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2021 NHL Playoff predictions: Honda West Division

(St. Louis Blues/Twitter)

Without a doubt the most top heavy division in the NHL, the West division is set for some exciting matchups that could fuel some rivalries going forward.

Three teams in this division have a real shot at a run to the Stanley Cup this year and here they are along with the fourth place team.

1. Colorado Avalanche

Colorado is stacked, and there’s no reason to believe this team shouldn’t be able to top this division. The first line is deadly. Facing the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen is living hell for opposing defenses, and their recent 8-0 win over the Blues recently should serve as a warning to the rest of the league of what they’re capable of. If there’s a team who could potentially reach the 200 goal mark over this short schedule, it would have to be the Avalanche.

Defensively, it doesn’t drop off either. A young star in Cale Makar is the perfect guy to anchor this young defensive core, and it’s depth is going to pay off dividends this season. This roster is not only talented from top to bottom, but it’s also young and relentless.

Their goalie tandem is the weakest part of this team but even then it’s not a bad one. During a shortened season, having a quality backup means more than ever before, and Colorado fans can’t complain about seeing Philip Grubauer and Pavel Francouz split time between the pipes.

This team is going to be outstanding.

2. Vegas Golden Knights

Adding Alex Pietrangelo to a team that just made the conference final says everything you need to know. The Golden Knights are a loaded team from top to bottom. The most notable strength of this team is their goaltending tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner, which is going to be extremely significant over the condensed season and will win many games for them. This will be one of Fleury’s last chances at a fourth Stanley Cup, so expect him to make the most of it.

So far, Vegas is 4-0-0 to start the season and their depth is to thank for that. They can score goals at high rates and defend well thanks to the contributions from the likes of Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, Shea Theodore, Pietrangelo and others. There are such few holes on this roster it’s insane.

Their penalty kill currently sits at ninth in the NHL, and if that can sustain itself, the Golden Knights would have turned what was once a weakness into a strength. A quality season from their special teams units could perhaps put them over Colorado once the season is up.

3. St. Louis Blues

St. Louis seems poised to bounce back from a disappointing first round exit, and they have the team to make serious noise this year. Depth is the calling card of this team, and it’s a knee deep team on all fronts, whether it be their forward core, defensive pairings, and even goaltending.

Putting Vladimir Tarasenko on the LTIR is not something the Blues wanted to do coming into this season, but reality can be harsh. Despite that, they added Mike Hoffman on a solid deal to replace that void, and he should do a good job filling in that need as a pure goal scorer. Also, the emergence of Jordan Kyrou has been great, as he has four points in four games to start the season.

The usual studs like Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron and Brayden Schenn remain on the team, so the offense should be fine without Tarasenko.

Defensively is where St. Louis shines. They were sixth in the league in goals against a season ago and they added Torey Krug to that defense, which should only help ensure they stay at that mark or even improve it. And if Jordan Binnington can return to his 2019 form, the Blues can be set to make another run at greatness.

4. Minnesota Wild

No matter which team ends up fourth in this division, it’ll be a significant drop off from the top three. But the Wild have to be the best bet to take this spot compared to the other remaining teams in the division.

Minnesota is quite thin in terms of centre depth, which will hurt them in games against the top teams of this division. A shining part of this team, however, is the early emergence of 23-year-old Kirill Kaprizov. The Russian has five points through four games to start the season, and his production will be huge for the team if it sustains, considering their forward core is quite average. Kevin Fiala will need to come through too and show that he is the real deal.

Defensively, they’re okay. Ryan Suter and Matt Dumba are a solid first pairing, but the impact of Jared Spurgeon is probably the greatest of them all. If those three can put together solid seasons in their zone, it could really help out a questionable goalie situation (though Cam Talbot has looked good so far so maybe it’s better than originally thought).

Minnesota needs to feast on the California teams if they want to make it, because wins against the top three will be a tall challenge over the season.

1 Comment

Excellent analysis by Lucas, I couldn't agree more 👍

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