There are always players with interesting questions heading into their respective training camps. It could be that spiffy new hotshot rookie/first round pick or a new player coming to the team via an offseason trade. Maybe it's a big free-agent signing. It could even be that player coming off of an unusually good or bad season and we all want to know whether that trend is likely to continue or will the player revert back to their usual numbers.
Below is one player from each club from the first half of the Eastern Conference teams that I will be watching with interest this coming season.
Talk about a baptism by fire; the Bruins top offensive defenseman, Torey Krug goes down to injury just as the playoffs are about to begin, and they plug Charlie McAvoy right into Krug’s spot in the lineup. Fresh off another strong season at Boston College, — 26 points in 38 games — and without any NHL games to acclimatize, the 19-year-old defenseman finished second in Bruins playoff ice time behind only grizzled-warrior Zdeno Chara. McAvoy also led the Bruins in power-play minutes during the playoffs while scoring three points in six contests. His point totals this season will be limited with Krug back in the lineup, but even with second-unit duty with the man advantage, he could hit 35 points.
This summer, Robin Lehner signed a one-year, prove-it contract for $4 million. The Sabres aren’t ready to commit to him being their No. 1 goalie for more than one season, so the pressure will be on the oft-injured Swede to perform this year.
Last season, Lehner played in 59 NHL contests, his highest yet. His .920 save percentage tied him for 10th best amongst qualified goaltenders in the league. If Buffalo improves, and it looks like they're headed in that direction, his 2.68 goals-against average will come down, making Lehner a potentially rewarding pick to target in your draft.
About to enter his fifth NHL campaign, Elias Lindholm is showing signs of why he was taken fifth overall in 2013. The 22-year-old forward's point totals over those five years are not screaming breakout season, 21, 39, 39 and 45 points, however, during a 36-game stretch between December 23 and March 25, Lindholm showcase his upside and scored 33 points. I don’t expect him to score at a 75-point clip for an entire season, but it does show what he is capable of. He could legitimately hit 60 points this year if things break right.
Bjorkstrand is also entering the final year of his entry-level contract and will be an interesting player to watch. This guy can score goals. In his final two seasons of junior, he recorded 50 and 63 goals in in 69 and 59 games respectively. He split last year between the AHL (26 points in 37 games) and the NHL (13 points in 26 games).
The right side in Columbus is a little crowded with Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno, but Bjorkstrand was still getting a little love, logging an average of 1:41 power-play minutes per game, the sixth most on the team.
After bursting onto the NHL scene with a 45-point debut, Dylan Larkin had a disappointing 32-point sophomore season. There were signs that he was turning things around at the end of last season. Larkin finished the campaign with 13 points in 20 games — a 53-point pace. He also had 10 points in eight World Championship games for Team USA, one point behind Johnny Gaudreau for the team lead.
The problem for fantasy is that the Red Wings see him ultimately at center, but he will be behind Henrik Zetterberg and Frans Nielsen, so it looks as though he’ll line up as the third-line center with second power-play duties heading into camp.
It looks as though Evgeny Dadonov is going to slide right into a top-six role immediately for the Panthers. The team is paying him $4 million per season for three years and when you’re paid like that, you get all kinds of opportunities to prove you are worth your contract.
Last year, he scored 30 goals and 66 points in 53 KHL contests and had 19 points in 18 playoff games. He also recorded eight points in 10 World Championship matches for Russia. The 28-year-old could slide right in with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, which is a pretty nice landing spot. I also expect Dadonov to receive power-play minutes on the No. 1 unit.
With Alex Galchenyuk and Phillip Danault both slated to play down the middle, that opens up some opportunities on the port side after Max Pacioretty. Artturi Lehkonen looks to take advantage and snag a spot on the second line. Lehkonen recorded 28 points in his rookie NHL campaign, but finished strong with 10 points in his final 10 matches and then recorded four points in six playoff contests. He could be in for a nice little jump in points if he can hold down a top-six gig and second unit power-play minutes.
The addition of Marcus Johansson and first overall pick Nico Hischier gave hope to Devils fans that they might have some semblance of an offense this year. Then came the bad news that their top center, Travis Zajac, tore a pectoral muscle during offseason training that required surgery and will be out for four to six months.
Candidates to fill that gap include Adam Henrique, Pavel Zacha and Nico Hischier. We know what we are getting with Henrique, and Hischier is a home run swing. The one I will be watching is Zacha. He was the sixth overall selection in the 2015 NHL entry draft and is coming off of a 24-point rookie NHL campaign. I could see Zacha stepping up into 40-point territory in his sophomore season.
Next week, I’ll complete the Ones to Watch in the Eastern Conference.
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