Sebastien Wiertz

Taking a look back. Photo by Sebastien Wiertz.

2018 Central Division Review

The Central Division was the strongest division in the NHL in 2017-18. The Predators captured their first President’s Trophy. The Jets had a strong season as well, as they finished with the second most points in the league. The Avalanche made the playoffs after finishing with the worst record just a year earlier. The Wild made the playoffs again. The Blues and Stars came up just short of a playoff berth. The Blackhawks surprisingly finished in last place thanks to their awful goaltending.

1st star: Nathan MacKinnon, C, Avalanche

The first overall pick of the 2013 draft, MacKinnon had a breakout season in 2017-18 in which he led the Avalanche to the playoffs after finishing in last in the entire league in 2016-17. He set career highs in almost every standard fantasy category, and most of them were shattered. He was named a Hart Trophy finalist for league MVP, and he has a case to win it in a year that was pretty wide open. MacKinnon, along with Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen formed one of the best lines in hockey this year, and all three are still really young. MacKinnon’s 39 goals were tied for ninth. His 58 assists were tied for 11th. He tied for 12th with his 32 power play points. His 284 shots on goal were good for eighth in the league. MacKinnon is going to only be 23 once next season rolls around, so he could be doing this for at least another decade.

2nd star: Blake Wheeler, RW, Jets

Wheeler has been underrated by the hockey community for years, and all he’s done is produce. He tied for the NHL lead with 68 assists (Claude Giroux), and his 91 points were good for ninth in the league. Wheeler also had 40 points on the power play, which was second in the league. Since being traded to the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise, he has 495 points in 557 games. Wheeler is never named in the same sentence as some of the elite players in the league, but that just makes his price lower on draft day. He’s been producing for fantasy owners for years, and maybe he’ll get the recognition he deserves now that Winnipeg is really good.

3rd star: Pekka Rinne, G, Predators

Rinne has been one of the best goalies in the league during his career, and the 2017-18 season was one of his best seasons yet. He finished third in the league with 42 wins. His goals against average of 2.31 was fifth. His .927 save percentage was seventh. And he tied for the league lead with eight shutouts (Andrei Vasilevskiy). The Predators did not have a letdown of a regular season after losing in the final to Pittsburgh last season, and the Finn was a big reason why. He’ll be 36 years old for most of next season, so those of you in dynasty leagues may want to sell now before the age monster catches up to him. But for now, he remains one of the elite goaltenders in the league today.

Biggest surprise: Connor Hellebuyck, G, Jets

The Jets signed Steve Mason to a two year contract on July 1st, and it looked like Connor Hellebuyck was destined for a timeshare at best. Well, Mason struggled out of the gate, and Hellebuyck took the net and ran with it. He was considered one of the top goaltending prospects in the game just a few years ago, so this isn’t completely out of nowhere. But considering that the Jets signed Mason for over $4 million per season (granted, only two years), it showed that they weren’t counting on Hellebuyck to be more than a 1B. Despite his past prospect status, he had a rough first full season in the NHL. But he had a much better second full season in the league, posting a 44-11-9 record with a 2.36 goals against average, a .924 save percentage and six shutouts. Winnipeg finally broke out as a team this season, and if Hellebuyck plays close to the level he did, they’ll be here to stay.

Biggest breakout: Mikko Rantanen, RW, Avalanche

After potting a respectable 20 goals as a 20 year old in 2016-17, the former top 10 pick showed why he was drafted that high with his play during the 2017-18 season. Rantanen set a career high in every standard fantasy category. His goals (29), assists (55), plus/minus (even), penalty minutes (34), power play points (35) and shots on goal (178) all shattered his career highs. Yes, he only had one almost full season before this one, but still. The Finnish forward will only be 21 years old when next season starts, so this could be the beginning of a long and productive career. The Avalanche are clearly a team on the rise thanks to Rantanen.

Biggest bust: Duncan Keith, D, Blackhawks

Keith was named one of the top 100 NHL players of all-time a couple of years back. But along with the rest of the Blackhawks, the two time Norris Trophy winner struggled this season. Consistently one of the safest picks in fantasy, Keith put up the fewest points he’s had in a season (32) since his second full season in the league (not counting the shortened season). He didn’t even score his second goal until the last week of the season. He would have set the record for the lowest non-zero shooting percentage in NHL history if he didn’t score that second goal of the season. His minus-29 rating was among the worst in the league as well. He should bounce back next season even though he is getting up there in age, so don’t let this disappointing season change your opinion of him.

Top rookie: Kyle Connor, LW, Jets

Connor played 20 NHL games during the 2016-17 season, but he was still classified as a rookie for the 2017-18 season. Connor lit up the college ranks and the AHL the past couple of seasons, so a full season in the NHL was his next test. And he did not disappoint. Connor led all rookies with 31 goals, and his 57 points were good for fourth among all rookies. While it was not good enough for a Calder Trophy nomination, the Jets are thrilled to have him.