September is finally here. Almost a week in with insane temperatures and ridiculous humidity that have melted most of the remaining players at a grueling U.S. Open, I can’t wait for cooler weather and classic autumn breezes to arrive. With football finally back of the ugly kind if you actually watched the Falcons and Eagles butcher the NFL along with the refs, hockey is around the corner.
Believe it or not, the NHL off-season is finally ending. Rookie prospect tournaments are about to start, and players are preparing for the grind of another long season. Fans are excited at the prospect of a fresh start for 31 NHL teams. The excitement is back. While training camp is a good chance to see which players could make a first impression, preseason is a opportunity for us to track our favorite newcomers. Who will turn heads? There’s always palpable excitement for that along with seeing some of the new players and our faves.
Whoever you root for, it’s definitely a fun time. It won’t be long before October is here, and the games become real starting Oct. 3. There’s plenty of time between now and then. Savor it. Though I have a feeling football fans in the local New York/New Jersey area will be pumped up for a pair of top picks on the Jets and Giants. Sam Darnold and Saquon Barkley will be fun to follow for each side.
So, what are we most looking forward to?
1.Rasmus Dahlin- how much of an impact will the very talented number one overall pick have on the Sabres? This is a game changer who can drastically improve the blue line.
2.Andrei Svechnikov- a very skilled scorer, the rookie Russian who went second overall to the revamped Canes could make a serious dent.
3.John Tavares- how well will the former Islander center fit in now that he’s home in Toronto on the loaded Maple Leafs, who still haven’t re-signed Group II free agent William Nylander? Tavares’ new Leafs number 91 will be selling like McDonald’s hot cakes. There will be a lot more pressure and expectations.
4.Who did better? Carolina or Calgary in the blockbuster deal that sent Dougie Hamilton to Raleigh in a five player trade that also included newest Flame Noah Hanifin. It could be a trade that benefits both teams. Are either playoff caliber? Questions remain.
5.Ilya Kovalchuk Returns- After leaving the Devils and NHL for Russia to play for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, how will one of the game’s most exciting players fare in his return playing for the Kings in Hollywood? He still should be lethal on the power play while playing a secondary role. Pencil him in for 10 power play goals and between 25-30 goals.
6.The Lou Effect- how will the Islanders do with Lou Lamoriello at the helm? Without Tavares, Calder winner Mathew Barzal takes over the number one center duty. Can Anders Lee have similar success along with Josh Bailey? How much can the defense improve under Barry Trotz? Will goalie be an issue?
7.The Erik Karlsson Saga- one of the game’s brightest stars remains in limbo. So much for all those trade rumors that had him leaving Ottawa. The Sens’ captain still is there for now entering camp in his final year. He can hit the open market next summer. Ottawa didn’t have to trade him. They can wait until next February before the trade deadline. How will Karlsson perform a year healthier? Where will he wind up? How much will he get?
8.The Connor McDavid Show- the league’s best scorer continues to improve. What’s in store for Year 3 for McJesus? Fifty goals and 70 assists isn’t out of the question. But can the Oilers rebound with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins shifting to the wing to play with McDavid? It depends on Cam Talbot and the defense.
9.Flyers or Blues? Which improved team will make their mark? The Flyers made the playoffs last Spring thanks to an MVP caliber performance from new wing Claude Giroux, a Selke effort from Sean Couturier, an eruption from Jakub Voracek, and stellar play from defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov. Can they contend? The Blues just missed the playoffs, but made several upgrades including the blockbuster trade for do everything center Ryan O’Reilly. They brought back David Perron, added depth in hometown forward Patrick Maroon and solid pivot Tyler Bozak. They should be improved enough to make some noise.
10.Taylor Hart Hall- The winner of the Hart Trophy leads a similar roster in New Jersey with sophomore Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri. Cory Schneider might not be ready to start right away. Can Hall repeat his career season and get the Devils back to the postseason? It’ll depend on secondary scorers Miles Wood, Marcus Johansson, Pavel Zacha, and a defense that largely depends on Will Butcher, Damon Severson and Sami Vatanen.
11.Rebuilding Rangers- how will the rebuild go on Broadway under new coach David Quinn? Keep a close eye on Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson. They’ll be big keys to how well a roster that still includes Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Marc Staal and Kevin Shattenkirk. Brady Skjei will be vital to the defense’s success. What about Henrik Lundqvist?
12.Howling Coyotes- Is this the year the young and upcoming Coyotes howl their way back onto the playoff bubble? Clayton Keller is poised for a big second year. Dylan Strome is ready to stick. Michael Grabner and Alex Galchenyuk will help improve the offense. Oliver Ekman-Larsson leads a blueline with potential. Christian Dvorak is expected to improve his scoring. Antti Raanta was one of the best goalies in the second half last year. Can he build on it?