Last two weeks articles broke down the key players in the NHL’s Atlantic & Metropolitan Divisions for the upcoming season. It’s time to tackle the key players in the NHL’s Central division for 2016-17. These players performing to the best of their abilities will go a long way toward the success of their clubs.
Chicago Blackhawks – Duncan Keith
There are plenty of superstars, core players and Stanley Cup champions on the Chicago Blackhawks. But the glue of the Hawks is defenseman Duncan Keith. Keith is so vital to Chicago’s success. He brings everything to the table for a hockey club. He produces offensively, defensively, plays in all situations, and is one of the team leaders. If Chicago is going to get back to the Cup Finals a healthy Keith is critical.
Colorado Avalanche – Nathan MacKinnon
The Colorado Avalanche are in a strange place. They have a lot of young talent but the team has not put it together the last two seasons. While Colorado had a representative record last year (82 points), they struggled in all facets of the game. The Avs finished 20th in offense, 24th on defense, 19th on the power play and 23rd on the penalty kill.
Then there is Nathan MacKinnon. The 2013 1st overall pick took the league by storm in 2013-14, scoring 24 goals with 63 points. The Halifax native had a sophomore slump in 2014-15 with just 38 points. MacKinnon bounced back last season with 21 goals and 52 points. Colorado’s front office locked up MacKinnon to a 7-year $44.1 million contract. Now the talented youngster needs to produce at a high-level game in, game out.
ICYMI: Nathan MacKinnon signs seven-year, $44.1 million deal with #Avs https://t.co/ik9Q0yD3y4
— Denver Post Sports (@DPostSports) July 9, 2016
Dallas Stars – John Klingberg
There has been a lot of departures on the Dallas Stars blue line. Key veterans Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers left this off-season via free agency. Every NHL fan knows how potent the Stars scoring prowess is, as they finished 1st in goals scored last year in the regular season. The key to Dallas’s success will be the play in their own end.
The new leader on defense for Dallas is now John Klingberg. There is no doubting Klingberg’s talent. The Swedish blueliner has excellent offensive skills (58 points last year) and is solid in his own end as well. The 24-year old just needs to clean up his play from time to time in terms of making mistakes in his own end. If Klingberg can eliminate his defensive miscues, he will be one of the top 10 defensemen in the league for the next decade.
Minnesota Wild – Zach Parise
The Minnesota Wild are in a precocious position. They are struggling to remain a playoff team and many talented young teams out West are closing in on them. If Minnesota is going to remain a playoff team a healthy Zach Parise is a necessity.
What is scary for the Wild and the 32-year old winger is once an athlete has a severe back issue, it never goes away. The Minnesota native is signed through the 2024-25 season. Parise is a tremendous hockey player and plays the game the right way. Let’s hope the upcoming season is a healthy one for him.
Nashville Predators – Ryan Johansen
The Nashville Predators enters the upcoming season with an opportunity to have a special season. One could make a very strong argument that the Predators enter the 2016-17 season as the best team in the Western Conference.
For Nashville to reach great heights this coming season, in all likelihood they will need Ryan Johansen to reach his potential. The Preds need strong play from the 24-year old center every game. If Johansen produces at that level with consistency both himself and Nashville will have huge seasons this coming year.
NHL Roster Reset: @CutlerKlein on the Nashville Predators after the Subban-Weber trade: https://t.co/N1borIucod
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) July 19, 2016
St. Louis Blues – Jake Allen
The St. Louis Blues have been a top team out West the last few seasons. In that time St. Louis has gone with a two-goalie tandem with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen. Elliott was traded to the Calgary Flames this off-season.
The job between the pipes now squarely belongs to Jake Allen. When big games come up for the Blues both in the regular season and the playoffs. Everyone now knows Allen will be in net for St. Louis. The 26-year old goalie has plenty of talent to be one of the top starting goalie’s in the game.
Winnipeg Jets – Dustin Byfuglien
Dustin Byfuglien brings a lot to the table for the Winnipeg Jets. The 6’5 blueliner has offensive skills (19 goals & 53 points last year), solid defender, and brings physicality to the rink. At 31 years of age, Winnipeg will also be relying on Byfuglien for leadership as well.
If the Jets are going to get back to the playoffs, Byfuglien will have to be a key cog in many different ways.
Next week we will break down the Pacific division.