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Who should be feeling the heat entering the NHL season?

·5-min read
Jack Campbell will try to prove he's a bonafide, top-tier NHL starting goalie with the Oilers this season. (Getty)
Jack Campbell will try to prove he's a bonafide, top-tier NHL starting goalie with the Oilers this season. (Getty)

There are degrees of comfort experienced in an NHL offseason. Many have reached that fat-and-happy status, waiting for the paychecks to roll in after signing a lucrative new contract. Some have that extra motivation to complete those additional reps while working tirelessly to put themselves in that same position.

And there are others in big, big spots, who can't concern themselves with anything but delivering for their team, teammates, and fanbases.

Here are a few NHLers facing especially high levels of pressure entering the upcoming 2022-23 season.

Jack Campbell, Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton has re-set the bar after a mildly surprising run to the Western Conference Final last spring and an undeniably productive summer. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have the support they haven't had previously, and the list of concerns facing the franchise is as small as ever.

Goaltending was at the top of the priority list after several summers of swinging and missing on free agents, and Ken Holland managed to address that need (in addition to retaining Evander Kane and Brett Kulak) by securing the No. 1 goalie option on most free-agent boards.

That, however, doesn't mean Campbell is a surefire fix, or even a netminder that turns a position of weakness to one of moderate strength. He hasn't survived a single season as a bonafide starter, labouring through some injury issues last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs after only just graduating from the high-end backup pool.

It's a big bet on Campbell, and the Oilers' success in the prime phase of the McDavid-Draisaitl era seems to hinge on it.

Jack Eichel, Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights were trending this way anyway, but they backed themselves in a corner as deep as ever before when they moved the mountains necessary to acquire Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres last fall.

Eichel is the sort of franchise centre the Golden Knights were missing. The problem is that he couldn't perform at that level when jumping on a moving train in a high-pressure scenario while on the mend from neck surgery.

Will Vegas' decision to bring in Jack Eichel for a hefty price pay off this season? (NHLI via Getty Images)
Will Vegas' decision to bring in Jack Eichel for a hefty price pay off this season? (NHLI via Getty Images)

Finally healthy, Eichel has to be a superstar for the cap-strapped and depleted Golden Knights to keep up in the Pacific Division, let alone prevent the backward slide from continuing after the worst season in franchise history.

Alexandar Georgiev, Colorado Avalanche

How's this for a starter's role? After losing out in the platoon to Igor Shesterkin after several seasons with the New York Rangers, Georgiev did finally receive his wish this offseason, landing a No. 1 position with the world-champion Avalanche.

He will be as insulated as any netminder league-wide in the friendly confines of Colorado, of course, but this is a massive spot for the 26-year-old Bulgarian. Georgiev has never started a postseason game, and yet he enters the season as one of only a few netminders league-wide expecting to be leaned on to win starts in a Stanley Cup Final.

That's pressure.

Philipp Grubauer, Seattle Kraken

Another netminder? Must be an important position.

The stakes are lower, for sure, but after a woeful debut season for the expansion Kraken, wherein which he posted league-worst numbers, Grubauer needs to show something or risk single-handedly subverting the first chapter in Seattle's latest hockey story.

Lane Lambert, New York Islanders

There are big shoes to fill among the player population across the NHL. Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Huberdeau come to mind as the replacements for Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk in Calgary. But the hockey person stepping into a role replaced by the most accomplished contemporary might just be the Islanders' new head coach.

Barry Trotz's magic wore off a little bit last season as the Islanders laboured through a campaign chalk-full of adversity. So the task for Lambert, Trotz's understudy, is to re-establish the Islanders as an elite team with an aging roster that continues to manage salary cap-related erosion.

It's been a struggle for Trotz's successors historically, so Lambert is one to watch.

Everyone, Toronto Maple Leafs

It could be Matt Murray, but there have been too many netminders on this list. It could be Kyle Dubas, but in reality he's beholden to the performance of his superstars. It could be Sheldon Keefe, or John Tavares, or Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. And while we could debate who's seat is hottest, the fact of the matter is that, organization-wide, the pressure has to be immense.

We are quickly trending toward something that resembles an end point for this current iteration of the franchise. Four members — which amounts to about half of the extended core — have two years remaining on their contracts, while utility man Calle Jarnkrok is the forward with the most term on his deal at this moment.

Change is coming quick, and this team has had next to no success to this point through the meat of the long-term agreements brokered with their star players.

It needs to happen now. And everyone knows it.

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