Division Preview: Forwards
Continuing with the week's divisional preview, a look at the forward crews of the other teams in the Atlantic Division.
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Loui Eriksson
Ryan Spooner - Chris Kelly - Carl Soderberg
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Jordan Caron
Extras: Justin Florek, Matt Fraser
The Bruins have arguably the second-strongest one-two punch on centre in the league. Bergeron is the greatest defensive forward of a generation (no offense to Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar), while Krejci is a strong scoring threat who would be the number-one centre on half the teams in the league. The right-wing positions on both top lines are the biggest top-six question marks: Smith has only 122 NHL regular season games under his belt, while Eriksson will be in tough to replace the goal-scoring ability of Jarome Iginla. The bottom six features three veterans (Paille, Campbell, and Kelly) playing with three fairly unfamiliar players, the effect of the cap-crunch the Bruins find themselves in. This is the least-experienced forward group the Bruins have iced in many years.
Tyler Ennis - Cody Hodgson - Chris Stewart
Matt Moulson - Sam Reinhart - Drew Stafford
Marcus Foligno - Zemgus Girgensons - Brian Gionta
Cody McCormick - Mikhail Grigorenko - Torrey Mitchell
Extras: Brian Flynn, Matt Ellis, Patrick Kaleta, Nicolas Deslauriers
There appears to be very little consensus as to where players will slot in Buffalo's starting line-up. Reinhart could be the second-line centre, or could be sent back to junior. Grigorenko could start in the AHL, or could take the second-line centre spot. Buffalo picked up three notable UFA forwards for different roles: Moulson to be a top-six forward, Gionta to play somewhere in the top-nine, and McCormick to be a depth forward. Overall, the Sabres are a rebuilding team, and their forward lineup reflects it, with a bunch of young developing players and some veterans who are expected to provide counsel more than scoring.
Detroit Red Wings
Henrik Zetterberg - Pavel Datsyuk - Gustav Nyquist
Johan Franzen - Stephen Weiss - Justin Abdelkader
Tomas Tatar - Riley Sheahan - Tomas Jurco
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Joakim Andersson
Extras: Daniel Cleary, Anthony Mantha, Luke Glendening
Wild card: Daniel Alfredsson
Datsyuk still possesses some of the most amazing individual skill in the NHL today, and paired with Zetterberg, the two form one of the most formidable forward pairs in the NHL. Injuries last year allowed Nyquist to be a call-up, who then scored 48 points in 57 games, showing that the team can ill-afford to send him down again. Youngsters (by Detroit standards) Tatar, Sheahan, Jurco, and Andersson will all be hoping to build on last season, when they impressed when spots opened up in an injury-depleted season. Age will be a factor, as Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Franzen, Cleary, and Alfredsson if he plays are all in the tail-ends of their careers. The team will be hoping that Stephen Weiss rebounds from a very disappointing 2013-14 campaign. The big question for the team is if Mantha will be able to make the squad out of training camp. The Red Wings' normal philosophy is to give players several years in the AHL before their NHL debuts, but he may be exactly what an aging Detroit team needs this season.
Jussi Jokinen - Aleksander Barkov - Brad Boyes
Jonathan Huberdeau - Dave Bolland - Scottie Upshall
Tomas Fleischmann - Nick Bjugstad - Sean Bergenheim
Tomas Kopecky - Brandon Pirri - Shawn Thornton
Extras: Jimmy Hayes, Derek Mackenzie
The Panthers bring in a very intriguing mix of forwards, since it is very hard to predict where each will slot. For example, one listing put Upshall on the top line, while another had him as the thirteenth forward. What is clear is that the line-up is similar to, but better than the Sabres'. There is some very promising young talent in Barkov and Huberdeau, and to a lesser extent, in Bjugstad and Pirri. There are some solid UFA additions in Jokinen and Bolland (though the latter is overpaid). Veteran secondary scoring can come from Boyes, Fleischmann, Kopecky, and Bergenheim. Though Thornton is not much of a contributor anymore, the fact that he was part of Florida's off-season splash means he will probably see spot-duty on the fourth line at the expense of players with more promise.
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Brendan Gallagher
Alex Galchenyuk - Tomas Plekanec - P.A. Parenteau
Rene Bourque - Lars Eller - Dale Weise
Michael Bournival - Manny Malhotra - Brandon Prust
Extras: Travis Moen, Jiri Sekac, Gabriel Dumont
The Canadiens have a top six with almost no questions, since five of the players have played in Montreal for at least two seasons. As for the last top-six player, the Canadiens somehow turned Daniel Briere into Parenteau and a pick in the off-season, which is a definite improvement. Montreal's third line also has potential, especially if Bourque has more hot streaks than cold ones. Malhotra is a face-off specialist who had atrocious advanced stats (41.6% Corsi for, worst among Carolina forwards) this past season, and playing with declining pugilist Prust will not help his cause. However, if the fourth line plays five minutes per night as this line-up would suggest, the Canadiens have one of the strongest forward groups in the division.
Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris - Bobby Ryan
Milan Michalek - Mika Zibanejad - Mark Stone
Mike Hoffman - David Legwand - Alex Chiasson
Colin Greening - Zack Smith - Chris Neil
Extras: Erik Condra, Derek Grant, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Curtis Lazar
After the first line, there are numerous question marks in the Senators' lineup. MacArthur-Turris-Ryan showed instant chemistry last season and quickly overtook the Jason Spezza line as Ottawa's top line. It remains to be seen whether 21-year-old Zibanejad or 34-year-old Legwand will assume Spezza's role of second-line centre, with the former having more upside, but the latter having far more experience. The wings on lines two and three remain unpredictable, as Michalek could join Legwand to form a veteran line, or could be the veteran presence on Zibanejad's line. Stone, Hoffman, Chiasson, and Condra will all look for spots on these lines, as well as AHL call-ups looking for their NHL chance. The fourth line was kept together for most of last season, though they were often deployed with the minutes of a second line. Most Sens fans would like to see Greening and Neil out of the equation, but Greening's high salary and Neil's history with the team likely guarantee them spots over more talented players for most of the season. Lazar is the most intriguing possibility for the Sens, as he will either play in the NHL or in the WHL, and many believe he has the talent to make the NHL this year.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Jonathan Drouin - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan
Alex Killorn - Valtteri Filppula - Ondrej Palat
Brett Connolly - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov
Brenden Morrow - Brian Boyle - J.T. Brown
Extras: Richard Panik, Jerome Samson
Any team with Stamkos is immediately a contender. If Drouin lives up to the rookie hype enough to stay on Stamkos' wing, he could be a runaway for the Calder Trophy. Most of the other names in the top nine could easily be moved around depending on streakiness, and most offer solid secondary scoring. As pointed out by Raw Charge, Boyle came to Tampa for a bigger role, and the fourth line hardly seems to fit. One option would be moving Boyle to third-line centre, and demoting Connolly. Morrow may become a healthy scratch, if Cooper is willing to bench a veteran for a better option. Overall, the Lightning's forward corps is young, but offensively talented.
Toronto Maple Leafs
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul - Nazem Kadri - David Clarkson
Leo Komarov - Petri Kontiola - David Booth
Daniel Winnik - Mike Santorelli - Matt Frattin
Extras: Peter Holland, Troy Brodie, Trevor Smith, Colton Orr (ha!), Frazer McLaren (haha!)
Wild card: William Nylander
It will be interesting to see the effect of the new analytics hirings in Toronto. This may lead to the Maple Leafs playing useful bodies instead of Orr and McLaren, and potentially trying Kadri as the top-line centre. Kessel is one of the greatest snipers in the game, and JVR, Lupul, Kadri, and possibly even Bozak should provide some offensive punch. Clarkson will be hoping to recover from a legendarily disastrous first season, even if he has no hope of living up to his contract. The third line is very interesting for the Leafs, as all three are over the age of 26, and Komarov and Kontiola have very little NHL experience. Booth has had a couple of forgettable recent seasons due to injuries and poor performance. The good news for the Leafs is that Santorelli and Frattin may be able to absorb bigger roles if needed.
Atlantic Division Rankings
Best: Boston Bruins. With all due respect to Montreal and Tampa Bay, it has to be Boston. Four of the top six won the Cup together, most of the prospects appear to be primed for strong careers, and Patrice Bergeron makes everybody around him better.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Montreal Canadiens
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Ottawa Senators
6. Toronto Maple Leafs
7. Florida Panthers
Worst: Buffalo. Nary a blue-chip prospect, several washed-up veterans, and even the mention of Patrick Kaleta as an option put this group a whole category below Florida.