With the World Cup of Hockey just around the corner, the 2016-2017 NHL season is fast approaching. With less than two months remaining in the offseason, players are well into their training regiments and coaching staffs have begun drawing up plays. In no time, NHL arenas will be packed to the rafters, once again brimming with hope, expectation, and excitement.
There are many things to consider going into this season, including: which team’s offseason acquisitions will pay off the most; what young players will emerge as blossoming superstars; who will falter; who will surprise; and most of all, who will win the Stanley Cup? While many of these questions can only be debated, the answers are left in limbo, unanswerable until the season finishes next June. For now, fans, analysts, and managers can only speculate as to how these questions will pan out. But that’s the fun of predictions: anything goes.
One of the more intriguing story-lines heading into this season – considering all of the free agent shuffling – is who will lead the league in scoring. Of course, the usual suspects are expected to produce at rates higher than the rest of the league. However, as the league continues to get younger, there is more opportunity for younger players to make an impact on the score sheet. It will be fun to watch how new teammates will mesh with one another and certainly interesting to see if the usual suspects can be usurped at the top of the table. Here is how the scoring race will end up at the end of the season (in my humble opinion, of course).
20. Johnny Gaudreau
Johnny “Hockey” Gaudreau has it all. He’s got the speed, the hands, the vision, the accuracy, and the dangles of a top-20 scorer. He’s also a very elusive player which is a must for a smaller player, which Gaudreau is, allowing him to avoid being checked by the opposing team. At 23 years of age, Gaudreau is one of the league’s most electrifying players who can seemingly score at will. Last season was only Gaudreau’s second in the NHL and he scored at nearly a point-per-game rate (he had 78 points in 79 games). Now with two years of professional experience under his belt and a full season of growing chemistry with teammate Sean Monahan, Gaudreau should be expected to put up similar points, if not more. With the additions of Alex Chiasson on right wing and first round pick Matthew Tkachuk on left wing, Gaudreau should have more options, specifically on the powerplay, to make a play to. Expect “Johnny Hockey” to be in the top 20 scorers this season.
19. Matt Duchene
At first glance, the name Matt Duchene might not seem like it belongs in a list of top scorers. However, Duchene has proven season after season that he can flat out score. One of the league’s quickest skaters, Duchene has the ability to blow past his opponents and make opposing defenseman look silly. Often times, Duchene appears to be a purple and blue blur streaking down the boards, a skill which he combines with a wicked wrist shot to score many of his goals. Although not his most productive year in points, Duchene set a career-high in goals (30) last season. The Avalanche are a very talented team but seemed to falter last season in a very tough Western Conference – perhaps a reason as to why Duchene struggled to rack up the points. Nevertheless, look for the Avalanche – and Duchene – to have a bounce back year. Playing alongside Gabriel Landeskog and grizzled veteran Jarome Iginla should help Duchene crack the top 20 scorers this season.
18. Jack Eichel
What a coming out party for highly touted prospect, Jack Eichel. Last season, Eichel flourished on a Buffalo Sabres team that was often out matched playing against much older and more experienced teams. Buffalo is one of the youngest teams in the league, and at 19 years of age, Eichel headlines a roster stocked with impressive young talent. In his rookie season, Eichel posted an impressive 56 points, which included 24 goals. Along with being heavily stocked with youth, Buffalo was also one of the busier teams this offseason adding several key pieces to their roster. One of these pieces, Kyle Okposo should instantly slide in alongside Eichel, giving the centreman an extremely potent winger to pass to. It is yet to be seen whether or not Alexander Nylander – brother of top-ranked prospect William Nylander – can crack the Sabres’ roster this year, but assuming he does, that will add yet another weapon for Eichel to work with.
17. Steven Stamkos
Yes, it is strange to see Steven Stamkos’ name this far down the top scorers list, but considering that he spent most of his offseason recovering from his blood clot and training harder than he ever has to get back into top shape, expect Stamkos’ production to dip slightly this year. Additionally, whereas Tampa Bay has historically relied heavily on Stamkos’ offensive production to win, they have had several other players step forward to help spread the offensive wealth. Some names that spring to mind are, of course, Viktor Hedman who is always lethal from the point, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, and Jonathan Drouin – all of whom have significantly increased their offensive numbers in recent years. So with Stamkos perhaps a little physically behind and the offense being spread out a little more, Stamkos should fall in the top 20 but probably not anywhere near the top. However, after resigning with Tampa Bay for the long-term, he may now feel much more comfortable in his own skates, so to speak, and could potentially have a gigantic year as a result.
16. John Tavares
Even though John Tavares lost one of his primary targets on the wing in Kyle Okposo this offseason, don’t expect the 25 year old to slow down anytime soon. In an attempt to replace what they had lost in Okposo, the New York Islanders signed coveted free agent Andrew Ladd who has proven over the course of his career that he knows how to win. The Islanders also added speedy veteran Jason Chimera who, even at 37 years old, is still one of the faster forwards in the league. The addition of these two veterans up front should open up several options for Tavares, who is a consistent candidate to finish in the league’s top 20 scorers. Tavares is also expected to play an important role on the Canadian national team in the upcoming World Cup of Hockey and, if things go well for Canada, Tavares could gain a plethora of confidence and momentum going into the season.
15. Phil Kessel
What. A. Playoffs. These three words were how the hockey world described Phil Kessel’s playoff run on the way to winning a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins this past season. Although Kessel – and the Penguins, for that matter – got off to a slow start to their season, they looked unbeatable after Christmas and became the league’s most dominant team. If we learned one thing from the 2016 NHL playoffs, it was that Phil Kessel wants to win and is in fact a fierce competitor (contrary to previous criticisms). The “HBK” line (Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel) was one of the most intriguing and exciting story-lines of the playoffs due to their unprecedented chemistry and ability to carry the Penguins all the way to a Stanley Cup. Not much changed in regards to the Penguins’ roster and, if the “HBK” line can continue its ridiculous chemistry together, expect Kessel to crack the top 20 scorers, and potentially sniff around the top 10. After all, this is the guy that many thought would win the Conn Smythe trophy (playoff MVP), only to lose it to teammate Sidney Crosby.
14. Brent Burns
Brent Burns is hands down one of the most versatile and effective players in the NHL, if not the most. He can play defense, he can play forward, and if his team needed him to, I bet he could even play in net. Burns plays the majority of his time on the blueline and is not only one of the most feared defenders, due to his sheer size and pugilistic play, but also a high-octane offensive machine. His speed and size allow Burns to make offensive plays that most defensemen could only ever dream of. On the powerplay too, Burns is a considerable threat, as he plays alongside the likes of Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau. Burns plays for the San Jose Sharks, who narrowly missed winning a Stanley Cup this past season, and not much has changed with regards to their roster. It should come as no surprise then, when Burns cracks the top 20 scorers in the upcoming season.
13. Anze Kopitar
Anze Kopitar is one of the league’s most powerful forwards and often uses his size to drive the opposing net to score. Along with his size, Kopitar possesses some of the silkiest mitts in the NHL and can leave superstar defenders looking like they’re minor league call ups. All of this, combined with tremendous vision to set his teammates up, and a shot capable of finishing opportunities around the net, makes Kopitar an elite scorer which he has proven for several years now. Recently, the Los Angeles Kings, who Kopitar plays for, decided to name him the team’s captain. It’s not as if the man needed any more confidence (he is an elite scorer in the NHL and has already won the Stanley Cup twice with the Kings), but it appears as if that’s exactly what he’ll gain after being named team captain. Opposing teams should be scared of Kopitar maybe now more than ever, as he has the skills to crack the top 20 and perhaps the confidence to crack the top 10.
12. Ryan Getzlaf
It is true that Ryan Getzlaf appeared to be in a state of regression at the start of last year as he began the season mired in a considerable slump. However, he was able to recapture his form and went on to have a terrific second half of the season where he scored at a ridiculous rate. At 6’4”, 221 lbs, Getzlaf is a beast upfront and consistently uses his size to protect the puck from opponents before ripping a wrist shot top corner. Getlaf’s intangibles have allowed him to score at an almost point-per-game rate over his career (he has 741 points in 787 regular season games). For a team – and player – looking to rebound from a somewhat disappointing 2015-2016 campaign, expect the Ducks, and Getzlaf to be much better. It would come as no surprise if Getzlaf and teammate Corey Perry were able to build off their chemistry together to put together a magical season.
11. Erik Karlsson
It’s hard to understand how one player can have such a massive impact on their team, until you see it for yourself. Erik Karlsson is definitely one of those types of players. Karlsson’s impact on his Ottawa Senators team is undeniable and is a large reason as to why the Senators are as good as they are. Karlsson is one of the league’s most impenetrable defenders as his skating ability and high hockey IQ allow him to cover and take the puck off of opposing forwards with ease. Beyond his defensive prowess, Karlsson is arguably the best offensive defenseman in the league. The Senator’s captain produced at exactly a point per game last season, scoring 82 points in 82 games, outscoring 98% of the league’s forwards. Is he the modern-day Bobby Orr? His career is too short yet to make the comparison, but if he continues to score at such a rapid rate (there is no reason he shouldn’t) certainly he will compare to the great defenseman at the end of his career. At this point, it is almost expected that Karlsson finish at least top 20 in NHL scoring each year.
10. Filip Forsberg
This past year, almost every time hockey highlights were being played on morning sportscasts, it seemed that Filip Forsberg was scoring. Although Forsberg has only been in the league for three years, he has already shown that he can be an elite scorer in the NHL. Last year, Forsberg set a career-high with 33 goals and 64 points. Now, after a year of getting to know new teammate Ryan Johansen and after the Predators traded for defenseman P.K. Subban, Forsberg’s numbers are bound to improve. Look for Forsberg to set up Subban, who adds an extra offensive weapon on the Predator’s blueline and is always a significant threat to score on the powerplay. Johansen seemed to come into his own last year after being traded to Nashville and grew more comfortable as the season went on. If Forsberg and Johansen can develop solid chemistry together, that would make for a scary duo for opposing goaltenders. With the wicked shot and lateral skating skills that Forsberg possesses, expect him to continue to score and with a Predators team built around offense, he should easily crack the top 20 scorers this season.
9. Joe Pavelski
In the last few seasons, Joe Pavelski has emerged as a dominant force at the center position and has benefited from playing alongside grizzled veterans like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Last season, Pavelski scored nearly 40 goals (38) and added 40 assists for a total of 78 points. In the last three seasons alone, Pavelski has scored a whopping 116 goals! Nothing drastic happened to the San Jose Shark’s roster, who will be competing hard this season to get back to the finals where they lost in six games, so expect the key Sharks’ players to have solid seasons. The added motivation of losing in the Cup Finals, and the drive to try to win one this year should give the Sharks an extra gear, which will definitely boost production. Don’t be surprised if Pavelski reaches 40 goals this season and, if Thornton and Marleau don’t slow down, it wouldn’t be a shock if Pavelski even reached 50 goals.
8. Nicklas Backstrom
Nicklas Backstrom has the lethal combination of being one of the league’s most elite playmakers while playing alongside the league’s most prolific scorer (Alexander Ovechkin). As one of the NHL’s most gifted passers, Backstrom greatly benefits from playing alongside Ovechkin who is undoubtedly the league’s most feared scorer. The Washington Capitals added TJ Oshie last year, who complements an already loaded offensive team with Evgeny Kuznetsov and John Carlson. Backstrom’s playmaking ability is well reflected in his assists total, which sits at an astounding 477 in just 9 seasons! Washington should, once again, be the Eastern Conference’s most offensive team and will provide ample opportunity for Backstrom to crack the top 20 scorers next year. Assuming Ovechkin has another one of his 50 goal seasons and TJ Oshie improves on his numbers from last year, it is not crazy to assume that Backstrom may even finish in the top 5.
7. Jamie Benn
With not much happening with regards to changes in the Dallas Stars roster, there are two guarantees next season in Dallas: the Stars will contend for the Stanley Cup once again, and Jamie Benn will finish in the top 10 in league scoring. Benn has some of the league’s greasiest hands, allowing him to treat opposing defensemen as pylons, but it may be his hockey IQ that trumps his intangibles. Benn’s vision of the ice and his innate ability to know where his teammates are without having to look twice is something to behold. For the last several years, Benn has been near or at the top of the league’s top scorers. Last season, he scored 41 goals and added 48 assists for a total of 89 points. After his recent scoring successes, it is an expectation that Benn challenge for the Art Ross Trophy each year, and it would be a great disappointment in Dallas if he didn’t crack the top 20 this season.
6. Tyler Seguin
Just like his teammate Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin is now expected to score at a torrent pace each year. Playing in Dallas, Seguin shouldn’t have much trouble pleasing fans by lighting the red lamp as he will be once again playing alongside the likes of Benn and other offensively-gifted forwards such as Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza, and Valeri Nichushkin. Love him, or hate him (cough, Boston Bruins fans, cough) it is undeniable that Seguin has blossomed into one of the league’s most elite scorers. Last season, in 72 games, Seguin scored 73 points, or more than a point per game. In the last three seasons, Seguin has scored a total of 107 goals, averaging over 35 goals per year. If he stays healthy for the entire season, there should be no reason why Seguin doesn’t finish near the top of scoring leaders, partaking in some healthy competition between himself and teammate Benn to see who can finish higher.
5. Alexander Ovechkin
What else can be said about Alexander Ovechkin other than he is currently the most prolific scorer the NHL has to offer, and it probably the league’s most entertaining player to watch? Well, a lot actually. Ovechkin’s high-octane and aggressive style of play allow him to pull off some of the most insane dekes and most memorable goals the NHL has ever seen. His big body and wide frame also allow him to punish opposing players who try to get in his way. Although his skating stride is a bit unorthodox, he is one of the fastest skaters on the ice due to his extremely powerful strides. To be honest, the only aspect of his game that ever shows any signs of weakness, is his defensive play, which is forgiven most of the time because he scores so often. All of the different facets to Ovechkin’s game combine to make him an offensive juggernaut, which is why it would be extremely shocking if he didn’t crack the top 20 scorers next season. As a matter of fact, it would be surprising if he didn’t challenge for a spot in the top 5.
4. Vladimir Tarasenko
Vladimir Tarasenko, perhaps better known as “TarasenkSHOW”, has blossomed into one of the league’s purest goal scorers over the last few years. Tarasenko has an uncanny ability to place the puck wherever he wants it to go when he release a wrist shot. When I say wherever, I mean wherever. If you don’t believe me, go and look at the highlight tape of all his goals from last year and just try to find me a goal that wasn’t top corner. Although he has only been in the league for four seasons, Tarasenko has proven that he can snipe with the best of them. Over the last two seasons, Tarasenko has scored 77 goals, including 40 this past season. The hockey world has become so fascinated with Tarasenko’s pure skill that he was even elected to be the cover athlete for this year’s edition of EA Sport’s NHL video game. In Canada at least, being placed on the cover of EA Sport’s NHL is like hockey royalty.
3. Patrick Kane
Yes, Patrick Kane was not the first choice on my list, but for these last three players, it’s basically a toss-up and the next two are fairly good players if I’m being honest. Nonetheless, we all know how good Kane is. He led the entire league in points last season with 106 points, the next closest being Jamie Benn with 89. Kane is undeniably the most elusive player on the ice on any given night as his hands are constantly providing the fans with jaw-dropping moments. His wrist shot is so quick that sometimes it’s hard to understand how goaltenders can even see the puck off of his stick. Kane’s speed is unfathomable at certain points in the game as he accelerates through the middle of the ice, narrowly missing the shoulders of opposing players. Perhaps more than any other player, Kane represents the emergence of the new NHL; ever since Kane came into the league, it seems that every year, an increasing number of small, skilled forwards make their way onto rosters. Kane’s skill and ability to excel in the NHL can be labeled “inspiring” to all the apparently undersized hockey players out there. Big or small, every hockey fan can appreciate Kane’s pure talent and hockey IQ, the attributes that allow him to easily crack the league’s top 20 scorers.
2. Sidney Crosby
It’s getting harder for Sidney Crosby haters to argue that he isn’t the best hockey player currently playing the game of hockey. He has won literally everything there is to win at the highest level, most recently winning his second Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins this past season, while also taking home the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP. If it were not for an uncharacteristically slow start to the season, Crosby likely would have won the Art Ross Trophy last year as well. This is the player who has 938 points in just 707 career regular season games! In other words, he has a career average of 1.33 points per game. Technically, at that rate, Crosby is a threat to score nearly 109 points every season. So, even if you aren’t a fan of Crosby’s “dirt-stache”, it is no surprise that he is this high on the list. If the Penguins can emanate last season, which saw them win a Stanley Cup, Crosby will easily crack the top 10 in points and will contend fiercely for the Art Ross Trophy.
1. Connor McDavid
Yes, the top scorer next year will be the saviour. Connor McDavid, or “McJesus” as he is fondly referred to, is widely considered to be the long awaited saviour for the Edmonton Oilers franchise. The most highly anticipated NHL prospect since Sidney Crosby, McDavid has only given us half a season of hockey to scrutinize his game (thanks to an injury he sustained early last season). However, in that half season, McDavid put on a show. In just 45 games last year, McDavid tallied 48 points, putting him at over a point-per-game average in his rookie campaign. Even though he only appeared in half of the season, he was still considered as a candidate to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as Rookie of the Year! Assuming he stays healthy for the entire year, McDavid will definitely crack the top 20 scorers in the league. With the offseason acquisition of Milan Lucic and the drafting of highly touted prospect Jesse Puljujarvi, McDavid should lead the league in scoring, even if the Oilers are, once again, near the bottom of the league.
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