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Rosen's mailbag - July 8, 2015

by Dan Rosen

Here is the July 8 edition of Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run periodically throughout the summer. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

Let's get to it:

Will Connor McDavid have an immediate impact on the Oilers, and what part of his game needs to improve the most? -- @lateinthegoldie

McDavid should have an immediate impact on the Oilers. He should be their No. 1 center, putting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in a more friendly spot at No. 2, which is not a knock on him but instead more praise of McDavid to consider him to be good enough already to be a No. 1 center in the NHL. The Oilers could have McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl as their top three centers. That's their present and future right there. There will be growing pains for McDavid, but his speed and skill will more than make up for them.

As for the part of his game that needs to improve the most, I consulted with my good friend Craig Button on this. Button has scouted McDavid over and over and over. He knows his game probably better than McDavid knows his own game. Button says that McDavid's shot needs to improve to the point where he can threaten NHL defensemen. The defensemen have to respect his shot, and when they do it'll open more options for McDavid to exploit the 'D'. The same thing happened to Sidney Crosby. He worked on his shot, and it became a weapon for him to score 50 goals once he got it to the point where the defensemen had to respect it as a threat. Scoring 50 again might be a stretch for Crosby, but 40 isn't if he plays with better wingers who can do some of the heavy lifting for him.

McDavid could play with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. That would help him and give him time to work on his shot so he can improve his accuracy and velocity.

It's not surprising that McDavid's shot needs work because in junior hockey he could beat everyone with his speed. He didn't need his shot to be a threat because he just skated around or through everybody and scored that way. That will still happen in the NHL, but not at the same rate, so McDavid needs to improve his shot.

If Phil Kessel was able to put up numbers with lesser linesmen, what's his potential with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin? 50? -- @Hahke

Fifty is a stretch, but not impossible. I'm thinking more along the lines of 40 goals for Kessel, which would be a great season and would make the Penguins a better team. Kessel could and probably should also get 40 assists if he stays healthy, which he always does. He'll play with Crosby, Malkin and Kris Letang on the power play. That should boost his production too.

I wrote this analysis about why I think Kessel fits best with Malkin. You should read it.

Are the changes made by Doug Armstrong enough to get the Blues over the hump? -- @Allen_Schneider

I'm not sure the Blues are any better or worse, which puts me in No Man's Land when trying to analyze them. I think they're a good team, but they have been a good team for quite some time. It's impossible in July to analyze what they'll do in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but really that's all that matters in St. Louis.

They broke up the core slightly by trading T.J. Oshie to the Capitals for Troy Brouwer and some other pieces, but Brouwer doesn't make the Blues that much better, if at all. He's a player who won the Stanley Cup, but that was five years ago with the Chicago Blackhawks. He can score 20 or more goals, just like Oshie, but he has only seven goals in 78 career Stanley Cup Playoff games.

I like the signing of Kyle Brodziak as a depth player and a penalty killer. I think there will be even better things ahead for Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Jori Lehtera. Paul Stastny could be better in his second season in St. Louis than he was in his first, when he was still pretty good. The defense is still strong. The goaltending is as well, and Jake Allen could be better too.

How far away are the Devils from the playoffs? -- @HarryJB4

I'd put the Devils in the second tier of non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference at this point. I'm not sure they'll be able to jump ahead of that this season, though I do like the fact that they've made some major changes in the front office and it has seemed to breathe new life into the organization.

They're not at the level of any of the teams that made the playoffs last season. They're behind the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins (I think). They're probably on par right now with the Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers and, yes, the Buffalo Sabres.

The Devils need a No. 1 center (not easy to find). They need another scoring wing. They need to continue to develop their young defensemen, including Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas, Damon Severson, Steve Santini and Seth Hegleson. John Moore is a nice stop gap to allow for further development of those players into bigger roles. He's still young enough to develop into a solid, every-game defenseman.

What they do have is the goalie, which erases some headaches but doesn't do much for you if you can't score.

What kind of deal do you think Derek Stepan will get looking at the Ryan O'Reilly deal and the way he negotiated last time? -- @EbenezerZane

The Rangers may not like it, but if they want to sign Stepan to a long-term contract it will have to be in the neighborhood of the seven-year, $52.5 million contract O'Reilly signed with the Sabres. If they want to sign Stepan to a short-term contract, the average annual value of the contract will still have to be in the neighborhood of $7 million or north, and they risk losing him in unrestricted free agency in two years.

O'Reilly is the perfect comparable to Stepan in terms of age, position, production, etc. Stepan, who is seven months older, has actually been better than O'Reilly and has won more too.

Stepan has averaged 0.696 points per game through 362 games in his NHL career; O'Reilly has averaged 0.576 PPG through 427 games. Stepan has 89 goals, 163 assists and 252 points; O'Reilly has 90 goals, 156 assists and 246 points. Stepan is a plus-85; O'Reilly is a minus-13 (though this stat is as reflective on the team as it is the player, and the Rangers have been better than the Colorado Avalanche). The playoff numbers aren't comparable because Stepan has played in 80 playoff games; O'Reilly in 13.

There is no way around it for the Rangers; if they want to keep Stepan, they have to pay him a lot of money and have him take up a significant chunk on their cap. But he is their best two-way center, a top penalty killer, power-play threat, and one of the team leaders. Those players get paid. Stepan will.

Do you think the Capitals have done enough to have a strong shot at the Cup? -- @GoCaps1998

Yes. I love what the Capitals have done this offseason to build on the progress they made under coach Barry Trotz last season.

Justin Williams is the perfect addition for his winning background, his hunger to win again, and his leadership abilities, especially if they play him on a line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky or Marcus Johansson. T.J. Oshie will be better playing opposite Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin than he ever was with the Blues. I think he'll fit on that line because he'll play a hard game, go to the net, clean up the loose change there, but be a great option off the rush because of the skill and hands that he possesses.

The defense is good. The goalie is excellent. The skill is high-end. The forward depth is deep. The coaching is superb. They're a contender. They're my favorite right now to finish first in the Metropolitan Division.

What else do the Stars need now to go deep? -- @jacobpullen

Dallas still doesn't have that big, high-end, top-pair defenseman. Not every team has one of those guys, but every team wants one of them. I know the Stars do. I've spoken to people in the organization about it. They think that's the missing piece right now. It is.

Imagine John Klingberg with someone like Dion Phaneuf or Dustin Byfuglien. I'm not saying either of those players are available (though Phaneuf probably is); my point is that's the type of player I am talking about when I say the Stars need a big, high-end, top-pair defenseman. Granted, they're hard to find, and they cost a lot either in assets or cap space, or both, to acquire. The Stars have both to offer.

The good news is Dallas does have a young defense and there is still time to figure out if players such as Patrik Nemeth or Jyrki Jokipakka can be that guy. I'm not sure they can be, but they can be solid middle pair defenders. The Stars have a lot of those guys in Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, Jordie Benn and Jason Demers.

All that said, there are still defensemen on the market that can help the Stars, including Christian Ehrhoff and Johnny Oduya. I think they would work with the Stars because of their high-speed game.


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