Part Two looks at the remaining top line combinations of Eastern Conference teams …
I feel that the top six for the Isles is pretty clear cut. Who will lineup where is a the real question. Tavares and Okposo will stay attached at the hip, as Okposo has seemed to replace the void Moulson left seasons ago. As for Bailey, he should end up on this line but could easily be shuffled down for pretty much anyone listed below. Strome would be an intriguing option for this line, but I think he is better left to command the second line. Okposo should have another solid year, especially considering it is a contract year for him… he will make it rain.
I really like what I've seen from Lee. He posted 19 points in the 22 games Okposo was out with a retinal injury. Much of Lee's time during that hot streak was spent with Tavares on the top line. I think this line has potential to explode, and Strome will be a big reason for that. Strome is also in a contract year, so don't be surprised if he goes HAM and the rest follow suit for an explosive season.
The Rangers have a boatload of depth going forward, and the line combos could easily fluctuate as the season progresses. I suppose the Rangers will give this line a go to begin the year given their tremendous success last season from November onward, but don't be surprised to see Nash and Stepan reunited as they played much of 2012-14 together and injuries are sure to play a role at some point. Brassard had wrist surgery in late June but is expected to be back for preseason action – and Zuccarello has recovered from a serious brain (!) injury. If either get off to a slow start and his linemates suffer, Stepan could be bumped up for a period of time.
I love Kreider and what he brings to the table… speed, aggression, and skill. It's almost for certain that you will see both Kreider and Stepan in the top six, the real question is who will be that magical No. 6? I believe it will come down to either Viktor Stalberg or Emerson Etem. Kevin Hayes should stay on the third line to anchor the center position or else he would definitely be worth a look in the top six seeing how he was red hot down the stretch with 30 points in his last 45 games. I like Stalberg to get the first look here and Etem to make a strong case for second-line duties at some point in the season.
Turris continues to quietly produce season after season while gaining no real praise from poolies all around. He should center both MacArthur and Ryan, which could prove to be a solid first line this season. If Ryan can get his groove back… which many of us poolies have been hoping, Turris could flourish and break the 70-point plateau.
The anchor for this line is none other than Stone who managed to post a sweltering 53 points in his last 55 games to take the NHL rookie scoring title. What is more impressive is the fact that he produced those 53 points while playing some pretty tough minutes. Zibanejad enters the magical fourth season, and he should perform really well with Stone on this line. As for the third and final piece… Michalek should get the first look but I wouldn't be surprised if Mike Hoffman got into the top six to bounce Milan out. Important to note that while MacArthur was out of the lineup Hoffman was able to drop 15 points in 20 games. Given the opportunity I think Hoffman will flourish and his shot at a top-six role is definitely legitimate.
The Flyers have been trying to find the final piece to this devastating tandem for quite some time… and by tandem I clearly mean Giroux and Voracek. With Hartnell gone and Michael Raffl proving to be unworthy… next up to the plate should be recently added Sam Gagner. There is a lot riding on the line here for Gagner. There may not be many more chances for him, and I think he will capitalize on this opportunity. Schenn is his only real threat for that top-line spot, as he did manage to produce 11 points in 15 games while lining up with the Giroux and Voracek last season. Keep an eye on the first 10 games to see how the Gagner experiment pans out.
The top six should be rounded off by these three studs. The only person that I could see challenging for a top-six role is possibly Matt Read. Raffl, in my eyes, is finished… he has had plenty of opportunities but can't seem to get it done. Read had a rather lackluster fourth season… but maybe he just needed another year to really breakout, or at least that’s what many Read owners keep telling themselves.
The top six in Pittsburgh is a little murky this season… and that's a good thing for all Pens fans. Mainly because the Pens have a lot of firepower going forward and Crosby/Malkin can lineup with just about anyone. Above is my best guess for the top line, however, Hornqvist could easily swap with Kessel here seeing how he had decent chemistry with Crosby last season. Perron hasn't really impressed since being acquired by the Pens, but you have to think they give him another shot in the top six, especially with a fresh start this season.
The second line may bring a surprise through the likes of Plotnikov. The 25-year-old Russian boasts size and strength sitting at 6-2, 205. His power forward style should mesh well with Geno and Horny on what could be a potent second line. Plotnikov has also produced decently in the KHL and has some chemistry with Malkin from Team Russia in the World Championships. However, BEWARE… Plotnikov will have the likes of Chris Kunitz breathing down his neck and my guess is Kunitz will find his way to the second line come December.
It's pretty crazy to think that Steven Stamos will be a second-line center come October… but when you have the Triplets playing the way they have… you understand. There really is no doubt that this line will anchor the Bolts this season, and there isn't much to write here other than, if you own any of these studs enjoy the ride!
Drouin should get a shot on this second line, but he is eligible for the AHL this year so keep an eye on his play early on and BEWARE. I believe Killorn will battle and find a spot beside Stamkos at some point before the New Year. Why do I like Killorn? Because he is entering his fourth season and he is in a contract year… a deadly combination. Vladislav Namestnikov will also battle for a spot in the top six, but I feel Killorn will get it done.
The Leafs will be a very hard team to watch this year. Aside from this top line which could provide some entertainment… get ready to zzzZZzzz your way through games. Kadri should be a staple on the top line now that Kessel is gone and Bozak should find his way to the 2nd line where he belongs.
The top six for the Leafs is possibly one of the hardest to predict. This year will be an evaluation year, and with Babcock in town anything can happen. This is a young rebuilding team and for that reason lots of youngsters will be coming in and out throughout the season. This is my best guess at a second line… Bozak has proven to be good enough to get the job done here plus there is no real threat behind him. As for Parenteau, he has demonstrated to be a solid contributor on rebuilding teams (refer to Islanders). Lastly, Matthias has a decent track record with solid NHL experience so he should get a shot here before anyone else.
This line has the potential to wreak havoc on the Eastern Conference this season. Oshie did not have his greatest year last season, as he only managed to produce 55 points… although in 70 games. Partly to blame for this lack of production was the emergence of the STL line spearheaded by Vladimir Tarasenko. Oshie should settle in very nicely here, and with some consistent power-play time, I could see him having a breakout campaign with a career high of 65-70 points. This acquisition could… and in my opinion will be, the reason why the Caps take it to the next level this season.
Kuznetsov showed glimpses of brilliance during the postseason this spring, as he tied with Ovechkin for the team led in goals with. Williams and Johansson should play on both sides of the young Russian. Williams brings tons of experience to the Caps, and he has consistently gotten it done when it has mattered most. That, in my opinion, is invaluable and hopes are that it will rub off on Kuznetsov who already seems to have a knack for the post-season.
- Follow Jonathan Coretti on Twitter (@HolyPuckHockey)
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