This week, I conclude with the second part of players that find themselves in interesting situations heading into their respective training camps. It could be that spiffy new hotshot rookies, first-round pick or a new player coming to the team via off-season trade or free agency. 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 get back on track.
Below are the players from the balance of Eastern Conference teams that I will be watching with interest this coming season:
Was last season just an off year for Andrew Ladd? The Islanders sure hope that’s the case with six more years remaining on a seven year, $38.5 million deal. His 31 points were his worst finish in 10 years. At least he scored 23 goals, but those eight assists were epically bad.
Over the last nine seasons, Ladd has scored at a 52-point pace while missing a total of only 14 games.
That $5.5 million cap hit will become an albatross if he turns in another 31-point stinker. All he really needs is to catch some breaks to bring those assist totals up to around 20 this year, to go along with the 20-plus goals he should pot. Don’t get me wrong, 20 goals and 40 points isn’t worth that high cap hit until the 2022-23 season, but a repeat of last year would be especially bad.
New York Rangers
Mika Zibanejad started his tenure with the Rangers by scoring 15 points in his first 19 games (a 65-point pace) before a broken fibula derailed what might have been a career year. When he returned, he scored at a 49-point pace, recording 22 points in his final 37 contests. He did recover enough to lead the Rangers in playoff scoring with nine points in 12 matches.
Zibanejad signed a five-year contract this summer, and with Derek Stepan now plying his trade in the desert, look for the 24-year-old Swede to play with the best wingers on the team and be handed as much power play time as he can handle. 60 points is a definite possibility.
Last season was a tough one for Bobby Ryan, as his 25 points in 62 games were a huge disappointing. During his first three seasons in Ottawa, Ryan averaged 52 points per year. During last spring's playoff run, he found his mojo, registering a wicked 15 points in 19 contests.
Prior to last year’s 62 games, Ryan played in 81, 78 and 70 games, respectively. If he can manage to stay relatively healthy, along with receiving top power-play minutes, count on a return to the 50-point mark.
You can bet the trade of Brayden Schenn was helped along by the emergence of Travis Konecny. He made the leap to the NHL straight from junior this past season and recorded 28 points in 70 matches. He also gained a ton of confidence when he scored eight points in 10 World Championship games.
It looks as though Konecny is guaranteed a top-six role this year as well as be in the mix for a decent amount of power-play minutes. His sophomore season could shape up very nicely.
So which Conor Sheary are we going to get this year? The one that recorded 23 goals and 53 points in 61 NHL games playing mostly beside Sidney Crosby, or the one that had seven points in 22 playoff matches, including even being a healthy scratch?
His sub-par postseason had to have hurt his bargaining position at least a little, but the 25-year-old winger still received a 3-year, $9-million dollar deal from the Pens this summer.
Last year, Sheary played more than 85 percent of his even-strength shifts with Crosby. Let’s see if Jake Guentzel’s arrival pushes Sheary down the line up. The Pens lack of depth should help ensure that Sheary still gets his opportunities.
No way Tampa trades Jonathan Drouin without Brayden Point’s coming out party this season. He had 40 points in 68 NHL games, and he finished the season strong with 16 points through his final 15 games.
Look for Point to continue receiving top-six minutes and potential carve out a role on the No. 1 power-play unit. He will be a key part of what Tampa Bay hopes will be another deep playoff run after missing the dance last season.
William Nylander had a successful rookie NHL campaign, ending up with 22 goals and 61 points in 81 contests and finishing sixth in Calder voting. When the season concluded, he joined the Swedish national team at the World Championship, helping them beat Canada to take home the gold medal. Nylander had 14 points in 10 games and was voted the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Will the 21-year-old continue to build on the momentum from last season, or is he in danger of taking a step back in his sophomore campaign? I can’t imagine him scoring less than 60 points this year, and if the Leafs prospects continue to mature with every game, 75 points might not be unrealistic this year.
John Carlson just had his worst offensive season since 2013-14, when he recorded an identical 37 points. In the two previous years, he had 55 points in 82 games and 39 points in 56 games (a 57-point pace).
It doesn’t hurt in the old motivation department, that the 27-year-old is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this campaign. With Kevin Shattenkirk now starring on Broadway, Carlson should revert back to the 50-point mark this season.
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