Ted Kulfan’s NHL preview: Top teams, top players … and, well, the Wings

Detroit News

Ted Kulfan
| The Detroit News

Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News previews the NHL season with a look at the top players, championship contenders and more.

Hart Trophy candidates 

Connor McDavid, Edmonton: This one is easy, McDavid is always among the viable candidates. He’ll be tested in the tough Canadian Division, though.

Auston Matthews, Toronto: The pieces appear to all be there, and Matthews is at the point of his career where he’s ready to lead and dominate.

Brayden Point, Tampa: The hockey community got to see how good Point really is in last season’s playoffs. This is a big-time hockey player.

Top forwards

Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton: All Draisaitl did last season was win the Hart Trophy (most valuable player).

Connor McDavid, Edmonton: Most exciting player around.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado: If not McDavid, MacKinnon is the most exciting around.

Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis: Always formidable, O’Reilly has developed into a force with the Blues.

Brayden Point, Tampa: Dominant at both ends of the rink, and has knack for big time goals.

Top defensemen

Roman Josi, Nashville: The reigning Norris Trophy winner is still getting better.

Alex Pietrangelo, Vegas: It’ll be weird not seeing Pietrangelo in a Blues’ uniform. But he’ll be just fine in Vegas.

Victor Hedman, Tampa: The backbone of a Lightning core that has been championship quality for many years.

Seth Jones, Columbus: Jones might be ready for serious Norris Trophy consideration this season.

Charlie McAvoy, Boston: With Zdeno Chara leaving, McAvoy becomes the man in Boston. And he’s ready for the challenge.

More: Red Wings preview: New-look, stacked Central Division does rebuilding team no favors

Top goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa: Was outstanding in Tampa’s Cup run last season.

Carey Price, Montreal: Price could be even better with a quality back-up now.

Tuukka Rask, Boston: Don’t be surprised if Rask returns this season with a chip on his shoulder, after opting out of playoffs in summer.

Robin Lehner, Vegas: Lehner has really emerged last two seasons, and could be pivotal difference in Vegas.

Jordan Binnington, St. Louis: Has a Stanley Cup on his resume, but Binnington slipped in the playoffs last season.

Top rookies

Alexis Lafreniere, N.Y. Rangers: The No. 1 overall pick is in a perfect spot to excel.

Tim Stuetzle, Ottawa: Some scouts feel Stuetzle is better than Lafeniere.

Bowen Byram, Colorado: Another in a long line of elite Avalance prospects.

Coaches on the hot seat

Jeff Blashill, Detroit: The Red Wings need to show continued improvement, development during this long rebuild.

Bob Boughner, San Jose: The Sharks have a star-studded, aging roster. And they’re  under pressure to win.

David Quinn, N.Y. Rangers: The pressure is always there in New York, but this roster is probably a year away from playoff contention.

Championship contenders

Tampa Bay: The defending Stanley Cup champions remain awfully good.

Philadelphia: Perfect mix of veteran stars and rising young stars.

Washington: The addition of Zdeno Chara emboldens a veteran roster.

Colorado: The Avalanche have an emerging lineup that might be a year away.

Vegas: The future is now for this salary cap-strapped roster.

Dark horses

Toronto: This might finally be the right mix the Leafs have been waiting for.

Carolina: If goaltender Petr Mrazek can raise his game in the playoffs, the Hurricanes might be awfully dangerous.

Pittsburgh: Can the Penguins swipe one more Stanley Cup with their aging core?

Bottom feeders

Detroit: The Red Wings won’t be historically bad, as a year ago. But they’ll struggle in a tough division.

Chicago: The Wings might actually be better than Chicago, whose roster looks depleted.

Anaheim: The rebuild isn’t going well for the Ducks.


Twitter: @tkulfan

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