The 2022-23 National Hockey League (NHL) season is right around the corner – but we still have to get through the pesky preseason before the games start meaning something. Teams are gearing up for training camp this week and the first preseason action takes place Saturday afternoon.
While preseason games don’t mean anything, the exhibition schedule gives teams – and their fans – a chance to see how their new acquisitions are fitting in and how their young players are developing. Here’s three key predictions for this year’s preseason.
Shane Wright Makes the Kraken
Shane Wright made a lot of headlines during the 2022 NHL Draft as he fell to fourth overall to the Seattle Kraken. Once perceived as a generational talent, Wright was the presumed No. 1 overall pick, but the Montreal Canadiens instead chose Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovsky. The New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes then passed on Wright at No. 2 and No. 3.
Wright in Seattle, however, is a perfect fit for a player looking to show why he should have been the top pick and a franchise needing a marketable star. Wright chose not to play for Canada at the World Juniors this past August, seemingly a sign that he expects to make the Kraken’s opening night roster.
He’ll force the hand of general manager Ron Francis and earn his spot on the team with a strong showing in the preseason.
The Senators Hype Train Keeps Chugging
The Ottawa Senators definitely improved during the offseason. The team acquired Alex DeBrincat from the Chicago Blackhawks and signed free agent Claude Giroux, who split last season between the Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers. The addition of both players would put the Senators as a projected playoff team if they were in any other division, but the Atlantic also features the Lightning, Leafs, Bruins, and Panthers.
Still, one of those teams should fall off this season and the Senators certainly have the talent to start beating playoff teams on a consistent basis. It wouldn’t be a shock to see them finish third in the division, and a strong start in the preseason will put those projections on track.
DeBrincat and Giroux will fit in quickly and showcase their talent during preseason, but the big story will be the progression of Ottawa’s young players. Defenseman Jake Sanderson, fifth overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, should also have a strong camp and be a fixture on the team’s blueline by the end of the season.
Goaltending Concerns in Toronto
Being a goaltender in Florida or San Jose is a lot easier than being a goaltender in Toronto. The internal pressure and media scrutiny is amplified and a lot of the blame, regardless of whether or not it’s warranted, falls at the feet of the goalie. Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell failed to get it done with this core, and now Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov are tasked with the unenviable job of leading the Toronto Maple Leafs to the promised land – or at least the second round of the playoffs.
Both Murray and Samsonov are still relatively young and could turn things around from mostly below-average results in 2021-22, but it’s definitely a concern that the Leafs are merely hoping to find a solution with these two goalies.
If things go south early (one bad goal or a string of poor performances), the pressure will only increase, and the Toronto media will have a field day with the team’s goaltending situation. General manager Kyle Dubas’ job is essentially on the line based on how they play.