The 2019-20 NHL season is fast approaching. Oct. 2 is right around the corner and the countdown to puck drop is on. Ahead of another exciting NHL season, everyone is looking forward to watching their team hit the ice. It’s been a busy offseason, resulting in different outlooks for the league’s 31 clubs.
On each team, there are certain players that have a great deal of anticipation behind them as teams get ready to play. Whether they are new to the team or are new to the organization with a lot of pressure on them. In this piece, we’re going to take a look at one player on each NHL team that fans are most anticipated to watch this season.
Of course, as fans, you might not agree with every decision below. Be sure to leave a comment at the bottom of the page with your choice for the most anticipated player to watch for each NHL team.
Anaheim Ducks: John Gibson
One of the best goaltenders in the world is playing down in California, even if he doesn’t get recognized for it. In the NHL’s annual goaltender ranking, Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson came in at number 10. Twitter and the hockey world took immediate offence to this, which is definitely justified.
Gibson is coming off of a season behind a bad team but still managed to put together a respectable stat line. He went 26-22-8 with a 2.84 goals-against average (GAA) and a .917 save percentage (SV%). Both are below his career average, and while I think he could bounce back, the Ducks are in a tough spot right now. Still, he’ll look to prove his number 10 ranking wrong.
Arizona Coyotes: Phil Kessel
One of the bigger trades in the offseason, the Arizona Coyotes landed sniper Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins. The former Penguin comes in just four games shy of 1,000 for his career and is one of the biggest acquisitions in recent memory in the desert. There are some young guys to also be excited about, like Clayton Keller and possibly Barrett Hayton. But Kessel takes the title.
In 2018-19, Kessel potted 27 goals and added 55 assists for 82 points. That includes 36 points on the powerplay, so the 2006 fifth-overall pick will be contributing on the man advantage as well.
Boston Bruins: Charlie McAvoy
Boston Bruins star defenseman Charlie McAvoy is now re-signed and fans are excited to watch the young player hit the ice. He’s locked up for the next three years with a $14.7 million contract.
Related: Bruins Re-Sign McAvoy
McAvoy is coming off of a seven-goal, 28-point performance in 2018-19 and he added two goals and eight points in the Bruins playoff run. He played just 54 games last season, so seeing him get more games under his belt this season should see those numbers rise tremendously.
Buffalo Sabres: Rasmus Dahlin
The Buffalo Sabres first-overall selection in the 2018 NHL Draft didn’t waste any time. Rasmus Dahlin went from the draft straight into the NHL and had an extremely successful rookie season. He ended up playing all 82 games, putting up solid numbers including nine goals and 35 assists for 44 points.
For his stellar rookie season, he finished third in Calder Trophy voting. The Sabres are looking like an improved team in 2019-20 and the development and rise of Dahlin will be a large part of any success they have this season and in upcoming years.
Calgary Flames: Johnny Gaudreau
The Calgary Flames have a special player in Johnny Gaudreau, and he stepped it up last season setting career-highs in goals (36), assists (63), and points (99). He finished one point short of 100 and you have to know he’ll be coming back looking for that extra point in 2019-20.
What should really get Flames fans excited for “Johnny Hockey,” is that fact that on top of receiving votes for the Lady Byng Trophy for the fifth season in a row, he also finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting as MVP of the league. With a season like Gaudreau had, it’s likely he’s going to come out looking for an even better season.
Carolina Hurricanes: Sebastian Aho
Despite signing an offer sheet with the Montreal Canadiens this offseason, Sebastian Aho is back with the Carolina Hurricanes. The team shocked many in the 2019 NHL Playoffs, and Aho was a big part of that and their regular-season success. He potted 30 goals and 83 points, adding another five goals and 12 points in the playoffs.
Aho will be on a mission in 2019-20 to prove that the past is the past, leaving the offer sheet drama behind him. He finished top-10 in Hart Trophy voting last season in just his third campaign in the league. He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in his fourth season.
Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane
Just when you think you’ve seen Patrick Kane do it all, he comes out flying in 2018-19 and sets a new career-high in points in his 12th NHL season. He piled up 44 goals and 110 points, beating his 2015-16 Art Ross-winning total of 106 points.
Kane finished third in points, and as the two right before him on this list, finished in the top-10 for Hart Trophy consideration. Despite his lengthy NHL career to date, the winger is just 30 years old, so it’s not out of the question for him to duplicate last season’s performance.
Colorado Avalanche: Cale Makar
If you followed the 2019 NHL Playoffs, Cale Makar is a name you know. The 2018-19 Hobey Baker winner (the top NCAA player) made his NHL debut in Game 3 of the Colorado Avalanche’s round one matchup against the Flames. Makar didn’t waste any time, scoring his first goal on his very first shot.
He went on to collect another five assists, bringing his total to six points in 10 playoffs games. As one of the top prospects in the entire NHL, Makar brings a ton of excitement with him from across the league. He should be a full-time NHLer this season, with fans everywhere watching.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Seth Jones
After a breakout season in 2017-18, Seth Jones slightly regressed on his stat line in 2018-19. In 2017-18, he finished with career-highs in goals (16), assists (41), and points (57). Last season, he dropped in every category with nine goals, 37 assists, and 46 points.
However, he was also just named the fifth-best defenseman in the NHL – by the NHL. With that lofty ranking and not a great season in 2018-19, how will the defender stack up in 2019-20?
Dallas Stars: Miro Heiskanen
Speaking of that NHL top-20 list, Dallas Stars’ defender Miro Heiskanen came in at number 17 – after just one season in the NHL. Of course, he definitely stood out in his rookie season and finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting. That being said, that’s a lot of pressure on the young player. How will he hold up under it?
The 2018-19 season saw him collect 12 goals and 33 points in all 82 regular-season games. He also played an impressive average of 23:07 per game – nearly two minutes more the nearest rookie (Dahlin). His goal total led all defensive rookies, and his points were second to the Sabres’ Dahlin.
Detroit Red Wings: Dylan Larkin
The Detroit Red Wings haven’t been in a great place the last couple of seasons, but the young core of the future is starting to come together and it’s led by Dylan Larkin. He’s likely the future captain of the team and although he’s just 23 years old, he has four seasons under his belt.
In 2018-19, Larkin game into his own as a goal scorer. He put up 32 goals – the best since scoring 23 in his rookie campaign and doubling the year before. He added 41 assists and a career-high 73 points to his stat line. Could he set new records this season?
Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid
When you’re the best player in the world, the entire league can’t wait to see what you’re going to do next. That’s the case for Edmonton Oilers’ captain Connor McDavid. In four seasons he already has a Hart Trophy, two Lester B. Pearson Awards and two Art Ross Trophies. Yeah, the anticipation is building.
McDavid is coming off of his third straight season hitting the 100-point mark, putting up a career-high 116 points. He tied his high in goals with 41 and set a new one with 75 assists. Could he pass these marks again and, more importantly, can he help the Oilers back to the playoffs?
Florida Panthers: Sergei Bobrovsky
In one of the biggest free agents signings of the 2019 offseason, the Florida Panthers signed goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to a massive seven-year, $81.5 million deal. Now, fans wait to see how he performs in his new jersey.
Bobrovsky is one of the best goalies in the league and is coming off of a season with the Columbus Blue Jackets where he started 61 games, going 37-24-1 with a .913 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.58 GAA. The two-time Vezina winner has a ton of pressure to succeed in Florida.
Los Angeles Kings: Drew Doughty
Drew Doughty was at one time arguably the best defender in the NHL. His ranking has certainly dropped, even the NHL put him as the ninth-best d-man. Could he bounce back in 2019-20?
Last season was not good for the defender. He finished with eight goals and 37 assists for 45 points. After receiving votes for the Norris Trophy six years straight, he did not receive any this past year. He also had the worst plus/minus of his career (minus-34) and Corsi for percentage (47.5) – the only time in his 11-year career that he’s finished below a 50 percent.
Minnesota Wild: Mats Zuccarello
One of the newest members of the Minnesota Wild is Mats Zuccarello. The veteran signed with the team as a free agent after being traded from the New York Rangers to the Stars in the 2018-19 season. The signing was questionable as the Wild aren’t considered a contender, but there’s still anticipation to see him hit the ice.
Last season, Zuccarello played just 48 games, collecting 12 goals, 28 assists and 40 points. In the last five seasons, he’s eclipsed 50 points four times (finishing with 49 in 2014-15) and even hit 60 points in 2015-16.
Montreal Canadiens: Jesperi Kotkaniemi
After a stellar rookie season, Jesperi Kotkaniemi will look to take a big step forward with the Montreal Canadiens in 2019-20. The young centreman finished his first season with 11 goals, 23 assists and 34 points. As he enters his second season he should get more ice time and see these totals rise.
What’s even more impressive is that Kotkaniemi finished his rookie season with a Corsi for percentage of 57 percent. Expect a very big step forward from the sophomore in 2019-20 as he looks to lead the youth movement in Montreal.
Nashville Predators: Matt Duchene
After years of speculation, the Nashville Predators and Matt Duchene found each other. In one of the biggest free-agent signings of the offseason, the Predators brought the star player in on a seven-year, $56 million deal.
Duchene is coming off of the best season of his career, split between the Ottawa Senators and the Columbus Blue Jackets, putting up a career-high in goals (31) and tying it in points (70). Could he be the missing piece that will get the Predators their Stanley Cup?
New Jersey Devils: Jack Hughes
Whenever a first-overall pick hits the league, there’s going to be excitement. The New Jersey Devils selected Jack Hughes at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, and he’ll be making the jump straight from the USNTDP to the NHL. Not only will he become a full-time player, but he’ll be in the running for the Calder Trophy.
He’s one of the best prospects in the league, with just about everything you’d want in a prospect from elite skating, high-end puck control, great playmaking ability, and he can score.
New York Islanders: Matthew Barzal
With two seasons under his belt, Matthew Barzal has made a name for himself as the leader of the New York Islanders. His performance dipped in 2018-19 from the season prior (85 points to 62), but I’d expect that number to trend back up this season.
The Calder winner in 2017-18 showed what he was capable of in the 2019 NHL Playoffs, scoring two goals and seven points in the eight games played. The Islanders will look to take a step forward this season, and Barzal will need to be a big part of that.
New York Rangers: Kaapo Kakko
Similar to Hughes, Kaapo Kakko is ready to take the NHL by storm. The number two pick in June’s draft has all of the tools to step into New York Rangers lineup and make a serious impact. He very easily could have been the number one overall pick and now he’ll be out to prove why.
The Rangers are one of the team’s with the most anticipation around them, with many newcomers and rookie look to make a difference this season. Kakko will be the leader among them and should bring the most excitement to the team.
Ottawa Senators: Brady Tkachuk
The Ottawa Senators finished the 2018-19 season at the bottom of the league and it’s very likely they’ll be near it again in 2019-20. However, last season started a youth movement that will continue this season. Brady Tkachuk is one of those who has the potential to take a big step forward this season.
In his rookie season, he made the jump from university to the NHL and finished with 22 goals, 23 assists, and 45 points. Those are solid numbers for a rookie, let alone a rookie on the Senators. I’d expect Tkachuk to take a big leap forward this season, and further cement his role as a fan favourite.
Philadelphia Flyers: Carter Hart
Being thrown into the NHL isn’t easy, especially for a young goaltender. Well, that’s exactly what happened with Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Carter Hart, except he stole the reins and ran with it. He’s now the surefire number one netminder and will continue to improve this season as he develops and gets even more used to the league.
In 2018-19, Hart played in 31 games, collecting a record of 16-13-1. He added a .917 SV% and a 2.83 GAA to his rookie stat line. With the team, especially defence, improved in front of him, all of those numbers should improve in 2019-20.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby
Just when you think Sidney Crosby might not be as good as he once was, he’ll burn you quickly. The face of the Penguins came out last season and hit the 100-point mark for the sixth time in his career, but first since 2013-14. While McDavid may have taken the “best player in the world” title, Crosby is still proving why he held that distinction.
With his trophy cabinet full of just about every award imaginable, he’s not done yet. Last season, he received votes for the Lady Byng Trophy, the Selke Trophy, and finished second in Hart Trophy voting. He’s just 32 years old and will be looking to add to his collection this season.
San Jose Sharks: Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson is coming off of his first season with the San Jose Sharks, and it didn’t exactly go as planned. He played just 53 games due to injuries, scoring three goals (the lowest of his career) and 45 points. In 2012-13, he played just 17 games, yet had six goals. The 45 points are his lowest total since that point as well (14 points).
He stepped up in the playoff though, scoring two goals and 14 assists for 16 points in 19 games. He was clutch when they needed him and he was rewarded with an eight-year, $92 million contract. If he can stay healthy, could he maintain his playoff pace through the regular season?
St. Louis Blues: Jordan Binnington
In a similar situation to the Flyers’ Hart, Jordan Binnington was thrust into the St. Louis Blues’ spotlight and absolutely ran with it. Taking over the net with the team sitting last place in the league, you may have heard that they ended up winning the Stanley Cup. That was in no small part due to the play of Binnington.
Related: Blues Re-Sign Goaltender Binnington
He played 32 games, going 24-5-1 and rounding out his stat line with a .927 SV%, a 1.89 GAA, and five shutouts. He was rewarded for his season with a two-year, $4.4 million contract. The important question now is: can Binnington repeat his spectacular season?
Tampa Bay Lightning: Nikita Kucherov
After a season where Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Nikita Kucherov collected 41 goals, 87 assists and 128 points, it’s safe to say that expectations are high for the Russian player. The anticipation is growing amongst Bolts fans as they as themselves: can he do it again?
Kucherov won the Hart Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy, and the Lester B. Pearson Award. He beat his career-high for points by 28 points. He had an absolutely spectacular season and now the pressure will be on to replicate his impressive year.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Mitch Marner
Mitch Marner is a name that hockey fans are probably sick of at this point after controlling most of the NHL media during the 2019 offseason. Marner recently re-signed a six-year, $65.358 million deal and now he’ll need to prove that it was worth it for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He’s coming off of a career-high season in all major statistics. He put up 26 goals, 68 assists, and 94 points. This is a 25-point difference over his previous career-high from the season before. So, like many others on this list – can he do it again?
Vancouver Canucks: Elias Pettersson
In 2018-19, Elias Pettersson led the Vancouver Canucks and all rookies in the league right from opening night. He put up 28 goals, 38 points and 66 points in 71 games, winning the Calder Trophy and bringing endless excitement to Canucks’ Nation.
Now entering his second season, the Canucks look like they have a stronger lineup and Pettersson should see his numbers grow across the board. There’s a youth movement taking place in British Columbia, and Pettersson has cemented his spot as the face of it.
Vegas Golden Knights: Mark Stone
The Vegas Golden Knights acquired Mark Stone from the Senators at the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline. He didn’t put up the point pace he did in Ottawa, but that changed quickly come playoff time. Stone finished the season with 33 goals, 40 assists and 73 points in 77 games – his goals and points setting new career-highs.
In the playoffs with the Golden Knights, Stone scored six goals, added six assists for 12 points in just seven games. It’s safe to say he settled in. He’s extended for the next eight years and with a full season on his new team, it’s very possible that he sets new highs for himself.
Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin
The 2019-20 season will be an important one for Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin. Entering the season, he has eight 50-goal campaigns under his belt – including 2018-19. That’s just one back of Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy’s records of nine seasons scoring at least 50. Can he repeat?
Ovechkin has become one of the deadliest goal-scorers of all time and should jump up the record books this season. All eyes are now on Gretzky’s goals record of 894, which could be within Ovi’s grasp. A ninth 50-goal finish would go a long way to help that.
Winnipeg Jets: Patrik Laine
While Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets have yet to reach a contract, there’s a lot of anticipation around the restricted free agent. There’s no questioning his skill, but his consistency has been called into question. In his first three seasons, he’s hit at least 30 goals and 50 points, but 2018-19 had the lowest totals of his young career.
In 82 games, he scored 30 goals, adding 20 assists for 50 points. That was a 20-point drop from the year prior, and even 14 less than his rookie season. Even his goals dropped by 14 for last season. The big questions around Laine are when will he sign, and can he start trending back up?
What player can you not wait to see hit the ice for the 2019-20 regular season? Leave a comment below!
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.