Despite the vast improvements made by the St. Louis Blues this off-season, the common perception is that their fate still lies in the hands of goaltender Jake Allen. Last season, in the first of a new four-year, $17.4MM contract, Allen took a major step back. The 27-year-old had been a great success as a part-time goalie early in his career and looked like he was ready for full-time duty after the 2016-17 campaign, but was unable to handle the workload. Allen’s appearances actually dropped last season from 61 to 59 as backup Carter Hutton took over the starter’s job with consistent and impressive play. Allen posted a .906 save percentage and career-worst 2.75 GAA and failed to record a plus quality starts percentage. That has to change next season. As The Hockey News’ Jared Clinton writes, Allen is the key to St. Louis’ success (or failure) in 2018-19. With Hutton gone, replaced with journeyman Chad Johnson, the pressure is back on Allen to be the legitimate starter that he has shown flashes of. The Blues should be applauded for re-hauling their forward core this off-season, somehow managing to add Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Tyler Bozak, and Patrick Maroon without going over the salary cap. The team also continues to sport one of the deeper blue line’s in the league. However, they need consistent capable play out of Allen or it could be all for not. St. Louis has a contender’s roster if only they can get Allen back on track.
- Dallas Stars super-prospect Miro Heiskanen is all-in on making the team this season. The 19-year-old is just one year removed from being selected third overall in the NHL Draft and is ready to show that he was worth the selection. Stars beat writer Mark Stepenski reports that Heiskanen has already arrived in Dallas and has begun working out with teammates, including veteran leaders Jamie Benn and Ben Bishop. The young defenseman has worked hard this summer and is preparing to wow the Stars’ coaches and executives in training camp. For their part, the Stars’ decision-makers already believe that Heiskanen is ready, although they caution that there will be some adjustments to make and that expectations may be getting too high. Some have even stated that Heiskanen is a legitimate threat to No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres in the upcoming Calder Trophy race. They might not be too far off; like Dahlin, Heiskanen has two years of pro experience already, in the Finnish Liiga, and possess both elite skating ability and next-level awareness and positioning. With those skills already at a pro level, it might not be too difficult of a transition for Heiskanen after all.
- The New York Rangers not only lost captain Ryan McDonagh last season, but they also lost alternate Rick Nash and head coach Alain Vigneault. In speaking with new coach David Quinn, NHL.com’s Dan Rosen discovered that the freshman bench boss would like to get to know his locker room and see how the season begins before naming a new leader. Quinn said:
“We’ve talked about it as an organization. I think a captain emerges. You don’t want to put a burden on somebody that isn’t ready for it. So I think that will just happen one way or the other. It either will happen that someone will emerge and separate themselves as someone who is clearly going to be the captain, or it won’t happen. I think that will take care of itself.”
Frequent alternates Marc Staal or Jesper Fast could emerge as favorites, but neither jumps out as a spectacular candidate for captain. Long-time forward Mats Zuccarello also wore the “A” often, but one has to wonder if it would be worth giving the “C” to a player on an expiring contract who seems unlikely to earn an extension. The same could be said for top center Kevin Hayes. While it is uncommon, Quinn could lean towards awarding the captaincy to star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who Rosen writes he has already gotten to know very well. Young defenseman Brady Skjei, fresh off of a six-year extension this summer, appears to be the cornerstone of the Rangers’ rebuild and could emerge as a top candidate. As Quinn says, only time will tell.