Metropolitan Division Offseason Preview

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The Metropolitan Division has long been known as the Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin division due to their absolute dominance of winning within it. This year, while the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals both were playoff teams, the Carolina Hurricanes were the crown jewel of the division. In a division that featured five teams who had over 100-point seasons, the Metro competition was intense. The two-time conference finalist New York Islanders found themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. A division that was known for its depth of talent ended up being very top-heavy this season after the drop-off of both the Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets. This offseason will be pivotal for all involved to stay up to par and compete in the 2022-23 season.

Carolina Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes ended the 2022 NHL season with a second-round loss to the New York Rangers. The Hurricanes are a team who have been knocking on the door of a deep playoff run for a couple of years now. A team built with a deep group of above-average players and led by stars like Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov. Carolina also had a few young players enter the fold and impact the present and future outlook of the roster. Seth Jarvis and newly acquired Jesperi Kotkaniemi both played their first full seasons with the Hurricanes, providing much-needed cost-effective depth with top-six upside to the lineup. The prospect pool in Carolina is headlined by Jack Drury, Ryan Suzuki, and Vasili Ponomaryev. On the blue-line, Scott Morrow and Aleksi Heimosalmi both will look to climb their way up the Hurricanes depth chart in the coming years. Carolina has eight total picks in the NHL Draft. The Hurricanes will continue to look to be successful in the later rounds of the draft and round out their prospect pool to go along with some of their top picks in recent years.

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves in the midst of a rebuild. With two first-round picks in 2021 and another two this year in 2022, the Blue Jackets are set to make significant improvements to their prospect pool and roster over the next several years. The 2022 season was one of improvements, the biggest of which was moving up several spots in the standings. After the trades that sent core players like Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, and Nick Foligno out the door over the last year, many expected Columbus to be on their way to a long rebuild. The resurgence of Patrik Laine, as well as the emergence of 2021 first-rounders Cole Sillinger and Kent Johnson into the NHL, have given many around the league and in Columbus hope that the roster will need more of a retool as opposed to a full overhaul to become a perennial playoff team again. Prospects like Liam Foudy, Corson Ceulemans, and Samuel Knazko give the Blue Jackets something to look forward to. Columbus picks at sixth and 12th in the NHL Draft this year due to the Seth Jones trade bringing in Chicago’s first-round selection. These picks will be used to refill a prospect system that is quickly flipping players from draft pick to NHL’er. A few names to look for at these spots will be Joakim Kemell and Kevin Korchinski.

New Jersey Devils

The New Jersey Devils are in one of the most enviable positions of any non-playoff team this year. A young core that includes both Jack and Luke Hughes, a promising forward in 2020 pick Dawson Mercer, as well as the second overall pick in the upcoming draft in Montreal, the Devils missed out on the playoffs in 2021-22, but saw breakout seasons from a number of players. New Jersey’s prospect pool is littered with talent, including players such as Luke Hughes, Alexander Holtz, and the University of Denver commit Samu Salminen. The Devils will have a choice to make at the second overall pick. As the annual selection process has gotten closer, it is sounding as though Shane Wright and Juraj Slafkovsky are the consensus top two, however, other players like Logan Cooley could challenge to be picked.

New York Islanders

The New York Islanders took an undeniable step back in the 2021-22 season. The Islanders went from three straight playoff appearances and two Conference Finals appearances to missing the playoffs in 2022. A scoring drop-off impacted the Islanders’ overall play. Islanders management attributed this scoring drop to Barry Trotz and the style of play he was implementing. Lane Lambert was hired in the weeks following the season to replace Trotz. The Islanders will look to get back on track by having a good offseason and acquiring assets that will get them back to expected levels. The Islanders pick 13th overall in the 2022 NHL Draft. Heading into the draft, the Islanders have a subpar prospect pool that will look to improve with this year’s selections. One of the bright spots is Finnish prospect Aatu Raty. Raty was rated highly in the 2021 NHL Draft, but slipped to the second round due to a disappointing year. In 2021-22, he got back to his expected level and looks like one of the early steals of the 2021 NHL Draft if his progression continues. Memorial Cup Champion William Dufour also had a fantastic season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. A few names to keep an eye on at the 13th overall selection are Swede Jonathan Lekkerimaki and Canadian Connor Geekie.

New York Rangers

The New York Rangers were two wins away from the Stanley Cup Finals in 2022. Igor Shesterkin has emerged as a legit top-tier goaltender, while Artemi Panarin kept up his all-star level play, and Mika Zibanejad played like the number one center that many Rangers fans felt was missing in prior years. The Rangers have a significant number of expiring contracts mixed in with recent trade requests from Julien Gauthier and Alexander Georgiev. The Rangers have four total picks in this year’s draft, which they can use to improve their prospect system. This offseason will most assuredly be about maximizing their current roster and Igor Shesterkin’s bargain of a contract. The Rangers prospect pool features Vitali Kravtsov, Brennan Othmann, and Nils Lundkvist. New York, of course, also has young promising players on the roster like Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, K’Andre Miller, and Braden Schneider, who are cornerstone pieces of the future.

Philadelphia Flyers 

The Philadelphia Flyers had a season that will shift the future of the franchise. Longtime captain and fan favourite Claude Giroux was traded for future assets, as the Flyers sank to the second worst record in the Eastern Conference. As a result, polarizing head coach John Tortorella was hired to help right the ship. While most of the roster underperformed this year, players like Travis Konecny and Joel Farabee will look to have bounce-back years and lead this team into the future. The Flyers will be picking in the top-five this year and will have an incredible opportunity to add talent to their roster that could impact their NHL squad in the next year or two. The current Flyers prospect pool includes players like Bobby Brink, Samu Tuomaala, and Cam York, who got some NHL games under his belt this past season. Philadelphia could look to target American Cutter Gauthier, or Slovak Simon Nemec with their fifth overall pick.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins fell short of the Stanley Cup in 2021-22, losing to the New York Rangers in round one of the playoffs. This offseason has massive implications for the future of the Penguins, as fan favourites and franchise cornerstones Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang both have expiring contracts. If the Penguins allow both to leave in free agency, this could signal the team heading towards a rebuild for the future. If one or both re-sign with the organization, Pittsburgh will be again expected to be a playoff team, with a chance to hoist the cup due to their championship pedigree, and the fact that they have Sidney Crosby, one of the best players in the NHL, still on the roster. The Penguins also enter the 2022 offseason still having ownership of their first-round pick, which is a change from most other years where Pittsburgh picks are typically used in win-now transactions. Due to the Penguins win now mentally for the last several years, their prospect pool lacks both depth and overall quality. Some highlights in their system include Samuel Poulin, Tristan Broz, and Pierre-Olivier Joseph. If the Penguins keep the 21st overall pick, some names to look for will be American Jimmy Snuggerud and Canadian Tristan Luneau.

Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals ended the 2022 NHL season with a first-round loss to the Florida Panthers. Significant injuries to some of their top players like Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson impacted the Capitals roster in the stretch run. While Washington is expected to make another run in 2022-23, Backstrom will miss an undetermined amount of time due to hip surgery. The Capitals will need to fill that hole in their lineup if they hope to seriously compete. Luckily for them, Washington has six picks in the upcoming draft, including a first-round pick to improve their prospect pool and roster. The Capitals have not been shy about trading away first-round picks for players to help keep their contention window open. Depending on what players are available at 20 when the Capitals pick, moving that pick for current assets might make more sense. Washington’s current prospect group is very center-heavy, with players like Connor McMichael, who finished up his inaugural NHL season, as well as former first-round pick Hendrix Lapierre. If the Capitals stay put at pick 20, a couple of names to keep in mind are American Isaac Howard and Slovak Filip Mesar.

The Metropolitan Division is looking like it will be more impacted by this upcoming offseason than any other division in the NHL. The Penguins and their direction will be crucial in figuring out the layout of the division. Improvements from the Islanders, Devils, and Blue Jackets all could throw a wrench into the top-heavy division of this past season. Overall, there seems to be an inevitable changing of the guard on the horizon for this division. The Penguins and Capitals will soon hand over the mantle of consistent contenders to teams like the Devils, Hurricanes, and Rangers if teams keep trending in a similar direction.

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