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Reasons for optimism from non-playoff teams

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is in the running for the Calder Trophy and gives Edmonton fans plenty to look forward to. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is in the running for the Calder Trophy and gives Edmonton fans plenty to look forward to. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Sixteen teams will enter the Stanley Cup playoffs in a week, leaving the rest of the league to ponder what went wrong. A few of those squads will miss by a point or two and be forced to dwell on the one or two blown leads that ultimately cost them a post-season berth over the 82-game schedule. For the other sad sacks, the playoffs became an apparition much faster. But every franchise has reason to hope for next year, right? Let’s find some silver linings.

COLUMBUS

If lottery math holds, the Blue Jackets will win the No. 1 draft pick and the right to select Nail Yakupov, a dynamic winger with an exuberant personality. ‘Yak’ will even have a support system not too far away, as agent Igor Larionov and his Russian-speaking family live in Michigan.

EDMONTON

Another year of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. And if the team wants to prevent goals as well as creating them at an abundant clip, they just need two more NHL-caliber defensemen capable of playing 20 minutes a night via trade or free agency.

MONTREAL

By early fall, the stench left by Pierre Gauthier will have dissipated from the bowels of the Bell Centre. In its place, renewal. Key Habs such as Andrei Markov, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez (easy now…) can’t possibly miss the majority of the season again and the David Desharnais line with Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty was a mini-revelation that can be continued into 2012-13.

NY ISLANDERS

You know who your starting goalie is already. It’s Evgeni Nabokov and he’s pretty good. Plus, it’s pretty obvious the John Tavares-Matt Moulson-P.A. Parenteau line is for real in a long-term way.

ANAHEIM

The Ducks still have an awesome young core featuring Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Jonas Hiller and Cam Fowler. And it kinda sounds like Teemu Selanne is coming back. Add rookie Emerson Etem to the attack and the Ducks can’t possibly suffer another crisis of confidence as they did in the first half this season.

TORONTO

A top-10 draft pick gives the Buds a shot at one of numerous impact forwards – Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gaunce and Radek Faksa are all possibilities. And despite the novelty of playing four goaltenders with a combined five years of NHL experience, Toronto has the cash to grab a veteran such as Tomas Vokoun on the open market or through trade.

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MINNESOTA

There’s a ton to get excited about in Minnesota. Prospects Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson, Jason Zucker (with the team now) and Brett Bulmer all have a shot to be on the roster and, in order, bring offense, shutdown potential, speed and grit.

CAROLINA

It’s more based on pattern than logic, but the Canes are poised for a deep playoff run. Happens every three or four years, actually. The team sits out the post-season for a bit, then miraculously charges to at least the conference final. A fully healthy Jeff Skinner will help that cause.

TAMPA BAY

Steven Stamkos is going to score 60 goals this year. Do you really need another reason for optimism? OK, then there’s this: All the Bolts need is a netminder and they’ll challenge for the Southeast title. Healthy blueliners will help, too.

WINNIPEG

Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Alex Burmistrov are all trending in exciting upward trajectories. Kane has his first 30-goal season under his belt, while ‘Bogo’ and Burmistrov also established career highs in points.

CALGARY

Sven Bartschi. Or Sven Baertschi. Either way, the franchise that refuses to change will have change foisted upon it when the dynamic Swiss winger becomes a full-time Flame. For a team with only three players cracking the 20-goal mark this year, a potential Calder Trophy winner will be a big boost.

 

Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.

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