Oh, Canada! The North division is filled with a ton of fun rivalries to keep an eye on, with others to be built this season. While the division isn’t the best, it’s got a lot of balance outside of the Ottawa Senators and it could be one comes down to the wire around playoff time.
Here are the four teams that’ll make it to the playoffs out of the North.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs aren’t familiar with finishing atop the division, but that can change this year in the weaker North. The team is off to a nice start so far this year. The goals have been coming in bunches and there’s no reason that will stop at any point. When Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander headline the forward group, not much more needs to be said.
The achilles heel of the current era of Toronto has always been their ability to keep pucks out of the net and so far there is still work to do. Despite that, the defence does look better after shaking off a rough first two games. T.J. Brodie struggled to begin play but is quickly coming to his own. The other new additions help round the team out more and they have appeared more aggressive than usual.
Frederik Andersen needs to come up big this year. He struggled with consistency last season but he’s capable of being a top goalie in this league as long as the defense doesn’t collapse. Having Jack Campbell as a backup is a great thing for Toronto as he could start on a few teams in the league. Goaltending shouldn’t be an issue.
The penalty kill is sitting at 80 per cent so far, but it’s looked even better than that as of late. If the special teams units can show up on both sides this year, this team is going to be one to look out for.
2. Calgary Flames
Go ahead and sleep on the Flames, but they have the personnel to bounce back and take a top seed in this division. Taking away players from Vancouver was a funny joke over the offseason, but it truly bolstered this already talented squad. Jakob Markstrom is a much needed upgrade at the goalie position assuming he can continue his performance from a season ago, and it’ll be key for Calgary.
The forward core still has a lot of scoring talent and is one that can produce when focused and healthy. They’re two seasons removed from a year that saw them tally a whopping 289 goals and most key pieces from that team are still there. If Matthew Tkachuk can score at the rate prior to last season, that could be enough to bring this team back to similar heights.
A defensive core led by Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev is a very solid one and their six goals against in three games so far shows they’re headed on the right track. If Calgary can continue to hold their own in their zone, there isn’t a reason this team can’t comfortably make the playoffs.
3. Montreal Canadiens
Montreal looks deeper this season and they have some young guns who are ready to break out. The beginning of the year has seen young players like Nick Suzuki and Alexander Romanov have good starts and the Habs are hoping this can be sustained over the whole season. Also, Jeff Petry is off to a scorching start as he has six points through the first four games, which can be huge if he can keep that up.
The depth is what ultimately makes this team solid. There is no established superstar on this squad, but they have a plethora of quality players across the roster ranging from the likes of Tyler Toffoli, Tomas Tatar, Philip Danault, Shea Weber and others. Not to mention, the powerplay has been off to a blistering start as the Canadiens have converted on a league high 57.1 per cent of their chances. While that number will naturally go down as the season ages, it’s a great sign for a team that is going to need a killer special unit to thrive.
As always, however, the backbone of the team is Carey Price. If he can stay healthy over the course of the entire season, then Montreal will be in good hands and should be able to snag a playoff spot come May.
4. Edmonton Oilers
It was tough picking between the Oilers and Canucks for the fourth seed, but ultimately the impact of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl puts them slightly ahead of the race for the playoffs this season. The emergence of Kailer Yamamoto last year was also huge for the team, as they came into this season with another potential budding star ready to help Edmonton. Also, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins remains one of the league’s more underrated stars and if he can continue to build off a strong start, this team’s offense can be among the best in the NHL.
While the offense should be in good shape given its star power, the defense will be the verdict of whether or not this team can make the playoffs. The overall core is solid with guys like Adam Larsson and Darnell Nurse in the mix, but losing Oscar Klefbom for the year will hurt them. It’s important to acknowledge that the Oilers had the second best penalty kill in the league last season and if head coach Dave Tippett can keep the same system flowing, that kind of success could be somewhat replicated again this season.
Mikko Koskinen is going to have to be solid this year. No one should be expecting him to be an elite goalie, but if he can put his 6’7” frame to good use, the Oilers are going to have less stress on them. Ultimately, Edmonton should be able to make it in thanks to their starpower.