlight of the Winnipeg media, Evander Kane has made headlines for all the wrong reasons. He hasn’t quite exploded like most felt he could but that time is coming…very soon. I wouldn’t totally count out Evander Kane being part of a future trade but either way, his scoring abilities won’t be held dormant much longer.

Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning) – Witnessed game in and game out last season, Nikita Kucherov was a regular on the highlight reel as his speed created problems for opposing defences. Kucherov is one of the many young offensive talents on the Bolts’ roster and he demonstrated how dominant his skill set is in preseason action.

Robin Lehner (Ottawa Senatores) – Senators enter the 2014-15 season with a very strong goaltending tandem in Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner but it’s the latter who’s eventually going to be the face of Ottawa’s crease. An injury (minor or major) to Anderson will open the doors wide open for Lehner to claim his future starter spot.

Elias Lindholm (Carolina Hurricanes) – Playing on one of the league’s lower-level teams, Elias Lindholm is presented with an unique opportunity after teammate Jordan Staal suffered a broken foot/ankle. With more ice time, the former top pick could approach and surpass the 40-point mark.

Connor Murphy (Arizona Coyotes) – Don’t expect a sophomore slump from Connor Murphy after he earned the trust of his coaches last year as a rookie defender. Murphy may not experience the offensive breakout but his poise and low-maintenance game will have him on everyone’s radar soon as one of the best young blueliners in the game.

Morgan Rielly (Toronto Maple Leafs) – There’s something special about Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly and the organization knows it. He’s poised, creative and exudes an element of calmness that should see him become one of the NHL’s best defensemen.

Brandon Saad (Chicago Blackhawks) – Dating back to the 2011 NHL Draft, Brandon Saad was a player who I always felt deserved to be drafted much higher and he’s certainly proved that in his short NHL tenure. He was among Chicago’s best players in the post-season last year and he will breakout in a huge way this season to the tune of 60-ish points.

Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg Jets) – After back-to-back seasons of teasing of fans with short stays in the NHL, Mark Scheifele arrived full time last year and got his feet wet. Now, Winnipeg is expecting more from this big skilled pivot who is slated to hold down the second line center position.

Vladislav Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues) – With a lineup loaded with as much NHL talent as the Blues, it’s difficult to expect a huge breakout for Tarasenko but this offensive dynamo is being joined by former KHL linemate Jori Lehtera and should elevate his numbers closer to 60-points.

Tyler Toffoli (Los Angeles Kings) – Sniper by trade, Toffoli has the instincts of a natural scorer and he’s been able to find the back of the net at every level. Look for him to solidify himself as one of the NHL’s best young snipers as he slides into a permanent top-six role.


Calder Trophy Candidates

We’ve all heard the names Jonathan Drouin, Johnny Gaudreau, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Gibson, Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl and Teuvo Teravainen as favourites to win the 2014-15 Calder Trophy and each has a strong case to take home the coveted hardware. In fact, odds are that one of Drouin (my pick), Gaudreau, Kuznetsov and Gibson will win the Calder Trophy but I want to take the opportunity to introduce you to some other worthy and lesser-known freshman to consider. The following youngsters are relatively unknown among NHL followers but could end up quickly on people’s rosters. 

Andre Burakovsky (Washington Capitals) – Another preseason standout, Burakovsky outperformed top Caps prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov and will start the season on Washington’s second line. That’s an impressive feat. He owns tantalizing one-on-one skills and an almost arrogant-like confidence in his own talents. That swagger could certainly wreak havoc on opposing goaltenders.

Anthony Duclair (New York Rangers) –Anthony Duclair has always been one of the more dangerous offensive players of his age group. Duclair used an outstanding preseason performance to solidify himself on the starting roster. In order to avoid heading back to his Quebec Remparts (also the CHL Memorial Cup hosts), Duclair will need to maintain consistency and continue to show he’s an offensive threat. Whether he’s here for nine games or 82, Duclair will definitely show fans how talented he is.

Calle Jarnkrok (Nashville Predators) – The Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy offseason signings certainly won’t help Jarnkrok earn prime ice-time but the NHL’s been long awaiting this former 2nd round pick of the Detroit Red Wings. Jarnkrok posted nine points in his 12-game NHL debut last season and will be looking to carry that momentum into 2014-15.

Curtis Lazar (Ottawa Senators) – Erik Karlsson may have been named the new Captain but Curtis Lazar will eventually take on a leadership role with this rebuilding squad. Lazar isn’t the flashiest of offensive talents but the young pivot comes with a first round pedigree and a blue-collar work ethic to marvel. He exemplifies the typical “team player” and will make an impact in the nation’s capital.  

Petr Mrazek (Detroit Red Wings) – With Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson ahead of him on the depth chart, Mrazek was re-assigned to Grand Rapids. Even with two NHL goaltenders ahead of him, Mrazek is the most talented of the three and is only an injury or two from an opportunity to steal the show.

Vladislav Namestnikov (Tampa Bay Lightning) – Paired alongside the above-mentioned Nikita Kucherov in preseason camp, Namestnikov showed great chemistry and some key injuries have provided the young Russian with an opportunity to make a bid for sticking longer with the big club.

Tanner Pearson (Los Angeles Kings) – Sure, everyone seems to know Tanner Pearson but what many people aren’t aware of is that this fleet of foot forward is still Calder eligible. After an impressive performance during the Kings’ Stanley Cup run, Pearson is slated to start the season alongside snipers Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli which will surely equate to points.

Chris Tierney (San Jose Sharks) – The captain of the London Knights last season, Tierney was an offensive machine during their playoff run and his two-way approach will ensure he finds a role in San Jose. The Sharks aren’t afraid of bringing on rookies quickly and Tierney is the type of player who the coach will lean on heavily in the future. 


Frontrunners for the McDavid Sweepstakes

No NHL front office in their right state-of-mind would admit to tanking for the services of potential franchise forwards Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. That’s not to say that teams around the league won’t be thinking about ways to improve their chances.

As the 2014-15 season unfolds and teams begin to find their places within the NHL standings, management will reassess their chances of making a playoff push and at that time, the potential of adding a McDavid or Eichel may just influence teams to become “sellers” at the trade deadline. Now, what NHL teams are the frontrunners for the McDavid sweepstakes? Here’s my best guess at the potential bottom five teams.

Carolina Hurricanes (30th)

The Hurricanes’ place in the Top 10 has been held for several years and I don’t believe the team did enough to improve their lineup to move up in the standings. Preseason injuries to Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner certainly won’t help an offence that isn’t overly potent. Add in a “meh” blueline and a mediocre (at best) goaltending duo of Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin and the Hurricanes could be leading the pack for Connor McDavid.

Buffalo Sabres (29th)

Impressive drafting and solid veteran signings to mentor their promising prospects are signs that the Buffalo Sabres are heading in the right direction but the team is still very young and their goaltending situation (Enroth/Neuvirth/Hackett) is relying too much on one of these youngsters to have a career year. The Sabres will be better but should remain a lottery team.

Calgary Flames (28th)

Like the Sabres, Calgary has done well adding some promising youth to their system but the rebuild takes time and bumps along the road are unavoidable. In a tough Western Conference, wins won’t be easy to come by so a losing record is inevitable. Their lack of a true scoring star and proven starting goaltender will all be guarantee that the Flames are among the pack chasing McJesus.

Florida Panthers (27th)

Roberto Luongo will surely help add wins and the roster is maturing slowly but too much of their success will rely on production from fresh-faced NHLers like Huberdeau, Barkov and Bjugstad. The Panthers are likely to remain near the bottom of the East for one more season before they begin their ascend up the standings.

Edmonton Oilers (26th)

Yep. The Oilers are here again and as much as I like their young talented offensive core of Eberle, RNH, Hall, Draisaitl, Yakupov, Nurse and Schultz, this team has had to hit the reset button on a rebuild that wasn’t expected to take this long and that has cost time. Edmonton should  be an exciting team and should take some big steps forward but the West won’t be easy on the Oil and it will reflect in the standings.



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