The Bulls and Bears
As we are just 3 weeks out from the season start this will be a two part series surrounding players I'm bullish and bearish on for this season.
Part I. The 10 Bulls.
I am bullish on....
1. Connor McDavid (C, Edm). Duh, pretty easy right. But much like everything it's the context around it. When I say I'm bullish on Connor McDavid, I mean relative to draft position. Any list where he is outside the top 10 TOTAL is not giving this guy justice. Sure there is a sophomore slump, sure he's coming off the Hockey World Cup, but that only emboldens my view of him. He was a monster during that cup, making plays and moving among the best in the world. He averaged just over a point per game last year despite a nasty broken clavicle last year. Also - I'm a believer in Todd McLellan, I think he can turn this team around and put them in playoff contention.
2. P.K. Subban (D, Nash). He finished tied for 9th last year at 51 points. This was on a team with a clearly contentious atmosphere and also with a slow start to the year with just 1 goal between the start of the season and new years. He will see more time, more chances and better support in Nashville, he will finish as a top 5 defender in points this year.
3. Brad Marchand (C, Bos). Watching him with Sidney Crosby has been quite the sight in the World Cup has been something amazing. Sure he just got his big paycheck but his point totals have been on the increase each year and he looks about as comfortable in his shoes as he ever has. Add in the infusion of young talent (Joe Morrow, Frank Vatrano, Colin Miller) and this team could have some fresh faces making names for themselves and eating up opposing shut down lines. Finally, the addition of David Backes to that top line adds another grinder giving Brad more time to score.
4. Chris Kreider (LW, NYR). After two years of working his way up to one of the stars, he is now poised to play first line minutes on both 5vs5 and power play. This will allow his previous high of 43 points to shoot up to the mid to high 50's. He is a BC alumni and more often then not they end up being influential players in the NHL. Look for his Power Play Points to make the biggest jump (just 8 last year).
5. Sam Bennett (C, Cgy). I will not hide my general bullish notions on the raw talent that Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart possess. Bennet notched 36 points last year at a flat 18 goals and 18 assists. He did so heading up the second line on a Flames team who underperformed in much the manner that they outperformed their 2015-2015 season. Sam isn't the biggest or most physical presence on the ice but he has a natural goal scoring ability that will continue to increase. Look for him to eclipse 50 points this year. If he launched out of the gate strong, I wouldn't be surprised if they pair up Johnny Gaudreau and Sam on a few Power Play units throughout the season.
6. Zach Parise (C, Min). I will preface this with the fact that I am, in general, bullish on the Wild as a whole to do very well next season. There is an off chance that much like the Penguins, it takes time to develop but they did such a good job of building up the team in the offseason (Additions of Eric Staal and Bruce Boudreau) making solid moves but not too many. I think Zach will enjoy playing with Staal on that top line (not that Mikko is bad, it just adds depth here).
7. Pavel Zacha (C, NJD). I mentioned this in my previous articles but will reiterate, if I am picking one late sleeping rookie (once the obvious names like Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine are gone), I'm going with Pavel Zacha. He has the size, the on ice vision and the mental preparedness to jump out of the gates scoring.
8. Andre Burakovsky (LW, Wash). He had some struggles last season but I think a spacing out of the lines could be very beneficial for all parties here. If he lands on the second line with Nicklas Backstrom I think he can score 50 points this season and add a very difficult choice for opposing coaches on who to concentrate shutting down, the top line with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuzentsov and T.J. Oshie or the second line with Andrew Burakovsky, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson.
9. Alex Pietrangelo (D, Stl). Just 37 points last year after a great 2014-2015 season where he saw 46 points. The knee injury he suffered in the second half set him back a bit and he saw slowed production on scoring on just 3.8% of shots. That should come up a full percent or two and he'll find his way closer to 50 this year. He's currently slotted on the second power play line but should see a healthy amount with the first unit as the season progresses.
10. Mikkel Boedker (LW, SJS). I'm a fan of his ability to score but I'm not a fan of his playing style or natural abilities (he can score but he often finds a some luck with his circumstances and shots). I am, however, a fan of his situation, going from Arizona to Colorado, he averaged a point per game to finish off last season. Now he finds himself on an offensively rich San Jose team where he will either be paired up with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski OR Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi, that's a win win for him compared to Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata. He will top 50 points with the Sharks this year.
Up later will be the Bears....
Until next time, Prost!