Western Conference: Players To Watch In 2015-16, Part II

By Colin Likas
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Every team in the NHL has changed in some way since the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. Whether it was solely through the entry-level draft or also by way of trades and free agent signings, no squad will look exactly the same come early-October as it did in mid-June.

More From Blackhawk Up — Central Division’s 5 Most Hated Players

All players on a team are impacted when it undergoes roster changes. So we’re going to take a look at a player from each Western Conference team you should keep your eye on during the 2015-16 season. Whether it’s because he’s new to the club or because he’ll have to take on an increased role with the club he’s been with for some time — or because there’s really no one else to watch for — each team has at least one player who will receive extra attention from hockey fans beyond their own fanbase.

Our glance wraps up today with the Central Division, which is what you really all came here to see, after we looked at the Pacific yesterday. So without further ado …

Jun 10, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing

Teuvo Teravainen

(86) skates with the puck away from Tampa Bay Lightning center

Tyler Johnson

(9) in the second period in game four of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Blackhawks

Teuvo Teravainen, C/LW

Last season (with Chicago): 52 games, 8 goals, 11 assists, plus-6 rating

Why we should watch him: It has been suggested that Teuvo could be the next Patrick Kane in some ways. You can see that in his hands and on-ice awareness, especially in the offensive zone. But the Blackhawks don’t necessarily need him to be the next Kane. Not after the team took a step back with the loss of Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette at center, as well as Marcus Krguer’s up-in-the-air contract status.

It’d be nice to see Teuvo put on some weight in the very near future and get a shot at center. While I’ve said before that I think he’ll start at a wing this season, Joel Quenneville has already suggested otherwise. Teuvo is currently the leader of the Blackhawks’ crop of young talent, and his development will be very important to the future of the organization, especially in these salary-cap-strapped times.

One thing especially worth watching: Can Teuvo become the solid two-way player his coach entrusts with more ice time? Teuvo was under 13 minutes per game in the most recent playoffs and was scratched multiple times, not necessarily through any fault of his own. And yet he still came up with 10 points in the postseason and helped pace a successful Chicago third line. How he responds to his strange Stanley Cup playoff run may give us a better understanding of what Teuvo will be like in the future.

Feb 22, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center

Nathan MacKinnon

(29) and mascot Bernie celebrate the win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Pepsi Center. The Avalanche defeated the Lightning 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado Avalanche

Nathan MacKinnon, C

Last season (with Colorado): 64 games, 14 goals, 24 assists, minus-7 rating, 47 percent winner on faceoffs

Why we should watch him: I might use this spot for Colorado’s recent first-round draft pick, Mikko Rantanen, especially since there aren’t a lot of guys that stick out to me on Colorado’s current roster as need-to-watch players for 2015-16.

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But MacKinnon is probably the best available option for this designation, considering he burst on to the scene as a rookie last year to the tune of a Calder Trophy victory. He was a big reason (though not the biggest (Semyon Varlamov)) the Avs surprised everyone and won the Central in 2013-14. But last season was a rough one, as his regular-season point total tumbled from 63 to 38 (he played in 18 fewer regular-season games in 2014-15) and he missed the last month-plus with a broken foot.

So now you’ve got the team’s next star coming back from a down season and a broken foot while also in a contract year. You can bet he’ll want to make more than $925,000 per year moving forward, so MacKinnon should be entertaining to watch in 2015-16.

Apr 3, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars defenseman

John Klingberg

(3) skates against the St. Louis Blues at the American Airlines Center. The Blues defeat the Stars 7-5. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Stars

John Klingberg, D

Last season (with Dallas): 65 games, 11 goals, 29 assists, plus-5 rating, fifth in Calder Trophy voting

Why we should watch him: Unlike in Colorado, you could pretty much put the entire Dallas roster on a watch list for next season. General manager Jim Nill has been uber-busy again this offseason, pillaging the cap-stricken Blackhawks and making the interesting decision to platoon Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen in net. But we’re going to focus on a guy who was already with the Stars before all this happened in Klingberg.

You probably don’t know his name if you’re a casual hockey fan, but you soon will. The 22-year-old tied for fourth on the team in points without playing a full season. He carried play to the tune of a 53.55 Corsi-for percentage last season while dealing with slightly more defensive-zone starts than offensive. And he averaged nearly 22 minutes of ice time per game just out of the AHL.

This guy will be, if he already isn’t, Dallas’ No. 1 defenseman. With Alex Goligoski now into his 30s, Trevor Daley gone and the best other options at the blue line being Jordie Benn and Johnny Oduya, Klingberg is going to have to be a stud for Dallas. Because despite all of Nill’s maneuverings this offseason, he still hardly upgraded his biggest concern: the defense. Klingberg could take some of the load off his GM’s shoulders with a stellar sophomore season.

Next: Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg

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