1. Can the kids finally take over?
While Connor McDavid did in fact lead the NHL in scoring by a considerable margin last season, Jack Eichel finished nearly point-per-game, Auston Matthews potted 40 goals, and Laine buried 36 of his own, it was still Sid-the-not-so-much-a-kid Crosby hoisting the Stanley Cup in June after yet another heroic playoff performance. It was also 31 year-old Alex Ovechkin along with 29 year-old Nick Backstrom leading the Capitals to their second straight President’s Trophy. Will this be the year the kids finally take the reigns from the ever-slowly aging superstars?
2. Will the Caps’ regular season dominance continue?
After two consecutive President’s Trophy victories, and yet another second-round playoff exit, the Washington Capitals were gutted via salary-cap restraints. After losing half of their starting six D-men, most notably Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner, as well as Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson who combined for 48 goals last season, the Capitals will have to go back to relying on Ovechkin for most of their goal-scoring. It remains to be seen if the 32 year-old is still up to the task.
3. Is Vegas capable of being a winning team?
Expansion teams are always fun, but I have a feeling the Vegas Golden Knights will have a horrid season all around, and will be very much in the running for Rasmus Dahlin next June.
4. Which team can be the biggest surprise this season?
Keep an eye on the Carolina Hurricanes. Now boasting one of the deepest, young defensive corps in the NHL, as well as some of the younger rising stars in the game up-front, much of the team’s success will rely heavily on goaltender Scott Darling. Darling has never had a starting role before, but had great success as a backup with the Chicago Blackhawks, as well as a Stanley Cup to his name. If he plays well, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Carolina in the postseason.
5. Can Steven Stamkos return to the player he was before his injuries?
The Tampa Bay Lightning had a tough 2016-’17. Before yet another injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the year, Steven Stamkos was putting up over a point per game. If he can stay healthy this season, combined with Kucherov’s newfound elite scoring abilities, expect the two to push the Lightning back into playoff territory.
6. Winnipeg Jets
The most talented roster to keep putting together losing seasons, the Winnipeg Jets are just not good for some reason. The goaltending situation has always been bad, sure. But with a roster this talented, there should be no excuse as to why this team can’t pull for a playoff appearance. After being blown out by Toronto on Wednesday night, it will be seen if this is another disappointing year for the Jets.
The amount of slashing and hooking calls in the preseason was getting ridiculous, so much so that the league had to step in and tell the referees to cut down on the penalties. Still, teams are getting many more powerplay opportunities this season, and it will be interesting to see how the players acclimate to a game without hacks and whacks on the hands.
8. Jaromir Jagr
The ageless wonder, Jaromir Jagr is back for another NHL season. This time with the Calgary Flames, a team whose downfall has been between the pipes for as long as our memories can serve. This year, it is former all-star Mike Smith in net for the Flames, who hope he can return to the all-star netminder of the past. Jagr will help to serve as a leader to the kids in Calgary, as well as chip in some production of his own. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Jags put up 50 points this season.
9. Will the Coyotes finally take the next step in their long rebuild?
Yes, Arizona has finally added some veteran presence to their young team, and may not be half bad this year. Derek Stepan fills a long vacant no. 1 center role, and Antti Raanta is a fresh face between the pipes. Expect young kids like Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome to make the next step in the NHL as well.
10. Hischier and Patrick
Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick, the numbers one and two 2017 draft picks respectfully, will be expected by their teams to step in and make an impact on their rosters immediately. While neither are on a par with McDavid or Matthews, both should have respectable seasons with the Devils and Flyers.