Which NHL teams improved the most this offseason?

Bobby Bevilacqua

NHL team logos

Photo courtesy of psdcovers.com

Expect some new playoff challengers for the 2015-16 NHL season.

Every season, there are a few teams that surprise everyone, surge into the playoffs and have an improved season overall. This past year we saw the Winnipeg Jets, the Calgary Flames and the Ottawa Senators all climb their way into the playoffs, bringing new blood into the chase for the Stanley Cup.

This year, it will be no different, and there will be new teams rising in the standings, catching everyone off guard and making a push to get into the playoffs. A few teams have made huge strides in improving their teams, and could be surprise contenders during this upcoming season.

Here are some of the most improved teams heading into the upcoming season.

Edmonton Oilers: Missed playoffs, 24-44-14, 62 PTS

Connor McDavid draft pic

Photo courtesy of Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports.

When you have as many first overall draft picks as the Oilers have had, it’s hard not to improve your roster.

Last year, the Oilers were an abysmal team. The offense was stagnant, the goaltending was horrific, and the defense was practically nonexistent. The draft lottery awarded them the first overall draft pick and the coveted player Connor McDavid, also known as “the next one.”

McDavid alone will improve the team’s offense. His skills are unbelievable, and watching him during the Oilers’ prospect scrimmages and early camp practices has been impressive. McDavid is a generational talent, and his presence will help Edmonton turn the page.

But he’s not the only first overall pick on the roster. In fact, they have three others in the starting lineup. Joining McDavid will be the extremely talented Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov, as well as the 22nd overall pick from 2008, Jordan Eberle.

The top line looks to be Connor McDavid centering Hall and Yakupov, with former Ranger Benoit Pouliot joining the dynamic duo of Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle. Those lines are complemented by some solid depth forwards like Teddy Purcell and Marc Letestu, as well as promising young prospects like Leon Draisaitl.

They signed Andrej Sekera to help provide veteran leadership and steady defensive play and production on the back end, and complementing guys like Justin Schultz and Andrew Ference. They also have two very solid defensive prospects waiting in the wings; Darnell Nurse and the recently acquired Griffin Reinhart. And lastly, it seems that they finally have steady goaltending in Cam Talbot.

With Tod McLellan now coaching the team and Peter Chiarelli at the helm, the Oilers should be a much more competitive team this season. Not a playoff team, but definitely improved.

Florida Panthers: Missed Playoffs, 38-29-15, 91 PTS

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 1: Jaromir Jagr #68 of the Florida Panthers celebrates his goal with teammates Aaron Ekblad #5 and Brian Campbell #51 the Tampa Bay Lightning at the BB&T Center on March 1, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images.

I am all on the Panthers bandwagon, and I really like this team’s chances of making the playoffs next year.

While the Lightning and Canadiens are all but guaranteed a playoff spot next season, and probably the Red Wings too, the Panthers have the talent to compete with the Bruins, the Senators, and the Metropolitan teams for a wild card spot.

Last year, the Panthers were fighting for a playoff spot until the last week or two of the season. While they started the season with a lot of losses and a record low of 7,311 fans at a game, they ended with Jaromir Jagr, a packed BB&T Center, and just seven points shy of a playoff spot.

Florida’s roster is full of talented youth, all ready to step up and continue to produce and develop. Dale Tallon locked up 6-foot-6 center Nick Bjugstad for the next six years, keeping the team’s leading goal scorer (24) in Sunrise for the forseeable future.

Former Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau enjoyed a nice 54 point season, and Aleksander Barkov hit his stride in the second half of the season. Brandon Pirri seems like he could be the go to goal scorer that the Panthers need, scoring 22 goals in just 49 games. Tallon also acquired Reilly Smith from the Boston Bruins for Jimmy Hayes, giving the Panthers another solid scoring forward and another young player that is still growing.

The addition of Jaromir Jagr for a full year should really benefit the development of the younger players, as he looked revitalized when skating alongside Barkov and Huberdeau (their ages combined is less than Jagr). Playing with two talented guys in their early 20s and mentoring them did wonders for Jagr, as he went on to tally 18 points in 20 games with Florida.

On the other side of the puck, Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad anchors the defensive cops, and he is coming off of a fantastic 39 point (12-27-39) rookie season at the age of 18, setting a new Panthers record for scoring by a rookie defenseman, and falling just two points shy of Bobby Orr’s record for points by an 18 year old defenseman. With him is Eric Gudbranson, Brian Campbell and Dimitri Kulikov.

With veteran netminder Roberto Luongo between the pipes, the Panthers are primed to make a run to the playoffs. I think that they will be in serious contention for that final wild card spot. It will be tough competing against the Blue Jackets, Islanders, Senators and Bruins for that spot, but the Cats will keep it competitive.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Missed Playoffs, 42-35-5, 89 PTS

ryan johansen and nick foligno

Photo courtesy of Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports.

The Blue Jackets were perhaps the unluckiest team in the NHL last season, leading the league with 502 man games lost, an absurdly high number and the sole reason that they missed the playoffs last season.

In fact, when they had most of their lineup back at the end of the season, the Jackets could not be stopped. In their last 19 games of the season, they finished with a 16-2-1 record and a 9-0-1 record in their last 10 games, while claiming 33 out of a potential 38 points.

They also have a fantastic group of top-six forwards, consisting of many players that somehow happen to fly under the radar.

New captain Nick Foligno led the team with 73 points (31-42-73), while his linemate Ryan Johansen was not far behind with 71 points (26-45-71). That’s an incredible one-two punch, and they combine to create one of the best top lines in the league.

Scott Hartnell quietly had a fantastic year, scoring 28 goals along with 32 assists, and his 60 points were his highest total since the 2011-12 season. Brandon Dubinsky (36 points in 47 games) and Cam Atkinson (40 points) round out the top six.

Columbus bolstered their roster with the addition of young and budding star, Brandon Saad, from the Chicago Blackhawks. Saad toallied 52 points (23-29-52), adding another 11 points in 23 playoff games en route to a Stanley Cup Championship.

Jack Johnson heads a defensive corps with a few question marks, but he’s a solid two-way defender, tallying eight goals and 32 assists last season. David Savard (11-25-36) and James Wisniewski (8-21-29) are the other notable names. Sergei Bobrovsky is usually dependable and definitely in the top 10-12 goalies in the league.

If I had to choose one team that could get hot and have a great season, it would be Columbus. They have a great shot at making the playoffs and making some noise this season.

Dallas Stars: Missed playoffs, 41-31-10, 92 PTS

benn and seguin

Photo courtesy of Glenn James/NHLI.

One of the scariest offenses in the league just got scarier.

After making the playoffs during the 2013-14 season, the Stars missed out on the postseason this year despite scoring 261 goals, the second highest total in the league. Somehow, they found a way to improve their already fantastic offense, giving head coach Lindy Ruff a lot to work with.

The Stars have the Art Ross Trophy winner Jamie Benn leading the forward group. Benn had an amazing season, scoring 35 goals and 52 assists, leading the league in points. However, he had other high scoring teammates, like Tyler Seguin (37-40-77) and Jason Spezza (17-45-62).

During the offseason, the Stars went out and acquired accomplished forward Patrick Sharp from the Chicago Blackhawks. Sharp saw a dip in production this season, scoring 16 goals and 27 assists in the regular season, but he’s scored 78 points as recently as the 2013-14 season.

Jamie Benn, Tyler Sequin, Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp is scary to think about. On top of that, the Stars bolstered their roster with depth players like Cody Eakin, Erik Cole, Ales Hemsky, Patrick Eaves and others. They are a pretty deep team, but they can also score from the blue line.

Dallas management put all of their trust in the underrated youngster John Klingberg, who tallied 40 points (11-29-40) in his rookie season, signing him to a seven year contract extension. They also added Johnny Oduya in free agency, bringing experience and strong defensive play to the team. On top of that, they have Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, Jordi Benn and Jyrki Jokipaki fighting for the other defensive spots.

With the addition of Antti Niemi, the Stars have a two-headed Finnish monster in net, providing the potential for a strong platoon in net. The Stars will be a very, very good team for this upcoming season, and potentially one of the best teams in the Western Conference.

Posted on September 16, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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