Yesterday we took a look at my predictions for the Eastern and Western Conferences, in which I claimed the Florida Panthers are going to make the playoffs, while the Lightning, Rangers and Devils will not. I also dropped the Coyotes from their 6th place finish last year to 13th, and promoted St. Louis from 11th to 6th.
Well, let’s bust out one last predictions column before we drop the puck on a fantastic schedule of opening night games.
Coming into this season, here’s who I see poised to take home the individual hardware:
HART: Steven Stamkos
Stamkos finished with 91 points last year, including 45 goals. That was good for fifth in league scoring. The year before, he finished with 51 goals, tying Sidney Crosby for the Rocket Richard Trophy. And now, your reminder: He’s twenty-freaking-one.
Teams have come to expect and defend his one-bomb from the circles on the powerplay, but that doesn’t mean they can stop it. Hell, it opens up other guys so he can grab more assists. On top of that, most guys continue to improve into their mid-20s, and superstars that enter the league young start to put up insane numbers around this stage of their development. With his terrific linemates, he’ll be in the conversation at the end of the season.
NORRIS: Kris Letang
I realize that there a handful of defensemen you’d rather have on your team than Letang – maybe Shea Weber, or Drew Doughty, or even Keith Yandle (who I would have picked to win it if it weren’t for the fact that it’s tough to get assists on a team where no one scores).
But Letang is a young, crazy-talented player who’s going to be on a team with a healthy Malkin and (hopefully) Crosby, and he’ll be carrying the mail on the powerplay. He could put up some gaudy numbers if he’s improved as most young guns his age do, and Sid the Kid is back and rockin’ again.
VEZINA: Ryan Miller
Miller has been keeping a not-that-great but not-that-bad team afloat for years now – it’s his time.
The Sabres made headlines by adding a good puck moving defenseman in Christian Erhoff, as well as yet another good forward in Ville Leino. That’s going to translate into more wins, and better stats for Buffalo’s goalie.
Pegula repaid Miller’s greatness (and patience) by finally putting a good team in front of him. I think Miller will cash in on that with a Vezina.
CALDER Zac Dalpe
By all accounts the kid looks sick so far, and is apparently threatening for Jeff Skinner’s job on the top line. If he ends up with that roster spot, the numbers could pile up pretty quick.
LADY BYNG Nick Lidstrom
What, like they’re not going to find a way to give him some award in his final season?
SELKE Ryan Kesler
Kesler is the most glamorous pick to win (and repeat as) defensive forward of the year, being that he can pour pucks in at the other end too. I’d love to have picked Frans Nielsen, but Kesler took it last year, and isn’t likely to have gotten anything but better at what he does. He goes back-to-back.
JACK ADAMS Alain Vigneault
If the Canucks find a way to take last year’s crushing game 7 defeat, then turn around and take another President’s Cup, he’d deserve to have his name etched on that thing.
Random thought: Watch Taylor Hall this year.
Last year he reminded me of the kid who just had the huge growth spurt in high school trying to coordinate his limbs so he could execute a layup in basketball practice. It’s awkward, but if it comes together for the guy, he can end up being your best player. I think Hall’s got it dialed in now.
After a quick discussion with a friend last night, I tweeted “I’ll call Taylor Hall to finish in the top-20 in scoring this year. Probably top-15. Possibly top-10.”
I’ll stand by that.