Search This Blog

Sunday, October 3, 2010

NHL Preview: Northwest Division Forwards

It's simple, really.  Jokinen plus Northwest Division equals oblivion.  Scared yet?  

Honestly, I have a weird thing with putting Jokinen into equations.  Maybe it's because I think Jokinen consistently defies conventional logic and reason.  And not in a good way.

Continuing on with those previews, which are going to bleed into being current-views, we take a look at the Northwest Division.

Vancouver Canucks
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - Mikael Samuelsson
Raffi Torres - Manny Malhotra - Jannik Hansen
Darcy Hordichuk - Rick Rypien - Victor Oreskovich

The Canucks, like the Sharks in the Pacific, have the making of a team that will stay at or near the top of their division for awhile.  The Sedins took a major leap last year in production, and there's little reason to think that they won't stick at least to a point-per-game pace.  The curious thing with them is that Henrik took the leap without Daniel, but the fact that their major production was together suggests they will continue.  The lines will be in flux early this year, as Burrows will miss roughly the first month of the season recovering from shoulder surgery.  Burrows has been a bit of a catalyst for the Sedins, taking care of the muck and pitching in some sniping to boot, so it will be interesting to see how his absence affects the team.  Nevertheless, this team boast two high-level lines (Raymond and Samuelsson are sneaky good) and one of the better shutdown 3rd lines in the league.  Expect them to succeed more often than not.

Colorado Avalanche
T.J. Galiardi - Paul Stastny - Milan Hejduk
Brandon Yip - Matt Duchene - Chris Stewart
Cody McLeod - Ryan O'Reilly - David Jones
Daniel Winnik - Philippe Dupuis - Kevin Porter

Last year, the Avalanche played above expectations, to say the least.  The trendy thing is to say they fall back to earth, but these forwards are a high upside bunch.  As they did last year, the Avs can simply play their guys on a set of lines established at the beginning of the season and move up the ones that perform better without missing a beat.  For example, Ryan O'Reilly came flying out of the gates in 2009, but fell off and out of minutes as Brandon Yip finished the hockey season strong.  In general, the lines will be hurt by the loss of Peter Mueller, who suffered a concussion and has no set date for return, but I think that the top two lines are strong enough to succeed without him.  Prediction: Matt Duchene will score as many, if not more, points than John Tavares this year.  When others are saying "fluke," I don't think you should sleep on this young, talented squad.

Calgary Flames
Alex Tanguay - Olli Jokinen - Jarome Iginla
Niklas Hagman - Mikael Backlund - Rene Bourque
Curtis Glencross - David Moss - Ales Kotalik
Raitis Ivanans - Craig Conroy - Tim Jackman

This group is a little bit of a mess because both Daymond Langkow and Matt Stajan are out indefinitely, but there's a certain redemption in the depth and experience of these forwards.  That being said, few of these players jump out at me, unlike the above two teams, as Iginla, Tanguay, and Jokinen have been declining for years (and played poorly together the last time), and nobody beyond them has point-per-game potential.  Niklas Hagman scored 27 goals once (that's a Matt Moulson cautionary tale if I've ever heard one).  The only guy I like of the bunch is Rene Bourque, a boomer with an equally booming slapshot.  Since coming to the Flames, they've unleashed the beast, giving him ample opportunity to cut loose a few bombs.  The result?  21 goals two years ago, 27 last year.  At 28 years old, his upside is limited, but 30 goals isn't out of the question should he continue to get PP time.  In general, this group could go either way...I'd bank on the blah.

Edmonton Oilers
Taylor Hall - Shawn Horcoff - Ales Hemsky
Dustin Penner - Sam Gagner - Jordan Eberle
Magnus Paajarvi - Andrew Cogliano - Gilbert Brule
Steve MacIntyre - Colin Fraser - Zack Stortini

Ladies and gentlemen, your poor man's Avalanche.  Like really poor.  In all seriousness, the Oilers can't get much worse than they were last year, and a slew of young players look to make that a reality.  This team is guaranteed to have growing pains, particularly on the defensive side of the puck, but mixed in there will be flashes of promise.  Hall needs to prove his pick, and he'll benefit from sharing a line with the ultra-talented Hemsky.  Penner was amazing last year, and though he won't duplicate those numbers he has the talent to stick in the 50-55 point range.  Eberle and Paajarvi are the "dark horses;" Eberle is coming off a 56-goal, 120-point campaign across 68 games in the WHL and AHL, and Paajarvi has paired 12 goals and 29 points in Sweden last year with a solid preseason.  Either one could see themselves bumped into more-prominent roles should anyone else falter.  This team is about 3 years away from the playoffs.

Minnesota Wild
Andrew Brunette - Mikko Koivu - Antti Miettinen
Guillaume Latendresse - Matt Cullen - Martin Havlat
Chuck Kobasew - John Madden - Cal Clutterbuck
Eric Nystrom - Kyle Brodziak - Brad Staubitz

Wha' happened?  After many years of being a team to look out for, the Wild fell off the deep end last season. Pledging a new system under Todd Richards, the Wild proceeded to not simply fail to reflect their historical defensive approach; they obliterated it.  Pair that with scoring the exact number of goals they had the previous year, and it becomes clear that they weren't really running a system at all.  This year, there's a sense that the team either needs to "buy in" to Richards' system, or Richards is going to have to pack his bags.  Let's hope that "system" involves defense somewhere.  The lines, to say the least, are a bit hairy (unlike Miettinen's 'stache), and Pierre-Marc Bouchard fits in the top two if he can recover from his concussion.  Havlat was not particularly effective, but if he can rebound, he'll join a nice crop of solid-if-unspectacular forwards, including the perennially underrated Brunette and Koivu, as well as upstart Latendresse (he of 25 goals in 55 games with the Wild last year).  I like the addition of John Madden, though age will soon be a factor in his game.  High-energy Clutterbuck needs to trade a few hits for pucks in the net to be truly effective, but he's one of the players you'd keep on your franchise.  I think I need to see more promise before I get too excited about this team.

The Northwest Division is defined by the unbelievable number of injuries to key players.  A few of these injuries will be healed over the season, but some will not, and that's unfortunate.  It really keeps us from getting a sense of the true talent here.  That being said, I'm on the fence on whether we'll see a team (outside of Vancouver) break out of this division.  

Northwest Division Forwards Ranking
1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Colorado Avalanche
3. Calgary Flames
4. Edmonton Oilers
5. Minnesota Wild

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.