With NHL training camps opening up this week across the NHL, there is a lot of anticipation for October following what was an exciting off-season. Whether it be big names players moving to different teams or an up-and-coming team looking to make that next step, there will be plenty of compelling storylines to follow throughout the year. Here is Inside the Rink’s 2022-23 NHL season preview.
After being one of the busiest sellers at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, the Ducks are looking to the future and building out one of the best young cores in the NHL. The cover boy of EA Sports NHL 23 and Calder Trophy runner-up Trevor Zegras wrapped up a successful first season, scoring 61 points in 74 games, and is looking to take another step this season as the Ducks’ first line center. Behind Zegras, the Ducks have fellow young stars in Troy Terry and Jamie Drysdale, who both had breakout seasons in 2021-22. Newly appointed General Manager Pat Verbeek also added to the roster during free agency, signing Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano, and John Klingberg and trading for Dmitri Kulikov to surround the young nucleus in Anaheim.
While the Ducks will have a tall task of overtaking the likes of Los Angeles or Edmonton for a playoff position in the Pacific, Verbeek has given the Ducks every opportunity to be competitive while potentially having two of the biggest names in the defense market at the trade deadline. There is also excitement surrounding a full season of 2022 Canadian World Junior hero Mason McTavish, who showed well in his nine-game stint with the Ducks last season but is poised for a big rookie campaign.
When the Flames lost Johnny Gaudreau to Columbus, it looked like the Calgary Flames may take a step back this upcoming season. But over a week later, the Flames traded star forward Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers and, in return, changed their fate for the upcoming season.
The return to Calgary is headlined by 115-point scorer Jonathan Huberdeau and star defenseman Mackenzie Weegar. Huberdeau quickly agreed to an eight-year, $84 million contract extension starting 2023-24. The Flames also added center Kevin Rooney who will likely anchor the fourth line and one of the most highly sought-after free agents in Nazem Kadri. The 31-year-old centerman signed a seven-year, $49 million contract, making him the highest-paid player in Calgary this season. With the addition of Weegar, Calgary has arguably the deepest defensive core in the NHL. Adding to the core of Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, Noah Hanifin, and Jakob Markstrom, The Flames have positioned themselves right back at the top of the Pacific Division with hopes of making a deep run for the Stanley Cup.
Coming off of a successful 2021-22 regular season and a Western Conference Final appearance, the Edmonton Oilers are looking to establish themselves as perennial Stanley Cup Contenders. In years past, the Edmonton Oilers solely relied on the performances of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but this year was different. Zach Hyman and Evander Kane allowed head coach Jay Woodcroft to split up McDavid and Draisaitl and have more scoring depth.
While Edmonton’s offense speaks for itself, goaltending was a big question heading into free agency after the news of Mike Smith being unlikely to play again in the NHL. Within the first ten minutes of the free agency period opening, the Oilers came to terms with one of the best goalies on the market, Jack Campbell. The 30-year-old netminder had an up-and-down season in Toronto and will be considered “the guy” in Edmonton. The Oilers also added players Mattias Janmark and Ryan Murray, who will fill out the bottom of the Oilers’ lineup. If the Oilers can find stability in goal and with MVP performances from McDavid and Draisaitl, they could be the team that comes out of the Western Conference.
Los Angeles Kings
One of the more pleasant surprises of the 2021-22 season, the Los Angeles Kings are reaping the benefits of a strong prospect pool and are looking to take that next step toward becoming a perennial playoff contender.
If there was one thing the Kings needed to address this offseason, and rather than signing a big-name free agent, General Manager Rob Blake looked to the trade market and acquired star-forward, Kevin Fiala. The 26-year-old posted career highs with the Minnesota Wild last season, scoring 33 goals and 52 assists. While injury ravaged the Kings’ blueline last season, losing core players Drew Doughty and Sean Walker for long stretches, young defender Sean Durzi took a big step forward. He proved himself as a potential top-four offensive defenseman. While Anze Kopitar, Phillip Danault, and Adrian Kempe are still leading the way offensively, the young future core of Quinton Byfield, Gabe Vilardi, and Arthur Kaliyev are well on their way to eventually carrying the torch. With more growth from within and a bounce-back season for Cal Peterson, look for the Kings to make some noise in 2022-23.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks have been busy this summer from the organization’s top to bottom. After nearly 20 seasons, Doug Wilson stepped down as General Manager after health concerns led the Sharks to hire former NHLer, Mike Grier.
Grier immediately made a splash by trading star defenseman Brent Burns to the Carolina Hurricanes to alleviate a tight cap situation. The Sharks added forwards Oskar Lindblom and Nico Strum in free agency to provide depth behind the likes of Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier. Defensemen Markus Nutivaara and Matt Benning should bring stability to San Jose’s bottom pair and give the Sharks’ defensive prospects more time to develop. If the goaltending duo of Kaapo Kakkonen and James Reimer can provide reliable goaltending, Timo Meier can repeat his 2021-22 campaign, and 2021 first-rounder William Eklund can make the NHL for an entire season, the Sharks could catch teams off guard. New head coach David Quinn will have a tall task of keeping the Sharks in contention with the rest of the Pacific division.
While they didn’t make as much noise out of the gate as their division rival and fellow expansion franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, there’s still plenty to be excited about in Seattle. The Kraken selected Matty Beniers second overall in 2021, and he looks like the real deal. After a successful season at the University of Michigan and a short NHL stint at the end of last season, Beniers looks like an early favorite for the Calder Trophy.
Using their abundance of cap space, Seattle could add to their roster without giving up significant future assets. The Kraken signed Andre Burakovsky, Justin Schultz, and Martin Jones during free agency. Fresh off of a Stanley Cup run with the Colorado Avalanche, Burakovsky will be heavily relied upon to provide offense after scoring 22 goals and 61 points in the regular season. One of the most underrated moves of the entire NHL offseason was Seattle acquiring Oliver Bjorkstrand from Columbus for a third and fourth-round pick in the 2023 NHL draft. Bjorkstrand is an established top-six in the NHL who can score 25-30 goals a year and is still only 27 years old. While Seattle may not quite be contending for a playoff spot this coming season, with an improved roster and hopefully a bounce-back season from Philipp Grubauer, the Kraken will be competitive.
Once Bruce Boudreau was brought in after a tumultuous start to the 2021-22 campaign, the Canucks were one of the best teams in the NHL, going 32-15-10 and only falling five points out of the playoffs. By the offseason the Canucks have had, they are looking to immediately compete for a playoff spot. In free agency, the Canucks brought in Ilya Mikheyev and Curtis Lazar on multi-year contracts, both of who will provide value to the Canucks penalty kill, which struggled at points last season. The Canucks also brought in KHL star Andrei Kuzmenko, who could provide a high level of offense at a relatively low cap hit. After non-stop trade rumors over the past season surrounding J.T. Miller, the Canucks committed to the 29-year-old for seven more seasons starting in 2023-24. Last season, Miller was the Canucks go-to guy for offense, scoring 32 goals and 67 assists.
While the Canucks defense looks like the team’s weak point on paper, Quinn Hughes is a star in the NHL and has developed his game defensively. Elias Petterson and Brock Boeser began to find their game under Boudreau and are poised to break out. With last season’s performance, Thatcher Demko may be the best goalie in the Pacific division. Playoffs should be the goal in 2023 for the Canucks, but if things go south, trade questions will start circling captain Bo Horvat, who is currently on an expiring contract.
Vegas Golden Knights
In the five years the Vegas Golden Knights have been in the NHL, they have stayed true to the city’s nature and been “All In.” Last November, the Golden Knights acquired star center Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres, who was injured and needed surgery. The team had been ravaged by injury upon making his Golden Knights debut, and Eichel’s return wasn’t enough to make a late run into the playoffs.
Heading into the 2022-23 season, the Golden Knights have a new voice behind the bench in Bruce Cassidy after moving on from Peter DeBoer. Cassidy will bring some defensive stability to a team with a lot of potential on the backend, with Shea Theodore, Alex Pietrangelo, and Nic Hague, the ladder who remain unsigned as of today. Up front saw a lot of change as the Golden Knights traded Max Pacioretty and Evgenii Dadonov to become cap compliant. Late in the summer, the Golden Knights signed veteran forward Phil Kessel to provide offense in the bottom six, which was the team’s biggest need.
The two questions facing the Golden Knights are can Mark Stone stay healthy? When healthy, Stone is one of the best all-around forwards in the NHL, capable of scoring 30-plus goals. And who is the starting goalie? Once it was announced Robin Lehner would miss the entire 2022-23 season, the Golden Knights acquired Adin Hill from San Jose to compete with Laurent Brossoit and Logan Thompson. The Knights will again be a playoff contender if any of those three can provide consistent goaltending across an entire season.
While there still is uncertainty on where the Coyotes will play after their deal with Arizona State University, the on-ice plan is taking form.
The Coyotes are weaponizing their cap space by taking on players from contenders who need cap flexibility in exchange for draft capital. At the draft, the Coyotes acquired Zack Kassian and a second and third-round pick from the Edmonton Oilers. While most of the attention is on the future with prospects like Dylan Guenther, Logan Cooley, and Conor Geekie, there are still young pieces on the Coyotes roster. Nick Schmaltz and Clayton Keller had breakout seasons; the ladder suffered a fracture in his leg and missed the remainder of the season.
Barrett Hayton and Lawson Crouse will likely play prominent roles in the top six and have the opportunity to develop their games in an increased role. The Coyotes will likely be in the mix for Connor Bedard next June but could have even more draft capital if they decide to move on from star defenseman Jakob Chychrun.
Turning back the calendar one year from now, the Blackhawks were making moves that a playoff contender would make. Today, Chicago finds itself facing the start of a lengthy rebuild. General Manager Kyle Davidson wasted no time beginning to acquire futures for roster players. Ahead of the draft, Chicago traded Alex Debrincat to Ottawa for a package highlighted by the pick that would become Kevin Korchinski. At the draft, Chicago acquired pick 13 in exchange for struggling young forward Kirby Dach.
Chicago approached free agency as a way to acquire draft picks at the trade deadline, signing Andreas Athanasiou and Max Domi to identical one-year contracts. Both will play in the top six and have plenty of opportunities to showcase themselves to contenders. The question facing Chicago is, what happens with Toews and Kane? Both faces of the franchise are on expiring contracts. Do they want to commit to being a part of a rebuild for the rest of their career, or do they want to chase another Stanley Cup? Both players would generate plenty of interest by the trade deadline and could provide Chicago with the assets to accelerate their rebuild.
The Stanley Cup Champions are still poised to potentially repeat, even after a summer of loss. After big seasons for Andre Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, and Darcy Kuemper, the Avalanche couldn’t afford to keep them. The Avalanche committed long-term to Valeri Nichushkin and Artturi Lehkonen and re-upped Darren Helm and Andrew Cogliano on one-year deals.
In need of a starting goalie, the Avalanche took a gamble on Alexander Georgiev, trading for the 26-year-old and signing him to a three-year extension. While in a sheltered role behind Igor Shesterkin, Georgiev struggled last season, finishing with a sub-.900 save percentage.
To help fill the hole left in Nazem Kadri’s departure, the Avs signed Evan Rodrigues for one year as someone who can play anywhere in the lineup. 2019 first-round picks Bowen Byram, and Alex Newhook will play significant roles and potential breakout candidates. As long as the core of Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, and Devon Toews are healthy and perform to expectations, they should be the favorites for the Stanley Cup.
After losing to the Calgary Flames in overtime of game seven in the first round this past May, the Stars made a change behind the bench and brought in Peter DeBoer with intentions of making a deep run this Spring. While the Stars lost veteran players John Klingberg, Alexander Radulov, and Braden Holtby this summer, the Stars have one of the best young cores in the NHL. The group of Miro Heiskanen, Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, and Jake Oettinger led the way last season.
The line of Robertson-Hintz-Pavelski was arguably a top-three line last season and generated a large part of Dallas’s offense. To provide more scoring depth from the back end and upfront, the Stars also signed Colin Miller and Mason Marchment during free agency. To potentially replace the role of Klingberg, Dallas made a splash by acquiring 22-year-old offensive defenseman Nils Lundvist from the Rangers. The question is can DeBoer take the Stars from a bubble playoff team into a contender? It will be a long road out of the gate if the Stars cannot sign star forward Jason Robertson to a new deal before the regular season begins.
Bill Guerin shocked the hockey world last summer when he bought the matching contracts of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, ultimately leaving the Wild with a lot of dead money on the books for years to come. This summer, the Wild had to move on from Kevin Fiala and Cam Talbot due to salary cap restraints and will be looking within to make up for those losses.
After starting the year on the mend, rookie Matt Boldy butted onto the scene and scored at a near point-per-game pace the rest of the season and will look to build off that starting October. Franchise forward Kirill Kaprizov had an MVP-caliber season in 2021-22 and will be looking to top his 47-goal campaign.
On the backend, veterans Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin will carry the load as two of the best shutdown defensemen in the league. 37-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury will be relied on to be the starter for the Wild and performed well at points last season. If Kaprizov can continue his trajectory this season, the Wild will be a team to watch out for next May.
The Predators made a splash this summer by acquiring two-time Stanley Cup champion Ryan McDonagh and signing Nino Niederreiter in free agency. After being swept by the eventual champions in round one last May, the Predators look like a top team in the Central Divison. That all starts with Vezina candidate and Norris Trophy runner-up Juuse Saros and Roman Josi.
Saros has taken the torch from former Predator Pekka Rinne and has been one of the league’s best goaltenders for the past two seasons. Josi put up one of the best offensive performances by a defenseman in recent memory, scoring 23 goals and 96 points. Top forward Filip Forsberg scored 42 goals in only 69 games and is a real threat to score 50 this season. If the Predators can get similar performances from Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen last season, they could be right up with Colorado at the top of the Central Division.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues felt the effects of a flat salary cap, losing key players David Perron, Ville Husso, and Tyler Bozak this off-season, and were unable to replace them externally. The Blues looked to the future, locking up young stars Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou to identical eight-year extensions that kick in next summer. The Blues brought in depth at forward and in goal during free agency, signing Noel Acciari and Thomas Greiss to one-year contracts.
The Blues took a gamble and traded Ville Husso’s rights to Detroit and will be relying on Jordan Binnington to play most nights after an up and down 2021-22 season. Veteran forwards Ryan O’Reilly, Pavel Buchnevich, and Vladimir Tarasenko will be relied heavily upon to provide scoring behind Thomas and Kyrou. On the backend, Torey Krug, Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, and the 2021 trade deadline acquisition Nick Leddy will be relied on to carry the load defensively. If Binnington can repeat his 2022 playoffs for an entire season, the Blues will be in contention for a playoff spot in the West.
With high hopes heading into the 2021-22 season, the Jets now find themselves in turmoil a year later. To shake up the locker room, new head coach Rick Bowness decided to strip Blake Wheeler of the captaincy and instead have a trio of assistants. Center Pierre-Luc Dubois has been rumored to want out of Winnipeg for the past six months and has brought more questions to the team’s direction.
The Jets still have plenty of offensive firepower in their top six, with Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Mark Scheifele all capable of scoring 30 or more goals. 20-year-old Cole Perfetti will play a significant role in Winnipeg and has shown elite production at the OHL level. Long-time starter Connor Hellebuyck is a workhorse, averaging 65 starts his past three full seasons, and is among the league’s best.
The real questions start with the rest of the lineup. The Jets signed Sam Gagner to a one-year deal, who is a solid fourth-line penalty killer but doesn’t move the needle. On the back end, they have established top-four options in Neal Pionk, Josh Morrissey, and Nate Schmidt, but none are top-pairing caliber. Without significant additions to the roster, it looks as if the Jets will be a long shot to make the playoffs in the West.
This season has every feeling of a “last dance” for the Boston Bruins. While the B’s have been a perennial playoff contender over the past decade, the core is aging. Patrice Bergeron took nearly a month into free agency to decide his future. While still among the league’s best wingers, Brad Marchand will miss the first month of the regular season recovering from double hip surgery. The Bruins also brought back 36-year-old David Krejci on a one-year contract after spending 2021-22 in Czechia.
There are still building blocks on the roster that are under 30. David Pastrnak is among the best snipers in the NHL and will command top dollar once his contract expires in 2023. Charlie McAvoy will also miss the beginning season due to injury but is a true Norris-caliber defenseman. His defensive partner, Hampus Lindholm, was brought in at the trade deadline and fit well in his short time in Boston. Jeremy Swayman was one of the best rookie goalies in the NHL last season.
With Detroit and Ottawa making big moves this off-season and the Bruins dealing with significant injuries at the start, the Bruins will need big performances from Patrice Bergeron, Taylor Hall, and David Pastrnak to stay afloat in the competitive Atlantic Division.
The 2021-22 season changed the Sabres for the better once disgruntled forward Jack Eichel was traded. There was a new sense of unity and support behind the team, which led to a better on-ice product. Forward Tage Thompson was a success story for the Sabres, scoring 38 goals and 30 assists after switching to center. Newcomer Alex Tuch was a leader on and off the ice and produced at a high rate on Thompson’s wing. 2018 first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin began to put together an entire season showing his full potential as an offensive number one defenseman.
The Sabres are still looking to the future as they left roster spots open for young players such as Dylan Cozens, Jack Quinn, and Casey Mittelstadt to take a step forward. 2021 first overall pick will be in contention for the Calder Trophy this season as he showed plenty of upside during his short stint at the end of last season. With the additions of Ilya Lyubushkin and Eric Comrie in free agency, the Sabres will be looking to play meaningful games in 2023.
Detroit Red Wings
After one of the busiest free agency periods in the entire NHL, the Red Wings are looking to take that next step in their rebuild. Steve Yzerman opened up the checkbook and went out and addressed needs in every part of the Red Wings lineup. After a breakout season, Andrew Copp signed a five-year contract and will slot in behind Dylan Larkin. Up front, David Perron and Dominik Kubalik were also signed and will provide scoring behind the Red Wings’ top line, which was an issue last season. The top line of Tyler Bertuzzi-Dylan Larkin-Lucas Raymond was one of the top producing lines in the first half of last season. The Red Wings were also without Jakub Vrana for most of last season. Appearing in only 37 games since being acquired by Detroit, Vrana has scored at a ridiculous rate, posting 21 goals and 30 points. Looking to be fully healthy next season, Vrana could be a potential 30-plus scorer that Detroit needs.
On the blueline, Calder Trophy winner Moritz Seider will have more support than last season as Detroit signed veteran defensemen Ben Chiarot and Olli Maatta in free agency. The Red Wings will have a young tandem in goal with a lot of upside with Ville Husso and Alex Nedeljkovic, which could be one of the best in the NHL. Derek Lalonde will have a tall task of bringing this young team back to the postseason. Still, if young players Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond, Filip Zadina, and Filip Hronek can take another step and Simon Edvinsson can make an immediate impact, the Red Wings could compete for a playoff spot in April.
The 2021-22 President’s Trophy winners made a big splash this off-season, moving in from Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar in exchange for Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk, 24, is coming off a career season, scoring 42 goals and 62 assists, and will likely play with Aleksander Barkov, who is viewed as a top-five center in the NHL. It was unlikely that the Panthers could afford both Huberdeau and Weegar on their subsequent contracts, so they decided to make a move for now and the future.
Forwards Sam Reinhart, Carter Verhaeghe, and Anton Lundell will be looking to provide secondary scoring behind the top line. Aaron Ekblad is a number one defenseman and scored at nearly a point-per-game pace last season. If the depth signings of Collin White, Rudolfs Balcers, and Marc Staal perform well and the tandem of Bobrovsky and Knight play to their potential, the Panthers will be near the top of the Eastern Conference.
One year ago, the Montreal Canadiens were gearing up for a strong regular season and, hopefully, another trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Instead, Montreal found themselves at the bottom of the standing, potentially facing a lengthy rebuild ahead. Under new management with Jeff Groton and Kent Hughes, there seems to be a clear plan for the future of the Canadiens.
Drafting first overall in 2022, the Canadiens selected Juraj Slavkovsky, the big Slovakian winger who could make his debut in October. The Canadiens also made waves, moving Alex Romanov for the 13th overall pick and later flipping it for 21-year-old center Kirby Dach.
Upon taking over behind the bench, Martin St. Louis changed the vibe amongst the players in Montreal. If the young core of Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and now Kirby Dach can take another step while still being competitive in a tough Atlantic Division, it will be a successful season.
Dubbed “The Summer of Pierre,” there is a new energy around the Ottawa Senators with a lot of optimism for playoff hockey. The Senators have been near the bottom of the NHL the past few seasons and have accumulated a robust and young foundation to build around. Budding young stars Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, and Josh Norris are all locked up long-term and likely have their best years ahead.
To complement those four, Pierre Dorion made a splash ahead of the draft and moved the seventh overall pick in a package for star forward Alex DeBrincat. The 24-year-old has recorded two 40-plus goal seasons in his young career and will have plenty of talent to play with in Ottawa’s top six. In free agency, they brought in veteran forward Claude Giroux and bottom-six pivot Tyler Motte. Giroux is still a productive player at 34 years old and will be a great mentor to a player like Tim Stutzle. In goal, the Senators acquired Cam Talbot to split duties with Anton Forsberg, giving Ottawa a strong tandem. The question surrounding Ottawa is on the blue line. While Thomas Chabot is a star number one defenseman, he doesn’t have much support. If defenders such as Artem Zub and Erik Brannstrom can take another step and Jake Sanderson can make an immediate impact, Ottawa will be a team to watch for a potential playoff spot.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been the victims of a flat cap the past two seasons, yet it seems to affect their roster very little. Even after losing core players Ryan McDonagh and Ondrej Palat, the Lightning are still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
Leading the way, star players Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos look to continue their reign of terror. Young core pieces in Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, and Erik Cernak were all committed to long-term. To support the deep core, the Lightning brought in NHL veterans Vladislav Namestnikov and Ian Cole on one-year contracts. With the league’s best goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy and the deep core in front of him, the Lightning will be among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup again.
Toronto Maple Leafs
A tale old as time, the Toronto Maple fell short of the second round of the playoffs for the sixth season in a row, and still, management has stayed loyal to the core of the team. Star forwards Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander carried the load offensively, including a 60-goal, Hart Trophy-winning season from #34.
The Leafs face question marks in goal after losing Jack Campbell to Edmonton in free agency and bringing in Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov, both of who had down seasons. Murray was once viewed as the answer in Pittsburgh, winning back-to-back Stanley Cups. Can he regain his form? Samsonov is still young in terms of goalies at 25 and could still live up to his first-round potential.
The defense is headlined by Morgan Reilly but is much deeper than in years past, giving Toronto a more balanced lineup. In free agency, the Maple Leafs looked to defensive bottom-six forwards to support their offensive firepower. Calle Jarnkrok, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Zach Aston-Reese (PTO) will all be capable of shutting down offense while providing value to the penalty kill. Aside from goaltending, the only question remains in Rasmus Sandin, who remains unsigned as a restricted free agent. The Maple Leafs are poised for a deep run and will need to defeat their demons before they can beat any contender.
The Hurricanes have been a regular playoff team for the past few seasons now but haven’t been able to take that next step into a Stanley Cup contender. After losing in the second round again, Don Waddell made a big splash and brought in some big names to get Carolina over the hump.
While the Hurricanes signed Ondrej Kase and Paul Stastny in free agency, they made the biggest splash in the trade market. On July 13th, the Hurricanes made two trades to acquire Brent Burns and Max Pacioretty from the Sharks and Golden Knights, respectively, for essentially depth pieces. Burns, while 37, is still an elite offensive defenseman that will be able to quarterback the first power play and play complement to Jaccob Slavin. Pacioretty has been one of the most effective scorers in the NHL when healthy the past five seasons, but unfortunately suffered an Achilles tear training this summer and will be out long-term.
Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov will again be the horses that drive the Hurricanes’ offense. While Aho has been a near point-per-game player the past three seasons, Svechnikov still needs to take that next step to reach his potential as an elite scoring winger. Once Pacioretty returns from injury, Carolina will have one of the strongest rosters on paper. If Fredrick Andersen can stay healthy and Martin Necas and Jesperi Kotkaniemi can play to their potential, the Hurricanes are a real threat to be a favorite for the Stanley Cup.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The biggest storyline heading into free agency was where Johnny Gaudreau would land and how much? In a surprise twist, the Columbus Blue Jackets landed the star-winger and changed the outlook for their entire season.
The Blue Jackets were in the midst of what was looking like a rebuilding phase, trading away Seth Jones and David Savard in 2021, but instead made moves to be competitive this season. Up front, the Blue Jackets have plenty of firepower on the wings, with Patrik Laine and Jakub Voracek already in place before signing Gaudreau. Losing Oliver Bjorkstrand due to the restraints of the salary cap is a huge loss that will likely be filled by a young winger in either Yegor Chinakhov or Kirill Marchenko. On the backend, Erik Gudbranson was signed to a four-year contract which, in most eyes, feels like an overpay but will bring stability to the Blue Jackets’ bottom pair and provide a physical presence. Star offensive defenseman Zach Werenski is only 25 years old and looks to be developing his all-around game.
Goalie Elvis Merzlikins had an up-and-down season but has shown in his previous two seasons the capability of being a reliable number one. The question surrounding the Blue Jackets is who slots in as first-line center between Gaudreau and Laine. The two top-six centers last season were Jack Roslovic and Boone Jenner, both solid players in their own right but not to the level of Gaudreau or Laine. The Blue Jackets’ two top center prospects, Cole Sillinger and Kent Johnson, will both be looking to play a significant role this season; could one of them be the answer? While the future looks bright in Columbus, a lot would need to go right for the Blue Jackets to make the playoffs this season.
New Jersey Devils
After signing the biggest free agent on the market in Dougie Hamilton last summer, the 2021-22 season was shaping to be a big step for the Devils. Instead, the team struggled with injury and finished once again near the bottom of the NHL. After another offseason of adding veteran pieces to surround the young core of Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt, will 2022-23 finally be the season the Devils breakout?
Jack Hughes only played 49 games after signing his massive eight-year extension and showed his potential to be a franchise center. Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier both had career-best seasons in their early twenties and will look to take another step forward. Defensively, the Devils traded Ty Smith in a package for John Marino, a reliable top-four defensive defenseman. The Devils’ biggest question remains in goal, which was their Achilles heel last season. Once viewed as a potential starter for Team Canada, Mackenzie Blackwood struggled to stay healthy and posted dismal numbers when called upon. Devils acquired Vitek Vanecek from Washington, who is still relatively unproven but has shown flashes of being a potential starter. If the Devils can stay healthy and get consistent goaltending, this could be the year they make it back into the playoffs.
New York Islanders
After a long stretch on the road to start the season, the Islanders were never able to make up ground on what would become a disappointing season. Aside from moving on from head coach Barry Trotz and appointing Lane Lambert, Lou Lamoriello opted not to make any drastic changes. At the draft, the Islanders moved the 13th overall pick in exchange for 22-year-old defenseman Alex Romanov. The young defender showed promise in Montreal but is still looking to establish himself as a top-four player.
If the Islanders can produce more offense without sacrificing defense, they will likely be in the mix for a playoff position come April. The core of Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee should benefit from playing in a more offensive system. Oliver Wahlstrom and Anthony Beauvillier should receive a more significant role and could take another step forward. On the backend, the three of Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, and Noah Dobson can match up with any defensive core in the NHL. Under normal circumstances, Ilya Sorokin would have received more consideration for the Vezina Trophy after his season.
New York Rangers
The Rangers made significant strides last season and, with elite goaltending, made a long run to the Eastern Conference Final before losing to Tampa Bay. Star players Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, and Igor Shesterkin carried the load last season, but the question is who will step up behind them.
Up front, the Rangers added established second-line center Vincent Trocheck after losing Andrew Copp and Ryan Strome through free agency. Trocheck is a consistent 50-plus point scorer who is also a valuable penalty killer. Recent top-two picks in Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere have shown flashes of their potential but have yet to put together an entire season. Both are projected to play significant roles which could lead to breakout seasons. On the backend, K’Andre Miller took big strides and looks like a potential top-pairing defenseman. Veterans Ryan Lindgren and Jacob Trouba also played pivotal roles in the Rangers’ success.
Finishing third in Hart Trophy voting, Igor Shesterkin’s season was the biggest reason the Rangers had the season they had. If the Rangers can find more offense at even-strength with contributions lower in the lineup and Shesterkin can repeat his 2021-22 campaign, the Rangers could be a threat to win the Eastern Conference.
Ever since the 2020 NHL Playoffs, it feels like the Flyers have been moving in the wrong direction. After a tough 2021-22 season, diminished by injury and defensive woes, it was time for a new voice and culture in Philadelphia.
Insert John Tortorella.
The veteran head coach has demanded respect and buy-in to his system on every team he has coached. With plenty of underperforming veteran players on the roster, Tortorella will have a tall task of making this team competitive, let alone a playoff team. Forwards Kevin Hayes and Cam Atkinson are all proven top-six talents but can they carry the load offensively for an entire season? Joel Farabee and Travis Konecny both had up seasons but, in past seasons, were the go-to scorers.
The Flyers improved on paper this summer, moving on from Martin Jones, Keith Yandle, and Oskar Lindblom and bringing in Tony DeAngelo and Nic Deslauriers. DeAngelo had a strong offensive season in Carolina, posting 51 points in 64 games. He will be relied upon to play a more all-around game under Tortorella and potentially pair with Ivan Provorov or Travis Sanheim. While Carter Hart rebounded last season, posting a .905 on a poor defensive team, he has still left a lot to be desired. With no real additions up front, Sean Couturier potentially missing the entire season, and many questions defensively, it’s hard to see a path where Philadelphia competes for a playoff position.
For a few seasons now, it has felt like everyone outside of Pittsburgh has been waiting for the eventual drop-off of the Penguins, and it still has yet to happen. Sixteen straight seasons of postseason hockey in Pittsburgh, and judging by the moves made by Ron Hextall, there is no intention of that ending in 2022-23.
The Penguins made two big moves on the blue line, trading away John Marino and Mike Matheson to New Jersey and Montreal, respectively, in packages for Ty Smith and Jeff Petry. Starting with Smith, the 22-year-old struggled in his second NHL season but showed flashes of being a dynamic offensive defenseman. On the other end of the spectrum, 34-year-old Jeff Petry is an established top-four defenseman that can produce at a high level, giving the Penguins another layer behind Kris Letang.
Sidney Crosby is still at the top of his game, and when healthy, Evgeni Malkin is a high-octane offensive force. If Tristan Jarry can play to the level he showed last season, and the veteran core in Pittsburgh can continue to elude father time, the Penguins will likely be back in the postseason for a 17th straight season.
Similar to their divisional rival Pittsburgh Penguins, the old guard of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and John Carlson are all well into their 30s and could be facing the realities of being a contender for a long period this coming year. Still, the Capitals added this offseason, signing Dylan Strome, Erik Gustafsson, and new starting goalie Darcy Kuemper, who is fresh off winning the Stanley Cup. Strome is still young at 25 years and was one of Chicago’s best players playing alongside Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat. The Capitals also acquired Connor Brown from the Ottawa Senators, who has been a strong defensive middle-six winger who can also score 20 goals.
The Capitals will go as far as their top players will take them. Alex Ovechkin is still one of the best goal scorers in the NHL at age 37 and has shown no sign of slowing down. John Carlson finished tenth in Norris Trophy voting last season and posted 71 points in 78 games. If Darcy Kuemper can be a top-ten starter in the NHL and the Capitals can get consistent scoring from players like Tom Wilson and Anthony Mantha, the Capitals should be able to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.