2019-20 Season Preview: Plante West

In News, Special Features on October 8, 2019 at 10:00 am

Yesterday we looked at the Plante East. Today, it’s part two of our annual season previews, including two rebuilding clubs and three teams that seem ready to make some real noise in ’19-’20.

Baltimore Crab

Last season: 37-33-12 (4th in conference; lost in 1st round)

Draft picks: Filip Zadina (13), Philippe Myers (38)

Additions: F Jay Beagle, F Antti Suomela, D Lawrence Pilut, G Mikko Koskinen, G Pheonix Copley

Subtractions: F Frans Nielsen, F A.J. Greer, D Kevin Connauton, D Karl Alzner, G Roberto Luongo, G Kari Lehtonen

Analysis: Not much has changed for the one-time contenders, outside of swapping aging and declining Roberto Luongo for European import Mikko Koskinen in goal. The team still has a flat-out great top 6, headlined by Sidney Crosby, Mark Scheifele, Filip Forsberg, and Vladimir Tarasenko, and a deadly top defense pairing in Ryan McDonagh and Brent Burns. But the team’s depth is something of a question mark, especially on the blueline. After Hampus Lindholm, the team will be relying a lot on the likes of young Tony DeAngelo and aging Johnny Boychuk, among others. If they flop, the Crab could be in the market for a D-man before the deadline.

Player to watch: Mikko Koskinen is a total unknown. Can he take the reins from Luongo and lead Baltimore back into contention? He’ll have to, since backup Philipp Grubauer isn’t eligible to play in all postseason games.

Outlook: Playoffs

Charleston Chiefs

Last season: 38-38-6 (5th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Miro Heiskanen (2), Rudolfs Balcers (50), Mason Appleton (66), Jakub Zboril (70), Trevor Moore (73)

Additions: D Miro Heiskanen, F Rudolfs Balcers, F Mason Appleton

Subtractions: F Steven Stamkos, F David Backes, F Ryan Hartman, D Andreas Borgman, D Mirco Mueller

Analysis: Rebuilds are painful. After a disappointing season that nevertheless saw them within a few points of a playoff berth, the Chiefs traded up in the draft in the hopes of nabbing Rasmus Dahlin, only to watch him go first overall. At number 2, they picked up Miro Heiskanen, who will immediately slot in on the team’s first pairing with Morgan Rielly. That’s good. Unfortunately, it meant losing Steven Stamkos and a lot of offensive punch beyond Brayden Point and Viktor Arvidsson. There’s William Nylander, but a contract dispute may keep him out for part of the season. The team is looking thin at both left wing and centre, where Casey Mittelstadt will likely be thrown to the wolves in a key role, and the defense features no real game-breakers after the first pair. Oh, and Jonathan Quick has seen better days. It could be a long season.

Player to watch: Josh Anderson isn’t exactly heralded, but he’s slowly emerged as a top-six talent. Much will be expected of him this year to partially make up for the loss of Stamkos and, potentially, Nylander.

Outlook: Rebuilding

El Dorado Lynx

Last season: 48-24-10 (3rd in conference; lost in 1st round)

Draft picks: Erik Brannstrom (17), Carl Grundstrom (36), Vitaly Abramov (57), Nathan Bastian (80)

Additions: none

Subtractions: F Patrik Berglund, D Niklas Kronwall, F Vitaly Abramov, F Nathan Bastian

Analysis: After a first-round loss to Parry Sound, the Lynx had a quiet offseason, and highly-touted Erik Brannstrom isn’t ready for prime time. Yet any team featuring Alex Ovechkin and Ryan O’Reilly is going to be in the mix. The team has an extremly deep group on both wings — some of the best depth in the league, in fact — which it hopes will offset the lack of quality after O’Reilly down the middle. The steep decline of Ryan Kesler’s play has left the likes of Valteri Filppula (or possibly Mikael Granlund shifted from wing) as the second-line centre. In brighter news, the improvements El Dorado made to its blueline last year with the acquisitions of Alex Edler and Jonas Brodin have made for the team’s most balanced defense corps in years. If Mattias Ekholm and Jeff Petry can play like top-pairing d-men, they’ll have a shot at a long playoff run.

Player to watch: The team has been riding the coattails of the Carey Price/Tuukka Rask tandem for years, and this season will be no different. If Price in particular can play to his talent level, it will make a world of difference for the Lynx.

Outlook: Contender

Great Lakes Pilots

Last season: 17-56-9 (10th in conference; missed playoffs)

Draft picks: Rasmus Dahlin (1), Evan Bouchard (21), Victor Olofsson (35), Isac Lundestrom (41), Urho Vaakanainen (54), Dylan Gambrell (61)

Additions: F Ilya Kovalchuk, D Rasmus Dahlin

Subtractions: F Markus Granlund, F Jason Pominville, F Riley Sheahan, F Ryan Spooner, D Madison Bowey, D Nick Jensen, D Julius Honka

Analysis: The rebuilding Pilots had a great draft, nabbing Rasmus Dahlin first overall, and following it with two second rounders who could be ready for regular action in 2020 in Evan Bouchard and Victor Olofsson. But it’ll be a rocky year as the team pins its hopes on the continuing development of Jonathan Drouin, Nolan Patrick, and Colin White. Outside of those three, Tomas Hertl is the team’s only potential scoring threat up front, though the team hopes last year’s acquisition of Alexander Wennberg will pay dividends eventually. Things look bright on the back end, though, as the Pilots now have an excellent  top-6 headlined by Dahlin, Jacob Trouba, Jake Gardiner, and Danny DeKeyser, backstopped by one of the league’s best starters in Andrei Vasilevskiy. That group will put a few notches in the W column for sure.

Player to watch: Purely out of necessity, Tomas Hertl is the straw that stirs the drink for the Pilots. The question is, how much offense can he create on his own, with the likes of Alex Chiasson possibly riding shotgun?

Outlook: Rebuilding

Parry Sound Orrsmen

Last season: 52-18-12 (2nd in conference; lost in 2nd round)

Draft picks: Max Jones (39)

Additions: F Micheal Ferland, F Patric Hornqvist,G Thomas Greiss

Subtractions: F Colton Sceviour, F Daniel Sedin, F Maxim Mamin, F Mikhail Vorobyev, F Tyler Motte, D Thomas Hickey, G Casey DeSmith

Analysis: After a second-straight year of postseason disappointment, the Parry Sound Orrsmen are once again looking to claim a title in 2019-20. The team made a few significant, if not earth-shattering, changes during the offseason, most notably in acquiring goaltender Thomas Greiss from Farmington. Should Pekka Rinne stumble, Greiss will be waiting. The team also added wingers Micheal Ferland and Patric Hornqvist, both of whom should help shore up the team’s shaky-looking bottom six. At the end of the day, the team is more or less where it was last year — a good-but-not-great blueline (bolstered by the trade deadline acquisition of Oliver Ekman-Larsson), and a truly stellar, high-powered top six up front, led by Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and Evgeni Kuznetsov. If that engine is running on all cylinders, look out.

Player to watch: David Pastrnak has the talent to be a game-breaker, and will once again have a world-class centre (no matter how the lines shuffle) feeding him the puck. A monster year from him could be coming.

Outlook: Contender



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