Tampa Bay Lightning
All year this team have caused headaches for teams both offensively and defensively as their forward group is incredibly deep and their defense has had the pleasure of playing in front of an obvious Vezina finalists in Andrei Vasilievsky. This roster is seemingly unmatched by anyone else in the league. The main problem season after season though has been the team’s health. In 2016 they had to play most of the postseason without their captain Steven Stamkos. In 2017 the team failed to reach the postseason due to the same health issue. This year has been no different with top defenseman Victor Hedman going out with injury but is expected to return for the postseason. If this team manages to stay healthy it’s going to be hard to imagine any team beating them in a 7 game series.
This team has something to prove. Making the Finals this past postseason and getting heartbroken by the Pittsburgh Penguins should fire up this team in the postseason as they look to make back to back appearances in the Finals. They easily have the deepest blue line the NHL having the top 4 of PK Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. Last season the difference was their lack of center depth but they can no longer blame that as they now posses one of the deepest center groups in the league with Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, Nick Bonino, Colton Sissons. Not to mention Calle Jarnkrok and Austin Watson. The talent is there now they simply need to find a way for it all to come together.
Every non Penguins fan is probably shaking their head right now, but yes the back to back Stanley Cup Champions look to make it three in a row. They once again are heating up at the right time. As they say better late then never. We all know the forward talent they possess led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel. The supporting cast may be thinner then previous years but this team for months have been looking to add another piece. They have been eyeing many different players and have yet to pull the trigger. Their defense has improved and are healthy and goaltending was never a problem for the Pens with the exception of Niemi early on. If the Penguins continue to play hot then they’ll be a tough out in a 7 game series.
Arguably the most underrated team in this list. The Winnipeg Jets have flown under the radar for much of this season as they quietly lead a contested Central Division. Their defense is one of the most talented in the league when healthy with Jacob Trouba, Dustin Buffgylin, Tobias Enstrom, Jacob Morrissey, and Tyler Myers. Injuries have plagued the Jets but they should be fine come the postseason. Their offense is led by Finnish star Patrik Laine. The giant Fin will look to impress in his playoff debut. The team’s success will rely on how well youngster Connor Hellebuyck performs in the postseason. Or could we possibly see Steve Mason at some point? The Jets rebuild seems to be over as they are favorites for the Cup.
Columbus Blue Jackets
This pick I expect will get many mixed responses. Many of you expected the Golden Knights in this list but hear me out. The Columbus Blue Jackets have one of the most underrated rosters in the league. A young defensive core led by Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, the Blue Jackets have been struggling as of late in a competitive Metropolitan Division but that has been the result of multiple injuries to top players most noticeably their forward group. When healthy though their offense is one of the most explosive in the league. Also, Sergei Bobrovsky is one of the best goalies in the world and with a young energetic defense in front of him teams will struggle to score. The main concern for the Jackets has been offensive depth but with a good move at the trade deadline they could fix that. Many teams that have given up on the season will likely make big name players available. The Jackets can afford to give up a draft pick or prospect to be able to contend and without a doubt they will.
Honorable mentions: Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars.