Opening night of the NHL season is here and man is it great to have hockey back.
The season kicks off today with a triple header on ESPN including the Tampa Bay Lightning taking on the Nashville Predators, the debut of Connor Bedard, and the raising of the Stanley Cup Championship Banner for the Vegas Golden Knights.
As a hockey guy I will say I am super excited for this season to get started. First because while I am hopefully going to be able to cover the Philadelphia Flyers on a more consistent basis(check out @FlyersFanLife on Twitter) but also because I feel like this season is going to be very unpredictable and exciting.
This years draft class could end up being one of the best of all time after everything is said an done. Obviously highlighted by Connor Bedard, there are plenty of other guys worth talking about.
The hype around this kid has been going on for almost two years and as it should be. He is going to be electric and we’re going to be talking about him the way we talked about Crosby, Ovechkin, and McDavid. While the Blackhawks are projected to finish in the bottom five once again, Bedard alone is going to make them must watch TV. Pairing him with a veteran like Taylor Hall could end up with Hall scoring 40 goals. I don’t see him breaking Teemu Selanne record for most points by a rookie I can see him getting in the high 70s even the 80s in terms of points. When the Blackhawks are on TV you’re going to want to tune in.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are going to look to have a bounce back season after the disappointment of last year. Having taken Fantilli 3rd overall they are hoping he has a big role in their resurgence. While he may not be at the level of Bedard just yet, Fantilli knows how to find the back of the net. Scoring 30 goals for the University of Michigan last year he has the true potential to be an elite goal scorer at the next level. Playing with veterans like Johnny Gaudreau, Boone Jenner, and Patrik Laine, he should have no problem fitting in along those guys.
The third overall pick from the 2022 NHL draft for the Arizona Coyotes decided to not go back to the University of Minnesota and turned pro. Cooley has had a decent preseason and will look to continue that for the Coyotes who are looking for anything to get their fans excited. Cooley has great potential and we saw how silky smooth he can be with the puck during the preseason but can he play a complete game and be a regular in the Coyotes lineup this season? That remains to be seen.
A goaltender winning the Calder? In this economy?!? Well believe it or not Buffalo Sabres goaltender Devon Levi could give Bedard a run for his money when it comes to the NHL rookie of the year. Levi played in seven games last season and put up a 5-2–0 record with a .905 save percentage. In those seven games last year he didn’t look out of place at all. Buffalo is a young team looking to take that next step into making the playoffs and with Levi slated to get the bulk of the starts he could be a sneaky candidate for the Calder Trophy.
October 10th: Opening Night Triple Header on ESPN
October 29th: Heritage Classic- Calgary Flames vs Edmonton Oilers
November 16-19th: NHL Global Series in Sweden-
16th: Detroit Red Wings vs Ottawa Senators
17th: Detroit Red Wings vs Toronto Maple Leafs
18th: Ottawa Senators vs Minnesota Wild
19th: Minnesota Wild vs Toronto Maple Leafs
January 1st, 2024: NHL Winter Classic- Seattle Kraken vs Vegas Golden Knights
February 2-3: NHL All Star Weekend From Toronto
February 17th-18th: NHL Stadium Series(MetLife Stadium)
17th- Philadelphia Flyers vs New Jersey Devils
18th- New York Rangers vs New York Islanders
March 8th- NHL Trade Deadline
April 18th- Last Day of NHL Regular Season
April 22nd- Start of NHL Playoffs
Metropolitan: 1st-Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils
The metro division is going to be a tight race all season long. The top three teams from last year will all be battling for those top three spots again and the teams that just missed out will be coming to try and take one of those spots.
Carolina was great during the regular season last year and I expect them to have similar type of success this season. They added a few pieces to try and finally help them get over the hump. Frederik Anderson and Antti Raanta will be manning the net once again for them this season and it’ll be interesting to see if they can have the same success.
The New York Rangers have high expectations after falling short last season. The losses of Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko could have a big impact if they can’t replace their points. Hopefully, for them Blake Wheeler can put up more than his usual numbers and replace what they lost. Once againt though the Rangers will rely on their goaltending to lead the way. I still think they are a top three team in this division but I could see them taking a step back if they don’t get production out of Kakko and Lafreniere.
I’m going to start this by saying I’m a Devils hater so this is going to be biased but I will own it if I am wrong. I think the Devils were a fluke and I was hesitant to put them in the top three and honestly see them more as a wild card team. Their goaltending is not gonna have the same success that it did last year and I think last year they caught a lot of teams by surprise and that won’t happen this year. They brought in Timo Meier last year and he ended up being hurt most of the time and didn’t show his true potential with them. They also brought in Tyler Toffoli to help the offense to go along with Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. Their defense is what worries me as sure they have some decent players back their but I’m not fully sold on them. Yes, I have them finishing in the top three but I promise you I will say I told you so if they end up being not as good as expected.
Atlantic: Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators
The Toronto Maple Leafs could run away with this division similar to how the Bruins did last year. Maybe not record setting like Boston but I do think the Leafs will show out during the regular season. I am not going to say it’s the Leafs year because I’m pretty sure I did that last year and until I see them prove it during the playoffs I refuse to believe that they are ever going to win the Cup.
Florida is tricky, they could very well have had a fluke run and are dealing with some injuries to start the season so they could start slow. However, I do still think they are going to be at the top of this division by the end of the year. Mainly because I think Boston takes a step back and Tampa is gonna be without Vasilevskiy for the start of the season. They still have plenty of talent up front and their backend is still solid. When Spencer Knight comes back from the AHL they will have three solid goaltending options as well.
Yes, that’s right the Ottawa Senators. I am very high on this team this season. They are another year older and have brought in some guys that should help them get to the playoffs. Their forward group is solid and I think we are going to see Tim Stutzle breakout season this year. Shane Pinto is another guy I expect to have a great year. Add those young guys in with Brady Tkachuck, Claude Giroux, and Vladimir Tarasenko their offense could be explosive.
Wild Card Teams: Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning
Central: Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild
Dallas has all the tools needed to make a deep playoff run and they should have a very successful regular season. Their forward group should put up some great numbers and their defense is experienced and will be solid. We have already seen how great Jake Oettinger can be and I expect him to take another jump this year.
Colorado is Colorado and they will be in the hunt for the divsion crown once again. Injuries hurt them last year and Landeskog will once again miss the entire season but they are still a very dangerous team. With Makar, MacKinnon, and Rantanen this team will still be one of the best in the league.
The Minnesota Wild will once again be in the top three of this division. They are going to be a fun team to watch. Kirill Kaprizov is one of the most exciting players in the league and is going to light it up this year. Marco Rossi is another young and exciting player I am looking to see take that next step. Let’s not forget the emergence of Matt Boldy who should have another great showing. Their defense is a little inexperienced but I still expect them to be good enough. The goaltending duo of Fleury and Gustavsson should get the job done for them. This division is going to be tough but I still expect the Wild to be in the running for the top spot.
Pacific:Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights, Calgary Flames
The Edmonton Oilers might fuck around and win the Stanley Cup this year. Connor McDavid is the best player in the world and it really could be his year to finally get Edmonton to the promise land. Him and Draisaitl might combined for like 300 points. They have a decent top four on defense and their goaltending while not great should be good enough to give them a chance every night. I don’t see this team having many problems during the regular season it’s just a matter if they can carry that success over to the playoffs.
The defending Stanley Cup Champions the Vegas Golden Knights will be right back in the hunt to defend their title. Their roster is still stacked and we saw what could happen if one of their goaltenders gets hot. Adin Hill will get the bulk of the starts but let’s not forget how good Logan Thompson can be. Their defense is still strong with Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb, Alec Martinez, and Alex Pietrangelo. Their forward group is just as strong as it was last year and the only thing that can slow them down would be injuries. Vegas has a legit shot to repeat and don’t be shocked if they are right back in the Western Conference Finals this season.
After just missing out on the playoffs last season the Calgary Flames are going to be out to prove something this year. Jonathan Huberdeau is going to have a much better season in his 2nd year in Calgary and they seem to have all of the right pieces in place to make them a legit playoff team. While they may not dominate in the regular season, we are going to see flashes of how great they can be. This seems like a team that is built for playoff hockey and as long as they get in they are going to be dangerous. I see them competing for one of the top three spots in the division rather than the wild card spots. They are also one of my dark horses to win the cup.
Wild Card Teams: Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues
Stanley Cup: Carolina Hurricanes vs Edmonton Oilers
Stanley Cup Winner: Carolina Hurricanes
I have decided to hitch my wagon to the Carolina Hurricanes this year to win the Stanley Cup. They remind me of the Tampa Bay teams that were constantly getting so close but just couldn’t finish the job. This season they finish it. They have all the right pieces and as long as the goaltending holds up I don’t see many teams being able to beat them. Plus it’s impossible not to love and root for Rod the Bod. Great guy and a great coach I really just want to see him win the Cup again.
So there you have my NHL season preview, feel free to save this so we can all look back at the end of the year and see just how wrong I was. Either way, lets get ready to enjoy another great season of NHL hockey and make sure you toss me a follow on Twitter for all my NHL takes and coverage.
Follow me on Twitter @Keith_Walsh18