3 teams on the rise in 2017

Christopher Hanewinckel / -USA TODAY Sports

Optimism reigns as a new year begins, and three teams in particular are set to take bigger steps forward in 2017 than the rest.

Here, then, are three teams on the rise:

Edmonton Oilers

Will the NHL's longest postseason drought come to an end in 2017?

After a surprise appearance in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final, the Oilers descent was rapid and their stay at the bottom prolonged, resulting in a full decade outside the playoff picture. The next longest drought belongs to the Carolina Hurricanes, who at least have the final series win over Edmonton to hang their hats on.

Finally, almost mercifully, there's light at the end of the tunnel, and it emanates mostly from Connor McDavid. Playing in only his second season, and after the first was cut short due to injury, the new captain is leading the league in scoring and has helped put the club in a playoff spot as the calendar gets set to turn to January.

He's not alone, with the likes of Leon Draisaitl, Milan Lucic, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins helping out up front, with a revamped but still lacking blue line giving Cam Talbot enough support to get the job done in net more often than not.

Yes, we've become conditioned to expect the bottom to drop out at any time, but these Oilers appear to have a more determined look and, more importantly, a more balanced roster.

It all revolves around McDavid, though, and as long as he's on the ice, the Oilers are a must-watch club finally on the verge of taking the next step.

Nashville Predators

David Poile is about to reap the rewards from his roster shake up.

In 2016, the Predators general manager pulled off a pair of one-for-one trades that's positioned his club to legitimately - and finally - contend for the Stanley Cup as early as 2017.

Last January, Poile sent defenseman Seth Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets for center Ryan Johansen, and then followed that up with a June deal that saw captain Shea Weber shipped off to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for P.K. Subban.

In so doing, he acquired a young, first-line center long coveted by the Predators, and assembled the kind of mobile defense corps that is the envy of the league.

Whether the Predators can get it done in 2017 remains to be seen, but Music City is primed for at least a couple playoff rounds. And even with Johansen set to become a restricted free agent, the cap space will be there to surround Filip Forsberg and Co. with the talent needed to put together a winning product.

One question remains in regards to the up and down play of Pekka Rinne in net, but look for highly touted Juuse Saros to take over as the team's starting goalie sooner rather than later, and don't be surprised if be becomes the next Matt Murray.

Vegas Golden Knights

The NHL's 31st franchise will literally be on the rise in 2017, moving from a team with a name yet to be officially trademarked to a 23-man roster set to take to the ice in October.

Yes, we know team owner Bill Foley and Black Knight Sports and Entertainment aren't concerned about the Golden Knights trademark issue, which NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has called a "routine matter."

Still, the rather embarrassing denial of the trademark application by the USPTO because of an apparent conflict with the The College of Saint Rose Golden Knights will need to be resolved, and the club has until June 7, 2017 to form an official response as to how the two can co-exist within the wider sports landscape.

But that's the boring stuff.

What's more of interest to the average hockey fan is the expansion draft, which will take place June 18-20, with the selections announced June 21.

The Golden Knights must select one player from each existing club for a total of 30 players, including 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goaltenders. The 30 teams will have two options for players they wish to protect in the expansion draft:

a) Seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender

b) Eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender

Add it all up, and every team will be affected by the ascent of the Golden Knights in 2017.

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3 teams on the rise in 2017
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