The 2017-18 NHL season is just weeks away and there are a million reasons to be optimistic about this upcoming campaign.
Last season, we saw five Canadian teams qualify for the playoffs. Connor McDavid became the NHL's scoring champion, the Ottawa Senators came within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final, and the Toronto Maple Leafs shocked everybody by qualifying for the playoffs.
We also saw the eighth-seeded Nashville Predators reach the Stanley Cup Final, but the Pittsburgh Penguins became the first team in 19 years to defend their championship. All in all, the 2016-17 season was one of the most exciting in recent memory, but 2017-18 has all the makings to be even better.
All 31 NHL teams have a number of intriguing players and storylines to follow. At least two-thirds of the teams have realistic hopes of the playoffs, while the other 33 percent can dream about the draft lottery. With all that said, let's take a look at one bold prediction for every NHL team in 2017-18.
*Stats courtesy of ESPN and Hockey Reference*
31 Anaheim Ducks: John Gibson Earns Vezina Nomination
John Gibson has quietly become one of the NHL's top goalies. He led the Anaheim Ducks to within two games of reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, despite being thoroughly dominated by the Edmonton Oilers and Nashville Predators in the postseason.
Gibson won 25 games last year and registered six shutouts, but injuries limited him to just 52 games of action last year. Anaheim signed 37-year-old backup Ryan Miller to back up Gibson, but the former is probably only going to get 20-25 starts.
With that, Gibson should push for 35-40 wins next season. With a great group of defencemen in front of him, he could lead the league in shutouts too. Don't be surprised if Gibson is one of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy next season.
30 Arizona Coyotes: Winners of the Draft Lottery
The Coyotes have been among the worst teams in the Western Conference over the past five years, and things aren't shaping up to be much better in 2017-18. Well-respected head coach Dave Tippett parted ways with the team, and the Coyotes bid adieu to Radim Vrbata (their top scorer last season), and captain Shane Doan. Also, they traded starting goalie Mike Smith to the Calgary Flames.
Arizona does have some nice young pieces in place, including Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Prized prospect Clayton Keller should get some chances as well, but the Coyotes will be among the worst teams next season.
Will they be worse than the Vegas Golden Knights or Colorado Avalanche? Probably not. But this is a bold prediction, so book down the Coyotes as your 2018 NHL draft lottery winners.
29 Boston Bruins: Charlie McAvoy Wins the Calder
The Boston Bruins drafted Charlie McAvoy with the 14th pick in the 2016 NHL Entrty Draft, but he developed much sooner than expected. Boston recalled him for the 2017 playoffs, where McAvoy registered three assists in a losing effort against the Ottawa Senators in the opening round.
But McAvoy held his ground and defended well against Ottawa's top guns. He's going to make the roster in 2017-18 and is among the early favourites to win the Calder Trophy -- given annually to the league's top rookie.
McAvoy brings tremendous skating, puck-movement and all-around play to the Bruins blue line. Everything is shaping up nicely for McAvoy in 2017-18, so don't be surprised if he's your Calder Trophy winner next year. He has all the talent in the world to dominate in his first NHL season.
28 Buffalo Sabres: Jack Eichel Finishes Top-5 In Scoring
Many forget just how high Jack Eichel's upside is, since he was drafted right behind generational star Connor McDavid in 2015. Eichel score 24 goals and 56 points in his rookie year, and finished with 57 points last season despite missing 20 games. With a new head coach in Phil Housley, Eichel should finally break through even more in 2017-18.
Eichel has world class potential all over the board: He's a tremendous skater, an excellent shooter and terrific play-maker. A full season with Evander Kane should help Eichel really take his game to the next level.
Don't be surprised if Eichel scores 30-35 goals and finishes in the 80-90 point range. He is capable of finishing in the top-five for league scoring. Count on a big year from him next season.
27 Calgary Flames: Three Players Score 30 Goals
I made this prediction last year, but didn't expect Johnny Gaudreau to get hurt, Sean Monahan to slump and Sam Bennett to once again fail to reach his full potential. But in 2017-18, I'm feeling big on the Flames scoring a ton of goals. I truly mean it this time, too. I promise.
Monahan did manage 27 goals last year, so he was very close. Gaudreau had an off year and should reach 30 goals (after having done so in 2015-16). After that, expect 2016 first rounder Matthew Tkachuk to break out next season. He had 13 goals last year, but now has a full season of NHL experience under his belt.
These three stars will each hit the 30-goal mark in Calgary, and it will easily propel the Flames right back into the postseason.
26 Carolina Hurricanes: A Ticket to the Playoffs
Ever since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, the Carolina Hurricanes have been one of the NHL's worst teams. They're often seen near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, and haven't made the playoffs since 2009. After years of rebuilding, however, the 'Canes look poised for a big year.
Few teams match Carolina's talent on the blue line, where youngsters Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Justin Faulk provide stability. Furthermore, Carolina may finally have a legitimate No. 1 goalie after signing Scott Darling -- who was a terrific understudy for Corey Crawford in Chicago.
Carolina also brought back old friend and playoff wizard Justin Williams, joining a solid group on offence that already includes Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal. The Hurricanes have a complete roster, and look for them to end a nine-year playoff drought as they nab one of the two wild card spots in the East.
25 Chicago Blackhawks: Barely Qualify For Playoffs
The Chicago Blackhawks have been the class of the NHL during the 2010s. They've made the playoffs every year dating back to 2009, with three Stanley Cup championships and a total of five trips to the Western Conference Final. But all good things must come to an end, and the Blackhawks have had one brutal offseason that could signal the end of their dominance.
It all started with two big moves. GM Stan Bowman questionably trading away Artemi Panarin to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Brandon Saad. Panarin had reached the 30-goal and 70-point plateau in each of his first two seasons, while Saad is more of a second-line player. After that, he shipped away shutdown defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes, bringing back an unproven Connor Murphy in return.
Chicago then had to let Scott Darling leave for Carolina in free agency, so now Corey Crawford doesn't have a reliable backup. The Blackhawks then learned that Marian Hossa has to sit out the 2017-18 after suffering an allergic reaction from his hockey equipment.
Throw in a Central Division that includes two contenders in Dallas and Nashville, plus other talented teams like Minnesota, St. Louis and Winnipeg -- and you see where the trouble adds up. Chicago won't be a top-three team in the Central, as they barely earn a playoff spot by taking a wild card spot.
24 Colorado Avalanche: Duchene and Landeskog Get Traded
The Colorado Avalanche have been undergoing countless frustration, dating back to last offseason when head coach Patrick Roy resigned. The Avs were far-and-away the NHL's worst team last season, finishing with just 48 points. And yet, the Avalanche got screwed by the NHL Draft Lottery and didn't pick until fourth overall.
Colorado has stockpiled on high draft picks throughout this decade, yet they only have one playoff appearance to show for it, dating back to 2011. Superstars Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene found their names in the rumor mill leading up to the trade deadline, but GM Joe Sakic never made a move on them.
Well, patience is wearing thin for Avs fans. If, and when, Colorado slumps to the bottom of the standings once again, Sakic will have to trade his two franchise stars to kick-start the rebuild. Look for Duchene and Landeskog to get dealt at the 2018 trade deadline.
23 Columbus Blue Jackets: Lead the NHL in Scoring
Nobody expected the Columbus Blue Jackets to account for much of anything last season, especially under head coach John Tortorella -- who had a miserable showing as Team USA's bench boss at the 2018 World Cup of Hockey.
But the Jackets had their best season in franchise history, powered by a lethal offence that scored 3.01 goals per game. Only five teams scored more than Columbus last season, but expect 'Torts' and co. to take the scoring to yet another level.
For one, Columbus has a bonafide star in Artemi Panarin, who should continue his 30-g0al, 70-point seasons. The Jackets can also expect improvements from young studs like Boone Jenner, Zach Werenski, Josh Anderson, Alexander Wennberg, Seth Jones and Cam Atkinson.
The Jackets have tremendous depth at forward. Don't be surprised if they average around 3.30 goals per game, which will be the most among all NHL teams. Believe in Torts.
22 Dallas Stars: Rise As a Cup Contender
The Dallas Stars won the Central Division in 2016 and fell within one game of reaching the final four. But a miserable performance from the goalies and defence contributed to a bad year, and the Stars missed the playoffs. The good news is that Dallas had the best offseason out of all 31 teams.
GM Jim Nill quickly went to work, signing Vezina-caliber goalie Ben Bishop to a six-year contract. He then traded for stay-at-home defenceman Mark Methot, then boosted a dangerous offence even more by signing Russian sniper Alexander Radulov and two-way centre Martin Hanzal.
These additions join a Dallas squad that already includes Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Dallas now has a better defence and a true No. 1 goalie to support their dynamic scoring duo. Look for the Stars to re-emerge as a playoff team, and they could even reach the Western Conference Final...or the Stanley Cup Final!
21 Detroit Red Wings: Ken Holland Begins a Fire Sale
Because the Detroit Red Wings were always finding ways to sneak into the postseason, GM Ken Holland ignored a rebuild by attempting the 'retool on the fly' approach. While Detroit implemented young players into their lineup, Holland would also add veterans like Frans Nielsen, Thomas Vanek, Stephen Weiss, Mike Green and others in the lineup.
But it didn't work out in 2017, as the Red Wings saw their 25-year playoff drought come to an end. Holland has stated he's not interested in rebuilding. He will have no choice if Detroit's out of the playoff race at the deadline, though.
He has two trade chips in net, with veterans Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek. Wingers Gustav Nyquist and Justin Abdelkader are also trade options, as is defenceman Mike Green. Detroit has plenty of quality trade chips to move out. So look for Holland to begin a massive rebuild as he trades a number of vets next year.
20 Edmonton Oilers: Stanley Cup Champions
The Oilers were oh-so-close to reaching the Western Conference Final, but some third period meltdowns cost them a second round series against the Anaheim Ducks. That's natural for young teams, though. Now that Edmonton has some experience under its belt, they should take it to another level in 2018.
Edmonton has two world class stars in Connor McDavid (the reigning scoring champion), and Leon Draisaitl. There are other good scorers in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon and Ryan Strome. They have an elite goalie in Cam Talbot, and a strong defence that includes Kris Russell, Andrej Sekera, Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom.
All the pieces are there for Edmonton. They have no weaknesses at all, and are primed for a big year in 2018. They're my pick to win the 2018 Stanley Cup. There's just way too much talent not to love there.
19 Florida Panthers: James Reimer Becomes The Starter
Since trading back for Roberto Luongo in 2014, the Florida Panthers have had no debate as to who their No. 1 goalie was. But considering 'Bobby Lou' struggled mightily in 2017-18, it may be in the best interest of the Panthers to hand over the starting reigns to the younger and better James Reimer.
Reimer posted extremely solid numbers, going 18-16-5 last season, with a 2.53 goals against average and .920 save percentage. As for Luongo? He went just 17-15-6 with a 2.68 goals against average and .915 save percentage. Far from good numbers and the 38-year-old has nowhere to go but down from here on out.
According to CapFriendly, Luongo is under contract for five more years at $5.3 million a season. But the Panthers will simply make him the league's most expensive backup, as Reimer gets hot and steals the starting job mid-way through the season.
18 Los Angeles Kings: A Return To the Playoffs
The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014, but have endured mediocrity since. They missed the playoffs in 2015, were embarrassed in the first round of the 2016 playoffs then missed the postseason again in 2017. As such, head coach Darryl Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi were fired. Sutter was replaced with assistant coach, John Stevens.
Los Angeles does have a nice number of talented players here, including Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, Drew Doughty and goalie Jonathan Quick. The Kings are among the NHL's top defensive and puck possession teams every year, they just can't score goals.
Well, Stevens should be able to implement a strong two-way system that helps L.A. dominate defensively while scoring more. They have a great group of talented forwards, so scoring shouldn't be so difficult.
As long as they can find a way to get over the goal-scoring woes, the Kings could easily punch another ticket to the playoffs.
17 Minnesota Wild: No Playoffs In 2018
The Minnesota Wild have been a good-but-not-great team since 2013. They've made the playoffs in five consecutive seasons, but have won just two playoff series. Unfortunately for Minny, they're unlikely to repeat a successful 2016-17 season that saw them register a franchise record 106 points.
The Wild had average puck possession numbers, for one thing. For another, Eric Staal had a surprise bounce-back season with 28 goals and 65 points. But don't expect a repeat season from the 33-year-old. On top of that, Devan Dubnyk had a ridiculous Vezina-like season in the first half, then fell apart in the last couple of months.
Minnesota also lost Erik Haula and Marco Scandella in trades with Vegas and Buffalo, respectively. Throw in an aging core that includes Mikko Koivu (35), Ryan Suter (33), and Zach Parise (33), and the Wild look bound for regression. Expect a non-playoff year in Minnesota next year.
16 Montreal Canadiens: Win the Eastern Conference
The Montreal Canadiens have done a good job making the playoffs most years while even going on a nice string of runs -- having reached the Eastern Conference Final in 2010 and 2014. But they haven't done a good job building around goalie Carey Price, who's often a one-man show in Montreal.
Despite an insane .933 save percentage and 1.86 goals against average in the 2017 playoffs, Price's Habs were ousted by the New York Rangers in six games. Determined to help out his franchise goalie, GM Marc Bergevin swung a huge trade for rising young star Jonathan Drouin, while signing stay-at-home defenceman Karl Alzner.
Everything is now in place for Montreal. Alex Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty, Andrew Shaw, Brendan Gallagher and Drouin round out a top-six. With Shea Weber on the blue line, Montreal has a formidable defence. With all their problems figuratively solved, the Habs advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993.
15 Nashville Predators: Winners of the Central Division
Is this such a bold prediction? Yes, the Predators reached the Stanley Cup Final last season. But also consider that they were an eighth seed in 2017 and have yet to win a division crown.
Fortunately for the Predators, home advantage through (at least) the first two rounds of the playoffs didn't seem so difficult. The Blackhawks have gotten worse this offseason, and the Preds embarrassed them in the playoffs by pulling off a first-round sweep. Nashville also dominated St. Louis, and the Minnesota Wild figure to regress quite a bit as well.
Nashville has an elite goalie in Pekka Rinne, the league's best defence led by Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban, and one of the top lines in Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson-Filip Forsberg. With that, the Predators will cruise to their first-ever Central Division title.
14 New Jersey Devils: Team Finishes Last In NHL
The Devils were fortunate to winning the draft lottery, which led them to selecting Swiss centre Nico Hischier at first overall. New Jersey is devoid of world class talent and they lack quality prospects, so Hischier is a nice starting point.
But despite Hischier's addition, there isn't a lot to love about this New Jersey team. They weren't able to win the Kevin Shattenkirk sweepstakes, nor were they able to add any big names to their roster. As it stands, a rookie Hischier, Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri are their only big guns on offence.
Cory Schneider is a mainstay in goal, but the Devils lack of talent on the blue line compromises that. Taking all of these factors into account, New Jersey will finish as the NHL's worst team in 2018.
13 New York Islanders: John Tavares Gets Traded
It's somewhat alarming that the New York Islanders haven't been able to lock up captain John Tavares to a long-term deal yet. JT is a free agent next summer and has expressed a desire to stay on Long Island. But you can't help but wonder if he wants to commit the rest of his career to an otherwise mediocre team that has failed to build a championship contender around him.
According to Arthur Staple from Newsday Sports, Tavares and the Isles "have barely talked numbers." The ever-persisting rumors that Tavares will sign with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs could be true. Why wouldn't Johnny T want to head to a championship contender who could pay him max dollar?
The Islanders may have no choice but to trade Tavares at the deadline, rather than risk losing him for nothing in free agency. If a contract extension isn't done soon, then look for Tavares to be dealt in one of the biggest trades in hockey history.
12 New York Rangers: Rick Nash Gets Traded
The New York Rangers were one of the highest-scoring teams last season, as four players scored 20 goals and a handful of others got in the 14-17 range. But the Blueshirts need to retool a bit, as a handful of aging veterans are slowing this team down a little bit. Though the Rangers should be a playoff team in 2018, they will need to add more speed and youth to their roster.
So at the 2018 trade deadline, it makes sense for them to move out sniper Rick Nash. In what should be a "hockey trade," New York could trade Nash to another playoff hopeful, who could send over a younger player in return.
Nash is now 33 years of age and is a free agent next summer. He'd be a good fit on a team like Montreal, Toronto or Dallas -- who need a veteran scorer in the playoffs. If one of those teams can offer up a younger 20-goal scorer, then the Rangers should move out Nash as they take another run at the championship.
11 Ottawa Senators: Trade For Matt Duchene
The Ottawa Senators have a lot of pieces needed to win a Cup: A franchise superstar in Erik Karlsson, a formidable No. 1 goalie in Craig Anderson and a handful of quality scorers in Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman and Bobby Ryan. The Sens used a suffocating defence under head coach Guy Boucher to come within one game of reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
As good as the Senators were, they still lack a bonafide scorer that can help them get over in the difficult Eastern Conference. They've been linked to Avalanche star Matt Duchene for a while, but Bruce Garrioch from the Ottawa Sun reported that the Sens wouldn't meet Joe Sakic's high asking price.
Well, Sakic will ultimately have to lower his price, since no GM has met it yet. The Senators have a boat load of prospects and young players to offer up, including Ryan Dzingel, Nick Paul, Logan Brown and others. Don't expect them to trade prized prospects Thomas Chabot or Colin White, but GM Pierre Dorion does have other guys to move out.
And at the 2018 trade deadline, Ottawa will trade for Duchene and take another run at the Stanley Cup.
10 Philadelphia Flyers: Five Players Score 20 Goals
The Flyers are consistently among the NHL's highest scoring teams, and there's no reason to believe that will change in 2017-18. Last year, Philly had just three players score 20 goals: Jakub Voracek (20), Wayne Simmonds (31), and Brayden Schenn (25), who got traded to the St. Louis Blues.
But superstar centre Claude Giroux had a really off year, scoring just 14 goals and 58 points. A bounce-back season is in order for Giroux. You can tack down Voracek and Simmonds as automatic 20-goal scorers, so that's three.
No. 2 pick Nolan Patrick should also fit in nicely in Philly, so expect the rookie to score around 20 goals and 40 points next season. I'm also going with two-way forward Sean Couturier, who hasn't scored 20 goals yet. But with the Flyers shaking up the forward unit a bit, Couturier will benefit and be one of the five 20-goal scorers in the City of Brotherly Love.
9 Pittsburgh Penguins: Matt Murray Wins Vezina
It's tough to make a bold prediction here, since the Penguins have won consecutive Stanley Cups and don't look ready to relinquish their dominance. If there's one bold prediction to come up with, why not a Vezina Trophy for two-time Stanley Cup champion, Matt Murray?
There's no way the Pens would have won the Cup in 2016 and 2017 without Murray, who stood on his head in both journeys throughout the playoffs. Murray won 32 of his 49 games last season, and could have been a Vezina Trophy candidate if he didn't suffer so many injuries throughout 2016-17.
With Marc-Andre Fleury out of town, Murray owns the crease now. As long as he stays healthy, he should easily win 35-40 games. He could and should be a Vezina Trophy candidate (and winner), should he avoid injuries. He's that good.
8 San Jose Sharks: Team Misses The Playoffs
The Sharks have been one of the NHL's most consistent teams. Dating back to 2004, they've only missed the playoffs once (in 2015), while reaching the Western Conference Final four times and making the Stanley Cup series in 2016. But the Sharks lost franchise icon Patrick Marleau, who joined the Toronto Maple Leafs on a three-year deal.
Further complicating things is that the Sharks have an aging core, with no elite prospects coming up any time soon. Joe Thornton's 38 and is coming off an ACL tear. Joe Pavelski (33), Joel Ward (36), and Brent Burns (32), are among San Jose's other notable players that are nearing the ends of their primes.
San Jose is going to be one of the slowest teams in the NHL next season. Non-playoff teams from last season like Dallas and Winnipeg should be better than the Sharks. As such, expect San Jose to miss the postseason, which could set the stage for a rebuild.
7 St. Louis Blues: Brayden Schenn Has Career Year
Brayden Schenn was once among the NHL's elite prospects, and many questioned the Los Angeles Kings for packaging him in the Mike Richards trade back in 2011. Though Schenn has been a consistent 20-goal and 50-point player, he hasn't put up star-like numbers yet. He was just one of the many talented scorers on the Flyers.
But Philadelphia traded him to St. Louis this offseason, and Schenn is primed for a big year. Expect head coach Mike Yeo to eventually put Schenn on the top line, where he'll have superstar winger Vladimir Tarasenko on one side and another standout scorer in Jaden Schwartz on the other.
Schenn will benefit from having two great linemates, one of them being a consistent 35-40 goal scorer in Tarasenko. Look for Schenn to score 30 goals, while getting in that 60-70 point range for the first time in his career.
6 Tampa Bay Lightning: Victor Hedman Wins the Norris
The Tampa Bay Lightning had a down year in 2016-17. Steven Stamkos missed 65 games, Ben Bishop struggled and was eventually traded at the deadline, and the Lightning missed the postseason by one point -- despite being the favorite in the East to open up the season.
But there were some positives last season, and that included a career year from star defenceman Victor Hedman. The 6-foot-6 blueliner scored 16 goals and 72 points, and was nominated for the Norris Trophy alongside Erik Karlsson and, eventual winner, Brent Burns.
2016-17 wasn't a lucky year for Hedman. It was the true breakout year for one of the most talented defencemen in generations. Hedman has finally reached his ceiling and he's going to stay there for a while. With the Lightning due for a huge bounce-back season, look for Hedman to lead the way as he becomes the first player on Tampa to win the Norris.
5 Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews Scores 100 Points
The Maple Leafs came out of nowhere last season to nab the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference last year. It was thanks in large part to rookie Auston Matthews and a high-flying offence that featured five 20-goal scorers and as many players who scored 60 points.
Matthews turned in one of the finest rookie seasons in recent memory, scoring 40 goals and 69 points. Obviously, the first overall pick from 2016 hasn't even reached his ceiling yet. The Leafs also signed perennial 30-goal man Patrick Marleau to a three-year deal, and he should fit in nicely on a line with Matthews.
With a future Hall of Famer on his line, expect Matthews to challenge Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby for the scoring title. It shouldn't shock anybody if Matthews manages to reach 100 points, either.
4 Vancouver Canucks: Sedin Twins Get Traded
There is no denying that the Sedin twins have had a major impact on the Vancouver Canucks franchise. Daniel and Henrik were drafted second and third overall in the 1999 draft, respectively. Hank is first all-time in franchise scoring, while Daniel is a close second. Each player has a scoring title on their resumes, and the two turned Vancouver into a perennial powerhouse in the 2000s and early 2010s.
However, the Canucks are rebuilding, and the 37-year-old twins are entering their contract years. Though the twins have expressed desires to remain in Vancouver, the Canucks know it's not logical to keep these veterans around when they're trying to get younger.
Daniel and Henrik could possibly retire or sign elsewhere in 2018, too. So when all is said and done, the Canucks will trade Daniel and Henrik to Cup contenders at next year's deadline. It won't be an easy task, but it must be done.
3 Washington Capitals: Ovechkin Scores 45 Goals
Is Alexander Ovechkin on the decline? As a 31-year-old, he tallied "just" 33 goals and 69 points last season. 2016-17 was considered an off year for Ovechkin, but it's only because he's that good. We're accustomed to seeing the Russian superstar score 50 goals a season, considering he's hit that mark seven times already.
Well, don't think Ovechkin is done just yet. The Washington Capitals were hit hard by the salary cap, as Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams and many of their defencemen had to leave via trades or free agency.
That means head coach Barry Trotz will need to let Ovechkin play less two-way, and more offence-only. Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom remain one of hockey's most electrifying duos, and we haven't seen the end of their dominance yet. Look for Ovechkin to bounce back nicely with a 45-goal season.
2 Winnipeg Jets: Patrik Laine Leads the NHL in Goals
The second overall pick from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft played on a frustrating Jets team in 2016-17. Laine also missed nine games due to injury. And yet all he did was score 36 goals and 64 points last season. In fact, only six players scored more goals than Laine in 2016-17, and they all played more games than him.
But Laine hasn't even reached his ceiling yet. Remember, he's been hyped up as the next Alexander Ovechkin -- who kind of scored 50 goals a year and wins a lot of 'Rocket' Richard Trophies.
Laine has all the makings and talents to be a perennial 50-goal scorer. He also has the world class centre in Mark Scheifele, who figures to be a top-1o points leader next season. Look for Laine to score 45-50 goals, as he captures his first of what will be many 'Rocket' Richard Trophies.
1 Vegas Golden Knights: Marc-Andre Fleury Gets Traded
After winning a third Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017, Marc-Andre Fleury knew his team preferred to keep Matt Murray protected in the expansion draft. Fleury was extremely classy and humble throughout the process, waiving his no-movement clause, knowing Vegas would select him in the draft.
An eight-time 30-game winner, Fleury joins a rebuilding Golden Knights team that figures to be, well, not very competitive for a few years. He turns 33 in November, and is under contract for just two more years.
At next year's deadline, it makes sense for Vegas to move Fleury. Many playoff hopefuls like Winnipeg and the New York Islanders need a true No. 1 goalie if they want to compete for a Cup. With so many possible suitors that will offer a king's ransom, look for Golden Knights GM George McPhee to move Fleury at the 2018 trade deadline. It only makes sense for both parties.
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