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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Stanley Cup contenders, Chris Kreider

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Oct. 19 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday through the course of the 2016-17 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

Let's get to it:

Who comes out of each conference and overall this season? Any teams likely to tank? -- @RichBooth1

One week of hockey isn't going to make me change my preseason predictions. I have the Chicago Blackhawks coming out of the Western Conference and the Pittsburgh Penguins coming out of the Eastern Conference. I have the Blackhawks defeating the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup for the fourth time since 2010. The Blackhawks weren't a popular pick among my colleagues; of the 20 people who made preseason predictions for NHL.com, only Brian Lawton from NHL Network and I picked the Blackhawks to win the Cup. (Tom Gulitti and Bill Price had the Blackhawks getting to the Stanley Cup Final.) I get it, their depth looks like a problem right now, but I picked the Blackhawks for a few reasons:

1. I trust their depth issues at forward will be ironed out as the season progresses, either by their rookies progressing or general manager Stan Bowman stepping in and making trades, something we all know he can and will do if necessary.

2. They're rested. The Blackhawks played one round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, meaning they had a longer offseason than usual. That will help.

3. They know how to win in the spring. I don't care where they finish in the Central Division as long as they get into the playoffs, because I trust the Blackhawks when it comes to playing playoff hockey, especially once they get their depth issues ironed out.

4. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson have some help from Brian Campbell. Adding one more mobile, veteran defenseman will help the Blackhawks in a big way.

As for your second question, no idea and hopefully not.

Do you believe now that Chris Kreider has really started to break out he'll get 30 or more goals this season? -- @sarahjvanhorn

I really do. It's time. He has all the physical tools and the skill to make it happen, but it seems like Kreider has finally figured out how to put it all together. Yes, I know, three games is a small sample size, but it's the way he's played in the first three games that should make any New York Rangers fan optimistic about a 30-goal season from Kreider. He's been dominant on almost every shift. He's been playing a north-south game, using his instincts instead of his brain to make plays. Kreider has been guilty in the past of overthinking and overanalyzing his game. I remember one instance when I talked to him he told me about how he needed to work on his wall play. I couldn't believe what he was saying. Forget wall play; Kreider needs to play fast and stay off the walls. The longer he's on the walls, the easier it is to defend him. Now you see him playing a fast, aggressive, instinctual game. And he seems to have great chemistry with newcomer Mika Zibanejad, and that helps immensely.

Video: SJS@NYR: Kreider wrists in PPG from left circle

Can the Buffalo Sabres overcome key injuries? I remember you picked them to sneak into the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. -- @Smitty0717

I want to say yes, but it depends greatly on goalie Robin Lehner, who hasn't exactly earned the trust as a No. 1 goalie. He has to earn it now. He has to help the Sabres overcome losing Jack Eichel (high ankle sprain) and Evander Kane (ribs) for weeks. The problem isn't that the Sabres will fall out of the race without them, it's that they might lose some valuable points now that could come in handy in March and April. I thought the Sabres could be a 95-point team and the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference this season, but that was if they were healthy. Now it's fair to question it, but let's see if Lehner can hold the line to keep them in it until Eichel and Kane return. Let's also hope no one else goes out, or it could be one of those seasons in Buffalo.

Two questions: How good are the Boston Bruins? Do you see them making a push for Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler or Jacob Trouba? -- @Walt_Morris55

1. They're OK, but I don't think they're a playoff team with the way their roster currently is constructed and because of the lack of depth on defense.

2. They should be trying to acquire Fowler and/or Trouba. Getting Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets would be ideal for Boston considering he's a potential top-pair defenseman for years to come, but he won't come cheap. The Jets are within their right to keep Trouba at home until they get an offer they can't refuse. Trouba has until Dec. 1 to sign a contract or else he can't play this season. Is he willing to sit out the entire season just so he doesn't have to play in Winnipeg? The Jets might be willing to see how serious he is. It'll be very interesting to see how this plays out.

Video: ANA@NYI: Fowler scores from the point to trim deficit

I highly doubt Lindholm is going to get traded. The Anaheim Ducks want to sign him; they just need the salary-cap space to get it done. That could mean the departure of Fowler, but I heard Tuesday that they're doing all they can to keep him too. I'm not sure how GM Bob Murray makes that work unless a team is willing to take defenseman Clayton Stoner and his entire $3.25 million salary-cap charge or if defenseman Simon Despres' concussion is bad enough that he can go on long-term injured reserve. The Ducks also could put forward Nate Thompson (Achilles) on LTIR.

Regardless, it's a problem that Murray has to solve quickly because Lindholm is too good not to be in the lineup. If it means trading Fowler, he might just have to swallow it to get it done. If that's the case, the Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils should be fighting for a spot at the front of the line to acquire him.

Do you think Las Vegas will try for Claude Julien (assuming his tenure with Boston ends after this season)? -- @BrianMatteucci

If Julien is available, I would expect Las Vegas GM George McPhee would talk to him about the job. But I'm not ready to fire Julien, and the Bruins shouldn't be. I know you're talking about after the season, and if the Bruins miss the playoffs again, I can see a change behind the bench coming, but I'm not sure it would be the best move because you have to replace Julien with someone equally as good. Julien is a real good NHL coach, a Stanley Cup winner in Boston who has taken the Bruins back to the Cup Final as well. A lot has been made about the Bruins' late-season meltdowns the past two seasons, but I give Julien a ton of credit for even having them in the mix going into April. In particular, I thought Julien did a marvelous coaching job last season, with a depleted defense and a serious lack of forward depth beyond the top-six group. But yes, if Julien is available, he absolutely would be an option for Las Vegas. This is why McPhee said he wants to hold off to hire a coach until after the season. There is no rush to get it done. He'll have more options come April, May and potentially even June than he does now.

Do you think the "shutdown"/"stay-at-home" defenseman is fading away in favor of the Erik Karlsson, Kris Letang and Brent Burns types? -- @_MAF29

I don't know that the need for a shutdown, stay-at-home, simple, safe defenseman has lessened over time, but I do think the model for that player has changed. Now that player has to be able to skate. He has to be mobile. He has to be able to handle the puck, to help keep possession. What's the point of putting a defenseman on the ice if he's always going to be playing in the defensive zone? None. You can start him in the defensive zone on a faceoff, but he has to be part of the five-man unit that breaks the puck out. Shea Weber and Victor Hedman are elite examples of shutdown defensemen who also are among the best scoring defensemen in the NHL because of their ability to move and shoot, but it's that type of player that I'm talking about. Karl Alzner, Travis Hamonic, Alex Pietrangelo, Mattias Ekholm, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are more examples. They all can skate and join the offense, but they all play tough minutes in what could be perceived as shutdown roles.

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