While Toronto and the N.Y. Islanders have yet to decide which of them will get into the postseason, the other seven teams have been decided. Let’s take a look at the teams in the East and what to expect in hockey’s second season…
Since they have not made the postseason in their franchise history prior to now, it is difficult to gauge which players will do what. The most obvious observation here is that Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhitnik – the newest members of the squad – have point totals that are deceiving for the season. Since their arrival in Atlanta, both players have stepped up. Tkachuk’s points per game has increased from 0.7 in St. Louis to 0.82 in Atlanta, while Zhitnik’s has increased from 0.4 in Philadelphia and Long Island to 0.82 in Atlanta. Eric Belanger has also picked up his offensive game since joining the team. Other than these three players, Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa and Slava Kozlov are the only ones truly worth taking. Bobby Holik makes a really nice dark horse though.
Tim Connolly made (and scored in) his regular season debut on Saturday and will make a premium dark horse selection in your playoff pool. Many of your opponents at the draft will be carrying only the final stats to the table – and they’ll have to look pretty far down the list to Connolly’s point totals. Granted, he is a risk to be re-injured, but his upside is at least a point per game. Derek Roy and Chris Drury both stepped it up in a big way last postseason, while Maxim Afinogenov, Ales Kotalik and Brian Campbell all slipped when the playoffs began.
For the last 15 years or so, you could never be laughed at for stocking up on Devils. As long as Martin Brodeur is between the pipes, this team can contend. The usual suspects are worth drafting – Patrick Elias, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez. One word of warning on Gionta – he has fought groin problems all season long and recently sustained a foot injury. Sophomore Zach Parise is shouldering more responsibility with every game and he just might be the second-best skater to draft on this team behind Elias. Travis Zajac has been hot down the stretch, but will be a boom or bust pick given the fact that he is a rookie and freshmen tend to have their ice time rolled back a little in the postseason. Brian Rafalski and Jamie Langenbrunner really stepped up last year in April, so you may want to nudge them up your draft lists a little.
New York Islanders
The Islanders did not make the postseason last campaign and nearly every one of their acquisitions that did participate, performed poorly. Tom Poti (N.Y. Rangers), Mike Sillinger (Nashville), Brendan Witt (Nashville), Richard Zednik (Montreal) and Marc-Andre Bergeron (Edmonton) combined for two points in 38 playoff games last year. Both Bergeron and Sillinger have huge offensive roles with their new team. Expect them to improve tremendously. Which Alexei Yashin will we see? In three different playoff runs, the captain combined for just three points in 13 games. In his other four postseason visits he had 24 points in 30 games. Sillinger is third on the team in scoring, while Bergeron has 20 points in 22 games with his new team. The two top playoff picks on this team are Ryan Smyth and Jason Blake. Not only are they 1-2 in team offense, but they also play playoff hockey – lots of hustle, lots of heart and clutch goals.
New York Rangers
The entire team pretty much floundered with Jaromir Jagr and Henrik Lundqvist out of the lineup last