Training camps are not far away, so it’s a good time to do a mini-preview on the upcoming NHL season by breaking down the key player for each team in the NHL by division. A successful season by these key players could go a long way for their teams having a strong 2016-17 campaign. First up, the Atlantic Division.
Key Players in the NHL’s Atlantic Division for 2016-17
Boston Bruins – Patrice Bergeron
In addition to being a strong offensive player (32 goals and 68 points last season) the Quebec native plays against the opposition’s top lines on a nightly basis. Everyone knows the Bruins defensemen arethe team’s weak link. Bergeron’s two-way ability is a necessity given the state of Boston’s blue line. For the Bruins to return to the playoffs a healthy and productive Bergeron is a must.
Buffalo Sabres – Robin Lehner
The Buffalo Sabres gave up a high price for Robin Lehner (while also receiving David Legwand) in their trade with the Ottawa Senators (the 21st overall pick in 2015 draft). With the Sabres talented group of forwards, the big key to Buffalo’s success this season falls on Lehner’s shoulders.
The 25-year-old netminder has the talent to be a number one goalie in the NHL. But Lehner has to show he can stay healthy during the gauntlet that is the NHL season. Last year Lehner went 5-9-3 with a 2.47 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. However, the Swedish goaltender only played in 21 games. If the Sabres are going to make a playoff push this season they need a healthy Lehner.
Detroit Red Wings – Petr Mrazek
The Detroit Red Wings defensive core has a bit of age on it. Three of Detroit’s blue liners are at least 30 years of age. In addition, the Red Wings lack a difference-maker on defense. This makes the play of Petr Mrazek more essential in order for Detroit to have a big 2016-17 season.
The talented 24-year-old netminder needs to show his performance last year is what the Red Wings organization can expect moving forward. Last year Mrazek was strong, going 27-16-3 with a 2.33 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.
Despite Mrazek’s numbers, Detroit still finished 17th last season in goals allowed per game. This also shows how much Detroit needs impactful defensemen. The bottom line for Detroit to continue its ridiculous playoff streak, which currently stands at 25 consecutive seasons, Mrazek must come up big this coming season.
Florida Panthers – Keith Yandle
The Florida Panthers signed Keith Yandle to a big seven-year, $44.5 million this off-season. The 29-year old defensemen bring veteran experience, leadership, as well as being a puck moving blue liner who is excellent on the power play.
The power play has been an issue for the Panthers for some time now. Despite winning the Atlantic division last season, Florida finished the season with the 23rd ranked power play. Yandle should make a huge difference with the extra man.
Montreal Canadiens – Carey Price
It was amazing how poorly the Montreal Canadiens played last season when they lost Carey Price to injury. Last year Price went 10-2-0 with a 2.06 goals against average and a .934 save percentage. However, that means without Price, Montreal had a record of 28-36-6.
Price might be the best goalie in the NHL right now. So losing him last year was a big loss for Montreal. Having said that it was very alarming how the Canadiens played without him.
That would indicate that issues run deep in Montreal. Even though newly acquired Al Montoya is a big upgrade as the backup, if Montreal is going to make a lot of noise this coming season they need a healthy Price.
— Stu Cowan (@StuCowan1) July 23, 2016
Ottawa Senators – Bobby Ryan
When the Ottawa Senators traded for Bobby Ryan they thought they were getting a difference-maker for years to come. Ottawa locked up Ryan to a seven-year, $50.75 million deal. While Ryan has been good for the Senators, he has not been the game-changer Ottawa was hoping for.
Last season was a disappointing one for the 29-year-old right winger. Ryan had 22 goals and 56 points last season. If Ottawa is going to make it back to the playoffs this season they need a big consistent season from Ryan (not to mention the Senators are paying Ryan first line money).
Tampa Bay Lightning – Victor Hedman
The Tampa Bay Lightning were one win away from getting back to the Stanley Cup Final last season. They did so despite missing Ben Bishop for almost all of the Eastern Conference Final and were without their number one goal scorer Steven Stamkos for all but one game of the playoffs last year. Had the Lightning been without their franchise defensemen Victor Hedman, it would have been a completely different story.
Hedman at just 25 years of age is true number one defenseman. He logs a ton of minutes and plays in all situations for Tampa. Hedman signed an eight-year extension this summer. He will be an integral part of the Lightning, who should be an Eastern Conference contender for the next few years.
— theScore (@theScore) July 6, 2016
Toronto Maple Leafs – James Van Riemsdyk
Bright days are ahead for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The trio of young forwards Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner bring a lot of talent and excitement. Having said that, it would be very valuable if veteran forward James Van Riemsdyk could get back to his production of two-three years ago, before his injury-riddled season last year.
Van Riemsdyk scored 27 goals in 2014-15 and 30 goals in the 2013-14 season. Last year he only played in 40 games but still scored 14 goals. The 27-year-old winger could provide first line scoring, leadership, and experience. In addition, if the New Jersey native could put up a big year this season he could be a very valuable trade chip for Toronto at the trading deadline or next off-season. He is signed through the 2017-18 season. In the short term, Van Riemsdyk can help Toronto take the next step in their rebuilding program this season.
Next week we tackle the Metropolitan division.