Ted Kulfan’s 2022-23 NHL preview: Breaking down the top teams, players to watch

Detroit News

Detroit — The Colorado Avalanche, Auston Matthews and Cale Makar grabbed most of the NHL headlines last season.

They might again this season. They’re that good.

But, as usual, there’s going to be plenty of competition around them in a league that is becoming known for its parity.

Colorado denied Tampa a third consecutive Stanley Cup victory and is deep and talented enough to repeat as champion itself. But there are plenty of teams good enough to take down the Avalanche, who will be integrating some new faces into their lineup.

Matthews won the Hart Trophy and Makar, the Norris, each with dominant individual seasons. Both are among the premier, exciting talents in the game right now, where speed and talent have never been so closely intertwined.

It’s likely to be another exciting and hotly contested NHL season.

With that in mind, The Detroit News’ Ted Kulfan lists some of the best (and worst) around the NHL from a team and individual standpoint:

Top Hart Trophy candidates  

► Connor McDavid, Edmonton: Face it, you can put McDavid on this list every season. He is the pre-eminent offensive player in the game. And now, McDavid has a team capable of realistically thinking of a Stanley Cup.

► Auston Matthews, Toronto: The defending Hart winner, many people feel Matthews can better last season’s 60 goals scored.

► Jack Hughes, New Jersey: A dark horse, but many hockey people think Hughes is ready to take a monster step forward.

Top five West forwards 

► Connor McDavid, Edmonton: McDavid makes the unreal plays look casual and normal. He truly has breathtaking speed.

► Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado: Nobody is talking about lack of a Stanley Cup on MacKinnon’s resume. He’s now realistically thinking back to back.

► Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton: A combination of size, speed and offensive ability that complements McDavid, and makes for the best combo in theNHL.

► Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota: There’s no reason why this explosive scorer can’t score 50 for the first time this season.

► Jonathan Huberdeau, Calgary: Traded by Florida in the Matthew Tkachuk trade, Huberdeau could flourish in this market, and this team around him.

Top five East forwards 

► Auston Matthews, Toronto: It’s not easy to score 60 in the NHL. Matthews did it, and now could go a bit higher given the talent around him.

► Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh: You simply can’t make a list like this and not put Crosby on it. He’s still a premier all around player that sparks the Penguins.

► Aleksander Barkov, Florida: Tkachuk is a huge addition for the Panthers, but Barkov is one of the most complete players around.

► Mitch Marner, Toronto: Marner took a significant step forward last season and could be headed for even bigger things. Tremendous playmaker.► Jack Hughes, New Jersey: This could be the season Hughes puts everything together and becomes a force.

More: Ted Kulfan’s 2022-23 NHL breakdown: A look at all 32 teams, playoff predictions

Top five West defensemen 

► Cale Makar, Colorado: The reigning Norris Trophy winner will be up there again. There arguably isn’t a better defenseman around.

► Roman Josi, Nashville: Josi has evolved into one of the NHL’s best, igniting a ton of offense from his position. ► Miro Heiskanen, Dallas: Heiskanen tends to get lost in the conversation playing in Dallas, but there aren’t many who play such a poised, prolific game.

► Devon Toews, Colorado: Makar grabs the headlines, but Toews had a monster season and has developed into one of the league’s best all-around defenders.

► Ryan McDonagh, Nashville: Arrives from Tampa, who had salary cap issues, McDonagh will form a formidable combo with Josi.

Top five East defensemen 

► Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay: Big, mobile, physical, and always in the discussion for the Norris. There aren’t many better.

► Charlie McAvoy, Boston: McAvoy will start the season on the injured list, but when he returns, there aren’t many defensemen better with the puck.

► Adam Fox, New York Rangers: Fox has one Norris on his resume and could well have another soon given his offensive exploits and the young stars around him.

► Moritz Seider, Detroit: As good as Seider was as a rookie, he’s likely to grow his game and become a bigger factor this season. He plays with tremendous drive. ► Zach Werenski, Columbus: As the Blue Jackets begin to rise in the standings people will see how good Werenski is. There aren’t many holes in the Grosse Pointe native’s game.

Top five West goalies 

► Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg: If the Jets have any hopes of becoming a playoff team, it’s because of the Macomb native who is a perennial Vezina contender.

► Juuse Saros, Nashville: Saros has neatly replaced Pekka Rinne in Nashville, and has quickly emerged as one of the best.

► JacobMarkstrom, Calgary: A shaky playoffs took some of the shine off an outstanding regular season, but there’s a sense Markstrom will be better prepared next spring.

► Marc-Andre Fleury, Minnesota: Fleury is nearing the end of a remarkable career, but he’s a guy you want in the playoffs. The Wild made a good decision going with him.

► Jake Oettinger, Dallas: Oettinger was outstanding in the playoffs and given some of his regular season work, he’s going to be on these lists for a long time.

Top five East goalies 

► Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay: Unless someone definitively takes over the throne, there isn’t anyone better in the NHL. He has all the attributes, skills, and resume.

► Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers: Just a whisker behind Vasilevskiy these days in conversation for the NHL’s best. He covers the net so well.► Darcy Kuemper, Washington: Won a Stanley Cup in Colorado, but the Avalanche’s salary cap problems nixed any hopes of returning. Kuemper will solidify Washington’s net.

► Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh: There are many who believe if Jarry was healthy in the playoffs, the Penguins would have advanced another round, or two. He does need to put together a successful playoff season to fully establish himself.

► Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders: Sorokin is likely to be a key reason if the Islanders rebound from a tough luck last season.

Top three rookies 

► Matty Beniers, Seattle: The former Michigan star looks poised to have a terrific season for the improved Kraken.

► Juraj Slafkovsky, Montreal: The No. 1 overall pick has a load of talent and will have room to grow with the rebuilding Canadiens.

► Shane Wright, Seattle: There might not be a more determined and motivated rookie around. Remember, it was Wright who dropped to No. 4 after being hyped forever as being the likely No. 1 pick.

Five coaches on the hot seat 

► Sheldon Keefe, Toronto: If the Leafs don’t at least a playoff round, the heat will likely rise with this talented coach.

► Lindy Ruff, New Jersey: It’s a mild surprise Ruff didn’t get removed after last season. If the Devils start slowly, a change is likely.

► Peter Laviolette, Washington: If the Capitals don’t make the playoffs, it might be time for a rebuild and a new voice.

► D.J. Smith, Ottawa: The Senators are getting a lot of hype, so if the results aren’t there, it’s the head coach who loses his job.

► Dallas Eakins, Anaheim: GM Pat Verbeek kept the coach, but if the results aren’t great, Verbeek will likely bring in his own guy.

Five championship contenders 

Colorado: The defending Stanley Cup champions lost some valuable pieces, but this roster is easily good enough to repeat.

► Tampa Bay: The Lightning weren’t able to three-peat as Cup champions. But winning three out of four would still leave a lasting legacy and they’re of doing it this season.

► Toronto: Maybe, finally, really, the Leafs are mature enough and have the goaltender (Matt Murray) to win four playoff rounds.

Edmonton: The Oilers appeared to be a goaltender away from being a true Cup threat last spring. Port Huron native Jack Campbell might be the final piece.

► Carolina: Acquiring some established veterans with moxie (Brent Burns, Max Pacioretty) to a young, talented roster might be the finishing touches on a potential Cup winning team.

Three dark horses 

► Pittsburgh: They kept the core together, and that could be a motivating force on this deep roster. Coach Mike Sullivan is one of the NHL’s best, too.

► Calgary: After Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk left town, there might not be a team with a bigger chip on its shoulder. And the remade Flames might actually be better.

► Minnesota: Some things would have to go just right, but the Wild have some budding stars and are as deep as anybody.

Five bottom feeders 

► Chicago: The three Stanley Cups seem like decades ago right now. Trading away Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will compete the tear down.

► Arizona: Playing in a college rink is a fitting indignity for an organization that just can’t seem to get things ever completely correct.

► Philadelphia: It’ll be entertaining with John Tortorella coaching them, but the Flyers don’t have much talent on this particular roster.

► San Jose: The Sharks have so many stars past their prime, and players who are just aren’t good enough. It’ll easily be a lottery team.

Montreal: Don’t be shocked if the Canadiens gain some momentum toward the end of the season. There’s some good young talent here, and a promising coach in Martin St. Louis.


Twitter: @tkulfan

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