Metropolitan Division 2021-22 Season Preview | Rocket Sports

Max Domi, Sebastian Aho (Photo by Adam Cairns / The Columbus Dispatch)

ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA — Welcome to the Rocket Sports Media season preview series! Over the next few days, you will find previews of all 32 NHL teams as organized by their respective divisions. These previews will feature a brief overview of each teams off-season changes, expectations, as well as predictions.

Previews are researched and written by talented and well-respected members of the Rocket Sports Media team, including the All Habs Hockey Magazine and AHL Report contributors. This team also includes a collection of guest contributors that we deemed as subject matter experts for their respective teams. Please comment below the article with your prediction. Enjoy!

Metropolitan Division – Eastern Conference

Carolina Hurricanes

2020-21 Result: 36-12-8, 1st in Central Division, Eliminated in 2nd Round

+ Key Additions: : C Jesperi Kotkaniemi (MON), C Derek Stepan (OTT), RW Stefan Noesen (SJS/TOR), D Ethan Bear (EDM), D Anthony DeAngelo (NYR/FA), D Brendan Smith (NYR), G Frederik Andersen (TOR), G Antti Raanta (ARI)

– Key Departures: C Cedric Paquette (MON), LW Warren Foegele (EDM), RW Morgan Geekie (SEA), D Dougie Hamilton (NJD), G Alex Nedeljkovic (DET), G Petr Mrazek (TOR), G James Reimer (SJ)

Hurricanes Outlook

A summer of mass change leaves the Hurricanes in about the same position they left off last season. A Central division crown and a second round loss at the hands of bitter rival Tampa Bay, has left the “bunch of jerks” with a new look, particularly in net.

Promising and well developed in-house goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic was mysteriously shipped to Detroit this off-season for very little in return. In his place, seasoned GM Don Waddell signed the oft-injured duo of Freddie Andersen and Antii Raanta. Both have a long history of inconsistent play when healthy, yet both have also shown glimpses of brilliant performances. Hard to argue either of these two, respectfully, are an upgrade over Ned and Petr Mrazek.

The highly publicized offer sheet successfully tendered to Center Jesperi Kotkaniemi has the chance to be a steal in the long run. Even though Kotkaniemi clearly is not worth the hefty $6.1 million he will be paid this year, he has the potential to be utilized with the deepest top six in the entire NHL.

Sebastian Aho and Vincent Trocheck look to continue the torrid point-per-game pace they achieved in the shortened 2020-’21 season. A season that saw line mate and young sniper Andrei Svechnikov struggle through a sophomore slump, while the other winger, Teuvo Teravainen suffered from the effects of a concussion the majority of his campaign.

The loss of Dougie Hamilton will be felt on the back-end no doubt, but the addition of Ethan Bear and the return of the rest of the core will minimize that impact.

If the offense can find a bit of health, and can ice the full core, they could realistically carry this team on a deep playoff run. If the additions of Andersen and Raanta can find their respective game, then the Caniacs will compete for the Stanley Cup.

> Prediction: Stanley Cup Contender

Preview by: Mike Raschle – RSM Special Content Contributor – @mikehabs09

New York Islanders

2020-21 Result: 32-17-7, 4th in East Division, Eliminated in 3rd Round

+ Key Additions: C Zach Parise (MIN), RW Kyle Palmieri (NJD), LW/RW Richard Panik, D Zdeno Chara (WAS)

– Key Departures: LW Jordan Eberle (SEA), RW Andrew Ladd (ARI), D Nick Leddy (DET)

Islanders Outlook

Does defense still win championships? The Islanders and head coach Barry Trotz are still hoping that it does. Captain Anders Lee missed most of last season due to a torn ACL, but will look to be a key part of the Islanders opportunistic offense along side the main scoring catalyst Matt Barzal. Oliver Wahlstrom showed his scoring touch last year tallying 12 goals in 44 games while only averaging 12 minutes of ice-time. The 21-year-old should see an increase in ice time, with some of that coming on the top line beside Barzal.

With Jordan Eberle being taken by Seattle in the expansion draft, it was almost a blessing in disguise for GM Lou Lamoriello who was facing cap issues with a couple of expired contracts and a few holes to fill. Re-signing trade acquisition Kyle Palmieri, nabbing Zach Parise after being bought out, and reuniting Zdeno Chara to the team that drafted him, are all minor tweaks but that’s all the Islanders really needed.

Do Chara and Parise have enough ‘pep in their step’ to keep up with today`s NHL? Probably not, but with such a strong team structure in place they should fit right in and get through the season on their experience and leadership alone.

With arguably the best goalie tandem in the league, an elite defensive minded group and a head coach who can mold and motivate a team to play together like no other, the Islanders are looking to silence their critics this season and answer the above question, does defense still win championships?

> Prediction: Stanley Cup Contender

Preview by: Andrew T – Guest Contributor – @droider89

Washington Capitals

2020-21 Result: 36-15-5, 2nd in East Division, Eliminated in 1st Round

+ Key Additions: re-acquired G Vitek Vanecek (SEA)

– Key Departures: D Zdeno Chara (NYI), D Brenden Dillon (WIN), G Craig Anderson (BUF), G Henrik Lundqvist (Retired)

Capitals Outlook

There is no denying that the Caps were not on their ‘A’ game this past year. Despite making it into the playoffs, they were ultimately defeated by the Boston Bruins, marking their third year in a row where they were ousted in Round 1.

The team’s star player, Alex Ovechkin, may have scored the most goals on the team this season, but due to illness and just an overall strange season, he was most definitely not the team’s top point earner. It’s to be expected; he’s 36 years old, which, as ridiculous as it sounds, is getting up there for an NHL player, and stars can’t shine forever. The Caps need to make sure that they are signing guys who have the potential to replace Ovi when his contract is done, or when he decides to retire.

Right Winger Anthony Mantha is certainly a promising acquisition, with 316 games played in the NHL and 202 career points, but it remains to be seen whether-or-not he will help the Caps reach their full potential next season. If everyone stays healthy and ups their game, then the Caps have the potential to make another play for the Stanley Cup, but that is all going to depend on how their star players and new players alike perform.

> Prediction: Mid-round playoff exit

Preview by: Cate G – RSM Hockey History Researcher – @cate_gilpin 

Philadelphia Flyers

2020-21 Result: 25-23-8, 6th in East Division, Missed Playoffs

+ Key Additions: LW/RW Cam Atkinson (CBJ), D Ryan Ellis (NAS), D Rasmus Ristolainen (BUF), D Keith Yandle (FLA), G Martin Jones (SJS)

– Key Departures: C Nolan Patrick (VGK), LW Jakub Voracek (CBJ), D Robert Hagg (BUF), D Philippe Myers (NSH), D Shayne Gostisbehere (ARI), G Brian Elliot (TBL).

Flyers Outlook

On paper, the Flyers seem ready for success this season, contingent on a few things: stingy defense, a more productive front end, and staying healthy. The team has already taken a hit on the latter, as Kevin Hayes, Wade Allison, and Sam Morin all start the season rehabbing injuries and/or surgeries.

While that creates some distinctive challenges, Fletcher’s new-look Flyers have a decent amount of depth and can now hopefully weather this early storm. Additionally, their absences create opportunities for young prospects like Morgan Frost to step up and make an impact.

If Philly is able to get to December with a winning record and consistent play, they’ll be set up for a solid mid-season run through the trade deadline.

The influx of new faces on Broad Street seems to have brought a fresh new energy to the dressing room, with many already becoming popular franchise faces who have embraced the city, the fans, and the Flyers mindset.

Carter Hart looks ready to redeem himself after a difficult 2020-21 season. If veteran players on the front end, along with the addition of guys like Cam Atkinson, can rediscover their goal-scoring abilities, and if the new-look blue line can provide a stable, dependable defense, the Flyers have a good chance to succeed.

> Prediction: Opening round playoff exit

Preview by: Amy J – RSM Director of Communications – @FlyersRule

New Jersey Devils

2020-21 Result: 19-30-7, 7th in East Division, Missed Playoffs

+ Key Additions: RW Tomas Tatar (MON), D Dougie Hamilton (CAR), D Ryan Graves (COL), G Jonathan Bernier (DET)

– Key Departures: D Will Butcher (BUF), D Connor Carrick (SEA), D Ryan Murray (COL)

Devils Outlook

By selecting defenseman Luke Hughes fourth overall in this past July`s NHL Entry Draft, the Devils continue to add to not only their collection of Hughes brothers, but also their multitude of promising high-end prospects. Many of which are ready to take on full NHL duties this coming season.

GM Tom Fitzgerald clearly likes the core as well. So much so that he complimented it this off-season by signing prized free agent offensive defenseman Dougie Hamilton, and acquiring shut down stud Ryan Graves. Both acquisitions are shrewd moves that take nothing away from the current core beyond cap space, which is plentiful for the Devils.

Up-front, the core remains intact. With one more year of development, phenom centers Jack Hughes and Nico Hischer are primed for break-out seasons.  The addition of veteran winger Tomas Tatar should compliment this group nicely.

Adding Jonathan Bernier in net complements projected starting goalie Mackenzie Blackwood well. Both tenders have maintained sub .910 save percentages and sub 2.80 save percentages in their respective careers. A 50/50 game split tandem is not out of the question and could actually have a chance to lead the Metro division in goaltending stats if executed effectively.

> Prediction: Bubble Playoff Team

Preview by: Mike Raschle – RSM Special Content Contributor – @mikehabs09

Pittsburgh Penguins

2020-21 Result: 37-16-3, 1st in East Division, Lost in 1st Round

+ Key Additions: C Danton Heinen (ANA), LW Brock McGinn (CAR)

– Key Departures: C Jared McCann (SEA), RW Brandon Tanev (SEA), D Cody Ceci (EDM)

Penguins Outlook

The Penguins are no doubt one of the best franchises of last 15 years, capturing three  Stanley Cups in that time. This year however, these flightless birds are going to have a much harder time getting off the ground, even though their wings won’t be the issue.

Centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will be sidelined to start the season, with Malkin expected to miss the first two months of play. Jeff Carter, who played well for the Penguins after arriving via trade last season, will be looked upon to fill the void up the middle in the meantime.

Although Carter will have a lot of pressure on him to keep the team from stumbling out of the gate, Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith will be the biggest factors on how well the Pens season will go. Jarry’s 2021 playoff performance was one to forget, but his play between February and April of last year was stellar, going 18-3-2 with a .924 save percentage. Which Jarry will we see come out of the Penguins training camp and is Casey DeSmith ready to carry the team if Jarry can’t seem to find his game?

GM Ron Hextall is going to have a lot of tough decisions to make this year, with a lower-than-average prospect pool, aging and injury prone superstars and big names that have expiring contracts in a flat cap year. The Penguins will want to stay contenders as long as 87 and 71 are still on the roster, and with those two future Hall of Famers anything is possible, but that dream may not be their reality anymore.

> Prediction: Dazed and Confused

Preview by: Andrew T – Guest Contributor – @droider89

New York Rangers

2020-21 Result: 27-23-6, 5th in East Division, Missed Playoffs

+ Key Additions: LW Barclay Goodrow (TB), RW Sammy Blais (STL), RW Ryan Reeves (LVK), D Jarred Tinordi (NAS-BOS), D Patrick Nemeth (DET-COL)

– Key Departures: RW Pavel Buchnevich (STL), C Brett Howden (VGK), C Colin Blackwell (SEA), D Brendan Smith (CAR)

Rangers Outlook

The New York Rangers had what can only be described as an incredibly disappointing 2020-’21 season. The team finished fifth in the East Division, and it’s no surprise given how the team was plagued with issues this past year, among those being Artemi Panarin’s leave of absence and Mika Zibanejad’s health difficulties at the start of the season. Both players managed to earn just over 50 points each, with Panarin sitting at 58 and Zibanejad sitting at 50, but not even their mild successes could carry the team into the playoffs.

The Rangers were just a mess this past year. In response, newly appointed GM Chris Drury hired a veteran head coach in Gerard Gallant and acquired some much needed toughness  in wingers Ryan Reeves, Barclay Goodrow, and Sammy Blais. Will it be enough to gel this group? The over reaction from a toughness perspective may be the downfall here, as all three of the newly acquired wingers are fairly one dimensional and could struggle to gel with a group of forwards that are used to an up tempo breakout and strong cycle offense.

> Prediction: Dazed and Confused

Preview by: Cate G – RSM Hockey History Researcher – @cate_gilpin

Columbus Blue Jackets

2020-21 Result: 18-26-12, 8th in Central, Missed Playoffs

+ Key Additions: : C Sean Kuraly (BOS), LW Jakub Voracek (PHI), D Jake Bean (CAR), D Adam Boqvist (CHI)

– Key Departures: LW/RW Cam Atkinson (PHI), D Seth Jones (CHI)

Blue Jackets Outlook

The Blue Jackets are in full rebuild mode. After shipping out beloved captain Nick Foligno and long serving defenceman David Savard at last year’s trade deadline, GM Jarmo Kekalainen continued where he left off this summer. Once promising defensive prospect Seth Jones was dealt in a high profile trade to Chicago for a similar type of player in Adam Boqvist. The young Swede was drafted eighth overall in the 2018 NHL Draft and is expected to develop into a power-play specialist that can be used in all game scenarios.

Defender Jake Bean from Carolina was a sneaky good add as well by Kekalainen. In four pro seasons, the Calgary, Alberta native has only played in 44 NHL games with limited opportunities. All while producing 92 points in the AHL in only 129 games. He has a very high ceiling that could be tapped with more opportunity.

Up front, disgruntled sniper Patrik Laine looks to rebound from a 21-point season, by far, the worst of his six year NHL career. He will get plenty of chances under new head coach Brad Larsen. As an assistant on last year’s staff, Larsen got first hand experience on how not to handle the Finnish hotshot.

With chances and opportunities sprinkled throughout the Blue Jackets overview, it should be obvious what direction I feel this season is heading in Ohio. Lets hope Mr. Laine can keep the cannon firing as the teams overall record should be far from “fire.”

Prediction: Draft Lottery Contender

Preview by: Mike Raschle – RSM Special Content Contributor – @mikehabs09

NHL 2021-22 Season Preview | Rocket Sports

Thanks for reading! If you have missed any of our previews for the 2021-22 NHL season, use the links below to locate them!

Pacific Division 2021-22 Season Preview | Rocket Sports

Atlantic Division 2021-22 Season Preview | Rocket Sports

Metropolitan Division 2021-22 Season Preview | Rocket Sports

Central Division 2021-22 Season Preview | Rocket Sports


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