Inside The Box: Working out who will steal the final Playoff spot in the West Division

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Today we are going to take a look at the West Division and work out who could take that final Playoff spot with only four teams making it out of each division.

We’re officially a week into the 2020-21 NHL Season and, while a week is nothing in an 82-game schedule, it is somewhat more substantial in a shortened 56-game season. As such, it has been compelling to see how each new-look Division has played out so far and they are going to be a lot of fun to watch this year.

The East Division has six and maybe seven teams that could make the postseason given how well the New Jersey Devils have started, while the North Division is just going to be one crazy slugfest between the seven Canadian teams. The Central is a little bit more straightforward and then there is the West Division, where I want to focus our attention on for today.

The reason the West fascinates me so much is that the top three Playoff spots are already taken thanks to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues because, in my opinion at least, there’s no way that those teams won’t make it in. However, outside of the big three as we will refer to them as, it is anyone’s guess as to who will snatch that final postseason berth.

It is going to be one big crapshoot given that three of the remaining five teams are in rebuild status, well the San Jose Sharks aren’t officially but they may as well be, while I’m convinced the Arizona Coyotes will blow it all up soon as well. The Minnesota Wild currently look the best of a bad bunch, but a lot could change over the coming weeks and months.

So, in today’s edition of Inside The Box, we’re going to rank the teams we think have got the best chance of taking the No. 4 seed in the West Division, based on my confidence that the Golden Knights, the Avalanche and the Blues will battle it out amongst themselves for the top three spots. Let’s delve right in…

Ranking the teams likely to take the final postseason berth in the West Division

The True Contenders

Zach Parise (11)

Zach Parise #11 of the Minnesota Wild. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Minnesota Wild – Currently the fourth best team in the West Division, I expect the Minnesota Wild to stay there for the duration of the 2020-21 NHL season. Led by their shiny new toy in Kirill Kaprizov, who leads the team in points with four (1 G, 3 A), the Wild have started the year with a 2-1-0 record and they have the depth and the talent needed to be competitive all year and ensure that they sneak into the postseason.

Plus, offseason addition Cam Talbot has enjoyed a good start between the pipes with a 2.27 Goals Against Average and a .926 Save Percentage and, with the likes of Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, Nick Bonino, Marcus Johansson and Jonas Brodin on the roster, plus with Mats Zuccarello expected back at some point, the Minnesota Wild have enough depth and talent to be the fourth best team in the West Division and, therefore, a Playoff team in 2020-21.

Brent Burns (88)

Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

San Jose Sharks – They are 1-2-0 to start the year but the San Jose Sharks have talent and, if elite blueliners Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson can carve out bounce-back years, coupled with the likes of Evander Kane, Logan Couture and Timo Meier can stay healthy and provide scoring, then they will be in contention.

Tomas Hertl is off to a hot start this year with six points (3 G, 3 A) in three games and the forward will need to maintain that high level of play in order for the Sharks to be competitive, especially given that both Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk have been less than average in goal.

The Pretenders

Darcy Kuemper (35)

Darcy Kuemper #35 of the Arizona Coyotes. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Arizona Coyotes – I don’t like this Arizona Coyotes team that much and, with Captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson out with a lower-body injury, I think they will struggle to really compete in the West and even a couple of bad weeks could prove to be costly in a shortened 56-game season.

Granted, Phil “The Thrill” Kessel appears to be back to his best having scored three goals in three games, but he doesn’t have a lot around him and if the Coyotes aren’t competitive by the Trade Deadline, then I expect new General Manager Bill Armstrong to pull the trigger on a full-blown rebuild. The only saving grace for Arizona is their goaltending tandem of Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, which is arguably one of the best in the entire West Division.

Anze Kopitar (11)

Anze Kopitar #11 of the Los Angeles Kings. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

LA Kings – Still boasting Jonathan Quick in goal who, while he may not be at the peak of his powers anymore, can still steal a game or two, along with veterans in Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar, the LA Kings have talent and they also boast an elite and large prospect pool, which includes 2020 No. 2 overall prospect Quinton Byfield who should make his NHL debut soon.

Laden with young players who can make an impact at the NHL level, coupled with speed and skill throughout the lineup, the Kings could be a dark horse to steal that final postseason berth and the long-awaited debut of Byfield could be the spark this team needs to make a run.

Cam Fowler (4), John Gibson (36)

Cam Fowler #4 congratulates John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Anaheim Ducks – Similar to the LA Kings, the Anaheim Ducks are in the early stages of a rebuild but they boast speed and skill in abundance and, with a legit top-four defenseman on the backend in Kevin Shattenkirk, don’t be surprised if this team makes a run at some point and sneaks into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After all, they have John Gibson in goal who has a 2.03 Goals Against Average and a .937 Save Percentage in three games so far this season, while veteran center Ryan Getzlaf can still add a scoring punch despite being in the back nine of his career. Plus, throw into the melting pot that high-end rookie Trevor Zegras, who lit it up at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship with 18 points (7 G, 11 A), could be unleashed on the NHL soon, the Anaheim Ducks could be an exciting team to watch down the stretch.

Jack Hughes (86)

Jack Hughes #86 of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Three Stars

Our Three Stars feature is back as we take a look at some of the best moments from the National Hockey League…

  1. Jack Hughes is absolutely lighting up his sophomore season and, with a three-point night (2 G, 1 A) against the New York Rangers on Tuesday, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft now leads the entire NHL in points with six (2 G, 4 A). You go kid.
  2. Bobby Ryan is the true feel-good story of the 2020-21 NHL season so far, as we mapped out here, and the Detroit Red Wings forward made history on Tuesday by becoming the first player to score four goals within their first three games for a franchise.
  3. Florida Panthers have only played two games so far in 2020-21 but they have won both, beating the Chicago Blackhawks in both games and putting 10 goals past the rebuilding Hawks. It is a small sample size but it is a pretty good start for the new-look Florida Panthers.

That is it for today’s Inside The Box and we will be back on Thursday with another look at the hottest and latest trends in the National Hockey League.