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2016-17 NHL season preview: Metropolitan division opponents

Looking at the off-seasons that the Pittsburgh Penguins division opponents had as the 2016-17 season is about to begin

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

At this point, we've covered basically all there is to cover about the preseason for the Pittsburgh Penguins. With the season about to begin (with a division game, no less) we now turn our attention to those other guys in the division for a quick preview of the rest of the division.

Last season the Metropolitan division since the maximum of 5 teams to the playoffs, with NYI and PHI earning wildcards and bumping out the 4th place Atlantic division finisher. This year the division could well send 5 teams back to the playoffs.

Washington Capitals

2015-16 Record: 56-18-8, 120 points, Presidents Trophy winner

Offseason in 2 sentences: The league's strongest regular season team did very little personnel-wise, adding just Lars Eller from Montreal and losing 20-goal man Jason Chimera to free agency. They didn't have to make major changes and so they didn't, though not upgrading the blueline seems a little curious after their struggles in the playoffs.

Fresh face to know: Jakub Vrana. The Caps 2014 first round pick lit up the AHL in his rookie season (34 points in 36 games) and should make his NHL debut at some point in the coming year. Washington would be wise to try and out-skill the Penguins with players like Vrana and not out-muscle them.

2016-17 outlook: Really strong, the Caps should contend for the division title and will end up as one of the league's top teams. Since they didn't upgrade their defense (and Brooks Orpik isn't getting any younger) their eternal struggle to get past the second round might come down to internal growth from young players in Dmitry Orlov and/or Nate Schmidt .

New York Rangers

2015-16 Record: 46-27-9, 101 points, 3rd in division 3 points back of Pittsburgh

Offseason in 2 sentences: The Rangers seem to be going in different directions - up front they got younger with a big trade (Derrick Brassard out, Mika Zibanejad in) and signed prized college free agent Jimmy Vesey and will welcome 21-year old Russian import Pavel Buchnevich. Defensively, they lost Keith Yandle and again bring back older, slower players like Dan Girardi and Marc Staal .

Fresh face to know: Buchnevich. A 3rd round pick in 2013, the skilled winger produced an impressive amount of points at a young age in the KHL level (35 in 58 games last season) and could be NYR's first home-grown big time forward since Mats Zuccarello.

2016-17 outlook: The Rangers seem difficult to gauge. On one hand they are a talented team, backed up by one of the best goalies of this generation (even if at age 34 he's getting a little long in the tooth). On the other hand, they are handcuffed by some self-inflicted wounds with bad contracts to players that need to be upgraded on. It will be interesting to see if this "old guard" team that's finished no lower than 3rd in the division since 2010-11 can again hold off some of the teams below that have made upgrades.

New York Islanders

2015-16 Record: 45-27-10, 4th place in division, top EC wildcard team

Offseason in 2 sentences: A very active free agency period for NYI, as they saw Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen sign big contracts elsewhere, but struck back by signing former Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd to a seven year, $5.5 million per year cap hit. They also lose a "glue guy" in Matt Martin but make a couple sneaky good additions under the radar in P-A Parenteau (who's performed well with John Tavares in the past) and defenseman Dennis Seidenberg.

Fresh face to know: Ryan Pulock. The 22-year old 1st round pick from 2013 is pushing to make the NHL roster out of training camp, and even if he doesn't will probably get a chance at some point to make his NHL debut.

2016-17 outlook: The Islanders made lateral external moves, at best in free agency, and also some puzzling decisions like signing Casey Cizikas to a $3.35 million cap hit. They were good enough to win a playoff round last season against Atlantic division winner Florida, yet it's difficult to find a lot of optimism that they'll be able to build on that performance with some of the decisions they've made. They'll need young players like Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson to be very good in order to make up for their losses.

Philadelphia Flyers

2015-16 Record: 41-27-14, 5th in division and EC's second wildcard team

Offseason in 2 sentences: The uncharacteristically patient rebuild continued with minimal personnel moves in the offseason for the Flyers. They signed free agent Dale Weise and moved on from a few bit players (Ryan White, Sam Gagner, Evgeny Medvedev) and that's about it, no crazy trades or offer sheets or overpayments for veterans (aside from giving brutish Radko Gudas a four year extension for $3.35 million per).

Fresh face to know: Ivan Provorov. For the second time in as many years, it looks like Philly is about to add a homegrown impact defenseman. That sentence isn't often written. Provorov was the best defensemen in the WHL last season and at age-19 looks ready to make the big jump to the NHL. Unfortunately for the Pens, it looks like he's going to be a good one for a while.

2016-17 outlook: The Flyers, scarily enough, look like a team on the ascent. Younger players like Provorov and Travis Konecny are coming through the pipeline and their management is minimizing mistakes. Luckily, they haven't completely eliminated them (as the Gudas move reflects) but the Flyers seem good enough now to finish a couple spots higher in the division then the 5th from last season.

Carolina Hurricanes

2015-16 Record: 35-31-16, 86 points, 6th in division and 10 away from making the playoffs

Offseason in 2 sentences: As a small market team in a decidedly big budget division, Carolina has done an impressive job using what unique advantages they do have  to acquire talent- they were gifted Teuvo Teravainen in a trade with Chicago for taking on Bryan Bickell's $4 million cap hit. They just used their high waiver status to claim talented but unproven Red Wing prospect Martin Frk and signed under-the-radar but quietly good Lee Stempniak to a contract.

Fresh face to know: Sebastien Aho. Aho has been playing on the Canes second line in the preseason, and the 19-year old 2nd round pick in 2015 has been turning heads. His production last year in the Finnish league (45 points in 45 games) jumps off the page and the Hurricanes are hoping he can instantly boost their NHL team as well.

2016-17 outlook: Carolina, with their strong underlying puck possession metrics, seems like a team on the verge of breaking out. They've drafted pretty well and built up a seriously impressive amount of NHL talent in the 18-24 year old range. Suspect goaltending has long been an issue and could be again with the team doubling down and bringing back Cam Ward and Eddie Lack. If those two can give at least average performances, the Hurricanes ought to be on the fringe of earning a playoff spot and probably being a young, dangerous team that no contender would want to see in the first round of the playoffs.

New Jersey Devils

2015-16 Record: 38-36-8, 84 points, 7th in the division

Offseason in 2 sentences: Made a huge splash in the summer trade to add Taylor Hall for the price of Adam Larsson. Ray Shero continues his reunion of adding old Penguins by signing Ben Lovejoy and trading for Beau Bennett in, other than the Hall trade, what was a fairly quiet off-season for NJD.

Fresh face to know: Pavel Zacha. Shero's first draft pick for the Devils in 2015, a skilled forward, figures to factor into Jersey's roster in a big way if he can prove he belongs. Even though they now have Hall, NJD still needs more skill up front to compete with the teams that finished above them in the standings.

2016-17 outlook: Acquiring Hall was a masterful move, but is it enough for a team that finished 30th in Goals For (182) and 30th in shots per game (24.4) last season?The Devils are still a low-event (read: boring) team that hasn't fully flushed out of their system yet. It looks like this rebuild is still in the early stages, on paper the Devils aren't quite there yet compared to the stronger teams in the division. Though in the parity of today's NHL, they certainly are a team that could win on any given night, and not an "easy out" with a goalie like Cory Schneider back there.

Columbus Blue Jackets

2015-16 Record: 34-40-8, last place in division, only 7 points better than Toronto

Offseason in 2 sentences: What might stand out most was drafting Pierre-Luc Dubois #3 overall, instead of the more conventional choice according to pre-draft rankings in Jesse Puljujarvi. ;Lumbus didn't do much personnel wise, they signed Gagner away from Philly and let long-timers Fedor Tyutin and Jared Boll skate away in free agency and that's pretty much it.

Fresh face to know: Zach Werenski. The 8th overall pick in 2015 (one after Provorov) needed only one season in the NCAA before turning pro and figures to be an impact player on Columbus's blue line from the jump of this season. He's big, can skate, can move the puck, pretty much checks all the boxes for what young defensemen should be.

2016-17 outlook: A tough one to peg, the Blue Jackets were the darlings of the division just a few years ago but now have had two disappointing seasons and look to be a bit jumbled from management decisions down to coaching and execution. This team has some pieces but I'm not quite sure what they're building to, or when they want to get there. They don't look good enough now to be a contender, and several of their older players are signed to long-term deals that won't do them any favors in the future.


Pensburgh crystal ball

1. Washington

2. Penguins

3. Philadelphia

4. NY Rangers

5. Carolina Hurricanes

---- playoff line

6. NY Islanders

7. New Jersey

8. Columbus

***We project the Flyers and Hurricanes to take big steps forward this season, NYR regresses a little but still comfortably makes the playoffs.

***The battle at the top between the Pens and Capitals for division supremacy will likely go down to the wire and possibly be determined by which team has less injuries, which traditionally is usually the Caps. However, Washington's reward will be a first round matchup with a hungry and talented Carolina team that won't be an easy series.