1. Justin Schultz will win the Calder Trophy. There’s no shortage of candidates (teammate Nail Yakupov, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jakob Silfverberg, Mikael Granlund, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Alex Galchenyuk to name a few – seriously, those are just a few), but Schultz will win it and it won’t be close. Say what you want, but 48 points in 34 games as a rookie defenceman in the AHL is just filthy. Fans of the Vancouver Canucks probably won’t want to hear this, but Schultz is the real deal.
2. Whether he stays on Claude Giroux’s wing or gets bumped down to the second line, Brayden Schenn will put up 40 points. All the signs are there for a breakout season. Last year in the playoffs he showed what he was capable of, recording nine points in 11 games. This season in the AHL, he averaged a point-per-game. At 21 years old, Schenn is ready to take the next step in his career – and he’ll have a great opportunity to do that in Philly.
3. Tyler Seguin will be among the league leaders in goals (top five) and points (top 10). Seguin scored nearly a goal per game during the lockout. He was playing in Switzerland, mind you, but so were a lot of NHLers. This kid wasn’t considered a potential first overall pick in 2010 for no reason.
4. The St. Louis Blues will finish atop the Western Conference at the end of the regular season. Not necessarily a bold prediction considering they almost did it last year, but with the expected drop off of the Vancouver Canucks (see below) they’ll make the jump. With their stingy defensive system, elite goaltending tandem, and depth up front, the Blues remind me a lot of the New York Rangers (who many consider to be a Stanley Cup favourite). The addition of Tarasenko will only help.
5. Sticking with the Western Conference, the Vancouver Canucks will struggle to score goals this season and it’s going to hurt them. They’ll still manage to make the playoffs, but it’ll be a battle for the top spot in the Northwest Division and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if the Canucks are finally dethroned.
6. Everyone seems to be expecting a big drop in production from James Neal, but it’s not going to happen. For one, Neal will again be flanking Evgeni Malkin – the game’s most dominant offensive force. They’ll have a new linemate with Chris Kunitz re-joining Sidney Crosby, but that shouldn’t affect their point totals. Neal is just entering the prime of his career; expect him to continue his point-per-game pace.
7. The Pittsburgh Penguins will make it to the Stanley Cup Finals and Tomas Vokoun will be in net to start the series.
8. Ryan Miller will have a Vezina worthy season and help the Buffalo Sabres squeak into the playoffs.
9. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry will post better offensive numbers than they did last season, but it won’t be a drastic improvement. Neither will finish in the top 30 in scoring (and yes, I realize they’re both in contract years).
10. For the first time since 2008-09, the Nashville Predators will miss the playoffs. Despite managing to hold onto star defenceman Shea Weber, the Predators got worse this past summer by losing Ryan Suter, while teams like the Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, and Edmonton Oilers got a lot better. Pekka Rinne will keep them in a lot of games, but it won’t be enough.