By Jacob Messing
It’s finally October, and with the new NHL season set to start on Wednesday predictions are flying all over the place. It’s just a part of coverage, like toothless smiles and trash talk are apart of the game.
FloHockey is no different, so here are 20 predictions for the 2017-18 season, ranging from eye-rolling simplicity to, well, to eye-rolling boldness.
1. Connor McDavid Paces Scoring Race — Again
We’ll start off with a simple one: McDavid is just getting started, and he’ll sit atop the scoring race for years to come. That includes this season, in which we predict the Canadian scores 36 goals and adds 75 assists to reach 111 points for the highest total since Henrik Sedin’s 112 in the 2009-10 season.
2. Anthony Mantha And Dylan Larkin Excel
The Detroit Red Wings won’t be much better than last season — and even “better” may be a stretch — but the rebuild sees a glimpse of the future with a 60-point season from both Mantha and Larkin. The two youngsters begin to take over the team and their pre-season chemistry and high ceilings give palpable hope to Hockeytown.
3. Jack Eichel Hits 80
Eichel’s sophomore campaign seems to have been ignored, but Buffalo’s rising star potted 24 goals and 57 points in 61 games, which translates to a 76-point effort in a full season. This year, he reaches 30 himself and, with a motivated Jason Pominville and quickly rising Evander Kane (the best linemates of Eichel’s short career), the American adds 50 assists minimum.
4. Carolina Returns To Postseason
After eight years of 82-game seasons, the emerging Hurricanes are finally getting back into the playoffs. Coach Bill Peters’ team has been inching closer over the past few seasons, but now the addition of goaltender Scott Darling, another young defenseman in Trevor van Riemsdyk, and others, the possession stalwarts finally have the pieces to make a run at the Cup.
5. Patrick Kane Misses Artemi Panarin
Kane and Panarin teamed up for 56 goals in 2015-16 and 46 last year, Kane’s two most productive seasons in the NHL. Panarin has been replaced with Patrick Sharp, a 35-year-old coming off his worst season (18 points in 48 games). Fifty points is a generous prediction for Sharp, a near-30 point step down from Panarin. Kane himself won’t drop 30 points, but the loss of Panarin means a noticeable dip in his production.
6. Nashville Predators Win The Stanley Cup
The Nashville Predators are returning to the Stanley Cup Finals, and this time they’re getting it done. Nick Bonino as a second-line center is an uncertain path, but solid prospects, the best blue line in the NHL, and hungry youth are the blueprint for a championship team.
7. John Tavares Leaves The Island
Tavares’ lack of an extension -- which he’s been able to sign since July 1 -- undoubtedly scares Islanders fans and the organization alike. With a rebound year from new linemate Jordan Eberle and a potential playoff spot, Tavares becomes the best player to hit free agency in years. He finally receives the money, term, linemates, and annual playoff contender he wants and deserves.
8. Alex Ovechkin Returns To Glory
It was a strange year for Ovechkin, who had a career-worst goals-per-game rate (.40), second-worst points-per-game rate (.84), and second-worst annual shooting percentage (10.5 percent). While he’s no longer young, the 32-year-old plays too good a game to have us believing his hockey is in decline. This year, Ovechkin gets back to 40-plus goals and 80-plus points.
9. Patrik Laine Scores 50
Laine made a solid case for the Calder Trophy in June, but unsurprisingly fell to Auston Matthews. He’s ready for the next step in his sophomore season, in which he scores 50 goals and tallies 74 points next to the budding Mark Scheifele and ever-consistent Blake Wheeler. He’s the new Ovechkin and will score, score, and score some more for the next decade.
10. Leafs’ Sophomores Slump
First, the “Sophomore Slump” is a very real thing that few escape. Second, Matthews, William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Connor Brown, Nikita Zaitsev, Mitch Marner, and Connor Brown are all heading into their sophomore seasons. The sheer odds that all seven can escape such a slump is minimal at best; their struggles pull the reigns back on Toronto’s rising team.
11. Blue Jackets Underwhelm
The loss of Brandon Saad, Scott Hartnell, William Karlsson, and Sam Gagner are going to hurt the depth chart. Columbus did bring in Panarin, who is strong in his own right, but he also absolutely benefitted from Kane and will likely see a slight regression in his production. Additionally, the team appears to have lost Josh Anderson, who remains unsigned. Then there’s Sergei Bobrovsky, also destined to take a slight step back after his Vezina-winning season. The Blue Jackets disappoint considering their ambitions, but still make the postseason as a wild card.
12. Nico Hischier Wins The Calder
It seems to be a level playing field for rookies including Hischier, Charlie McAvoy, Nolan Patrick, Dylan Strome, Clayton Keller, Joel Eriksson-Ek, and others. However, it’s hard not to favor the first pick Hischier, who tore up the preseason and is likely to be New Jersey’s top line center for the foreseeable future.
13. Coyotes Just Miss
After finishing third from the bottom in the Western Conference last season, the Coyotes overhauled the roster by bringing in Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jason Demers, and rookies Strome and Keller. This year, the incredibly young and drastically talented roster finishes fourth in the Pacific Division, behind only Edmonton, Calgary, and Anaheim, but eventually miss the playoffs due to five Central Division teams besting edging Arizona in the standings.
14. Mike Smith Struts His Stuff
In the wake of a roster overhaul, the Coyotes shipped out starting goaltender Mike Smith to Calgary. The goalie’s stats have been better than his win-loss record indicate. With one of the league’s best defensive lineups in front of him now in Canada, this year sees Smith log 34 wins, a .920 save percentage, 2.40 GAA, and five shutouts. He helps Calgary finish just behind Edmonton in the Pacific Division.
15. Kris Letang Stays Healthy
I almost feel bad writing this because I don’t want to jinx it, but for the second time in his career Kris Letang plays more than 75 games. Obviously that’s not a full season, but it leaves room for inevitable bumps and bruises, illnesses, and other minor tweaks.
16. Red Wings Find a Pipeline Defenseman
General manager Ken Holland has targeted defensemen over the past several drafts as he has tried to buff up the blue line. Some players have began to show promise, and in the new season inevitable injuries see the farm system get some invaluable NHL action. Be it Filip Hronek, Joe Hicketts, or Vili Saarijarvi, the Wings finally find an NHL-ready prospect defenseman this season.
17. Matt Duchene Lands In Ottawa
The Senators are in win-now mode, and that means an offensive stalwart is needed to capture the Cup. The 26-year-old Duchene can be that guy when the Senators realize scoring-by-committee only gets you so far. Erik Karlsson appears unready to start the season and landing Duchene sooner than later helps the offense offset the loss of one of the game’s best defenders. The move happens by November.
18. Central Division Produces Five Playoff Teams
The Nashville Predators are followed by the Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, and Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference playoffs — in that order. Winnipeg falls just short, while Colorado falls far short. San Jose and Los Angeles also stumble, leading to just three Pacific postseason teams.
19. Colorado, Vegas, And Detroit Go 1, 2, 3 (In The Draft)
Okay, so it’s an after-the-season prediction, but Colorado lands the top draft pick that it missed out on in June while Vegas secures number two and Detroit sits at three entering next June. The order may be wrong, but the teams aren’t.
20. Barkov And Huberdeau Become Dynamic Duo
This year, emerging Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau grow into one of the league’s best duos. Barkov, 22 years old, scores 30 goals and 70 points, while 24-year-old linemate Huberdeau scores 20 goals and 70 points and finishes top-10 in assists.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @JMessing23.