- Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews changed the fortunes for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season as he turned Toronto from one of the worst teams in the league into a playoff team. Matthews is remarkably only 19 years old and I would be shocked if he isn’t an NHL MVP very soon. Mitch Marner also made an incredible impact for the Maple Leafs as a rookie in 2016 as he had 42 assists and he is still only 20 years old. There is no doubting that the Maple Leafs have a very capable offense for many years to come. However, for this team to become a Stanley Cup contender then they will definitely need to find a better starting goaltender. Frederik Andersen is a very good backup goalie, but the Maple Leafs need to somehow acquire a true number 1 contender in order to continue to get better. Toronto could also improve their depth at defense, but if they can find a way to find a better goaltender then this team could be tough to beat. It is amazing how good this team has become after being one of the worst teams in the NHL just a couple of years ago.
2. Edmonton Oilers
It has been awhile since Edmonton was even close to being a contender, but last year the Oilers finally made it back to the playoffs. Connor McDavid has led the Oilers resurgence as he had a remarkable 100 points last season in order to win the Hart trophy as the NHL MVP. The best part for the Oilers is that McDavid is only 20 years old and the Oilers also have another really good center Leon Draisaitl who had 77 points for Edmonton last season despite being only 21 years old. Don’t forget about Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins either as both of those players are tremendous offensive players as well. Edmonton is stacked with young talent especially on offense and that is what will carry this team probably to a championship sometime soon. Goaltender Cam Talbot had a very good year for the Oilers as well as he had a 2.39 GAA in 73 games. However, the Oilers need to find a good backup goaltender this offseason in order to take a lot of pressure off of Talbot. Also, the Oilers need to find some much more quality defenseman this offseason and if they can do so then this team will be even better next season and for many years to come.
3. Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets came close to being a playoff team last season after having a very good rookie season from 19-year old right winger Patrik Laine who had 64 points in 2016. I expect Laine to get even better next season and add him to Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Bryan Little and suddenly the Jets have a very potent offense for the future. Winnipeg also has two good defenseman with Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba. However, for the Jets to continue to improve then they will need to add some more depth at the defense position this offseason. The thing that is really holding Winnipeg back from being a playoff team is their goaltending. Connor Hellebuyck is a decent backup goalie, but he is certainly not a good number 1 goaltender as he had a terrible 2.89 GAA last season for the Jets. Winnipeg needs to find a new number 1 goalie somehow and if they can upgrade at that position then there is no doubt that this team could make the playoffs easily.