Post-Realignment "Midwest" Division Preview

Doug Pensinger

The realignment introduces a handful of new division rivals. How do they stack up against Colorado? Here's a look at the new players and prospects your Avs will have to deal with for years and years going forward.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a new NHL.

The National Hockey League's Board of Governors has officially approved the new two-conference, four-division realignment plan which would officially begin at next year's 2013-14 campaign.

The new plan sees two conferences and four divisions. The Western Conference houses "Division A" and "Division B" while the Eastern Conference has "Division C" and "Division D". Colorado will join Chicago, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, and Winnipeg in Division B. The division names are obviously not permanent. For more details, including the playoff format, click here.

For the Avs, this means a whole lot of fresh and foreign faces to play on a regular basis. So who exactly are those faces?

I break it down into four categories.

Current Core. The most important pieces of the team. Includes players in their prime as well as the starting netminder.

Young Guns. These are talented youngsters who, as of this writing, have earned a current roster spot on the team.

Promising Prospects. High-ceiling players worth keeping an eye on.

Grizzled Vets. Don't blink - these 31+ year olds are on the tail-end of their careers.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

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Current core: Jonathan Toews (24-years-old), Patrick Kane (24), Bryan Bickell (27), Viktor Stalberg (27), Duncan Keith (29), Brent Seabrook (27), Corey Crawford (28)

No matter the supporting cast, Toews and Kane have the tools to lift this team higher. Bickell and Stalberg are both UFAs come season's end. Money doesn't grow on trees so look for one of them to part ways. Keith and Seabrook continue as anchors for the blueline, making Crawford's job a hell of a lot easier all the while.

Young Guns: Brandon Saad (20), Jimmy Hayes (23), Nick Leddy (21)

Brandon Saad is one sexy prospect. Since he was called up in January he has made an impact with his powerful build, scoring touch and natural hockey smarts. He is poised to make his stamp as a top-six power forward for years to come. Ever since I first saw him I wished he was an Av - he would fit in well here. Jimmy Hayes remains, arguably, their most promising right-wing youngster - at 6'5" he makes life very difficult for opposing teams. Nick Leddy is a young and improving defenseman and should be a key part to the Hawks blueline for quite some time. He is a complete defenseman likely to flourish at both ends of the ice once he hits his full stride. Watch out.

Promising Prospects: Mark McNeill (20), Phillip Danault (20), Teuvo Teravainen (18), Adam Clendening (20), Mac Carruth (20)

CHL centers Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault are quickly climbing the ranks. They were selected picks apart in the first round of the 2011 draft. Teuvo Teravainen is pure skill and offense. Time will tell if the teen center can transfer his game from Jokerit of the Finnish Elite League to the NHL. Defenseman Adam Clendening had a successful rookie season in the AHL. He is an offensive defenseman with remarkable puck-handling abilities and the vision to match. Mac Carruth is the goalie to keep an eye on should Crawford fall out of favor.

Grizzled Vets: Marian Hossa (34), Patrick Sharp (31)

DALLAS STARS

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Current Core: Jamie Benn (24), Loui Eriksson (27), Derek Roy (29), Trevor Daley (29), Alex Goligoski (27), Kari Lehtonen (29)

No need to talk about Benn, he's envied by many around here and rightly so - he's the Stars' franchise man. Eriksson and Roy - should Roy remain signed - will continue to shoulder a significant part of the top-six. Daley is the most reliable defenseman you know least about. At $3.3 million for another four years he is well worth it, at least considering the ridiculous contracts constantly popping up these days. Fellow D-man Goligoski, although an important piece, is replaceable. Lehtonen is a beast.

Young Guns: Cody Eakin (21), Brenden Dillon (22), Jamie Oleksiak (20)

Cody Eakin, acquired in a trade with Washington in 2012, is a solid two-way center who's not afraid of the bigger guys despite his 5'11", 180 lbs build. His biggest strength might just be his speed - a more threatening asset for Dallas with the division switch. Brenden Dillon is a tough and mobile defenseman who's not afraid to drop the gloves. He's not an offensive force but he doesn't need to be as long as he lets his physicality dictate the rink. Jamie Oleksiak is almost literally a giant rising at 6'7". Even more impressive for such a big man is that he can both handle the puck and skate.

Promising Prospects: Radek Faksa (19), Matej Transky (19), Matt Fraser (22), Jack Campbell (21)

Radek Faksa is the prospect to place your bets on. The 13th overall drafted center in 2012 epitomizes today's game: skilled and versatile, big and strong. He threads passes at one end of the rink while killing penalties at the other. He is the perfect two-way talent. Matej Stransky is a right-winger with oodles of potential. He will play the boards one second, then use his wrist shot to silence opposing teams the next. Because of this, he has drawn comparisons to Jagr. He still has a long way to go and would be lucky to even sniff Jagr's gaudy career numbers. Left-winger Matt Fraser is a true warrior who will stand up for his teammates. He can score goals too. Jack Campbell. We all heard about him in 2010. Anytime a goalie is drafted 11th overall, you can't help but have high expectations.

Grizzled Vets: Erik Cole (34), Jaromir Jagr (41), Brenden Morrow (34), Ray Whitney (40), Stephane Robidas (36)

MINNESOTA WILD

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Current Core: Zach Parise (28), Ryan Suter (28), Mikko Koivu (30), Devin Setoguchi (26), Niklas Backstrom (35)

Koivu may be the captain but all the pressure continues to point towards Parise and Suter who will be Minnesota mainstays straight to 2025. Expectations are sky high. Setoguchi is not necessarily a core piece. Would the Wild ever entertain trade offers for him? Definitely. But if not, then Seto needs to be the kind of player who shows up big in the playoffs. Backstrom's contract is due up. If he resigns, he remains the undisputed starter.

Young Guns: Charlie Coyle (21), Jason Zucker (21), Jonas Brodin (19), Matt Hackett (23), Darcy Kuemper (22)

Since Charlie Coyle came over in the San Jose trade he has shown he can be the big-bodied, smooth-skating forward that garnered him so much attention before he was drafted. Grab your popcorn, we'll have to get used to Coyle. Jason Zucker is a Duchenely quick winger who loves to shoot. Wild fans are high on this kid. Defenseman Jonas Brodin might just be the young gun out of all these names to worry about. As one fan describes, "he will make other teams look like fools and keep them from scoring goals for years to come." He pairs with Suter to form one fearsomely talented duo. What a jackpot find for Minny. Goaltenders Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper are solid underlings to Backstrom with time on their sides to evolve.

Promising Prospects: Mikael Granlund (21), Johan Larsson (20), Mathew Dumba (18)

Finnish center Mikael Granlund has seen his share of struggles, having been a healthy scratch on numerous occasions. He was just sent down to the AHL, hence his placement in the promising prospects category. Still, don't be surprised to one day see him dazzling with his hands in future All-Star games. Center Johan Larsson will likely find success in the NHL. In one scouting report he is described as a "hard-working, two-way player with a good eye for the game." Mathew Dumba, known more for his offensive prowess than defensive capabilities, is the defenseman to monitor as he attempts to climb the ranks. Overall, Minnesota boasts a very deep pool of talent.

Grizzled Vets: Dany Heatley (32), Matt Cullen (36)

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

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Current Core: Patric Hornqvist (26), Sergei Kostitsyn (25), Shea Weber (27), Kevin Klein (28), Pekka Rinne (30)

RFA Hornqvist is a dynamic forward due for a contract. Kostitsyn has been a disappointment this season and needs to step it up in future years. Weber and Klein are the blueline mainstays and both are guaranteed long careers in the Music City barring a trade. As long as Rinne is around the Preds will prove a tough matchup.

Young Guns: Colin Wilson (23), Gabriel Bourque (22), Craig Smith (23), Roman Josi (22), Ryan Ellis (22)

Colin Wilson, who can play both the center and wing positions, broke out this year as Nashville's leading scorer. He recently got injured and was placed on the IR, but a healthy Colin should wreak havoc for years to come. Gabriel Bourque will never be a top-notch NHLer but the youthful winger has the work-ethic and determination to bother opposing teams on a nightly basis. Center Craig Smith had a phenomenal rookie year, until he trailed off. Ever since he has underwhelmed, though he has enough offensive tools to eventually turn it around. Roman Josi is the unofficial Suter replacement. In fact, he's progressing at a better rate than Suter was at the same age. Ryan Ellis, who made history by becoming the 3rd defenseman in the OHL to amass at least 300 career points, is a stud. At least he will be - he's not the dominant force as of yet but the 2009 11th overall draft pick has the all-around potential to keep Preds fans drooling. His Achilles heel? Size. At 5'10" Ellis must use his instincts to his advantage if he wants to establish continuous success in the NHL.

Promising Prospects: Pontus Aberg (19), Austin Watson (21), Mattias Ekholm (22)

Pontus Aberg is a LW speedster with a high-calibre offensive skillset that includes a wicked shot. He can play the two-way game and has an admirable work ethic. Austin Watson is Nashville's top center prospect who epitomizes the hard-working, fearless type that defines this respectable organization. Like Aberg, he plays the two-way game and like our own Landeskog he does all the little things right. Mattias Ekholm is a promising puck-mover who further bolsters an already impressive defensive corps.

Grizzled Vets: Martin Erat (31), David Legwand (32), Mike Fisher (32), Scott Hannan (34)

ST. LOUIS BLUES

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Current Core: David Backes (28), Patrik Berglund (24), T.J. Oshie (26), David Perron (24), Alex Steen (29), Chris Stewart (25), Ian Cole (24), Kevin Shattenkirk (24), Alex Pietrangelo (23), Jaroslav Halak (27), Brian Elliott (27)

You know why St. Louis is a scary team? Youth in numbers. Forwards Backes and Steen provide leadership roles for the steady pool of talent that is Berglund, Oshie and Perron. This season, Stewart leads the team with 26 pts in 27 games. Ouch. Not to be dismissed is the equally young and equally talented defense spearheaded by Pietrangelo. The puck-moving, two-way Cole and the former Av Shattenkirk stand alongside. Halak and Elliott provide the one-two punch at net, sort of - read: Jake Allen.

Young Guns: Vladimir Tarasenko (21), Jaden Schwartz (20), Jake Allen (22)

What the hell, St. Louis? Why so much talent? Vladimir Tarasenko could be a star in this league. The Russian winger is a hungry athlete with a scoring touch. At 21, he has all the time in the world to come into his own. Jaden Schwartz is another name to remember. The former Colorado College tiger plays at a sort of Duchene-speed and he's got the smarts to implement this threat into something useful on the ice. Jake Allen is a netminder with starting potential. He's already seen some NHL time this year going 7-1-0 with a 9.15 SV% to Halak's .881 and Elliott's .851%.

Promising Prospects: Ty Rattie (20), Samuel Kurker (18), Jani Hakanpaa (20), Jordan Schmaltz (19)

The Blues have a ton of hot prospects, so I was forced to select just a few. With all the praise Tarasenko gets, we shouldn't forget about RW Ty Rattie. He has drawn comparisons to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Sam Kurker, yet another winger, could become an important power-forward type piece for the Blues moving forward. Jani Hakanpaa and Jordan Schmaltz are two of their better D-man prospects. Jani is more defensively oriented, Jordan more offensively.

Grizzled Vets: Jamie Langenbrunner (37), Andy McDonald (35), Barret Jackman (32), Wade Redden (35)

WINNIPEG JETS

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Current Core: Andrew Ladd (27), Bryan Little (25), Blake Wheeler (26), Dustin Byfuglien (27), Tobias Enstrom (28), Mark Stuart (28), Ondrej Pavelec (25)

With Ladd leading at the helm, the Jets rely on forwards Little and Wheeler to rack up the points. Significant contributions are also made by defensemen "Big Buff" Byfuglien and Enstrom. Stuart is a steady blueline presence who tries to make things easier for the young and talented goaltender Pavelec.

Young Guns: Evander Kane (21), Alexander Burmistrov (21), Zach Bogosian (22)

Evander Kane is Winnipeg's forward of the future. He has improved his goals, assists and overall points total in each year of his three-year NHL career. Alex Burmistrov is a solid two-way player with the touch of a brain surgeon, but he has shown difficulties putting in points. He has been a healthy scratch recently and is well within head coach Claude Noel's doghouse. He has even been subject to trade rumors. Locked somewhere within this young buck is a world of potential. Zach Bogosian is a true rock at the blueline. He will be Winnipeg's franchise defenseman for the long haul.

Promising Prospects: Mark Scheifele (19), Ivan Telegin (21), Jacob Trouba (19),

Mark Scheifele has been described as a "five-tool prospect", that is: size, speed, smarts, skill, vision. He is as promising as it gets for young centers. Ivan Telegin is a winger who's not afraid to crash the net and play the dirty areas. He has struggled mightily ever since he switched from the OHL to the AHL. This year, he has only three goals in 34 games. The reason I included him is because we shouldn't let one poor statistical year define an otherwise talented and promising young player. Lastly, there is Jacob Trouba. He is a physical force who will one day make matchups very, very tough.

Grizzled Vets: Nik Antropov (33), Olli "Waffles" Jokinen (34)

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So how do all these teams stack up to the Colorado Avalanche?

Our forward prospect depth is lacking compared to most of them but that might be because most of our drafted forwards are already playing on the first team: Matt Duchene (22-years-old), Ryan O'Reilly (22) and Gabe Landeskog (20) are quickly establishing themselves as NHL studs. These young guys are complemented well by P.A. Parenteau (29) and Paul Stastny (27), although there seems to still be a divide within the fanbase on whether or not Stastny is a core piece moving forward. Our already superior list of centers is further bolstered by prospects Joey Hishon (21), Mitchell Heard (21), and Michael Sgarbossa (20). Depth at the wing is a glaring issue.

There is a lot of talent on defense. Tyson Barrie (21) should never have been sent down (#FreeTysonBarrie) - he is looking like a sure-fire thing. The offensive-minded Stefan Elliott (22) and the intimidating Duncan Siemens (19) still have a ways to go but few of us Avs fans have any doubt that they won't evolve into the players they need to be. Fingers crossed they make strides sooner rather than later so that Erik Johnson (24) doesn't have to shoulder the load.

Goaltending depth is just peachy: Semyon Varlamov (24), Calvin Pickard (20), and Sami Aittokallio (20), among others.

My personal X-factor? Duncan Siemens. For the Avalanche rebuild to succeed, Siemens must live up to expectations. Also - for those who care - the winner of the EJ-Shatty trade lies in the success or failure of Duncan.

Special stick taps go to the fine folks over at Second City Hockey, Defending Big D, Hockey Wilderness, On the Forecheck, St. Louis Game Time, and Arctic Ice Hockey.

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