By: Brennen Krikorian
With training camps and preseason games underway, the 2019-2020 NHL season is finally arriving. As with any other season starting, there are many questions that arise regarding player and team predictions. As we begin the new season, here I will present my answers to the NHL’s biggest questions entering the season.
Breakout Player of the Year
Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars
2018-2019 stats: 82 GP/12 G/21 A/33 PTS
When the Dallas Stars took Heiskanen with the third overall pick back in 2017, they knew they were taking a player with big time potential.
In his debut season last year, the 19-year-old Finnish blueliner led all rookie defensemen in goals and was second behind Rasmus Dahlin in assists. Heiskanen’s ability to control the puck on offense and stay in position in his own zone are skills that not many young players have in their arsenal.
Looking at this season, Heiskanen will look to build on what was a great rookie season with an even better sophomore campaign. The Stars are an early Stanley Cup favorite out of the Western Conference and the spotlight will be on them from game one.
Being on the ice with the talents of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov, as well as being paired up with a strong defenseman in John Klingberg, the second year man has the ability to rack up 50 or more points this season.
If he can capitalize on the opportunity that is being given to him, don’t be surprised if Heiskanen is in the top three for Norris Trophy consideration.
Honorable Mentions: Chris Tierney (Ottawa Senators), Alex Galchenyuk (Pittsburgh Penguins), and Jason Zucker (Minnesota Wild).
Bust of the Year
Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes
2018-2019 stats: 82 GP/27 G/55 A/82 PTS
For years now, Phil Kessel has been an incredible fan favorite both on and off the ice. Whether it’s his uncommon hockey body, his antics on the bench, or the overall excitement he plays with, there is no doubt that Kessel will be loved in his new home in Arizona.
With that being said, there are a lot of question marks as to how the veteran will perform with his new team, including his work ethic and determination, which was an evident concern by former linemate Evgeni Malkin.
The former fifth overall draft pick is now entering his 14th season in the NHL and is just four games shy of hitting the 1,000 career game milestone. While that is an incredible accomplishment, a player with that much time in the league is not far from a decline in his level of play. He is also going to be responsible for more offensive production this year since he no longer has two Hall of Fame centers in Sidney Crosby and Malkin to take pressure off.
Kessel will be playing under head coach Rick Tocchet, whom he played for during Tocchet’s days in Pittsburgh, which could help provide a smooth transition into the Coyotes system.
However, regardless of the guy behind the bench, with age becoming a factor and weaker offensive talent than Kessel is used to, it would be a surprise to see “Phil the Thrill” put up anything close to his usual points total.
Honorable Mentions: Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers), Jeff Skinner (Buffalo Sabres), and Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks).
Potential Trade Deadline Player
Taylor Hall (New Jersey Devils)
2018-2019 stats: 33 GP/11 G/ 26 A/37 PTS
Regardless of what happens in the career of Taylor Hall, he will always be remembered for being on the right side of one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. In the summer of 2016, Hall was traded from the Oilers to the Devils in exchange for Adam Larsson. He then followed that up by winning the Hart Trophy and league MVP just two seasons later.
After winning the Hart, Hall was widely thought of as a franchise cornerstone and a Devil for the rest of his career. That may no longer be the case for New Jersey.
Hall is entering the final season of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. At 27-years-old, and only playing in 33 games last season due to injury, it is doubtful that GM Ray Shero will want to sign Hall long-term. If that is the case, Hall seems like an excellent option for any borderline playoff team that is looking to make a push in the standings.
Look for teams like Montreal, Carolina, or Chicago to make a move for Hall as a rental player and finally provide the former first overall draft pick with some real playoff experience.
Honorable Mentions: Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings), Anders Lee (New York Islanders), Justin Faulk (Carolina Hurricanes).
Replaced Starting Goaltender
Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings)
2018-19 Stats: 46 G/3.38 GAA/.888 SV%
Since becoming the starter for the Kings back in 2009, Jonathan Quick has been everything a team could want from a franchise goalie.
He has won two Stanley Cups, the Conn Smythe Trophy, had multiple Vezina Trophy nominations, and a silver medal in the Olympics. His quick reflexes in net have definitely lived up to his last name and he has proven to be one of the biggest third round draft pick steals in recent memory.
However, the 33-year-old Connecticut native is clearly not what he used to be in net. Last season he posted a career worst in wins, GAA, and SV% while also having trouble staying healthy. Not only did Quick under-perform, but backup goaltender Jack Campbell made a name for himself during Quick’s absence.
It is evident that the front office likes what they see with Campbell, as he recently signed a two-year extension with the team. With both Campbell and third-string goalie Cal Petersen proving that they can hold their own in net, it seems inevitable that the Kings may move on from their future Hall of Fame goaltender.
Honorable Mentions: Jacob Markstrom (Vancouver Canucks), Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators) and Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers).
Surprise Playoff Team
2018-2019 Season: 35-36-11/81 PTS
Last season, no one expected a team like the St. Louis Blues to make the playoffs, let alone win the Stanley Cup. It seems like every year, there is at least one team that shocks everyone by making it to the postseason.
This season, that team is the Vancouver Canucks.
Canucks GM Jim Benning has done an incredible job over the past few seasons to rebuild this team after losing key pieces such as franchise legends Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin.
A particular bright spot of Benning’s success has been his excellent draft picks. Since 2013, almost every first round pick they have had has worked out brilliantly. Whether it’s the dynamic duo Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson, the offensive talents of Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen, or this season’s potential Calder Trophy winner in Quinn Hughes, Benning has proven to be one of the best when it comes to drafting.
This year’s draft was no exception as they were able to pick up Vasili Podkolzin at tenth overall, a former KHL superstar.
It is clear that Vancouver has the youth and potential to be a powerhouse in a few years, it’s just a matter of being able to stay healthy and grow both as a team, and as individual players. In a division as weak as the Pacific, the Canucks have a real shot to finish as the third seed and get their first of many playoff berths with this current core.
Honorable Mentions: Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, and Philadelphia Flyers.
Hot Take of the Year
San Jose Sharks Miss Playoffs
2018-2019 Season: 46-27-9/101 PTS
What’s better than a hot take to end the article, right? San Jose was a Stanley Cup favorite for the better part of the entire season last year, and not many people think that will change this year. I however, am not one of those people.
The San Jose Sharks took some big hits in free agency, headlined by the loss of long-term captain and starting center, Joe Pavelski. Along with Pavelski, key depth pieces Joonas Donskoi, Justin Braun, and Gustav Nyquist also changed teams this off-season.
New leaders Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl are in an excellent spot to breakout this season, but the leadership inexperience of these two may take a toll on them to start the season.
On defense, Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns are two of the game’s best and can contribute more than almost any blueliner in the league offensively. However, both of their defensive skills have been questionable in the past due to their overpowering offensive mindsets. These two will be the team’s X-factors in their own zone in order to protect their netminder.
Martin Jones needs a bounce back season more than anyone in the league in response to his abysmal 2018-2019 campaign. The Sharks goalie posted a 2.94 GAA and .896 SV% last season and with contributions from backup goalie Aaron Dell, had the worst team goaltender statistics in the entire league. It will be impossible for San Jose to win big games if their goalies are letting up 3-4 goals every night.
The Sharks may succeed this year because of the pure talent on their roster, but if head coach Peter DeBoer is unable to find solutions to his team’s early problems, this squad may surprise everyone and be booking tee times instead of getting ready for playoff hockey.
Honorable Mentions: Jack Hughes finishes outside of top three for Calder Trophy, Jack Eichel scores 40+ goals this season, Paul Maurice gets fired as head coach of the Winnipeg Jets.
Cover Photo via: Getty Images
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