Possibly the most unexciting division in the NHL this year, the Central division still has a few good teams to offer who have a chance at going for the Stanley Cup if things go as planned.
The top four of this division might not be super intimidating aside from a couple of teams, but they’ll be ready to fight it out all season long. Here are the four who will make it out come May.
1. Carolina Hurricanes
That defensive core this team has is beyond deep and dangerous, and it’s going to be the backbone of a successful year for the emerging Canes. That first pairing of Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton might be the best in the NHL and the depth behind that pairing definitely holds up as elite. It’s going to be incredibly tough for division rivals to score goals against Carolina.
Up front, they have an elite trio of Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen, who will be responsible for plenty of goals over the season. The team is relying on depth to make up their offensive success but they do have the star power to be one of the league’s better scoring teams.
Their goalie tandem of Petr Mrazek and James Reimer is not elite, but it’s still very good. This pair is going to see a lot of time split in front of the net and it’s going to be a key to a great year. Expect this team to take advantage of the Kucherov-less Lightning and finish this season in first.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay is poised to make noise again after taking home the Stanley Cup back in September and they have the manpower to do it again. However, the absence of Nikita Kucherov is going to hurt this team considering he’s their best overall player. But still having elite players like Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman is going to be enough to lead this team to a high seed in this division and their hot start through two games is indicative of it.
The bigger factor for success this season for the Lightning is their goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Russian netminder is arguably the best of his position and was a huge reason his team won the Stanley Cup. As long as Tampa Bay has him guarding the net, they’re going to cause problems for any opponent.
Not having Kucherov will cost Tampa Bay from finishing in first, but the team has enough talent all around the roster to comfortably make the playoffs, especially moving from a tough division to a mediocre one.
3. Dallas Stars
Many people might have the Stars on the outside looking in this season, but there’s a reason they fell two wins short of winning it all last fall. The team is built defensively rather than offensively, but the top guys they have running the forward core have proven they can score timely goals to compliment the defense. If Jamie Benn can revive from a down year in which he only had 39 points, that could be the difference in this team being a mediocre scoring team to a decent one.
The deep defense is headlined by young studs in John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen, the latter being one of the best skating defenseman in the NHL who is elite at moving the puck at only 21-years-old. Also, Anton Khudobin is going to have to be strong this season with Ben Bishop sidelined for a while, but this past postseason showed the world that he has what it takes.
Not having Tyler Seguin and Bishop is going to challenge Dallas this year, but they have the depth and suitable playstyle to maintain their success once their season finally gets started on Friday.
4. Nashville Predators
Some people might be ready to rule out Nashville considering their steady decline since their cup final appearance in 2017. However, the Predators do have enough to offer to compete for a spot in the playoffs, and they’ll be able to manage an appearance for the seventh straight season.
Viktor Arvidsson will need to have a better year this time around for Nashville to see success, and so far his three points in three games to start the year is a good sign of improvement. Players like Filip Forsberg and Roman Josi serve as other stars on this team who help the team on both ends of the ice. As long as these three are on the ice on a regular basis, there will be hope for Preds fans.
Juuse Saros is also off to a red hot start, as his .959 save percentage speaks for itself. He should fill in perfectly for Pekka Rinne as he only continues to get older. Nashville isn’t the powerhouse they were about three years ago, but they shouldn’t be taken off anyone’s radar right now.