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The Central Division contains most of the great teams from the Western Conference, and we can see a number of possible winners among the teams in the Midwest.
The Chicago Blackhawks came out on top last season, winning the Stanley Cup after finishing 3rd in the Central Division. A lot of their star-studded team is back to try for another playoff run. Teravainen is looking to build on his rookie season and the acquisitions of Dano and Anisimov should also benefit the team. However, the Blackhawks lost a number of key contributors from last year, and Kane’s personal problems outside of the rink may catch up to them. Still, the Blackhawks have great potential this season and we see them reaching 2nd in the Central Division.
The Dallas Stars finished with a record of 41-31-10 and 6th in the Central Division. They can anticipate Sharp to join the already potent Seguin, Benn, and Spezza, leading to a strong initial lineup; moreover, they have two stellar goalies in Lethonen and Niemi. The Stars need to find a number one defenseman this year and rebound after missing the playoffs last year. We see them finishing 4th in the Central Division and making the 1st Wild Card spot.
The Winnipeg Jets made the 2nd Wild Card seed last season with a record of 43-26-13 and 5th in the Central Division. The Jets should make the best of young stars Trouba, Ehlers, and Scheifele and continue to rely on Byfuglien and Ladd to lead them. They need the goaltending duo of Pavelec and Hutchinson to stay on their game this season, however. We see the Jets 5th in the Central Division and repeating their 2nd Wild Card spot.
The Minnesota Wild recovered from a disaster season last year to make 11th in the league and 4th in the Central Division after acquiring goalie Dubnyk who played at an elite level for the first time in his career. Aside from Dubnyk, the Wild have a very strong roster with big names like Parise and Suter, and development of talent in Granlund and Niederreiter. For the Wild to capitalize on a successful playoff run this season, however, they need to be able to finish and need Dubnyk to perform at an elite level once again. We see a lot of good happening for the Wild, and project they make 1st in the Central Division.
The St. Louis Blues are another powerhouse in the Central Division, finishing 1st in the Central Division last year before falling to the Wild in the first round of the playoffs. Watch out for prospects Rattie, Barbashev, and Fabri this season to complement the already great defensive core of Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk. The success of the Blues this year will depend their ability to reverse their trend of choking in the playoffs. We see them 3rd in the Central Division this season.
The Nashville Predators performed well in the competitive Central Division last season, finishing with a record of 47-25-10 and 2nd in the Division. The Predators have shown that they can rely on their quality roster, especially Weber, Forsberg, Rinne, and Josi. Despite this, Nashville needs to generate more offensive power this season if they want to remain competitive in the Central Division. We see them at 6th in the Central Division.
The Colorado Avalanche struggled to play up to the level of their elite 2013-2014 from last season, as they finished 7th in the Central Division and 21st in the league. They have offensive stars MacKinnon, Duchene, and Landeskog and need to utilize them to win more games this season. Varlamov needs to return to his 2013 standard of play in order for Colorado to get over the disappointment from last season. We see them at 7th in the Central Division again this season.
Austin Petronack, CSN Staff
Josh Mehr, Contributor