I did this last year so I figured why not do it again. Last year I discussed why each of the 7 Canadian teams in the NHL had a reason to be optimistic… all 7 teams proceeded to miss the playoffs. Despite that, it’s a new year and there are new reasons for hope. The silver lining is that The Canadian teams are already very young and happened to miss the playoffs in an unbelievably deep draft year. This means a huge influx of ultra-talented players. So without further ado, let’s revisit the 7 teams and see why NHL hockey in Canada has a very bright future. Once again let’s go from East to West.
After a stretch of a very competitive hockey over the past few years that have resulted in some deep playoff runs, things fell of the rails for Montreal last season. After a record start to the season, All-World goalie, Carey Price went down for the year and a wave of other injuries to key players followed suit. In short, the season was a disaster. Despite this Montreal has a bright present and future. Carey Price is healthy and you could plop him on any team in the NHL and if he plays up to his abilities he can at least take them to playoffs. In addition to his return Montreal has made some major upgrades and this should without a doubt be the best top six group of forwards they’ve had during the Price era. Galchenyuk has broken out and continues to look more and more like a true first line center. Gallagher, Pacrioretty and Plekanec are all very reliable in their roles and you know what you’re getting from them. In addition to those four, Montreal has brought in Andrew Shaw and Alexander Radulov. Shaw’s feistiness, scoring touch, and playoff experience will all be huge assets. Radulov brings with him elite level talent and scoring that Montreal has been lacking. He has looked amazing in the pre-season with highlight after highlight and already displaying strong chemistry with his new teammates. Defense is a large talking point as well. Bergevin took a risk swapping PK Subban for Shea Webber. Time will tell how that works out long term, but for now Shea Weber is one of the absolute best defenseman in the game and a huge asset for Montreal. He may be part of a great top pairing as Nathan Beaulieu has continued to improve and seems ready to seize his role on the top pairing. Then there’s Mikeal Sergachev. He’ll at least get his 9 game tryout and if he’s good enough he may never go back to the OHL. Sergachev is a huge talent with a Norris trophy ceiling. With a healthy Price and a more complete roster than in the past the Habs are set for success.
The Senators took a step back last year, but this is still a young talented team. All the significant forwards on the team are still in their 20s and many such as Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, and Mike Hoffman have plenty of room to grow. The Senators added some stability at the center position by adding Derrick Brassard. Even with the upgrade at center, they’re only going to get better in the future. Logan Brown could be a huge steal with the 11th pick. He’s big and skilled and some predicted he’d even go in the top 5 or 6 of the draft. They may not have the star power of some teams, but this is a strong top 6 who are young and skilled enough to have a nice sized window to succeed together. In goal Ottawa has a strong tandem. Craig Anderson is an experienced veteran who is still a solid net minder. Everyone remembers the almost impossible to believe run Hammond took the Senators on two seasons ago. He lost a lot of last season due to injury, but he’s healthy again and if he can even play at even half that level the Senators are set. This could be a tandem in which the hot hand gets the starts and that’s just fine, between these two options goaltending shouldn’t be an issue. The Senators have a very strong group on offense, but boast an absolute superstar on defense in Erik Karlsson. Karlsson finished second for the Norris trophy last season, but make no mistake, he is the best there is. He finished first in the entire league in assists and fourth in points. There is simply no one else in the league like him and his ability to create offense and bend the game to his will gives the Senators something no one else has. Solid goaltending, a young strong group of forwards and all-world Karlsson will make the Sens a competitive team and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be right back in the playoffs.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto has had a tough run of things for a long time now. One playoff appearance since 2004 and the never ending commentary and jokes about how long it’s been since the city has won the cup. Things are about to change. Auston Matthews and company are going to make sure the city of Toronto has a short memory. Toronto has the best and deepest prospect pool in all of hockey. They may be a little too young to really compete this year, but it’ll happen soon and when it does it will be scary for everyone. With arguably the best coach in hockey at the helm, the Leafs are a few years away from being a power house. Matthews looked unbelievable at the World Cup. Everyone knew he was a special prospect, but I don’t think anyone expected him to look so poised and lethal up against the best players in the world. He no doubt speeds up what initially looked like a long rebuild. Then there’s Mitch Marner who looked like a man amongst boys in the OHL last year and William Nylander who was phenomenal in the AHL last year and showed big time promise in his NHL call up. With their pool of highly talented prospects and already established young players (see Morgan Rielly and Nazim Kadri) Toronto will be good for a very long time. The Leafs have been searching for a true number one goalie for a while now and feel they have finally found one in Fredick Andersen. He is young and the sample size is small, but he has been terrific and if he can keep that up the Leafs will be set with an explosive offense and stability in goal. Unlike some of the other Canadian teams, they may be in for another year without the playoffs, but it won’t be bitter like it was in the past. This team will clearly get better and even if they don’t make the playoffs this year they will be a very fun group to watch.
If Toronto has the best prospect pool in hockey, Winnipeg is as close as it gets. Not only do the Jets have a stacked pool of prospects, but the talent they already have at the NHL level is very strong. It never felt fair that Winnipeg lost their team and now that it’s back the support and appreciation the fans have shown is going to pay off big time. After missing the playoffs last year, expect this team to be competitive for years to come. Patrick Laine was an absolute gem with the second overall pick and would have gone first overall in most other draft years. He’s NHL ready right now and has the potential to be one of the best offensive players in the league for years. After 22 year old Mark Schieffle broke out last season Jets fans should be salivating to see what kind of magic their young star can create with Laine. Add in other talented young players like Ehlers and Trouba, plus high-level veterans Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien and you’ve got yourself a special group of players. One thing that makes Winnipeg unique is that they are very strong on forward and defense when it comes to both veterans and young players. It’s tough to be competitive without experienced players so this combination should make Winnipeg strong right now and for a long time. Last year was an anomaly and Winnipeg can be right back in the playoffs this season and Stanley Cup challengers within a few years. The Jets are set up for long term success. Last season was a small bump on the road to bigger and better things.
This year is going to be different. How many times have Oilers fans and hockey fans in general uttered those words only to see the Oilers spend another season at the bottom of the standings? Well this year it really should be for real. Whether you didn’t like the moves the Oilers made this offseason, still feel they’re too young or felt like management didn’t do enough, the fact is the Oilers are going to be a much, much better team this year. Out goes Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov, in comes Milan Lucic, Adam Larsson and Kris Russell. Yakupov’s contribution as an Oiler won’t be missed and is easily replaceable. They do lose a big weapon in Hall, but they are so stacked offensively it won’t matter much. Larsson is a steady top line defender who can play well over 20 minutes a night and calm down the game. Russell is also a very solid NHL defenseman who is an instant upgrade. This will be the best group of defesnman this era of the Oilers have ever had and that has always been their weak spot. In Lucic, the Oilers grab one of the most unique players in the NHL. His combination of size, physicality and 50-60 points are extremely rare. Then there’s Connor McDavid, some are already hailing him as the best player in the world. That crown still belongs to Crosby, but McDavid may snatch it awful quick. He looked absolutely dominant against NHL verterans as an 18 year old last season. This year he’s fully healthy and should have an insane season, his talent level is off the charts and he can flat out do things no other player in the world can. Add in other young offensive weapons Jordan Eberle, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and you’ve got a team who has the ability to be very good right now and for the next decade plus. Most teams this young wouldn’t be good for a while, but Edmonton has such uniquely talented young players.
The Flames are another team that made the playoffs two seasons ago, but failed to do so last year. One major reason? Goaltending. Last season the Flames were just brutal in net and you can’t be expected to make the playoffs when your goalie’s combine for a 2.94 goals against average and a .898 save percentage. That will change this year. The Flames have acquired Brian Elliot. Elliot is very experienced and was a top 10 goalie in the league last season. He’s not generally thought of as an elite, but check out his 2.07 goals against average and .930 save percentage. He’s very good. Elliot joins a team that like many of the other Canadian teams are very young and very talented. Johny Gaudreau was great as a rookie, but special last season. 30 goals and 78 points have established him as not just very good, but elite and the Flames just made sure to go out and lock him up long term. Add in 22 year old Sean Monahan who has also been great as Johny Hockey’s line mate and you have a very exciting top group. Sam Bennett was solid as a teenager last season and showed flashes of brilliance, he’ll look to build on that and be part of an amazing one two punch up the middle with Monahan. The Flames also lucked out grabbing Mathew Tkachuk with the 6th overall pick. He’s a very talented player and one that could be ready to have a strong NHL impact sooner rather than later. The Flames were in need of another top 6 winger and they drafted a guy many didn’t think wouldbe available at 6th overall. Calgary is good on offense, but their depth really shines on defense. Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton make up part of what could be one of the best D cores in the league if they play up to their ability. Just like some of the other Canadian teams, missing the playoffs last year should be an outlier for the Flames.
Vancouver is the oldest of the Canadian teams, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have reason to be optimistic too. They’re not winning Hart trophies and scoring titles anymore, but the Sedin’s are far from finished. Louis Eriksson is a big addition to this team and already looked great with the twins during the World Cup. This is a line any team in the NHL should be scared to go up against. They may not be the deepest when it comes to young talent, but the Canucks have some legitimate pieces. After a promising rookie season, Bo Horvat has continued to improve and up his offensive abilities. On the defensive side the puck Edler is still a reliable defender and the Canucks made a nice off season trade to acquire the under appreciated Erik Gudbransson. He has not lived up to the hype of going third overall but he is still only 24 years old. Defeseman take longer to develop and some are barely starting their careers at the age Gudbransson is now. His stay at home style can bring stability in front of the tandem of Ryan Miller and Jackob Markstrom. Miller is not what he once was, but the talent is there and a resurgent season would be huge for Vancouver. If that doesn’t happen Markstrom showed last season why he was such a sought after prospect and could be ready to be a true number 1 goalie. Lastly, it may not help this season as he was just sent back down to junior, but Joli Julevi is an absolute stud prospect. In a draft loaded with huge talent on defense the Canucks got their pick of the litter. All signs point to Julevi being a slam-dunk to be a number one D at the NHL level and it looks like the Canucks have their cornerstone. He is so talented and such a strong decision maker that many have said his game adapts to the NHL better than any defenseman in this draft. The Canucks window of being competitive isn’t over yet and if they can continue to make strong trades and draft players like Julevi they can follow the youth trend that is going around Canadian hockey right now.