NHL Preview: Best players in the Central Division

It’s back!  Starting October 1st, the NHL is back!  This year there was no NHL lockout and no other distractions so the NHL fans will be getting a full slate of games despite a partial break in February for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

With a new year comes the new division re-alignment.  We’ve all heard about it and it certainly will make it easier for teams to travel but this brings tough new competition.  The Central Division is now consisted of the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, and Winnipeg Jets.  This article will take a look at the Central Division and the preseason All-Stars divided up into four lines consisting of one center, two wingers, two defenders and a goalie.  Let’s break it down now.

Centers:

1. Jonathan Toews

I have Jonathan Toews anchoring the middle on the Central Division All-Star team’s first line, as he clearly stands out as one of the best.  Toews is not only a terrific center, but also is a great leader.  Toews has proven to be one of the best defensive centers in the league; he won the Frank J. Selke Trophy this past season for his demonstration of defensive skill.

Seguin's youth could provide spark for the Stars this season

Seguin’s youth could provide spark for the Stars this season

2. Tyler Seguin

With the Central Division being stacked with talent, it was hard to make up lines two through four.  On this line, you can really put  Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn at either winger or center.

The Dallas Stars made a splash this offseason by signing the 21-year-old Seguin, who is a great addition to the team; he’ll help take some of the load off of Benn.  While in Boston, Seguin had his most productive year during the 2011-2012 season.

Seguin mostly saw second line action behind David Krejci.  Seguin’s youth will bring a lot of energy and excitement to Dallas, and his talent speaks for itself.

3. David Backes

The St. Louis Blues’ David Backes leads the third line.  Backes is known not only for his skill, but also for his toughness. His talent is certainly evident: he notched 54 points last year and led his team to a second-place finish in the difficult Central division.

Backes looks to lead his team to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2001.  The last time the Blues won the Western Conference was during the 1969-1970 season.

[The Best of the NHL Season Preview]

4. Mikko Koivu

Koivu is the last of the centers.  Koivu has always been a consistent player for the Wild year in and year out.  Koivu may not put up exciting and wild numbers but he consistently gets it done each season. He’s the leader of the Wild and it shows on the ice.

Patrick Kane looks to help the Blackhawks win another Stanley Cup

Patrick Kane looks to help the Blackhawks win another Stanley Cup

Right Wingers:

1. Patrick Kane

The fist line of the central division All-Star team consists of two members from the 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane and Toews.

Kane won the Conn Smythe trophy for his work during the Blackhawks run for the cup.  Kane had 9 goals and 10 assists for a total of 19 points, second only to Boston’s David Krejci.  Kane was no slouch during the regular season as well, racking up 55 points and was fifth in points behind only Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Alexander Ovechkin, and Sidney Crosby.  Not bad company if you ask me.

2. Jamie Benn

On the same line as his teammate Tyler Seguin, Benn has been one of the leading stars in Dallas for the past four seasons. During those past four seasons, the Stars have failed to make a trip to the NHL Playoffs.  With the acquisition of Seguin, Benn will have a new favorite teammate to work with after losing veteran players Jaromir Jagr and Loui Eriksson due to trades.

Both Seguin and Benn will have a breakout year and should compete with some of the top teams in the Central.

3. T.J. Oshie

T.J. Oshie looks to help lead his team to the Western Conference Finals this year.

T.J. Oshie looks to help lead his team to the Western Conference Finals this year.

Oshie, like his linemate Backes, collected 54 points a season ago in the lockout-shortened season. Oshie is one of the fastest skaters in the division, and will add hustle, defense, and scoring ability to this third line.

4. P.A. Parenteau

Parenteau signed a four-year contract in 2012 with the Colorado Avalanche after an impressive first season in Colorado.  Parenteau lead the team in goals (18), and tied in points (43) with Matt Duchene.  The shortened season was merely preparation for what is next for the Avalanche with new Coach Patrick Roy.  Parenteau is bound to have a big season this year now that he’s worked with teammates Duchene and Paul Stastny.

Left Wingers:

1. Zach Parise

To round out the first-line forwards, Zach Parise makes the list.  Parise came into Minnesota with new teammates and a new conference.  Despite the short season, Parise was able to help lead the Wild to the 2013 NHL Playoffs.  However, during the playoffs, Parise only scored 1 goal in the series loss to the Blackhawks.  With one season under his belt in Minnesota, the hometown kid looks to prove to the “State of Hockey” that he was well worth the money from last year.

2. Marian Hossa

Rounding out the second-line wingers is a familiar name: Marian Hossa.  Hossa has been in the league for quite sometime (15 years to be exact).  Yet year in and year out,

Hossa and Sharp were a force to be reckoned with last year

Hossa and Sharp were a force to be reckoned with last year

Hossa always seems to find the back of the net or help a teammate find the back of the net.

You can’t go wrong with Hossa; for the Blackhawks he’s a second line player and on this Central Division All-Star list he’s a second line winger as well.  Despite only having 31 points last season, Hossa had six game-winning goals which was second among all NHL players.  Talk about magic.  Most of his productive years came in Ottawa, but look for Hossa to keep up his solid work ethic and stay healthy for this season.

3. Patrick Sharp

Patrick Sharp is the final forward on the third line. Sharp is still a playmaker for the Blackhawks, but with the emergence of the youngster Brandon Saad, Sharp’s role took a bit of a back seat last season. This is largely due to a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 28 of the 48 games last season.  Despite the injury and the emergence of Saad, Sharp was still a fantastic shooter and player.  During the playoffs, he had 10 goals and 6 assists for 16 points.  Sharp had one more postseason goal than the Conn Smythe winner Patrick Kane. If Sharp can stay healthy this season, I think he will put up even more impressive numbers.

4. Andrew Ladd

Completing the fourth line is Andrew Ladd, the 27-year-old left winger that led the Winnipeg Jets last season in assists, total points, and plus/minus.  The Jets are looking for Ladd, Evander Kane, and Blake Wheeler to help them make an appearance this year in the playoffs.

Defensemen:

1. Shea Weber/ Ryan Suter

Weber and Suter back in their Nashville days

Weber and Suter back in their Nashville days

For defense on the first line, I have a pair of old teammates.  Shea Weber and Ryan Suter were together in Nashville for seven seasons, and during those seven season became a dynamic duo along the blue line.

Along with Parise, Suter joined the Minnesota Wild this past season in a blockbuster signing.  Suter had 28 assists in his debut season with the Wild, but Weber is looking to have a bit more of a productive year: he had only nine goals and 19 assists last season without his linemate Suter. Even with Weber’s down year, both of these defensemen are at the top of the Central Division for this year.

2. Dustin Byfuglien/ Alex Pietrangelo

The second line defense is lead by Winnipeg Jet Dustin Byfuglien, and the St. Louis Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo.

Dustin “Big Buff” Byfuglien is definitely a big boy and has been a huge asset to the Jets.  Byfuglien has accumulated 20 goals, and 61 assists since being a Jet.  Byfuglien is the defensive leader of the Jets and looks to take the Winnipeg Jets to their first trip to the playoffs since 1996, before they moved to Phoenix.

Alex Pietrangelo is hoping to prove to be one of the best defenders in the NHL this season, after having a breakout season in 2012. Pietrangelo notched 52 points last year (two fewer than Byfuglien), and this year is looking to have another year like that.  Just last season, Pietrangelo lead the Blues in total ice time at 25 minutes, 6 seconds.

However, the Blues and Pietrangelo are currently under contract negotiations have yet to work something out.  The Blues will want to try to sign Pietrangelo, who has become a valuable star to the team along with his linemate, Kevin Shattenkirk.

3. Duncan Keith/ Kevin Shattenkirk

The third defensive pair is made up of Duncan Keith and Kevin Shattenkirk.  Keith, statistics-wise, might not be a top 10 player but he still is a force to be reckoned with for the Blackhawks.  Keith is the star of the defense in Chicago along with Brent Seabrook, but Keith stands out as a great all-around defender and player. Last year, Keith had 26 takeaways and a pretty productive 27 points.

On the flip side, Shattenkirk has been over shadowed by Pietrangelo in points and in time on ice.  Despite that, he’s a productive defensemen and will work hard with Pietrangelo this year.

Goaltenders:

1. Pekka Rinne

The leading man between the pipes is Pekka Rinne.  Now, a few might say Corey Crawford should be on the first line, but when it comes to pure puck stopping ability, I want Rinne.  Rinne has come to be an experienced goalie.  Last season, despite losing his top defender in Suter, Rinne was still productive, having a 2.42 goals against average and a save percentage of .910.  Rinne has been consistent in the past four seasons and most recently has been nominated in 2011 and 2012 for the Venzia Trophy (best goaltender).

2. Corey Crawford

Corey Crawford gets his named mentioned on the second line as well. Crawford helped lead the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup victory with 16 wins, a 1.84 goals against average and a save percentage of .932. And that was just the playoffs.

Needless to say, Crawford got hot during the postseason.  During the regular season, Crawford was the starter but also split time with back up Ray Emery.  Now that Emery is gone, Crawford will have to take the team and his game to a whole new level.  After signing a lengthy a six-year $36 million extension, Crawford still has a great defense in front of him but he needs to work harder like he worked during the Stanley Cup Championship run.

 

With a new coach in Colorado, will the Avalanche be able to make a statement in the Central Division?

With a new coach in Colorado, will the Avalanche be able to make a statement in the Central Division?

Totals per team:
Chicago Blackhawks- 6 players

St. Louis Blues- 4 players

Minnesota Wild- 3 players

Dallas Stars- 2 players

Nashville Predators- 2 players

Winnipeg Jets- 2 players

Colorado Avalanche- 1 player

This concludes the best of Central Division.  No matter what, with the short season last year, it was just a glimpse of what could happen this season.  A lot will be put into this season as a lot of teams look to come out on top with the new division formats. Best of luck to all the teams and players in the division.

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  • http://chipshots.chipramsey.com Chip Ramsey

    Seabrook? Seabrook? Seabrook? I’d take him over Big Buff in a heartbeat. Stan Bowman obviously feels the same way…