While this year seems like it should be more competitive then years past, there will always be cellar dwellers.
The Eastern Conference will likely be the weaker of the two, many teams on the bottom in the past couple years could find themselves at the bottom once again, but it's not all a loss.
While many may claim the 2011 draft may be one of the weakest in recent memory it is actually shaping up quite well. It doesn't quite have that great matchup that Taylor and Tyler presented, but their should none the less be a good battle for first.
Any team that finishes near the bottom should come out happy next June.
Sorry Islanders fans, but as it stands the Islanders should have a tough time this season. While there is a lot of reason to be optimistic with guys like: Tavares, Okposo, and Bailey ready to soon break out, it likely won't happen this season.
Patience is key with this club, without a veteran face up front guiding the young stars, it may take longer for them develop into the players they should eventually become. The offense should be around average again, and goaltending will keep them in a lot of games, but the big question is defense.
They have brought in some steady players on the back end in: Milan Jurcina, Mark Eaton and James Wisniewski, but it just may not be enough of an improvement on the third worst defensive team in the league,
The defense will be the Achilles heel of the club, and with inconsistent offense, and and a plethora of injuries the club always manages to suffer the NYI will likely find themselves hanging around the lottery section of the league.
The Atlanta Thrashers have been very busy over the offseason. They picked up the pieces of the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup winning team, and it is clear they are trying to add some character to their lineup. Adding: Sopel, Eager, Ladd and Byfuglien should help, but really they do not have a single star player.
With the losses of Afinogenov and Kovalchuk from last season they will struggle. Players like Little and Kane will have to really step up if this team wants to even be in any form of contention.
The defense will be better then last, with Sopel and young guys like Bogosian and Enstrom ready to step up, but it will not likely be enough.
In net the addition of Chris Mason might bring some stability, but don't be surprised if he eventually loses the job to Pavelec, a solid tandem willing to battle for the starter could be a very good thing.
However with all the good that is starting to show, the lack of offensive production will kill this team once again.
With the best draft of 2010, the Florida Panthers are well on their way to turning the franchise around. Dale Tallon has them on course once again, but it's not going to be an instant turnaround. The Panthers will still struggle the next few years until the young guns finally hit their stride.
The offense is spotty at best, and the defense is young and inexperienced. With Nathan Horton gone the Panthers will lose a strong forward, and will not be able to replace him. Frolik, Weiss and Booth will have to carry the team, but all three have a lot to prove.
The defense is in transition, vets like McCabe, Wideman and Allen are really just carrying the torch until youngsters: Kulikov, Gudbranson, Ellerby and Wilson can take over. Once that happens the Panthers will be a force.
Goaltending is the only steady thing in the Panthers lineup. Vokoun is a very experienced goaltender, and will have to carry the load.
The Panthers are likely the early front-runners for the first overall pick.
The Bruins in no way should be in contention with their own pick next season. However they still hold on to the Toronto Maple Leafs first rounder, and with this pick they may be able to get another star player.
A little background into the Leafs
The Maple Leafs will improve, the defense has improved, the offense has improved and the goaltending has another year under their belts, but at this time it won't be enough.
With the addition of Kris Versteeg and another year for Tyler Bozak will make the first line fairly respectable, but after that they will struggle. Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski will be called upon for secondary scoring, which may not come in huge numbers. This will be what really kills the Buds.
On defense a full season with Dion should be beneficial if he can stay on his game. Dion has been rather inconsistent however and it's still unclear which Dion we will see. With Komisarek back however the leagues second worse defense should be much improved.
In goal the Monster and Giggy should be a good combo, Giggy is a vet who has been fairly good throughout his career and should be a solid mentor for the upcoming star Jonas Gustavsson. The Leafs for once shouldn't have a problem in net.
All together the Maple Leafs are looking better then ever before but it still won't be enough to pull themselves into the playoffs just yet.
The Bruins could get another high pick.
The Hurricanes have lost without making gains, and could suffer once again. While new captain Eric Staal should be set to have a solid year the rest of the team could struggle, and without Ray Whitney the offense has really lost one of their driving forces.
The Hurricanes finished eight points out of the playoffs, and while most of the conference has improved the Hurricanes have really only made losses.
An average offense has gotten worse, and a less then stellar defense hasn't really made any gains. Justin Peters and Cam Ward are as good as always, and really should keep the Hurricanes in the hunt but all in all they could be seeing a down season.
The bottom teams will need to improve and the best way to do this is through the draft. The following are five picks that could make that difference.
Sean Couturier (LW)
Current Team: Drummondville Voltigeurs
Stats: 68GP: 41G, 55A, 96P
Sean Couturier is exactly what any of these teams need. At the age of 17 he managed to lead the entire QMJHL in scoring with 96 points. The year before he played a solid part in the Voltigeurs championship run.
Needless to say he has done quite a lot already, and he still has more to come. Another full year in junior will be very beneficial to the New Brunswick native. More time to hone is skills, and a shot with the World Junior team will make Sean a very dangerous forward.
Adam Larsson (D)
Current Team: Skellefteå
Stats: 49GP: 4G, 13A, 17P
When you think of Adam Larsson the first name that comes to mind is Victor Hedman. Larsson and Hedman are very similar hockey players. Both Swedish born defenders Larsson and Hedman are very gifted in their own end, but they both have great offensive potential.
Playing in the Swedish Elites at the age of 17 Larsson has already accomplished more then any other defencemen has ever done in the Elites at his age(including Hedman). Larsson has been absolutely stellar, and has sky high potential.
Matt Puempel (LW)
Current Team: Peterborough Petes
Stats: 59GP: 33G, 31A, 64P
Matt Puempel is the reigning Ontario Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League rookie of the year. Matt is a very gifted forward with tremendous heart, and a strong will to win. While his offense speaks for itself his tenacity is what really drives him. Not afraid to do all the dirty work Matt gives 110% every night.
Another year with the Petes playing with Ryan Spooner (Bos 45th pick 2010) and Austin Watson (Nas 18th pick 2010) will definitely elevate his game, and could form one of the deadliest trios in the league, whichever team drafts Matt will not be disappointed.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (C)
Current Team: Red Deer Rebels
Stats: 67GP, 24G, 41A, 65P
Nugent-Hopkins was the Western Hockey leagues rookie of the year, and with some pretty impressive rookies this was a very great and well deserved win. Playing with Willie Coetzee was great as the two really connected to create a dangerous first line.
Hopkins can play both ends of the ice effectively, but his skating and solid hands are what really seperates him from most of the pack. A solid U-18 tournament this year and another year with the Rebels will really show to the hockey world what Ryan brings to the table.
Seth Ambroz (LW)
Current Team: Omaha Lancers
Stats: 56GP, 22G, 27A, 49P
Seth Ambroz is blooming into a solid power forward type player, he can hit like a truck, he gets dirty and he can throw down the gloves with the best of them. After ripping it up in the United States High School league Seth has made the transition to the USHL, and has done fairly well. After two seasons with the Lancers Seth has proven he can still play at a high level.
His vision is good he has a decent shot, and he knows just where to stand.Committed to the University of Minnesota Seth will really get to prove himself, and will be a huge factor in his draft rankings. If he can play at the same level he would be a perfect fit in the NHL.