Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the Central Division.
2018-19 Central Division Preview
1. Winnipeg Jets
Last Word On Hockey Editor Christian Holmes writes:
The Winnipeg Jets come off a season where they were flying high with a 52–20–10. That was good enough for a second place finish in the Central Division behind the Nashville Predators and the franchises deepest playoff run in history. The Jets were a solid home team with only seven regulation losses while boasting 32 wins at the Bell MTS Place. This year, it looks like the Jets are looking to take it up a few notches and challenge for first place in the Central. With the core of their team still intact after losing trade deadline acquisition Paul Stastny to free agency and a star goalie in Connor Hellebuyck still in the net, anything possible. Expect Patrik Laine to set the tone for the Jets offense and players like Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers provide that added punch. Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien will also be ones to look out for as they make their presence felt on the ice. Winnipeg, on paper, has the makings of a potential Stanley Cup winner.
2. Nashville Predators
Byran Oakley writes:
The Nashville Predators were the President’s Trophy winner last season with 117 points. Surprisingly, the Predators did not make any big moves in the off-season after their disappointing loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Their roster remains solid on defence, in goal, and up front. The only problem facing the team is the recent 27 game suspension of Austin Watson for domestic abuse. His loss leaves a hole that has to be filled while he’s out. If the Preds survive that, they should be one of the top three teams in the Western Conference again.
3. St. Louis Blues
Gabriel Foley writes:
The St. Louis Blues made a lot of very notable additions this summer. They dealt away Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson, and some draft picks; and in exchange brought in Ryan O’Reilly. They also signed David Perron, Tyler Bozak, and Patrick Maroon. These four additions by themselves have been enough to make the Blues a genuine Stanley Cup contender. This was emphasized by a recent poll that asked NHL players who their favourite to win the cup was. The Blues were a very popular name, voted on by Connor McDavid and Marc-Andre Fleury amongst others.
O’Reilly will likely line up with Vladimir Tarasenko, and Perron with Schwartz and Schenn. These two lines could be lethal, finally fulfilling the style of play that Blues have been yearning for years. The offence is also extremely deep, with players like Maroon, Robby Fabbri, Alex Steen, and Bozak all likely making up the bottom-six. This is combined with a very reliable defence and a confident Jake Allen in net may lead to a deep run. Altogether, the Blues will most likely place top-three in the Central Division and could make a run for the Stanley Cup if they manage to make it out of their division.
4. Minnesota Wild
Melanie Rau writes:
The Minnesota Wild finished third in the Central Division last season with 101 points. They had a disappointing loss to the Winnipeg Jets in five games in the first round. The team fired general manager Chuck Fletcher. Fletcher helped the Wild make it to the playoffs in six consecutive seasons, but they did not make it past the second round. Paul Fenton was named the club’s new general manager. Fenton previously served as the Nashville Predators assistant general manager. This team certainly has the potential to make the playoffs and if Fenton isn’t afraid to bring in more talent, the Wild could finally make it deeper in the playoffs.
5. Colorado Avalanche
Melanie Rau writes:
The Colorado Avalanche finished third in the Central Division with 95 points. They lost to the Nashville Predators in six games of the very first round of the playoffs. The Avalanche are becoming more and more competitive each season. In 2016-17, the Avalanche finished last in the division with only 48 points. They almost doubled that total last season. If they can continue to improve, they have a chance of making the playoffs again. With how much the Central Division has improved over the off-season, anything more than that would be surprising.
6. Dallas Stars
Gabriel Foley writes:
The Dallas Stars made a few additions to add some depth to their offence including bringing Valeri Nichushkin back from Russia. This move could be very beneficial for them, considering the strength of the depth forwards last season. They also signed Tyler Seguin, the team’s star centre, to a very long extension that’ll likely put him in a much better mood to start the year.
If all goes well, the Stars are a serious contender for the Western Conference Wild Card. They’ll battle very closely with the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche for the spot. No matter the result, Dallas will be very involved in a Central Division race that’ll surely be enjoyable to watch.
7. Chicago Blackhawks
Bryan Oakley writes:
The upcoming season will be a roller coaster ride for the Chicago Blackhawks. Their season rides on the health of starting goalie Corey Crawford. If he can return and play well, the Blackhawks can compete for a Wild Card spot. Without Crawford, the Blackhawks will struggle to stay out of the Central Division basement. Crawford’s opening day at training camp did not include a normal practice, only a solo workout with goalie coach Jimmy Waite. This does not bode well for the Blackhawks 2018-19 season.