The 2016-17 NHL season didn’t surprise us all that much. Seeing the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup once again was the least bit shocking.

When you look at how the scoring race went down, there were also very few surprises. Connor McDavid was the favourite to win the scoring title, and he did. Sidney Crosby was projected by most to finish in the top-three, and he finished tied for second.Defending Art Ross winner Patrick Kane was expected to contend for it again. He tied Sidney Crosby’s 89 points for second in league scoring.

But not too many people could expect to see Mark Scheifele, Nikita Kucherov or Nicklas Backstrom finish in the top-10 in scoring. All three of them did just that.

So as we prepare for 2017-18, it’s a fun time to look at which players will challenge for the scoring title. Here is a look at my projected stats for the top 15 scorers next season.

*Stats courtesy of Hockey Reference*

15. Brent Burns

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Brent Burns finally captured his first Norris Trophy in 2017, after scoring 29 goals and 76 points last season. The impossible indeed happened — a defenceman not named Erik Karlsson led all blueliners in scoring.

Burns posted the ninth-most points last season, but a minor drop-off should be expected for the guy who has a cool beard. It’s tough for blueliners to build off of career years like that, though I shall note that Burns did post 75 in 2015-16.

Losing franchise icon Patrick Marleau in free agency badly hurts the San Jose Sharks, and it should impact Burns’ production on the ice. Burns will likely lead all defencemen in scoring again (as Erik Karlsson transitions to a bigger two-way role), but asking for a third-straight 70-point season is asking for a lot.

Projected Stats: 79 GP, 23 goals, 46 assists, 69 points

14. Nicklas Backstrom

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Alexander Ovechkin experienced a rapid decline in goal-scoring last year, but that came at a nice expense of Nicklas Backstrom posting his best season in seven years. The standout Swede tallied 23 goals and 86 points, helping the Washington Capitals win their second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy.

Backstrom finished fourth in scoring last season, but a minor regression should be expected for the soon-to-be 30-year-old. The Capitals lost reliable winger Justin Williams in free agency, and were forced to deal away Marcus Johansson.

That puts a lot more pressure on Backstrom. Factor in Ovechkin getting up there in age (32), and it’s easy to see why Backstrom is set for a minor regression. Nonetheless, expect him to finish in the top-15. He remains one of the league’s top scorers for 2017-18.

Projected Stats: 80 GP, 22 goals, 49 assists, 71 points

13. Nikita Kucherov

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

With Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos missing the final 65 games with a knee injury, Nikita Kucherov emerged as the team’s top scorer in 2016-17. Kucherov set career highs in goals (40), and points (85). Kucherov finished fifth in league scoring, but a minor fall-off should be expected this upcoming season.

With Stamkos returning, Kucherov won’t be asked to shoulder the load as much. He’s going to see his ice time cut back a bit as the Lightning prepare for the return of their franchise player.

Kucherov will remain a key force on the Lightning offence, but besting his previous career best by 19 points is an indicator that he simply enjoyed one dream season. He’s more of a player in the 60-70 point range.

Projected Stats: 77 GP, 31 goals, 41 assists, 72 points

12. Patrik Laine

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Patrik Laine was hyped to be the next Alexander Ovechkin in last year’s draft, so it was not shocking to see the Winnipeg Jets select him after Auston Matthews. Laine lived up to every bit of the hype, scoring 36 goals and 64 points in his rookie season. Had he not missed nine games due to injury, Laine could have easily hit the 40-goal mark.

As impressive as his first season in the NHL was, Laine is capable of doing way more. He’s projected to be a perennial 40-50 goal-scorer in his career, and we will see the REAL Laine in 2017-18.

Factor in elite centre Mark Scheifele as his set-up man, and everything points to a big year for Laine in 2017-18. He’s going to challenge for the ‘Rocket Richard’ Trophy, and will finish among the top scorers.

Projected Stats: 78 GP, 42 goals, 31 assists, 73 points

11. Jamie Benn

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Victoria, B.C. native took home the scoring title in 2015 after tallying 35 goals and 87 points. That wasn’t a lucky year, as Benn topped it off with 41 goals and 89 points in 2016 while finishing third in Hart Trophy voting.

Jamie Benn — like most Dallas Stars — experienced a major drop-off in production this past season. He had “just” 26 goals and 69 points, as the Stars fell to the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

As if the duo of Benn and Tyler Seguin was dangerous enough, the Stars added Russian sensation Alexander Radulov this offseason. We just may witness the top scoring line in 2018. The addition of Radulov will surely boost Benn’s production, and he should once again compete for the scoring championship.

Projected Stats: 79 GP, 30 goals, 44 assists, 74 points

10. John Tavares

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

John Tavares didn’t have his best season in 2016-17, compared to his usual standards. The New York Islanders captain experienced a rough first half — as did the entire team. His 28 goals and 66 points were ‘Johnny T’s’ lowest in three years, but many factors point to him rebounding next season.

For one, the Islanders made a late-season surge at the postseason under new head coach Doug Weight. With Weight behind the bench for a full year, the Islanders should return to the playoffs.

Furthermore, the Islanders added standout winger Jordan Eberle in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers. Tavares now gets to work with his old pal from the 2009 World Juniors. So Tavares is on his way to a strong bounce-back year.

Projected Stats: 81 GP, 32 goals, 43 assists, 75 points

9. Leon Draisaitl

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Edmonton Oilers recently extended Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year extension worth $68 million. The German superstar enjoyed an excellent 2016-17 season, scoring 29 goals and 77 points. Every Batman needs his Robin, and Connor McDavid has Leon Draisaitl to carry the offence for a long time.

Draisaitl is only 21 years of age and should only get better from here on out. He’s got the size (6-1, 216 pounds), the speed, the scoring touch and the all-around play-making ability. As is the case with Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, Draisaitl will get a bit overlooked because of another star on his team.

As he continues to develop his game and transition into the NHL, Draisaitl will only get better from here on out. Expect a TINY improvement from last season in 2017-18.

Projected Stats: 82 GP, 30 goals, 48 assists, 78 points

8. Evgeni Malkin

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s tough to believe, but the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar hasn’t finished in the top-10 in league scoring since 2011-12. That was when Evgeni Malkin took home the scoring title with 50 goals and 109 points. But obviously when Sidney Crosby is healthy and in the lineup, Malkin’s ice time and production goes down.

Also, Malkin hasn’t played 70-plus games since 2012, so injuries have been a factor. But when healthy, ‘Geno’ will easily surpass the 20-goal and 70-point mark. That’s the only thing that could possibly hold him back.

Malkin is coming off of his third Stanley Cup championship with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the 31-year-old remains one of the league’s most crafty scorers. Though he’s slowly beginning to age, Malkin hasn’t shown any signs of decline. Expect a big year from him in 2018.

Projected Stats: 73 GP, 25 goals, 53 assists, 78 points

7. Tyler Seguin

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

After hitting the 30-goal mark in each of his first three seasons with the Dallas Stars, Tyler Seguin saw less goals and more assists in 2016-17. His 26 goals were far below Seguin’s average, but the 46 assists were his best in three years.

Seguin’s 72 points tied for just 14th in league scoring last season, but he’s bound to get back into the top-10. The Stars will benefit under new head coach Ken Hitchcock, and the addition of Alexander Radulov is going to make Seguin challenge for the scoring title in 2017-18.

Since being traded to Texas, Seguin has emerged as one of the NHL’s top-scoring centres. He will return to the 30-goal mark, and Seguin will find a way to hit 80 points for the second time in his career.

Projected Stats: 82 GP, 34 goals, 46 assists, 80 points

6. Mark Scheifele

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Scheifele finished seventh in scoring last season, scoring 32 goals and 82 points. He should be at the very top of your hockey pools, because the Winnipeg Jets superstar is primed to be among the league’s elite for a long time.

The seventh overall selection from the 2011 NHL Entry Draft did take a while to develop, but the wait has been worth it. With fellow superstar Patrik Laine ready for an even bigger year in 2017-18, Scheifele will continue to grow as one of the top-producing centres.

Scheifele is considered by some to be a darkhorse for the scoring title. That may be a bit of a stretch, but nobody should be surprised if he’s near the very top in league scoring next season.

Projected Stats: 80 GP, 35 goals, 45 assists, 80 points

5. Jack Eichel

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Sabres drafted the generational prospect with the second pick in 2015. Though Jack Eichel obviously hasn’t been as flashy as Connor McDavid yet, he’s on his way to finally taking the league by storm.

Eichel has had a few misfortunes in Buffalo. The dysfunctional front office fired a successful head coach in Dan Byslma, and the Sabres haven’t done a very good job developing their young forwards.

But Eichel showed his promise in 2016-17, despite missing 21 games. He scored 24 goals and 57 points. That was one point better than what he posted in 2015-16…when he played 81 games. So yeah, Eichel is going to FINALLY break out this upcoming season. With winger Evander Kane on his side, Eichel has the supporting cast to put it together. Here is where his legend begins.

Projected Stats: 77 GP, 38 goals, 45 assists, 83 points

4. Patrick Kane

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

A year after winning the Hart and Art Ross Trophy with 46 goals and 106 points, Patrick Kane pieced together another excellent season in 2016-17. He finished tied for second in league scoring with 34 goals and 89 points. That was despite a frustrating year from No. 1 centre Jonathan Toews, too.

Kane has emerged as one of the top-elite scorers in the NHL, and he’s still in his prime as he prepares to turn 29 this November. Though losing Artemi Panarin will hurt Kane, he should do just fine with old friend Brandon Saad returning.

With the Blackhawks Stanley Cup window closing, Kane will be motivated to put together another strong showing. He won’t quite win the scoring title, but he will once again finish in the top-five.

Projected Stats: 81 GP, 35 goals, 50 assists, 85 points

3. Auston Matthews

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs were the NHL’s worst team in 2016, but they were fortunate in winning the draft lottery. That allowed them to draft prospect Auston Matthews with the top pick, and he showed his talents immediately.

Matthews finished with 40 goals and 69 points as the Maple Leafs unexpectedly qualified for the postseason. Well, that was only his rookie season. Matthews and Connor McDavid will be this generation’s Sidney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin. The debate of the top player on the planet.

Matthews will surely see his goal totals dip just a bit, but he will easily top the 29 assists. And by the way, newcomer Patrick Marleau should easily help Matthews shine as one of the NHL’s top scorers. Look for Matthews to be in contention for the scoring title up until the final game of the season.

Projected Stats: 82 GP, 35 goals, 60 assists, 95 points

2. Sidney Crosby

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Is Sidney Crosby still the top player on the planet? Sure, he does have three Stanley Cup championships. But Connor McDavid is younger, faster, healthier and perhaps all-around better at this point of his career.

But who am I to even think about writing off Crosby? He looked “finished” early in the 2015-16 season, only to lead the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cups. He may be 30 years of age (man, does time fly), but ‘Sid the Kid’ has plenty of more great hockey in him if he stays healthy.

I did want to pick Crosby to finish first here, but his age, the lengthy playoff runs and the concussion history scared me a bit here. If he does play 70-plus games, Crosby can easily add another scoring title. But I’m going to play it safe and put him second.

Projected Stats: 76 GP, 39 goals, 58 assists, 97 points

1. Connor McDavid

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Edmonton Oilers franchise changed forever when they landed the first selection in 2015 — despite only having the third-best odds at winning the lottery. That allowed them to select Connor McDavid, who is now officially the new best player in the NHL.

In just his second NHL season, McDavid won the scoring title by a mile — finishing with 30 goals and 100 points. He also took home the Hart Trophy as the Oilers ended an 11-year playoff drought.

There’s zero reason to believe McDavid will regress in 2017-18. Like Sidney Crosby, he’s going to win multiple scoring titles. He’s only 20 years of age and is going to be posting 100-plus points for a long time. McDavid will put up yet another strong showing in 2017-18. Undoubtedly, he’s the consensus pick to win the Art Ross in 2018.

Projected Stats: 77 GP, 40 goals, 60 assists, 100 points

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