Part one of a look at the top two lines for the Eastern Conference teams, ending with New Jersey.
The Bruins will be an interesting team to watch this year as many familiar faces have left over the past few seasons. Bergeron should anchor the top line as he is the definition of consistency as a two way center in the NHL. Marchand and Eriksson will have copious opportunities to succeed and should lineup with Bergeron on the top line. I expect this line to start off HOT and cool off by the midway point… once the inevitable injury bug hits and the lackluster depth of the Bruins roster is exposed.
Krejci has shown many times over the course of his NHL career that he can be an elite force, however, his body has taken an absolute pounding over the years. Krejci's hip leaves him a big question mark going into the season, and his potential absence would definitely send a crushing ripple through the Bruins entire lineup. For now, I will slot Krejci in at center here and both Beleskey and Pastrnak should play alongside him. Pastrnak has proven to be a gem for the Bruins as he compiled 26 points in 35 games last season. He has dominated the American Hockey League, and odds are that he will become a first-second line scorer for the B’s. As for Beleskey, he should fit in nicely and bring a much needed power element to this second line.
I'm not going to lie but I like the way things are looking in Buffalo. The additions of Kane, O'Reilly, and most importantly Eichel, are monumental to this franchise. This squad is definitely headed in the right direction, and for the first time in a while, I can say that I will be tuning into some Sabres games this season. This top line will be exciting to watch, although the chemistry will take some time to develop. I think Kane will have a solid season and top 30 goals this year. Keep an eye on this trio.
This second line is also not too shabby. Eichel will be tons of fun to watch and Moulson could be the perfect trigger man for him to find. Throw in a veteran like Gionta and you got yourself a well-balanced line. Larsson could challenge for a spot in the top 6 as last season he potted 13 points in the last 17 games. However, it will be rather difficult for him to find a way in considering he is a natural center.
The Hurricanes just as are currently in a rebuilding period. That being said, the top six for this squad could change continuously throughout the season. Rask played with Lindholm quite often last season and he should find himself lining up on the opposite wing this year as well. Both wingers should feed of Staal on this top line, and head coach Bill Peters will give them every chance to succeed.
Skinner has been a sad story. The guy has shown flashes of brilliance but I believe his career is forever damaged due to him playing different with all his concussion issues. Regardless, he still has a spot in the top six. Jordan should center this line with Gerbe playing the wing. Gerbe had a cyst removed in his wrist at the end of the season and this could explain his abysmal stat line of 10 goals on 235 shots during the regular season. Andrej Nestrasil could potentially challenge for a top six spot. Last season Nestrasil had 15 points in his last 30 contests but rarely saw time with any of the big guns such as Staal or Skinner. Why not give him a shot? My guess is that he will get that opportunity and earn his way into the top six at some point during the regular season.
I have been watching the Blue Jackets for about two seasons now and I must say… I love what I see. These guys will be a true force this year and I predict them to not only make the post-season with ease, but to also make some noise during the playoffs. I love the additions they have made and I like the brand of hockey they play. Johansen has blossomed into a superstar and Saad, as well as Foligno, will reap the rewards by playing alongside him. Johansen has produced 125 points in his last 147 games which works out to about a 70-point pace. This year he should end up with 75-80 points. Playing with newly acquired Saad, who knows a thing or two about supporting a superstar (refer to Toews and Hossa), should definitely boost his numbers.
This second line could be extremely tough to play against as it brings a scoring punch with a ton of feisty to go along with it. Hartnell and Dubinsky know how to make life really bad for the opposition and at the same time light the lamp. Atkinson is entering his fourth season and has huge sleeper potential. Barring injury, I feel like Atkinson will take it to another level this year.
No real surprises on this top line. When healthy (and that's a big WHEN), the Magic Man should spearhead this line. Nyquist and Tatar sauce have shown improvements every season, however, their production is heavily reliant on the health of Datsyuk.
Zetterberg will lead this second line with Abdelkader playing side kick. It is important to note is that just four of Abdelkader's 44 points were earned without Datsyuk or Zetterberg on the ice last season. Suffice to say that he really likes playing with the two stars. The third piece to this line could start off as Jurco but could easily end up being “The Mule” Johan Franzen or even Darren Helm at some point. All of this really depends on injuries and the progression of Franzen with his concussion and Datsyuk with his ankle.
Is this the season that the Panthers get over that hump? I am not entirely sold, but only because the rest of the Eastern Conference teams continue to improve. I love the addition of Reilly Smith here as he impressed me during his time in Boston even with a limited role. Both Barkov and Huberdeau showed great signs last season, most especially Huberdeau as he posted 22 points in the last 20 games. It will be interesting to see if Smith could spark this line but regardless he will find his way into the top six. Also, important to mention that both Huberdeau and Smith are entering their fourth NHL season… breakout?
I love me some Jaromir. Does this guy ever age? Despite being 43 years old, Jagr continues to find ways to get it done. He tallied 18 points in 20 games after joining Florida last season. Aside from that, his experience and presence alone should do wonders for the youngins in Florida… and that, my friends, is priceless (refer to Voracek in Philadelphia). Keep an eye on Bjugstad as he had back surgery in late March but should be fine for the start of the NHL season. The only person who I could see challenging for a top six spot is Brandon Pirri, who at the age of 24 managed to pop in 22 goals although only producing 2 assists last season. If Pirri wants to become an elite scorer then this season would be the best way to get headed into that direction.
It’s quite obvious that Maxpac and Desharnais love playing together, and Gallagher should find himself on this line as he provides a boost of energy and grind which will allow Pacioretty time and space to score. I expect Gallagher to eclipse the 50 point mark this season as he is entering the ever so magical fourth year. Anything more than 50 would greatly depend on PP time… and with Semin in town that seems unlikely for now.
Semin has an opportunity here to turn his career around after a disastrous year last season in which he only managed to post 19 points in 51 games. A change of scenery may spark the controversial Russians scoring touch as he hasn’t eclipsed 30 goals since his 2009/2010 season in Washington. Although it is unlikely for him to reach that total again… I think 25 goals and 55 points isn’t out of the question, especially with a potentially potent Canadians PP. With teams placing a lot of focus on P.K. Subban and his cannon shot… space might open for the perennial sniper who can let it rip from pretty much anywhere with time.
I mean who really cares who's in the top six; goals will be very hard to come by for the Devils this season. Palmieri ends up on a team that has him pegged as the go-to scoring threat. The Devils really have nobody else that can put the puck in the net besides Cammalleri who has already peaked in his career. Palmieri also enters his fourth year this season and with the offense being focused mainly through him… a breakout is not out of the question.
Elias and Henrique will be a part of the top six as they are the best the Devils got. As for Ruutu he could easily be dropped but then again who would challenge him? A 37 year old Dainius Zubrus? Possibly, and that's how bad this Devils team is going forward this season.
*Look for part two of the Eastern Conference lines preview from Jonathan Tuesday.
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