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Stars, Oilers among teams that could surprise, NBC Sports analysts say

Dallas, Edmonton each have good chance to make unexpected runs at Stanley Cup

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

If the past two NHL seasons have taught anything, it's that no team should be counted out.

Last season, the St. Louis Blues were last in the NHL on Jan. 3 and used a second-half surge to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and eventually win the Cup for the first time in their 51-season history. In 2018, after many playoff failures, the Washington Capitals won the Cup for the first time in their 43-season history.

"Each year, whatever happened the previous year goes right out the window and there's always a new team that surprises everybody, so that's what's so exciting about the 82-game season," NBC Sports analyst Patrick Sharp said.

Longtime play-by-play voice Doc Emrick agreed.

"You never write anybody off especially in midyear even if they are buried all the way down in last because we just had our comeuppance on acting smug about dispensing anybody even at the midway point in the season," he said.

So with the NHL season beginning Wednesday with four games, which teams could be this season's Blues and make an unexpected playoff run?

"In my opinion, Dallas might be under the national radar, but they're not under the radar for me," analyst Eddie Olczyk said. "I could see them getting to the conference finals. If you talk to 50, 100 people, maybe Dallas wouldn't be in their top five. But for me, I see them being a real dangerous team come playoff time."

In addition to the Dallas Stars, the Florida Panthers were also discussed. Sharp, who won the Stanley Cup three times with the Chicago Blackhawks under Joel Quenneville, the new coach of the Panthers, knows how big of a factor he can be.

Video: Which teams will make the playoffs in the West

"Signing (Sergei) Bobrovsky is huge but with Joel Quenneville going there and his longtime assistant Mike Kitchen, I can tell you from first-hand experience that they do an excellent job of cracking down on the easy goals against," Sharp said. "If Florida can improve in that area, then they're a team that for me is right back in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

"And I look at the Pacific and why not the Edmonton Oilers? I know it's been ugly there in recent history, but they've got two of the best young players in the game in (Connor) McDavid and Leon (Draisaitl). They've got some players coming on the back end and with (coach) Dave Tippett and (general manager) Ken Holland there, I think things will go in the right direction and they're a team that can surprise."

Studio host Liam McHugh noted it's almost a guarantee to see a handful of new teams in the playoffs this season, ones that currently aren't being talked about.

"I think there could be a lot of shakeup there in terms of who makes the playoffs and who doesn't," he said. "People are really pumped up to see what Florida will do this year, and rightfully so. People want to see if Carolina can continue this momentum from last year (after making the Eastern Conference Final)."

The season-opening night includes a doubleheader on NBCSN. The Capitals visit the Blues (8 p.m. ET) followed by a Western Conference First Round rematch with the San Jose Sharks visiting the Vegas Golden Knights (10:30 p.m.).

"The fact that they're starting against each other in Game 1 and then the last two Stanley Cup winners that won their first Cup," analyst Jeremy Roenick said. "I think it's an amazing way to start the season."

Added McHugh: "I think you want to start with a little bit of fireworks, start with putting your best product out there, and it's hard to argue at this point that the product we're putting out there isn't one that can make a splash. Vegas is always a good attraction right now and San Jose still to me can be the idea that in many ways you're trotting out this All-Star team. I love the way we are starting the season."

With many teams improving this offseason, it's anybody's guess as to who will be hoisting the Cup in June.

"This is one of the first years I can honestly say, I don't know who is going to win the Cup," Roenick said. "Every year, I can say pretty safely with confidence three or four teams that are going to be there, but this year I have no idea."

Added analyst Mike Milbury: "It's too tough a call to make any predictions on who's going to win this trophy this year because there's any one of 25 teams (who could win)."

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