Anticipation is always high around September time when the opening games of the NHL season are approaching.
And so is the level of speculation about which teams, and which players, are going to be hitting the headlines over the coming months, not to mention who will be carrying off the highly coveted Stanley Cup come the end of the season.
So, we’ve been gazing hard into our crystal balls to predict not just who will be in line to win the Stanley Cup but also which teams could reach the play-offs unexpectedly.
We’re also going to stick our necks out to name a couple of players who we believe will really start to shine this year.
Stanley Cup winners
The 2023 Stanley Cup saw a remarkable contest between two teams who had never previously won the final. And, although the Vegas Golden Knights overcame the Florida Panthers 4-1 in the seven-game contest, it was a fascinating spectacle.
So, the big question is whether either of these teams can win this season.
Looking at the NHL odds it wouldn’t seem so. Even before the first puck is struck this year, the favourites to win the trophy are the Colorado Avalanche. Don’t forget, they enjoyed a victory over Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2022 final and will also be hoping to avenge a first-round exit from the play-offs last season.
Arguably, this was due to the large number of injuries that affected the team last season, most notably the lay-off for captain Gabriel Landeskog.
But even in his continued absence for at least the start of the season, there’s a very able understudy in the form of Nathan MacKinnon, now in the second year of his record-breaking contract with the Avalanche.
New arrivals Jonathan Drouin and Miles Wood will undoubtedly strengthen the squad along with existing players Bowen Byron and Andrew Cogliano. The result is a team that should be very well placed to go the whole way this year.
Two teams for the playoffs
There were definitely fears that when Patrice Bergeron announced his total retirement from the game that the Boston Bruins it would bring about mass desertions.
But, despite the loss of players like David Krejci, it seems like a fairly safe bet that they will be in the playoffs again this season. Last season saw a first-round exit following a 4-3 defeat by the eventual runners-up Florida.
But with a line-up that includes Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk on the wing and Charlie McEvoy in defence, coach Jim Montgomery should be quietly confident of success.
A more surprising prediction could be that the Ottawa Senators could well be one of the final 16.
Despite finishing a lowly seventh in last season’s Atlantic Division, there’s a real sense of positivity about the team this year. As always, it’s all down to the players and with names like Tim Stutzle, Brady Tkachuk and Claude Giroux on the roster the signs are all good.
But doing well is as much about keeping goals out as it is about scoring. So, with Anton Forsberg tending the goal, they’re in a very good position indeed.
Reaching the playoffs would also be a big boon for the brand new owners of the team for Michael Andlauer and his fellow investors who have bought the team from the estate of former owner Eugene Melnyk for a reported £1 billion.
Two players to watch
In addition to the stars already mentioned, there are two other players for whom great things are predicted for the season.
The first in one of the most exciting rookie prospects to come on the scene for years,
Connor Beddard was a first-round pick in the 2023 draft for the Chicago Blackhawks. The 18-year-old joins this season from the Regina Pats where he was the also the first overall pick in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft.
While with the Pats he went on to win the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as best player in his first season and in his third year with the team won the Bob Clarke Trophy as the top scorer.
His super-powerful shot has been compared with Auston Matthews in the past and it will be fascinating to see how he performs following his step-up to the big league. Many are predicting at least a 35-goal tally.
One player predicted to save many goals is the Dallas Stars’ Jake Oettinger – and he’s also a hot tip to pick up the coveted Vezina Trophy. With a save percentage always over .900 it’s just going to be a matter of the Stars avoiding overworking Oettinger in what promises to be a challenging season.
So, there you have them. Five predictions for what’s to follow over the coming weeks and months of NHL action. How many of them will come true? We’ll just have to wait and see.