To continue previewing the 2017/2018 NHL regular season, I will give in-depth predictions for the major awards. Over the next week, I will look at the Vezina, Hart, Norris, Maurice Richard, and Art Ross trophies. The season starts halfway through the predictions, but the results this week won’t influence the predictions.
After previewing the Vezina Trophy race, it’s time to move from who’s the best at stopping goals, to who’s the best at scoring them. The Maurice Richard Trophy is given to the player who scores the most goals in the regular season. 40-goal scorers used to be much more prevalent in the NHL, but now they are a hot commodity. Only three players hit the mark last year, but that number will rise this season. The NHL is getting younger, faster and more skilled. Players like Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews are already elite goal scorers at a young age, and will only get better. The race for “The Rocket” trophy has predictable names at the top, but the race will definitely be one to keep track of.
1. Patrik Laine
Expect Patrik Laine’s name to be at the top of this list for the next decade, much like Ovechkin’s was for the previous one. Laine is ready to establish himself as the best pure sniper in the league. Armed with fantastic size, quick hands and the best release in the league (twitter), he’s going to score goals in bunches. He’s on one of the best lines in the NHL with Ehlers and Scheifele, and that will only boost his goal totals. Some people forget that Laine missed nine games last year. If it weren’t for the injury, he may already have a Maurice Richard Trophy on his resume.
2016 / 2017 Stats: GP: 73, Goals: 36
Predicted 2017 / 2018 Stats: GP: 82, Goals: 52
2. Steven Stamkos
Steven Stamkos was in his best statistical season last year until injury hit him yet again. With Stamkos healthy, he’s primed to win the goal-scoring race for the third time. The problem for him will be remaining healthy, as he has only played in 213 of a possible 328 games over the last four seasons. Although injuries may make him rusty to start the season, maintaining the same top-six forward group will help. Having consistency with his linemates will allow Stamkos to pick up right where he left off last season.
2016 / 2017 Stats: GP: 17, Goals: 9
Predicted 2017 / 2018 Stats: GP: 77, Goals: 48
3. Auston Matthews
Matthews is another sophomore in the top three of these rankings, but another sophomore that deserves it. He terrorized the opposition from the opening game last year and did so with consistency. He scored 40 goals to tie for second place in the goal-scoring race with Nikita Kucherov. The guy has everything in his repertoire. He bangs in rebounds in tight, has silky smooth hands and a wicked release. Although Matthews should be able to repeat his 40 goals from last year, adding William Nylander to his line may lower his goal-scoring potential.
2016 / 2017 Stats: GP: 82, Goals: 40
Predicted 2017 / 2018 Stats: GP: 82, Goals: 44
4. Sidney Crosby
The player who won the award last year has dropped to fourth in the rankings. Don’t let the ranking fool you though, Crosby is still in my mind, the best player in the world. He is dangerous every time he’s on the ice, and when he puts his mind to it, no one can stop him. When you do try to stop him, he may just slash your finger off. Look for Crosby to carry the Penguins in scoring
if when Evgeni Malkin gets injured. As long as Sid can stay healthy himself, he will be in the top-five in goalscoring by seasons end.
2016 / 2017 Stats: GP: 75, Goals: 44
Predicted 2017 / 2018 Stats: GP: 77, Goals: 41
5. Brad Marchand
Maybe a surprise to be this high in the rankings, but definitely well deserved. The pest-turned-sniper has become an elite scorer. He has increased his goal and point totals in consecutive seasons and could repeat that improvement again. If he remains on a line with Pastrnak and Bergeron all season, he’ll be dangerous every night. With Bergeron breaking up plays and Pastrnak providing speed and playmaking, Marchand will be the beneficiary of elite linemates. His goal will be taking the benefits of his linemates and turning that into silverware at the end of the season.
2016 / 2017 Stats: GP: 80, Goals: 39
Predicted 2017 / 2018 Stats: GP: 79, Goals: 38
Outside looking in:
Alexander Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Seguin and Connor McDavid
The goal-scoring race will be an exhilarating competition. Ovechkin will be eager to prove he can still hit the 50-goal plateau, while McDavid will want to increase his goal-scoring exploits. The top three in this list won’t change much (barring injury), but the rest of the rankings will definitely change throughout the season.