The Atlantic Division was dominated by the usual suspects during the 2021-22 season. The one shock of the campaign was the amount of success the Florida Panthers enjoyed. While many thought they would be improved and make the playoffs, almost none thought they would be the best team in hockey. Beyond Florida, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, and Toronto Maple Leafs all held their playoff spots from the year prior. While the playoff picture looked much the same as it has in the Atlantic, the battle for the most improved season by a non-playoff team was fierce. The Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, and Ottawa Senators all made terrific improvements compared to past years. The arms race in the Atlantic Division to improve and acquire assets will continue into the offseason and may be the x-factor in which teams make it out of the regular season in 2022-23.
The Boston Bruins will go into next season with a new head coach for the first time since the 2016-17 season. After a first-round exit from the playoffs this time around, the Bruins will look to improve their overall roster to make a run at the Cup again next year. Many question marks were had when the offseason began, as Patrice Bergeron was slated to be a free agent, along with a few other pieces. Since season’s end, Bergeron has decided he will return for another run, and it is rumoured that he and the Bruins are close to a one-year extension. This next season will be a huge indication of the future plans for Boston, as the contract of superstar forward David Pastrnak is coming up towards its set expiration date. If extended, this most likely means the Bruins think their window of contention extends for a long time. However, if next year does not start off as planned, the beginnings of a rebuild could be in place in Boston. As for this offseason, the Bruins enter the draft with six picks, all of which are outside the first round. Using a mix of these picks to acquire win-now assets, along with a few pieces to look forward to, will probably be the move for Boston this year.
The Buffalo Sabres took a step forward in the 2021-22 season, which is not something many expected. After the hectic offseason that saw Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen, and later on Jack Eichel all dealt for draft picks and prospects, the outlook of the Sabres has shifted monumentally. Players like Tage Thompson, Rasmus Dahlin, and Alex Tuch all started to show the promise of a newly shaped core. Simultaneously, young players like newly acquired Peyton Krebs and 2020 top picks Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka developed in the minors. Buffalo has one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL, with all the previously mentioned players, along with former first overall pick Owen Power and NCAA Goaltender of the Year Devon Levi. The Sabres enter the 2022 NHL Draft with three first-round selections and 11 picks in total. Buffalo is still looking for that superstar gamechanger that left town when Jack Eichel was shipped out. A top-10 pick is a good opportunity to recoup an asset of that caliber. A couple of players for Sabres fans to keep an eye out for are Finnish forward Brad Lambert, American forward Frank Nazar, and Canadian defenseman Denton Mateychuk.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings are another Atlantic Division team who showed signs of significant improvement after several years of mediocrity. The breakouts of Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider provided Red Wings fans with a glimpse of what could be in years to come. The Red Wings also have established players such as Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi, who both displayed outstanding offensive production this year. The Steve Yzerman vision is starting to come together, with several young players showing the ability to make the NHL jump, and several more on the way, including Swedish defenseman Simon Edvinsson and Canadian goaltender Sebastian Cossa. Not only does Detroit have the young core already taking over the roster, but they enter the 2022 offseason with 10 picks in the upcoming draft. At pick No. 8, Detroit will have the opportunity to bring in another high-level prospect to an already star-studded system. A couple of names to watch out for in the first round as a Red Wings fan are Canadian forward Matthew Savoie and Russian defenseman Pavel Mintyukov.
The Florida Panthers had the most successful year in recent memory of their franchise. Highlighted by a 122-point season and President’s Trophy win, Florida exceeded even the boldest regular season expectations for their club. Additions such as Sam Reinhart and Anton Lundell, as well as the deadline acquisitions of Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot, had Panthers fans hoping for a deep playoff run. Unfortunately, Florida ran into the playoff buzzsaw that is the Tampa Bay Lightning. Heading into the offseason, the Panthers look like they are set up to run it back, with much of the same squad already under contract. In the prospect system for Florida are players like Grigori Denisenko, Mackie Samoskevich, and Spencer Knight. While Knight is not technically a prospect anymore, he is also not the starter. This leaves a bit of hope that his emergence as the starter, whenever Sergei Bobrovsky passes the torch, will be a seamless transition that leaves the Panthers with even better goaltending than what they are currently getting. In the 2022 NHL Draft, the Panthers have a total of six selections, with their first selection not coming until the third round. I could see the Panthers trying to move around the draft to acquire quality over quantity in this draft, or using the picks they have left to improve the current roster for another potential playoff run.
The Montreal Canadiens have been the talk of the NHL world in the days following the conclusion of the Stanley Cup. The Canadiens, of course, own the first overall selection in the NHL Draft. All year, Shane Wright was considered the consensus selection to be. However, over the last month or so, a challenger has come flying in from the top rope. That challenger is Juraj Slafkovsky. The Canadiens finished the 2021-22 NHL season with the worst record in the NHL, which allowed them to have the first overall selection after winning the draft lottery. Montreal has some young promising pieces in Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. They also made a coaching change in the middle of the season, bringing in longtime NHL’er Martin St. Louis. Montreal owns 14 total draft picks in 2022, including two first-round picks. The Canadiens’ system is deep at center and relatively shallow in the other positions. Some of the top prospects for Montreal include forwards Sean Farrell, Joshua Roy, and Oliver Kapanen, as well as defensemen Justin Barron and Kaiden Guhle. Some names to look out for heading into draft weekend are of course Shane Wright and Juraj Slafkovksy with the first overall pick. At pick 26, some names to be aware of are American forward Rutger McGroarty and American defenseman Seamus Casey.
The Ottawa Senators had another non-playoff season, with some improvement among their young core. Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, and Josh Norris were the bright spots on the team this year. Ottawa is looking to come out of a rebuild that started with the offloading of Erik Karlsson in the 2018 offseason. The Sens are finally starting to see the fruits of the rebuild, as players like Norris and Stutzle are direct products of that decision to rebuild. The 2022 offseason can be another year to build up the young talent in the organization, as they arrive owning 11 total draft picks. The Senators’ prospect pool is one that is well balanced at all positions. Up front, players like Ridly Greig, Roby Jarventie, and Tyler Boucher are the top options. On defence, Jake Sanderson and Lassi Thomson are both former first-round picks who will look to impact the club’s NHL roster sooner rather than later. In net, Mads Sogaard had a successful AHL season and made his NHL debut along the way. Ottawa opens their draft at pick No. 8. A few names for Senators fans to keep an eye on are forward Brad Lambert and defenseman David Jiricek.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning are coming off the best-sustained success by an NHL team since the New York Islanders of the early 1980’s, who also made it to three Stanley Cup Finals in a row. The Lightning have one of the deepest rosters in the NHL, highlighted by the likes of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman, as well as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning will be looking to keep their core together and add supplementary pieces to help them reach a fourth straight Stanley Cup Final. Tampa Bay has one first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, as well as seven total picks. A couple of names to look forward to in the draft for the Lightning could be Canadian forward David Goyette and Swedish defenseman Calle Odelius.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs finished the 2022 NHL season in a familiar place to the dismay of many fans. The Leafs lost in the opening round against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Toronto heads into the 2022 offseason looking to improve the roster in any way possible to make a playoff push. They have key free agents set to hit the market in Jack Campbell and Ilya Mikheyev. The Leafs only have three picks in the 2022 Draft. Luckily, one of those is a first-rounder and could provide great value to the organization. Whether Toronto stays in the 25th pick or moves the pick for other assets, having ownership of that pick is a piece that not many other playoff teams have heading into this offseason. The Leafs prospect system has many players who have outperformed their draft position to this point already. Defensive prospects Mikko Kokkonen and Topi Niemela, both selected in the third round, look to be legit NHL options in the near future. Forwards Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Nicholas Robertson, and Matthew Knies all look to have an impact on the Leafs in the future as well. A couple of players to look out for at pick No. 25 are Czech Jiri Kulich and American Isaac Howard.
The Atlantic Division will be fascinating to watch during the 2022-23 season. So many teams in this division have a win now mindset, while teams like Buffalo, Detroit, and Ottawa could make some noise in the postseason chase. The Atlantic Division is defined by new age fast, high-scoring hockey. The resiliency of the Tampa Bay Lightning will be interesting to watch as well after their three-year dominance of hockey came to a heartbreaking end. Hockey fans from all over should keep a close eye on this division all year, as it is likely to provide some of the most even games from top to bottom all year long.