1 Pittsburgh: Although the Capitals reigned supreme in 2018, I like the Penguins taking their spot back at the top of the division. I just can’t go against a Crosby and Malkin lead team. Throw in Kessel and a Letang looking to rebound and I see them cruising to the top.
2 Washington: The Capitals have a dynamic center duo in their own right, with an ever consistent Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov who burst into the scene recently. Alex Ovechkin has some good years left before he starts to decline and those 3 players will keep the Caps competitive for a while. Re-signing John Carlson was huge for them as well. I see another good season on the way.
3 Carolina: This will be my most controversial pick, but I really like the Hurricanes lineup right now and I think they can play so much better than they did last season. Adding Dougie Hamilton turns a great defensive core to arguable second best in the league after Nashville. Aho is a year older and is looking like a future star in this league. The big question is goaltending and scoring depth. They are both iffy at best, but when I look at their team on paper, I see no reason why they can’t leap frog a few teams that finished ahead of them.
4 Philadelphia: The Flyers have been built around the same core for a while that has always given them success, but not quite enough to put them over the edge. The emergence of Couturier and Provorov could be enough to prove me wrong, but for now I think they are a playoff bubble team. The good news for them is Giroux seems to be back to his old self and putting up monster points.
5 New Jersey: A young core give the Devils a lot of hope, and Taylor Hall has proven capable of carrying the team. He needs a lot more help though. Last years first over all selection Nico Hischier has his first season under his belt and will be relied on a little heavier. I see good things for the Devils future but they aren’t quite at contender level yet.
6 Columbus: Losing Panarin could be a disaster for Columbus as he was far and away the best forward for the Blue Jackets last season (seriously not even close). Now this is all speculation that he might be traded, due to a report that he does not want to play in Columbus anymore. If he stays and plays another full season with the Jackets, there is some hope. Some.
7 New York Rangers: A weak lineup that finished last in 2018 doesn’t look any better today. The Rangers should be rebuilding but it is yet to be seen if it actually happens. Kreider, Zibanejad and Buchnevich could be an alright line, not really first line material though and it doesn’t get any better after that.
8 New York Islanders: The other New York team is even worse. After losing Tavares, an already bad team got considerably worse. Adding insult to injury, their answer was signing Matt Martin and Leo Komarov. Gross. Barzal has some massive shoes to fill here, and as talented as he is, I can’t see him dragging this team into relevance.