One bold prediction for every NHL team heading into 2023-24

OK folks, here we go again.

In doing bold predictions the goal is to try and take a shot on an outcome that is maybe not the most likely, but somewhat within the realm of possibilities.

Looking back at our predictions last season (the article did not self destruct, after all) we definitely did not go 100 per cent, but did hit, or near-hit on almost half of them. A bold prediction is not meant to be the most obvious outcome, so we’ll take it as a W.

Now on to a new season and new bold predictions for what’s ahead. So grab a coffee, have a laugh, blow a gasket and wonder how, exactly, we landed on these 32 bold predictions… one for each team.

Anaheim Ducks: No playoffs, but the Ducks take a notable step up in the West

The last bit of off-season business is done with both Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale signed to extensions and now they will be looked upon to take steps in their careers towards becoming leaders of this team. The Ducks need a franchise player and offensive driver up front, and hope Zegras is that. They also need a No. 1 defenceman to take over and, after missing nearly all of last season, Drysdale could take a leap in that direction. The Ducks will need a few young players to step up (Mason McTavish, Leo Carlsson as a rookie) to ever hit their goals, and the prediction is that starts to happen in 2023-24. John Gibson can help stabilize things if the defence gets any better, too. The Ducks were the West’s worst team with 58 points last season and, while not qualifying for the playoffs, an improvement to 80 points is not unattainable.

Arizona Coyotes: They find a new home and end relocation speculation

It seemed like last season was going to be the one when the Coyotes would figure out their arena future and end any relocation talk, but a loss in the Tempe referendum has put everything up in the air again. And while the limited capacity of Mullet Arena has become something of a positive, unique experience, the arrangement cannot seriously go on. There’s new hope that Mesa, perhaps, could be an option. And the Coyotes say they are exploring six possible sites to build an arena on, as they work to stay in Arizona. The prediction here is that they, finally, settle in one.

Boston Bruins: They trade for Mark Scheifele

[Editor’s note: This article was published prior to Scheifele signing a seven-year extension with the Jets.]

The Bruins are down two top two centres and will begin the season filling in with Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle. One of those two could certainly stay in a competitive top six, but as the Bruins seek to keep their Stanley Cup window open, they’ll be one of the first teams mentioned in any rumours involving an available centre. If the Jets get off to a slow start there’s no indication that Mark Scheifele would be eager to stick around yet, so if it comes time to move on the Bruins would be a top candidate to get him… especially if it included an extension, similar to how they acquired and then signed Hampus Lindholm in 2022.

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Buffalo Sabres: UFA Patrick Kane signs on

Though they haven’t made the playoffs in 12 years, the Sabres do usually get off to a pretty good start and that would put them in good standing when Patrick Kane is ready to sign with someone. In 32 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman also pointed out that Sabres GM Kevyn Adams was Kane’s first road roommate in 2007-08, so there is a relationship there. And, of course, Kane is a Buffalo native.

Calgary Flames: Jonathan Huberdeau scores 100 points again

Huberdeau scored a career-best 115 points in his last season with the Panthers and then was the central part of the Matthew Tkachuk trade. Year 1 in Calgary was forgettable, with the team missing the playoffs and Huberdeau slipping to 55 points — his lowest output in a full season since 2015-16. Huberdeau has said he “kinda lost the passion” to play last season, which should change with a new coach and the generally positive outlook the team starts this season with. Huberdeau is the X-Factor who needs to get back on track and he’ll be given loads of minutes and opportunity to do it. He is not a 55-point player, but has plenty to prove again.

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Carolina Hurricanes: Seth Jarvis breaks out with 60 points

Jarvis went through a bit of a sophomore slump last season, but then became a valued playoff contributor. Now, the 21-year-old is looking at an opportunity to hold down a first-line job at even strength and get on to the top PP unit, too. He had five power-play points on the second unit last season, which alone could rise by 15-20 if he hangs on the top unit. On a Canes team that has lacked enough game-breakers in the past, Jarvis has a shot to become one, and a real X-Factor to post-season success.

Chicago Blackhawks: Arvid Soderblom puts himself on the map

Connor Bedard is the franchise player in Chicago now, but the Blackhawks hope he isn’t the only staple of future teams arriving this season. Without signing another veteran netminder to pair with Petr Mrazek, the path is clear for the 24-year-old Soderblom to start gaining more NHL experience. He was thrust into action early due to injury last season and, yes, it was rocky. But the Blackhawks believe in the undrafted netminder and he has a chance to begin emerging as a talent.

Colorado Avalanche: Jonathan Drouin sets career highs in goals and assists

The current career-bests for Drouin are 21 goals (2016-17) and 35 assists (2018-19) and after not being able to find consistency or a place in Montreal’s emerging lineup, Drouin signed with Colorado as a UFA where he joins up again with junior linemate Nathan MacKinnon. To start the season at least, it appears that not only will they be teammates again, but Drouin projects to line up next to MacKinnon as well. As long as that goes on, Drouin will be in a plum position to produce. If he stays there for the long haul, 25 goals and 40 assists isn’t completely out of the question.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Adam Fantilli wins the Calder Trophy

This is not the longest shot, however, when your competition includes Bedard, a “generational” type of centre who averaged 2.5 points per game in junior, you can be the forgotten man — especially in this small market. But Fantilli is the No. 1 centre the Blue Jackets have been searching for, he has NHL size and will be given ample opportunity to play with at least one offensive winger. If Columbus is a markedly better team than Chicago, that too should help Fantilli’s scoring to Bedard’s. The Blue Jackets star will be your rookie of the year.

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Dallas Stars: They win the Presidents’ Trophy

The Stars have been a 98- and 108-point team the past two seasons, breaking through in the playoffs to the West final, so they shouldn’t catch people by surprise in 2023-24. Especially at forward, there is great depth on this team and we should maybe be on the lookout for bounce-back seasons from Mason Marchement and newly acquired Matt Duchene. They have a Norris hopeful in Miro Heiskanen and a Vezina hopeful in Jake Oettinger. Past Boston’s historical 135 points last season, Carolina’s 113 points were good for second in the league. The Stars could easily improve by 5-10 points on their own total from last season to take the Presidents’ Trophy.

Detroit Red Wings: Alex DeBrincat scores 40 goals again

When the Senators acquired DeBrincat last season, they thought they might be getting the last piece of their offence for a playoff push as the then-24-year-old was coming off his second 41-goal season. It didn’t fully click, however, and after DeBrincat finished with 27 goals he made clear that Ottawa was not where he was going to sign long-term. Now in Detroit, his hometown team, DeBrincat got a four-year contract and a top-line job, where he will be counted on to step back up as the Red Wings try to keep pace in the Atlantic. Here’s predicting that DeBrincat does score 40-plus again, and actually sets a new career high.

Edmonton Oilers: They win Canada’s first Stanley Cup since 1993

We’re going to say it. This core of Oilers has been through it, losing some series they should have won, but showing progression as the years have gone by. Now, with the conference so wide open, it’s time for them to break through. The two superstar centres should have enough of a supporting cast to keep progressing. This is it, this is the year. Edmonton breaks Canada’s curse and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have playoff performances for the ages. And you better believe they both extend after that kind of success.

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Florida Panthers: Mackie Samoskevich emerges as their next under-the-radar gem

As rosters were being finalized on the weekend, 20-year-old Mackie Samoskevich remained with the Panthers and if his opportunity extends into the regular season to any length, he has a chance to make it difficult to demote him back later. Samoskevich, the 24th overall pick in 2021, scored three goals and four points in the pre-season and was the standout youngster in the organization. Injury might open the door for his first regular season looks and he could break down that door. The Panthers have seen a few underrated breakouts in recent seasons, from Mason Marchment to Carter Verhaeghe and more, and though Samoskevich is different in that he’s a young prospect, if he can establish himself the Panthers’ depth would be better off.

Los Angeles Kings: A goalie not currently on the team starts Game 1 of the playoffs

The Kings have a lot of pieces in place and got another big one in Pierre-Luc Dubois over the summer — the kind of centre depth they now have is envied in many places around the league. But as the Kings try to hang with the top teams in the Pacific Division — legit Stanley Cup contenders both — they have taken a pretty big risk in net. The Kings will start the season with a returning Pheonix Copley and Cam Talbot, signed to a $1 million bargain contract in free agency. Both were below-average performers last season and while it’s conceivable that Talbot could bounce back behind this team, we think they’ll have to further address their netminding at some point this season.

Minnesota Wild: Kirill Kaprizov wins the Rocket Richard Trophy

In the past two seasons, Kaprizov has scored 47 and 40 goals, and that combined 87 tallies ranks eighth over the league in that time. Since entering the NHL three years ago, Kaprizov’s 0.59 goals per game is tied for sixth-best in the league. As the Wild look for its top players to step up, Kaprizov is the offensive leader in the group and 50 goals is within reach. From there, it’s not far to the Rocket Richard Trophy and as the central point of this offence, Kaprizov’s fully capable of it.

Montreal Canadiens: Samuel Montembeault builds on last season, becomes lead goalie

In his age-26 season, Montembeault wound up playing 40 games — two more than he did at 25 — and his save percentage improved by 10 points. He also doubled his win total, which should continue as the Canadiens roster matures. Now, Montembeault is on an expiring contract and returns to Montreal’s net having the experience of back-stopping Canada to gold in last spring’s World Championship. He’s playing for a new contract while also trying to earn more starts than veteran Jake Allen and hold off 24-year-old Cayden Primeau.

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Nashville Predators: Juuse Saros is the first goalie in seven years to play 70 games

Projected to once again be a mushy middle team in the NHL, it’s widely accepted that Nashville’s playoff hopes rest entirely in Juuse Saros’ ability to lift an average team into the mix. After Saros led the league in goalie games played the past two seasons, he probably will do so again as the Predators need to lean on him. Nashville has nine back-to-back game situations this season, the first coming in December, so Saros will likely see a breather in most of those splits — though maybe not down the regular season stretch. The last goalie to play 70 games in a regular season was Cam Talbot in 2016-17 (73).

New Jersey Devils: Akira Schmid takes over in net and wins fantasy leagues

Even though Vitek Vanecek did not have a bad season in 2022-23, that he stumbled in February and March and allowed nine goals in his first two playoff games means this position is the one most in question again for the Devils. GM Tom Fitzgerald didn’t add to the crease, so Vanecek returns with 23-year-old Akira Schmid, who stepped up to play nine playoff games and posted a .921 save percentage last season. The prediction here is that Schmid takes over the top job and, along the way, helps some lucky drafters or waiver wire hunters to a fantasy title.

New York Islanders: Mat Barzal finally surpasses his rookie season point total

In 2017-18 Mat Barzal played his first full NHL season and immediately arrived as a star, scoring 22 goals and 85 points in 82 games. Since then he hasn’t scored 20 goals or produced at a point-per-game pace as the Isles clamped down and became one of the top defensive outfits in the league. So, what’s different about this season?

The Islanders are set to start with Barzal and Bo Horvat together on the top line, a duo that delivered immediate success when the latter was acquired mid-way through last season. In six regular season games together Barzal accumulated eight points and Horvat three goals. If they can sustain that chemistry all season, Barzal has a shot at a career year.

New York Rangers: Kaapo Kakko steps up for a breakout season

In New York, all eyes are on 2020 top pick Alexis Lafreniere to take a step as he’s being given a shot in the top-six moving from his natural left wing to the right side. But there’s another former high-draft pick of interest here, too. Kappo Kakko, the second overall selection in 2019, has also not delivered (yet) on his draft-year potential. The natural right winger should also be a top-six fixture for the Rangers and the prediction here is that he eventually gets to, and stays on, the top line and is the breakout player for the team.

Ottawa Senators: Joonas Korpisalo delivers below-average goaltending

This is an absolutely huge year for the Senators and their lineup of skaters inspires loads of confidence that they can level up. They believe in goalie Joonas Korpisalo, too, and signed the free agent to a five-year contract. And Korpisalo certainly had a great season in 2022-23 between Columbus and Los Angeles. However, outside of last season, Korpisalo’s previous career high for games played was just 37 and his cumulative numbers since then are .902 save percentage and 3.04 GAA. Heck in 2021-22 he had an .877 save percentage and 4.15 GAA in 22 games. Anton Forsberg is back and may play a bigger role in this net.

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Philadelphia Flyers: They trade a top-six forward

Firmly in rebuild mode the Flyers still haven’t really torn down the whole operation yet and while we figure they’ll keep some productive players for the tough go ahead, we don’t think they’re finished accumulating future assets. With Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson returning from injury, the Flyers will actually add a few good players back. However, as the season goes on and the new front office positions the organization for long-term success — and as injuries happen to other contending rosters — the Flyers are set up to be a seller with potentially some attractive players to move. Scott Laughton? Travis Konecny?

Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby scores 100 points and they win a playoff round

Under Kyle Dubas the Penguins made several changes (some big, some smaller) to try and reinvigorate a roster that missed the playoffs last season and hasn’t won a round since 2018. And it feels like Dubas has pushed all the right buttons and positioned the Penguins for a comeback. Even missing the playoffs Crosby scored 93 points last season and in 2021-22 when he played 69 games, he averaged just shy of a 100-point pace. So it’s not farfetched for him to hit that plateau again, if healthy. There are not many runs left with this core. In fact, this may be the last, best chance to go deep. Health is an important component for any team to be successful, but especially here with a few players who have been banged up in recent seasons. As long as the stars can stay on the ice, this team is absolutely capable of winning its first playoff round in six years.

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San Jose Sharks: And with the first pick, the Sharks take Macklin Celebrini

Not the boldest of the bold calls, given the Sharks are expected to struggle again after trading away last season’s best player. But between the grind of the 82-game season, a few other bottom-feeders eyeing the next draft’s top talent, and a lottery, the Sharks will come out of 2023-24 with a new franchise player. Part of this prediction, too, is that Celebrini holds the No. 1 ranking in this class from beginning to end, ahead of the likes of Cole Eiserman and Ivan Demidov.

Seattle Kraken: They miss the playoffs

The Kraken were a much-improved team in 2022-23 and even won their first playoff series. They built up a lot of goodwill, and hope that they are on the same track Vegas was in their early days. However, it’s not a guarantee that the trend will only go up from here. Seattle’s strength is in its depth, which can’t be taken from them outside of injuries, but they also had the league’s highest shooting percentage last season and that’s unlikely to happen again. If goals come down to any degree, then the defence and netminding has to make up some of that difference. However, goaltending has not been a strength in the Kraken’s first two seasons. In 2022-23, Seattle finished with the 23rd-best team save percentage at 5-on-5 after finishing 31st in their first season. Philipp Grubauer, paid as the No. 1, has back-to-back seasons with a sub-.900 save percentage. In a tough division, something like that could really hinder the Kraken.

St. Louis Blues: They are trade deadline sellers for a second year in a row

On track to miss the playoffs, the Blues were sellers last season, parting with Ivan Barbashev, Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko. They wound up with three first-round picks for the 2023 draft and, rather than flip any for immediate help, they kept them all to re-stock the prospect pipeline. The Blues also tried to trade a defenceman in the off-season, but since five of them have trade restrictions in their contracts, St. Louis does not control that situation and couldn’t get a deal done.

This year the Blues aren’t necessarily any better set up to win and could very well chase the playoffs again. If that happens, GM Doug Armstrong will have to consider selling once more, with an eye on greater changes to the roster.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos scores 50 for the first time in over a decade

Don’t underestimate the contract-year player. Steven Stamkos got to training camp and immediately lit the rumour mill ablaze when he discussed his disappointment at not having a new contract yet, or even much discussion for one. At 33 years old Stamkos will have a chip on his shoulder and is more than capable of still rising to the occasion. The last time he scored at least 50 was all the way back in 2011-12 when he hit 60. Two years ago Stamkos scored 42 times and was down to 34 last season.

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Toronto Maple Leafs: Joseph Woll starts Game 1 of the playoffs

Whatever you think about the Maple Leafs, they are as much a lock for the playoffs as any contender — they just seem to have problems once they get there. Last season Toronto entered with questions in net and we have to note that Ilya Samsonov — returning in 2023-24 — stepped up and delivered a better season than many projected. Now, Joseph Woll could be the goalie who over-delivers. The 25-year-old, drafted-and-developed talent got into seven regular season games last season and won six of them. And then he was put in for two playoff starts and four playoff appearances overall, finishing with a .915 save percentage. Showing well in those 11 games is one thing and doing it over a full NHL schedule is a whole different ball game, but Woll will be a presence here. The other backup option, Martin Jones, is not that guy.

Vancouver Canucks: This turns out to be Elias Pettersson’s last season with the Canucks

An RFA next summer, Elias Pettersson can’t actually walk out via unrestricted free agency until 2025, but if the Canucks have another rocky, playoff-less season then he might be reticent to re-sign at all and that would leave Vancouver in a difficult spot. This boils down to: do you think the Canucks are a markedly improved team with a healthy Thatcher Demko and a tougher defence? It feels like this season could go either way and that however it ends up will sway Pettersson’s intentions.

Vegas Golden Knights: Logan Thompson takes back the net, starts in the playoffs

Last year’s bold prediction for Vegas also involved Thompson, who we thought could become a fantasy hockey MVP. If not for a mid-season injury, we were tracking to be right, too. Now Thompson starts this season in a split duty situation with Adin Hill, newly signed for two years and a $4.9 million AAV. That contract, and his playoff performance last season, likely gives Hill the edge to be the opening night starter. But in four months last season Thompson took over in the crease and did not lose it due to his play. We think he can take it back this season and be the No. 1 by the time the playoffs start.

Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin falls below 0.40 goals per game average for the first time in his career

This is dangerous, I know. A really strong season for Ovechkin would put him on a collision course for Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record early next season, but at some point he will start slowing down… right? Ovechkin — who is 73 goals away from breaking the record — has had two notable “down” seasons in his career — 33 goals in 82 games in 2016-17 and 32 goals in 79 games in 2010-11. Most players would still love that production, of course. This season seems to be setting up as another difficult one for an ageing Capitals roster, so the support around Ovechkin isn’t improving right now. He’ll still catch and pass Gretzky in time — and maybe still next season — but this prediction holds that Ovechkin, for the first time in his career, averages under 0.40 goals per game (meaning roughly a 32-goal pace over 82 games, tops).

Winnipeg Jets: Connor Hellebuyck signs an extension and stays

[Editor’s note: This article was published prior to Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck signing seven-year extensions with the Jets.]

The Jets enter the season in a precarious situation with two big pending UFAs: top line centre Mark Scheifele and starting ace goalie Connor Hellebuyck. Being a competitive playoff team might be all it takes to convince either to stay and there’s every possibility Winnipeg is just that. The goalie trade market is barren, so finding a suitable package to move Hellebuyck for could be a challenge anyway. The Jets have the potential to surprise and Hellebuyck has the ability to lift them higher, which may be enough to convince him to stay.