Central Division Offseason Preview

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Central Division has undergone major shifts in the last few years. The Chicago Blackhawks have gone from annual contenders for the Stanley Cup to the bottom of the conference. The Winnipeg Jets look poised for a rebuild, and all of the sudden, the division that was considered one of the toughest to win in every single year has thinned out. Teams like the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild took steps forward to become playoff teams in 2022. Then of course, there is the Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche. Cale Makar took over the division and all of hockey on his historic run to the Norris Trophy and the Conn Smythe Trophy. The Central Division gave us some of the best playoff-performing teams throughout the last decade and will look to continue their dominance of producing Stanley Cup champions going forward.

Arizona Coyotes

The Arizona Coyotes finished the 2021-22 campaign in a familiar place near the bottom of the NHL standings with 57 total points. The offseason has already been full of news of where the Arizona Coyotes will play next season, along with Jakob Chychrun trade rumours similar to last year. They enter this year’s draft with 10 total picks, three in the first round, which provides ample hope to a franchise and fan base who could use some. Luckily for fans in the desert, the future shows signs of brighter days ahead, with high picks Victor Soderstrom and Dylan Guenther nearing an NHL-ready level. Josh Doan, son of former Coyote legend Shane, also had a successful freshman season at Arizona State and looks to be a part of the ‘Yotes’ future plans. When it comes to the 2022 NHL Draft, Arizona pick third, 27th and 32nd in the first round, with a total of seven selections in the first two rounds. This draft could be a huge turning point for the Coyotes franchise, with the potential to add a handful of high-quality players in a variety of positions. With the third pick, the Coyotes could look to target USA U-18 team standout Logan Cooley, or top defensive prospects David Jiricek, or Simon Nemec.

Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks had a franchise-changing season in 2021-22. After the Blackhawks scandal that shook the hockey world took place, both General Manager Stan Bowman and Head Coach Jeremy Colliton were relieved of their duties. This sent the Blackhawks into a total organizational reset this summer. The only problem with the timing of this team reset for Chicago is they do not own their own first-round pick due to the Seth Jones trade from last offseason. With an aging core and rumours of young stars Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach both being potentially moved, the Blackhawks need to have a successful offseason to stabilize the future of the franchise. In 2022, the Blackhawks have eight total selections, the first being at No. 38 overall. The back half of the first and early second round still contain plenty of future NHL talent for the Blackhawks to scoop up as they look to retool their roster.

Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche finished the season as Stanley Cup Champions for the first time since 2001. Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon showed why they are considered bonafide stars by the majority of NHL fans. The Avalanche enter the offseason with four total picks in the NHL Draft and several expiring contracts to consider for next season, including key contributors Nazem Kadri and Valeri Nichushkin. The Avs prospect pool is highlighted by former first-round picks Martin Kaut and Oskar Olausson. Colorado owns four total picks in the 2022 draft, all of which will be in the depth rounds of the draft. While the Avs will most likely not find immediate contributors in these slots, using these picks to restock a thinning prospect pool will increase their likelihood of staying competitive for years to come. The Avs will look to fill out their roster and try and repeat again in 2022-23.

Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars are a team I find fascinating to follow their success in recent years. The Stars, in the eyes of many, have lacked true star power in the last few years, with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin both taking steps back compared to their best years. This year, Jason Robertson and Joe Pavelski carried the weight of the scoring on the way to a top wild card spot for Dallas this season. Supported by a good regular season and even more fantastic post-season by goaltender Jake Oettinger, the Stars surprised many this season. With Robertson, Oettinger, and defenseman Miro Heiskanen looking to be the new faces of the Dallas Stars going forward, the future looks promising. To add to this young nucleus are three high-end prospects in former first-round picks Mavrik Bourque and Wyatt Johnston, as well as 2021 second-rounder Logan Stankoven. Stankoven and Johnston put up eye-popping statistics in the 2021-22 season, both ending the year top-five in their respective junior leagues in scoring. The Stars have good organizational depth, with their biggest prospect pool need being a top defensive prospect to go along with the sensational talent up front. Dallas enters the draft with six total picks, including the 18th pick. Some names for Stars fans to look out for in the first round are Moose Jaw Warriors defenseman Denton Mateychuk and Austrian center Marco Kasper.

Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild will arrive in Montreal for the 2022 NHL Draft in one of the most interesting situations of any team this year. After being eliminated in the first round by St. Louis in six games, the Wild find themselves in a predicament. Last offseason, Wild GM Bill Guerin bought out the contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to create cap space for the 2021-22 season. Now, with the season concluded, the buyout penalties have kicked in, making the salary cap situation in Minnesota incredibly constraining. The Wild already offloaded upcoming restricted free agent Kevin Fiala for a 2022 first-round selection and University of Minnesota defenseman Brock Faber. Minnesota will look to add assets to fill out a defence-heavy prospect system, including players like Carson Lambos, Ryan O’Rourke, and the aforementioned Brock Faber. Up front, the prospect pool is led by 2021-22 Rookie of the Year candidate Matthew Boldy and former first-round pick Marco Rossi. Taking all of this into consideration, the Minnesota Wild enter the draft with eight total selections. Minnesota will select twice in the first round at picks No. 19 and No. 24. Players the Wild could look to add in the late first round include a pair of Canadians in forward Jagger Firkus and defenseman Tristan Luneau.

Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators slid into the last wildcard spot in the Western Conference before a first-round exit against the Colorado Avalanche. Nashville has a veteran roster led by 96-point defenseman Roman Josi. Youngsters Philip Tomasino and Eeli Tolvanen both experienced their first full NHL seasons this year, putting up respectable numbers throughout. The Nashville prospect system features players such as Fyodor Svechkov, Zachary L’Heureux, and Luke Evangelista up front, with Ryan Ufko leading the prospect pool from the backend. Another massive piece in the Preds system is 2020 first-round pick goaltender Yaroslav Askarov, who was recently signed to a contract and is slated to play with the Milwaukee Admirals in the 22-23 season. Heading into the draft, Nashville has six total picks, including the 17th pick in the first round. The Nashville prospect pool could use upgraded depth on defence, as well as center depth as well. If Nashville is looking to take advantage of the veteran core that their squad possesses, I could see them move picks for NHL-ready talent as well. If Nashville keeps the 17th pick, some names to keep an eye out for are Swede Noah Ostlund and Canadian Owen Pickering.

St. Louis Blues

The St. Louis Blues ended their season with a series loss in six games to the Colorado Avalanche in the second round. The Blues are a veteran-led squad, with names like Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko being the leading scorers on the team this year. The Blues have been a perennial playoff team and tough out ever since coach Craig Berube took over in the middle of the 2018-19 season that would ultimately end with a Stanley Cup win for St. Louis. The Blues prospect pool is spearheaded by forwards Zachary Bolduc and Jake Neighbours. On the back end, Scott Perunovich, the 23-year-old offensive defenseman, is the top prospect. The Blues enter the 2022 NHL Draft with five total picks, the highest being the 23rd overall selection. St. Louis has good forward depth in their system. With this in mind, adding one of the drafts’ top defensemen at the end of the first round would make sense to balance out the depth of the pool a little bit. A couple of players to keep in mind at the 23rd pick for Blues fans are American defenseman Seamus Casey and Czechia forward Jiri Kulich.

Winnipeg Jets

The Winnipeg Jets had a disappointing year in the eyes of many. A team that just a year ago, in the 2021 playoffs made the second round, ended this season eight points out of a playoff spot. Long-time coach Paul Maurice resigned mid-season, citing the team’s need for a new voice in the room, as well as a desire to spend more time with his family. Offensively, Winnipeg is led by offensive dynamo Kyle Connor and longtime Jets Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. Heading into the 2022 offseason, the direction of the Winnipeg Jets is relatively unknown. While the previously mentioned core are all considered to be in their prime, along with goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, there have been rumblings of a shake-up to come to the roster. Heading into the draft weekend, the Jets have seven picks, two of those in the first round at No. 14 and No. 30. Winnipeg’s prospect pool is headlined by Canadian center Cole Perfetti, Finnish defenseman Ville Heinola and American forward Chaz Lucius. The Jets will have to draft well in the next couple of years to have a smooth transition from their current core to the eventual successors. The 2022 draft can be a terrific springboard for Winnipeg to refill the prospect bucket with three picks in the top 64 this year. A couple of players to look out for in the first round at the Jets selections are Canadian defenseman Kevin Korchinski and Slovakian forward Filip Mesar.

The Central Division will run through the defending Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche in the 2022-23 season. Teams like the St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars, and Minnesota Wild will look to unseat them in that top spot. Meanwhile, teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes will look to further their rebuilds and make their way back to the top of the division. The 22-23 campaign will most likely feature the same contenders as the previous season, unless a team from the bottom of the division makes significant improvements.

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