2020-21 West Division Preview

2020-21 west division

Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, 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 2020-21 Stanley Cup pick. Today the series continues with the 2020-21 West Division.

2020-21 West Division Preview

1. Colorado Avalanche

Erin Butler writes:

The Colorado Avalanche inspires other fans to yell at the unfair gods. It’s not, of course: they spent a lot of miserable years to reach this point. Their last awful season was just in time to snag Calder-winning Cale Makar, and their other high picks show equal acumen. Having a defence with Makar, Samuel Girard, and Bowen Byram – all under 23 years old – only feels unfair, and then only to non-fans. They got even better with the salary-dump acquisition of Devon Toews. At least for their forwards, they’re stuck with… er… Are you sure you want to look? General manager Joe Sakic has built a well-balanced and dangerous squad who ended last season top-5 in goals scored. And for you, fantasy GMs, his most expensive player, Mikko Rantanen, doesn’t even have trade protection.

The only question mark at this point is in goal, and even there it’s not loudly asked. Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz are the same pair that led the team last year where they finished… fifth overall in goals against. They are, deservedly to be the Stanley Cup and 2020-21 West Division favourite.

2. Vegas Golden Knights

Erin Butler writes:

The feeling around the Vegas Golden Knights has changed, there’s no denying it. Having an “Us-Against-The-World” chip on the shoulder is normal for an expansion team. They were players, after all, that other teams didn’t want. Now they are attracting players other teams are desperate to sign, this time Alex Pietrangelo. They are clearly a front-runner for the Stanley Cup, and the moves they make show that. But there is a cost, losing Paul Stastny and original Golden Knight Nate Schmidt in salary cap moves even as Robin Lehner comes in. That is a can of worms on its own, creating a goalie controversy before last season had finished playing out.

But this is nitpicking an excellent team. They have been around long enough to have their own draft picks join them, and that’s looking good. Last season’s test runs for Cody Glass and Nicolas Hague were promising, though Glass is under more pressure this year. He might not be told he’s replacing Stastny, but he is. Rising star Shea Theodore went incandescent in their playoff run, and he and Pietrangelo are going to be a constant nightmare for opponents.

3. St. Louis Blues

Davis Green writes:

The St. Louis Blues had a disappointing end to their season, as they were bounced by the Vancouver Canucks in six games in the first round of the playoffs. They will look to put that ending behind them though, as they remain as one of the better teams in the Western Conference. The Blues should be right in the race to finish at the top of the West Divison. They will be led up front by their newly named captain Ryan O’Reilly, as well as Brayden Schenn, and newly singed Mike Hoffman. While this Blues team is strong, they have taken some hits. Their old captain and number one defenceman, Alex Pietrangelo left in free agency, and one of their top forwards, Vladimir Tarasenko, will be recovering from an injury for the majority of the season. The team was able to fill most of the hole Pietrangelo left by signing free agent Torey Krug. Along with Krug on the back end, they have Colton Parayko and Vince Dunn, who could have a big year. In goal, Jordan Binnington should continue to lead the way, while Ville Husso will fill in as the new backup after Jake Allen was traded away.

4. Minnesota Wild

Erin Butler writes:

The Minnesota Wild have been pushed from the old Central to the new 2020-21 West division. They’ve gone from being somewhere in the middle to… somewhere in the middle. As ever, Minnesota’s strength is once again going to be their defence with an absolutely rock-solid top-6. Upfront is riddled with question marks, led again by Zach Parise. There are two notable differences this season, though. Their goaltending is entirely new, leaning heavily on Cam Talbot with rookie Kaapo Kahkonen behind him. Veteran Andrew Hammond is their safety net. That’s not the most inspiring trio, but their numbers should still be acceptable because of who’s patrolling the blue line.

Their forwards, on the other hand, have a lot of exciting possibilities. The centre position looks shockingly weak, led by winger Nick Bjugstad. Maybe Joel Eriksson-Ek makes a sudden leap, but that’s a lot more wishful thinking than reliability. Centre remains a weakness. Unless that is, the 2020 draft pick Marco Rossi makes the team. And Matthew Boldy has a clear track to start in the centre. They’ll join the 23-year old sniper Kirill Kaprizov, finally arriving after an excellent early career in the KHL. Add a finally-blossoming Kevin Fiala, and you have a lot of potential firepower on a team not known for it. In a strange season with one playoff spot available, why not go with the kids?

5. Arizona Coyotes

Davis Green writes:

After getting a taste of the playoffs in a 24-team format last season, the Arizona Coyotes will be hoping to get back in a fairly weak 2020-21 West Division. Unfortunately, their old general manager, John Chayka left them in a tough spot. Overall, the team should have some success preventing goals, but might struggle to score them. They have plenty of defensive depth, with players like Oliver Ekman-Larson, Jacob Chychrun, Jason Demers, and Niklas Hjalmarsson. In goal, they have one of the best tandems in the league, with Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta. Upfront, however, they are lacking a true star forward. The closest things they have are wingers Clayton Keller, who seems to have dropped off since his rookie year, and Phil Kessel, who is not the same player in Arizona that he was in Pittsburgh. Their centre depth is especially weak, as the team lacks a true number one. They recently signed Derick Brassard, which should add some depth, but he is not nearly enough to save this team’s offence.

6. Los Angeles Kings

Davis Green writes:

After finishing at the bottom of the league for the past two seasons, the Los Angeles Kings will be hoping to make some improvements. Their roster has gotten stronger both internally and externally. Internally, they will be graduating prospects Gabriel Vilardi, Cal Petersen, Mikey Anderson, and potentially Carl Grundstrom to full-time NHL roles. Similarly, they will give Martin Frk, who led the Ontario Reign in both goals and points, a chance to be an everyday NHL player. Externally, they add Andreas Athanasiou, who should add some more scoring to the team, being 26 years old and just two seasons removed from scoring 30 goals. They also added Olli Maatta, who is expected to be Drew Doughty’s defensive partner. In goal, they will look the same as they did to end last season (where they had a seven-game win streak) with a fairly even split between Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen. With a well-rested Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, and Jeff Carter, this team will look to do much better than their last two years.

7. Anaheim Ducks

Josh Erickson writes:

A team that’s now largely regarded as the most boring in its division will have to rely largely on their youth if they want to make an impression this season. The playoff probabilities for the Anaheim Ducks certainly aren’t great, but there are reasons for optimism here. Anaheim-groomed draft picks like Isac Lundestrom, Sam Steel, and Troy Terry should receive more prominent roles with the squad this year. They’ve added some veteran leadership to their bottom-six with Derek Grant, and they’ve made room on their roster for more young pieces after waiving David Backes.

The defence looks more promising, too. They’ve brought Ben Hutton in on a PTO. He’s yet to be signed, but the former Canucks and Kings defenceman would help solidify a bottom pair with young Jacob Larsson. The free agency addition of Kevin Shattenkirk helps too. It’s a far cry from last season’s games with Matt Irwin on the top pairing. In goal, the outlook improves as well. A bounce-back season from John Gibson is expected, and Ryan Miller remains a capable backup. While they won’t wow and will have some real bad games at times, expect the Ducks to show some flashes of their future this year.

8. San Jose Sharks

Josh Erickson writes:

Conversely, there isn’t a whole lot of optimism for the last California rival, the San Jose Sharks. After decades of dominance, the Sharks have finally fallen. Things don’t look to be reversing themselves this year. They’ll rely on their young guns too, but they don’t have the depth of Anaheim to support them. They boast one of the worst goalie tandems in the league with Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk. However, there may be some bounce-back seasons on defence from Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns.

It still won’t be enough to support an anemic offence. They’ll need to have big contributions from rookies like John Leonard and youngsters Ryan Donato and Noah Gregor in-depth roles to be successful. If Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl can continue to play at a high level, the Sharks will be competitive, but not nearly enough to make the playoffs.

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