When looking ahead at the 2013 NHL season, there’s a few fall-back predictions you can be safe with. Steven Stamkos will score like a mofo, Evgeni Malkin will be nasty-good, etc. etc. Beyond the givens, there’s a host of talented forwards that seem ready to break out, but as we know, not everyone finds a way to get to that next level. Chances are if you’ve got a favourite team, you’ve got a guy in mind who’s about to “make that big step,” and for some teams, they’ve got a guy who’s made that step before that they’d like to see keep up the pace.
I’ve got my own list of guys from around the league that I could see stepping into the limelight as premier, top-end scorers, and for a few of them, who knows, the ceiling might actually be top-5, top-3 in NHL scoring this season. The following is that list of guys who I think are going to have huge years, aside from names like Crosby/Malkin/Giroux/Stamkos.
Here we go, in no particular order:
James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins
Vitals: 6’2″, 210, 25 years old
2011-12: 80 games played, 40 goals and 41 assists for 81 points
Neal was one of only two players in the National Hockey League last season to hit both the 40 goal plateau and grab 40 assists along the way. The other was Evgeni Malkin (the only other two players to hit 40 goals were Steven Stamkos – pff, 40, he says – and Marian Gaborik, both of whom failed to accumulate 40 assists). Obviously playing with Malkin helped Neal’s numbers, but just a reminder, Malkin didn’t die during the lockout, so he’s going to be around this season as well. With Neal’s ability to finish, and his recent relocation to being back-door sneaky on a powerplay with Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Kunitz, and I can see him being a point-per-game guy again this season.
By the way, here’s an article that implies it’s stupid to have Neal “shoving” the puck towards the net on the PP from the back-door, asking “But where is evidence that Neal can finish those off?”, to which I offer the first goal in this package. (I like the third one just a touch too.)
Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes
Vitals: 6’3, 200, 28 years old
2011-2012: 82 games played, 24 goals and 46 assists for 70 points
I decided to give Eric Staal some love on this list for the simple fact that he’s having Hall-of-Fame career, and is suddenly getting a linemate upgrade. My favourite stat of the week is that Staal is the only player to top 70 points in every single season since the lockout, with totals of 100, 70, 85, 72, 70, 76 and 70. Rick Nash has always gotten more love than Staal, but they’re both big players who’ve been stuck on generally poor teams (save for the ‘Canes Cup year), and Staal has not only out-played Nash physically over the course of his career, he’s out-pointed him in less games (574 in 642 games, versus Nash’s 547 in 674). Staal is entering the period of an offensive player’s career where their numbers start to slowly decline, but I think the addition of Jordan Staal and Alex Semin to his line helps him threaten a point-per-game pace.
John Tavares, New York Islanders
Vitals: 6’0, 206, 22 years old
20122-2012: 82 games played, 31 goals and 50 assists for 81 points
John Tavares instantly became the face of the franchise when he was drafted with the top pick in 2009, and hasn’t disappointed. He’s upped his goal total every season since he’s been in the league – 24, then 29, then 31 – and has done the same with his assist totals – 30, 38, 50. At his age, we haven’t near seen his ceiling, and his play during the lockout – 42 points in 28 games in Bern, Switzerland – certainly indicates he hasn’t maxed out yet. The Islanders “young core” is only getting older, and as they improve, his numbers should too (oh, and don’t worry – he’ll survive the loss of PA Parenteau). There’s no reason to think he won’t be a top-10 guys this season, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him in the upper half of that group.
Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins
Vitals: 6’1″, 185, 20 years old
2011-2012: 81 games played, 29 goals and 38 assists for 67 points
I’m all about Tyler Seguin this year. He led the Bruins in scoring as a 19 year old last season, and we started to see the flashes of brilliance. He seemed like a kid right on the verge of breaking out, but with the lockout, there was no way of knowing for sure. What we did see, is him head over to Switzerland and score 20 goals in 20 games – and that’s no joke league, people – before finishing up with 25 in 29. I think he’s a real dark horse candidate to threaten the top of the league leaders in scoring this season.
Brayden Schenn, Philadelphia Flyers
Vitals: 6’1″ 190, 21 years old
2011-2012: 54 NHL games played, 12 goals and 6 assists for 18 points (12 points in 7 AHL games)
Schenn proved himself to be a gifted point-getter in junior, tallying 88 and 99 points in his last two seasons in the WHL. Since then, he’s been exposed to the NHL enough to grasp it’s pace, and he’s played in playoff games. This season, he’s been playing in what is essentially the AHL-and-a-half given the amount of NHLers down there, and has scored at a point-a-game pace through 33 contests. Combine that with a gift known as opportunity, and he’ll be laughing. And since reports say that he’ll be starting on the Philadelphia Flyers top line with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell….HAHAHAHA.
Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers
Vitals: 6’1″, 194, 21 years old
2011-2012: 61 games played, 27 goals and 26 assists for 53 points
Towards the end of his stint in Oklahoma City during the lockout Hall was starting to earn a ton of praise for his play (he climbed to fifth in AHL scoring despite missing the first month and returning from shoulder surgery), and I really believe the time down there was exactly what he needed. He was rushed into being important in Edmonton, and never got the time to work on the type of top-end scoring that comes when you get to play against lesser players. Confidence, patience and poise come with knowing you don’t have to unload the puck as soon as you touch it. We’ve already seen that he can contribute offensively at the NHL level, and with his linemates Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being another year older, I could see his numbers increasing in a major way. He almost seems to have all those limbs under control these days too.
Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars
Vitals: 6’2, 203, 22 years old
2011-2012: 71 games played, 26 goals and 37 assists for 63 points
Benn is currently working out with the Victoria Royals of the WHL while he engages in contract talks with the Stars, but have no mistake about it, they won’t let this kid go unsigned. Benn, at only 23, is a lot like James Neal: young, big body, great shot, tough to knock off the puck, and he’s assigned the role of offensive contributor in Dallas. With underrated offensive assets like Loui Eriksson and Alex Goligoski on the powerplay, and the addition of a guy like Jaromir Jagr, Benn’s a player every team would kill to have.
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Vitals: 5’10″ 178, 24 years old
2011-2012: 82 games played, 23 goals and 43 assists for 66 points
2011-2012 saw a statistical drop off for Patrick Kane, but I don’t think that’s going to last long for the 24 year old with hands of silk. He’s always going to be a guy who plays with the Blackhawks best offensive players (who as a reminder, are really good), and I think some time spent overseas checking out something new might be good for him. I’m not going to jump on the “he’s finally grown up!” bandwagon, but I will drag the “he’s just too good to not succeed” one behind me for as long as I can.
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
Vitals: 6’2″, 184, 19 years old
2012-2013: OHL (Barrie), 30 games played, 22 goals and 27 assists for 47 points
It kills me to show Scheifele love in a group like this given how much his antagonistic, divey-nature annoyed me during the World Juniors, but you can’t deny talent when you see it. There is a ca-raaaaaazy crop of great NHL rookies this season (more on that later today), I just see Scheifele jumping in and making it work. The way Claude Noel is talking, he’s gonna crack the roster, and if I know coach-speak, that’s “don’t put too much pressure on him but give him every opportunity to succeed.” He’s just the type of kid who’ll always find a way to get his stick on a puck for a tip or a rebound, and therefore, he’s just the type who will end up with surprising numbers. The kid can play, and I feel like all the World Junior exposure will have him prepared for The Big Stage.
Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes
Vitals: 5’11″, 193, 20 years old
2011-2012: 64 games played, 20 goals and 24 assists for 44 points
Jeff Skinner is sort of the forgotten about guy on the Hurricanes with their two new “splash” editions, but lest we forget: Kid won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2010-2011 with 31 goals and 32 assists for 63 points, and had injury problems last season. He’s a 20-year old dynamo still playing on his entry-level deal, and with other offensive threats to concern opponents, it’s possible that he won’t be going up against top d-pairings this upcoming season. If he’s healthy the whole way through the season, I think he starts to control NHL games the way he did when he was a junior, when he scored 50 goals and 40 assists in his final OHL season.