Season Preview: Sawchuk (part 1)

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2021 at 11:06 am

We now turn our attention to the 11 teams in the Sawchuk Conference. Whose turn is it to rise out of the basement to contend for the cup? If you missed them, read the previews for Plante (part 1) and Plante (part 2).

Adirondack Aces

Last season: 22-53-7 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: F Kirill Kaprizov (1), D Alexander Romanov (23), D Alexandre Carrier (45), F Wade Allison (67)

Notable additions: F Drew O’Connor, D Gustav Forsling

Notable subtractions: F Alexander Kerfoot, F Marcus Sorensen, D Dennis Cholowski, D Danny DeKeyser, D Ron Hainsey, G Devan Dubnyk

Analysis: One year after a 46-25-11 season, the Aces totally collapsed and finished with the league’s worst record. It almost defies explanation. It seems likely, then, that a rebound is on the way. For one thing, first overall pick Kirill Kaprizov is poised to step right into the top of the lineup and make an immediate impact. For another, they didn’t lose much in expansion and also managed to grab Gustav Forsling in free agency to shore up the D. Assuming Patrice Bergeron still has gas in the tank (spoiler: he does) and Roope Hintz can stay mostly healthy, they also have a formidable group down the middle, with William Karlsson and Sean Monahan in the bottom six. On paper, this team should be playoff-bound, but considering last season’s woes, calling them a bubble team is the safer bet.

Player to watch: An exceptional year from Semyon Varlamov could be enough to get Adirondack back in the postseason conversation.

Outlook: Bubble

Boston Banshees

Last season: 46-28-8 (lost in 1st round)

Draft picks: G Ilya Sorokin (17), F Michael Bunting (39), D Logan Stanley (56), F Jonah Gadjovich (70), D Niko Mikkola (82), G Stuart Skinner (83)

Notable additions: F Filip Chytil, F Robert Thomas, F Nicolas Roy, G Matt Murray

Notable subtractions: F Joe Pavelski, F Zach Parise, F Radek Faksa, F Erik Haula, F Colton Sissons, D Brandon Carlo, D Connor Clifton, D Oliver Kylington, G Anton Khudobin, G Ben Bishop

Analysis: No surprise: big changes are afoot in Boston, as management seems to have committed to a retool. Dealing Joe Pavelski, who can still score and has long been a key part of the Banshees’ offense, really drove the reality home. The forward ranks are starting to look pretty thin, with a big drop in talent up front after Mika Zibanejad, Brock Boeser, and Sean Couturier, and newcomers Filip Chytil and Robert Thomas aren’t likely to make much of a dent this season. The blueline — led by Darnell Nurse, Matt Dumba, and Ryan Ellis — is still very deep, though, and the goaltender situation is another big wild card. The Banshees acquired Matt Murray from Pittsburgh, but may ultimately run a tandem of Alex Nedelkjovic and Ilya Sorokin. That’s the X factor that could keep the Banshees in the mix.

Player to watch: Zibanejad had a miraculous 58-goal season in 2020-21. That kind of offense can win games. Can he keep producing at that level?

Outlook: Bubble

Clarington Coyotes

Last season: N/A

Draft picks: F Peyton Krebs (14), F Nicholas Robertson (35), F Alex Barre-Boulet (43), D Sebastian Aho (88)

Notable additions: All of them

Notable subtractions: F Paul Stastny, F Josh Archibald, D Dennis Cholowski

Analysis: The new guys in the Sawchuk will have their work cut out for them. There’s no shortage of veterans on the Coyotes — Nazem Kadri, Tanner Pearson, Lars Eller — and the team will likely have to lean hard on older guys like Mats Zuccarello and Jeff Carter to make offense happen. Its prospect pool is still a season or two away, and they’ll have to wait a while to see if the big swing they took on Vladimir Tarasenko in the expansion draft pays off. Otherwise, it’s an expansion calibre team — a fair amount of grit and defensive smarts in the lower half of the lineup, but no stars. The real intrigue is in goal. Can either Jacob Markstrom and Sergei Bobrovsky — who are both capable of very good and also very mediocre play — lead this team into the playoffs?

Player to watch: Jamie Oleksiak. The Coyotes will likely give Alex Goligoski the toughest minutes on D, but will need Oleksiak to step up and produce like a #2.

Outlook: Rebuilding

Delta Sturgeon

Last season: 48-23-11 (lost in 1st round)

Draft picks: F Connor McMichael (20), G Jake Oettinger (22), F Pius Suter (42), D David Farrance (57), F Adam Ruzicka (62), F John Leonard (71), F Jesse Ylonen (85)

Notable additions: F Tyler Johnson, F Blake Comeau, F Erik Haula, D Colin Miller

Notable subtractions: F Calle Jarnkrok, F Alexander True, F Rocco Grimaldi, F Colton Sceviour, F Eric Staal, F Derek Stepan, F John Leonard, D Zdeno Chara, G Antti Raanta

Analysis: This should be a very interesting year for the Sturgeon, who have been served some incredibly bad injury luck before the season’s even begun. Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Toews are both expected to miss the entire season, and word is Aaron Ekblad and Colton Parayko may also miss significant time. The Sturgeon still have no shortage of talent — led by Nathan MacKinnon and Taylor Hall — in a pretty good top six and a solid defense corps, but Toews and Kucherov are two of their most important players. It will take a miraculous year from John Gibson to keep them in the mix as a contender, but they still have the pieces to at least have a chance at making a postseason appearance.

Player to watch: Kucherov’s dynamic offense isn’t really replaceable, but it would be a big win if young Jakub Vrana could find another level.

Outlook: Bubble

Farmington Fighting Saints

Last season: 38-37-7 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: F Alexis Lafreniere (2), F Shane Pinto (33), D Nikolai Kzyzhov (55), G Logan Thompson (77)

Notable additions: F Cody Eakin, F Ryan McLeod, G Pekka Rinne

Notable subtractions: F Paul Stastny, F Tanner Pearson, F Mikko Koivu, F Matt Nieto, D Madison Bowey, G Corey Crawford

Analysis: The Fighting Saints finished just above .500, yet missed the playoffs — and won big in the draft lottery, jumping up to number two. Even if Alexis Lafreniere isn’t ready to be a star just yet, and despite losing longtime vets Paul Stastny and Tanner Pearson to expansion, the Saints are poised to be the team that emerges as a playoff danger this season. The team is justifiably hoping for breakouts from a bunch of younger players, including Conor Garland, Josh Norris, and Drake Batherson, and just like that, their depth chart is better than it’s looked in years. Devon Toews’ growth will help the blueline, too. But the retirement of Corey Crawford left the team scrambling for a replacement — they signed Pekka Rinne, whose play isn’t what it once was. The team will need either him or Robin Lehner to step it up.

Player to watch: Tyler Toffoli’s career has been a real rollercoaster, ranging from 45 goals in 2016-17 to just 4 in 2019-20. If he can regain his goal-scoring touch, the Saints would have one of the better forward groups in the league.

Outlook: Playoffs

Hamilton Ti-Cats

Last season: 30-48-4 (missed playoffs)

Draft picks: F Cole Caufield (3), D Calen Addison (28), G Filip Gustavsson (50), D Kevin Bahl (61), F Kole Lind (72)

Notable additions: F Evan Rodrigues

Notable subtractions: F Mark Jankowski, F Wayne Simmonds, F Jeff Skinner, F Lias Andersson, D Alex Goligoski, D Jamie Oleksiak, G Craig Anderson

Analysis: The payoff of the draft day additions of Cole Caufield and Calen Addison is at least a season away, maybe two. Same for their 2020 draft prize, Kirby Dach. Meanwhile, the top of the roster–Claude Giroux, Roman Josi, Tyson Barrie, etc.–is starting to go a little grey around the edges. Still, there aren’t any real holes in this lineup, with a lot of hardworking, under-the-radar players like Alex Iafallo, Bryan Rust and Blake Coleman playing important roles. As with many teams this season, the biggest question surrounds the goaltending position. Can either Joonas Korpisalo or James Reimer lead this team to the playoffs? Or can rookie Filip Gustavsson go on a run? Never say never, but it’s likely that the Ti-Cats will have to score a lot to win games.

Player to watch: The slow but steady development of Joel Eriksson Ek has the potential to take some of the pressure of Nick Schmaltz and Kevin Hayes down the middle. That would be huge.

Outlook: Bubble


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