NHL Season Preview-Part 5

In Part 5, I will be discussing my picks for the “Fail for Nail” competition and the Stanley Cup.

First, let me explain exactly what “Fail for Nail” is referring to. There is a right-winger on the Sarnia Sting of the OHL who some people are likening to a Pavel Bure with physicality. His name is Nail Yakupov and he’s the favorite to be the 1st overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. The dynamic winger won the CHL rookie of the year award last season, putting up 101 points in 65 games. To give a little more perspective on that stat, that’s nine more points higher than what Steven Stamkos scored in his rookie year playing in the CHL . Obviously, the kid is a great talent and definitely has a chance to be a superstar in the NHL someday. There’s a decent chance that you’ll be able to see him play in this year’s World Juniors for team Russia and in the Memorial Cup in May, but for now, here’s a highlight package of him that I found on Youtube. I apologize for the music this Youtube user put in this video.

Based on my earlier predictions, Florida and Edmonton would be the teams in contention for that 1st overall draft pick in 2012. Edmonton does have a very questionable defense, but it’s not too much worse than Florida’s. With regard to the forwards, Edmonton definitely has the more talented forward group and I would give a slight edge to the Oilers in the goaltending department. Finally, I think Edmonton plays in an easier division the Florida and when you add all of this up, I think the Florida Panthers will have the dubious distinction of being the worst team in the NHL. That might not necessarily mean that they’ll draft first overall because of the lottery. Any team who’s slotted to draft in the top 5 has the potential to move up into that top spot, but the odds are weighted based on your placement, so Florida would still in all likelihood, draft 1st overall.

Here’s what you probably really care about in this article. The Stanley Cup projections. First off, it’s pretty hard to make it back to the finals after making it their the prior year, so I’m not picking the Bruins or Canucks. Another pretty obvious prerequisite is that the team’s need to have a capable starter in goal. That 2009-10 season was a fluke in that regard. Next, I think any team who wants to make a serious run at the cup will need good, deep defense. The playoffs are a grind. Having a deep group at forward would definitely help, but it’s necessarily must-have if you’ve got some dominant forwards on your team. Finally, I think there needs to be a decent amount of players on the team who have actually made deep playoff runs and ideally, have won a cup before. After factoring all of this in, I’m picking the Anaheim Ducks and the Pittsburgh Penguins to make the Stanley Cup Finals and I’m picking the Ducks to win it all.

I know I’m not exactly going out a limb by picking the Pens, but I don’t see how I can go against them at this point. Even without Crosby, the Pens still have Malkin, Staal, and a solid supporting cast at forward who have all been through the grind for the most part and their blueline is arguably the top unit in the East. If Crosby’s himself, this team is going to really be a tough-out in a seven game series. Marc-Andre Fleury has helped the Pens win a cup with his goaltending and is more than than capable of helping them get back to the finals again.

As for the Ducks, with Hiller back in goal, fully healthy, he gives their team a big boost. The defense in front of him is a younger group with enough veteran presence, physical play, depth, offensive prowess, and most importantly, good play in their own end of the ice. Visnovsky is a #1 defenseman and will steer that blueline to success. At forward, Anaheim has the monster trio of Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry who is capable of dominating any unit that’s on the ice for the opposing team at any time. They also have Koivu and Selanne to help support the offense and they’ve improved their forward depth from within and by adding Andrew Cogliano. There’s still plenty of room for improving the depth there, but right now, I think their forward depth is good enough to the point where it won’t be a liability for them as they go deeper into the playoffs. In the end, I think that the defenses on paper will probably be a wash, the trio the Ducks have will be too much for the Pens defense to handle, and I think Hiller would outperform Fleury.

Of course, there’s a more than a good chance that things won’t play out this way, but I think this is a good prediction based on the state of things now.

At the very least, tomorrow’s game against Anaheim should be a good early season test for the Sabres since they will very likely be one of the top teams in the West when it’s all said and done. Remember that the game starts at 1:oo PM tomorrow because they are playing overseas. This concludes my NHL Season Preview. Hopefully, it was a good read and as always, lets go Buffalo!!!

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