Five NHL surprises ready to happen

Every NHL season has its surprises, and 2014-15 should be no different. Here are five poised to happen.

1. Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins: Almost all the talk about the deal that sent former Penguins sniper James Neal to the Nashville Predators was about Neal. He is good enough (or has the potential to be, at least) to set all kinds of Predators scoring records. The key piece coming back, though, was Hornqvist, the last player drafted in 2005 and a guy who will likely get a shot to play with Evgeni Malkin (or at times Sidney Crosby).

People bemoan Hornqvist's lack of foot speed, but he has a nose for the net, is a north-south player and had 12 goals and 23 points in his final 22 games last season for a Preds team that wasn't exactly chock-a-block with scoring talent. Playing with one of the two best centers in the world should give Hornqvist a shot at 35 goals.

2. Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils: It seems like a long time ago Henrique burst on the scene with the Devils, becoming a finalist for rookie of the year in 2012 and helping New Jersey to a surprise berth in the Stanley Cup finals that season with 51 regular-season points and 13 more in the playoffs, including two series-clinching goals.

The Devils have missed the playoffs twice since then, but Henrique bounced back nicely after a disappointing sophomore season with 25 goals and 43 points last season, including 11 goals in his last 18 games. With sniper Mike Cammalleri, who also enjoyed a strong finish to the 2013-14 season, coming over as a free agent, we're looking for Henrique to continue his evolution as a go-to guy for New Jersey.

3. Chad Johnson, New York Islanders: How many times last season did we (and legions of hockey observers) write or say that the Islanders needed to address their leaky goaltending if they were to follow up a nice run to the playoffs in 2013? One hundred? Five hundred? Well, GM Garth Snow finally got around to the task this offseason, signing Jaroslav Halak to a four-year deal. Halak will no doubt begin the season as the starter, but he's not particularly durable and, at times, has not been particularly consistent.

The guy who might make all the difference is former Boston Bruins backup Johnson, who was also brought in to provide relief for Halak (and presumably to play against the St. Louis Blues, whom Halak opted not to face late last season, but that's another story altogether). Johnson was an impressive 17-4-3 with a .925 save percentage backing up Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask.

Yes, it's a small sample size and the Islanders are not the Bruins when it comes to team defense, but in 27 appearances, Johnson allowed more than three goals just three times. At one point, he went 14 straight decisions without incurring a regulation loss. In short, it would actually not surprise me at all if Johnson ends up with a sizable workload with the Isles. That might not be such a bad thing after all.

4. The Minnesota Wild: Everyone knows dozens of tumblers have to click into sequence in order for the safe to open and reveal a Stanley Cup. The Wild are no different in that regard, but there's a lot to like about the chances for them to take that nice, big step forward, provided their three-headed goalie monster doesn't become too unwieldy or simply fall apart. It started to do so even before training camp opened.

Josh Harding, an ongoing inspirational stories as he strives to play at a high level while battling multiple sclerosis, suffered a fractured foot in what was reported as an altercation with a teammate and was suspended by the team before camp started. That leaves Niklas Backstrom, who has his own ongoing durability issues to deal with but who entered training camp in good shape, and youngster Darcy Kuemper, who signed a two-year deal after the Harding mishap. There's also Ilya Bryzgalov, back in camp on a tryout basis after coming on at the trade deadline last season and delivering quality starts for a team that upset the Colorado Avalanche in the first round and then gave the Chicago Blackhawks all it could handle in the second round.

The goaltending will be in the spotlight for the Wild, but look beyond and there is an enticing blend of youthful talent (Jonas Brodin, Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle) and veteran experience (Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville), and with sniper Thomas Vanek coming aboard, the sky really could be the limit, even in the toughest division in the league, the Central. Well, except for, you know, the goaltending. Maybe.

5. The Vancouver Canucks: How bad were the Canucks last season? Was it look-out-below-for-the-next-five-years bad, or was it that-wasn't-fun-and-it's-time-for-an-immediate-bounce-back bad? With a new GM in Jim Benning and a new coach in first-time head man Willie Desjardins -- who spurned the Penguins to take the Canucks job -- lots of people think it's the former as opposed to the latter.

Now, let's ask the same questions of Ryan Miller, the former Vezina Trophy winner and Olympic MVP who was supposed to lead the Blues to the promised land but instead lost four straight games after the Blues had built a 2-0 lead in the first round against Chicago.

Miller looked pretty ordinary as the Blues failed to close the deal, an unceremonious end to his time in St. Louis. He signed a three-year deal worth $6 million annually in the offseason to take over as the No. 1 goaltender in Vancouver, a position that is no stranger to drama and discontent in recent years.

With Ryan Kesler gone, the Canucks are a different team than they were a few short years ago, when they fell in seven games to Boston in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. But how different? Miller will have a lot to say in that regard, as will twins Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin and newcomers Nick Bonino, Radim Vrbata and Linden Vey.

Still, a number of executives have suggested that maybe we have been a bit too hasty in closing the door on a Canucks team that, just three seasons ago, was the standard-bearer on both sides of the puck and went to Game 7 of the finals.