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Bounce-back candidates debated by NHL.com

Simmonds, Subban, Nylander among those who can rebound from last season

NHL.com @NHLdotcom

The offseason is a time for renewal for players. Each has the ability to put in the work to make the 2019-20 season better than the one that just finished. Which players will come back this fall and begin the process of putting a sub-par 2018-19 season in the rearview mirror? We asked 10 NHL.com staff writers for their opinions.

Here are their thoughts:

 

Tim Campbell, staff writer
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators

The danger in presenting Forsberg for this debate is that it may be presumed to mean he had an awful season for the Predators, which is not exactly the case. The left wing had 50 points (28 goals, 22 assists) in 64 games but missed 17 games with an upper-body injury from Dec. 1-Jan. 5. However, Forsberg, who will turn 25 on Aug. 13, finished third on the team in scoring behind Ryan Johansen (64 points) and Roman Josi (56 points) after scoring 64 points in 2017-18. There is much more to his game, to the point it should be closer to dominating. It begins with the skill that can put defenders on their heels far earlier than they'd prefer, and a hard-to-play-against gene that surprises many. The arrival of free-agent center Matt Duchene may stir the offense, which ranked 19th last season in goals scored (236). And surely Nashville's power play will improve on a last-place finish (12.9 percent last season). Forsberg (seven power-play goals last season) should participate in that rise.

Video: CHI@NSH: Forsberg hammers a slap shot past Ward

 

Nick Cotsonika, columnist
James Neal, Edmonton Oilers

Seven goals? For James Neal? Neal's numbers were shocking for all the wrong reasons after the left wing signed a five-year contract with the Calgary Flames on July 2, 2018. Here's betting last season will turn out to be an anomaly, especially since he was traded to the Oilers on July 19 and will be playing with one of three skilled centers: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Before last season, Neal, who will turn 32 on Sept. 3, scored between 21 and 40 goals for 10 straight seasons. He never had a shooting percentage below 10.4; Last season, it was 5.0 (seven goals on 141 shots) in 63 games. He's due for a turnaround.

 

William Douglas, staff writer
Wayne Simmonds, New Jersey Devils

Simmonds finds new life in New Jersey after scoring 30 points (17 goals, 13 assists) in 79 games last season with the Philadelphia Flyers and Nashville Predators. The right wing scored one goal in 17 games for Nashville, not good for a player who scored 32 goals in 2015-16 and 31 in 2016-17. Injuries have taken a toll on Simmonds, who will turn 32 on Aug. 26, the past two seasons. Being healthy and playing on a one-year, $5 million contract should be motivation for a bounce-back season. Simmonds should benefit playing on what should be an offensively-gifted team with forwards Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, and defenseman P.K. Subban.

 

Adam Kimelman, deputy managing editor
Wayne Simmonds, New Jersey Devils

I'm in full agreement with William Douglas. Simmonds is healthy after the litany of injuries he's had the past two seasons, and will work hard to show people that he's closer to the player who averaged nearly 27 goals per season in seven seasons with the Flyers prior to 2018-19 and was a dominant net-front presence on the power play, than the one who struggled with the Predators after the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline. And New Jersey looks to be the perfect place for Simmonds. Playing with Hischier or Hughes, he'll have the chance to work with a young, dynamic center who will get him the puck exactly where he wants it, and Simmonds' voice and work ethic will set a strong example for the younger players. A one-year contract should provide all the fuel Simmonds needs to prove his doubters wrong. An angry, motivated Simmonds will be a nightmare for opponents.

 

Mike G. Morreale, staff writer
P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils

Subban finished with the lowest point total (31) of his nine-season NHL career last season with the Nashville Predators, so the fact he'll earn big minutes as a top-pair defenseman and quarterback a Devils power play that ranked 21st in the NHL last season (17.7 percent) is all the information you need to know to predict he'll return to form in 2019-20. The 30-year-old is excited to join a team that upgraded its roster from a season ago when it ranked third-worst in the League with 72 points. Additionally, Subban will enter training camp with a chip on his shoulder to prove critics wrong who claim he's on the downswing of his career. "The Subbanator" gives the Devils a presence unlike anything they've ever had in the organization. On top of that, the 2013 Norris Trophy-winner said he's in great shape and hungry to help the Devils make a push to become a perennial Stanley Cup Playoff contender.

 

Tracey Myers, staff writer
Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes

There were a lot of "what-if" scenarios for the Coyotes last season, including what if the 30-year-old goaltender hadn't been lost to a season-ending, lower-body injury in November. Raanta was 5-6-0 with a 2.88 goals-against average and .906 save percentage last season and is 26-23-6 with a 2.37 GAA and .925 save percentage in his two seasons with the Coyotes. He's has shown how stellar he can be when healthy, and an injury-free Raanta, coupled with a strong Arizona defense, could lead to great things for him and the Coyotes.

 

Rob Reese, fantasy editor
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs

After not playing his first game of the 2018-19 season until Dec. 6 because of a contract holdout, Nylander did not score a goal in his first 11 games and had seven goals and 27 points in 54 games. However, he had 24 points (six goals, 18 assists) and was plus-5 in his final 35 games of the regular season and had three points in seven playoff games. He also led Maple Leafs skaters with a plus-186 shot attempts rating, suggesting he drove possession and generated chances while on the ice. It's also worth noting that his shooting percentage last season (5.4) was much lower than his NHL career average (9.8). With consistent exposure to top forward Auston Matthews in the top-six rotation, the 23-year-old right wing could exceed the 61 points he had in each of his first two NHL seasons.

Video: TOR@BOS, Gm1: Nylander goes five-hole on breakaway

 

Dan Rosen, senior writer
Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils

This one didn't require much thinking on my part. Hall won the Hart Trophy for the 2017-18 season, when he had 93 points (39 goals, 54 assists) in 76 games, helping the Devils reach the playoffs. A nagging left knee injury that eventually required surgery limited Hall to 33 games last season, none after Christmas, but the 27-year-old still had 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists). The Devils missed the playoffs by 26 points. Hall should be back healthy and in his place at left wing on the Devils' top line, likely with Hischier as the center but potentially with Hughes. Hall has one year left on his contract, so he could sign an extension with the Devils or he could be playing for a big payday. Either way, a healthy Hall will be a resurgent Hall and the Devils should expect another big season from their best player.

 

Dave Stubbs, columnist
Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils

I'm going to agree with colleague Dan Rosen on this one, with an exclamation mark, maybe two. Hall's season, coming off his Hart Trophy campaign, was a colossal disappointment because of a wonky left knee. The joint prematurely pulled the chute on his 2018-19 season and the injury ruined the Devils' chances of returning to the playoffs. But there's every reason to believe the left-winger is going to have a terrific bounce-back season. He'll be playing on a retooled New Jersey roster with Nikita Gusev, Simmonds, Subban and Hughes, as he heads into a contract year, either getting a deal done to extend his stay or testing the open market in July. No matter his contract situation come October, Hall will again be one of the NHL's marquee skaters. Expect him to play as such.

Video: OTT@NJD: Hall whips home power-play goal

 

Mike Zeisberger, staff writer
P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils

If we go by the choices of my esteemed colleagues and me in this roundtable discussion, the Devils can be called Team Bounce Back. Three players -- Subban, Hall and Simmonds -- have each been selected to have a better season and each is a worthy choice. In the end I have to agree with pal Mike Morreale here and go with Subban. Injuries limited him to 63 games last season and were a factor for the lowest point total of his NHL career (31), 28 fewer than in 2017-18. He's definitely the No. 1 defenseman on the Devils and will get plenty of ice time, unlike in Nashville where he had to split it with Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. Subban was welcomed with open arms in New Jersey, where he was presented with his own robe (with the word "Subbanator" on the back) like the one wrestler Rick Flair made famous. Subban is flamboyant, likes to have fun, embraces the spotlight and can help a team sell tickets. On the surface, the marriage between Subban and the Devils seems like the perfect match.

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