Whether they’re returning from injury, looking for a fresh start with a new team or simply seeking redemption, a number of NHL stars are out to prove their worth this season.
Here’s a look at some of the players looking to bounce back in 2019-20:
The 32-year-old left-winger readily admits that things didn’t work out with the Calgary Flames last year. Neal’s seven goals and 12 assists in 63 games was a career-low. The slump followed a full decade of putting up 20-plus goals per season with an array of teams, including the Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights. Now the Whitby, Ont., native is donning yet another jersey after being traded to Edmonton for left-winger Milan Lucic in July. Neal is hoping a change of scenery and playing alongside Oilers talents like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins re-ignites his offensive power.
After spending the first chunk of last season recovering from foot and knee surgery, Weber, 34, is looking forward to starting the year healthy. The Canadiens captain still managed to register 14 goals and 19 assists in 58 games for Montreal last season, but the point total was a far cry from the career-high 56 points the defenceman put up for Nashville in 2013-14.
A lot has changed for the 30-year-old defenceman since he put up a career-low 31 points in Nashville last season. Not only did Subban get engaged to ski racer Lindsey Vonn, he also found himself a new home. In a bid to free up cap space, the Predators dealt the Toronto-born blue liner to the New Jersey Devils in June.
He joins a club stacked with offensive talents, including left-winger Taylor Hall and Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick at this year’s draft. But whether Subban will be able to replicate his career-high 60-point season for the Canadiens in 2014-15 remains to be seen.
Missing the first two months of last season due to prolonged contract talks with the Toronto Maple Leafs seemed to hamper Nylander’s game. The 23-year-old right-winger signed a six-year, US$41.77-million deal on Dec. 1, then finished the year with seven goals and 20 assists in 54 games. This year Nylander will be looking to prove he’s worth the cash — and that should be a real possibility if he plays with Leafs star Auston Matthews, as expected.
The Finnish forward is coming off a disappointing season with the Winnipeg Jets. Laine may have accumulated 50 points in 82 games, but 18 of his 30 goals came in November alone, leaving him struggling through the rest of the year. The 21-year-old right-winger still hasn’t signed a contract for this season so when — or if — he gets back into the Jets lineup is unclear. But when he hits the ice again, Laine will be looking to reproduce his 2017-18 numbers, where he had 70 points in 82 games.
Last season was not kind to the Los Angeles Kings and Kopitar was no exception. The 32-year-old Slovenian centre had 22 goals and 38 assists to lead the club in scoring, but his offensive output was down substantially from 2017-18.
That season saw Kopitar put up 92 points and earn a nomination for the Hart Trophy, handed out annually to the league’s most valuable player. He’ll be looking to recapture some of that magic under the Kings’ new bench boss, Todd McLellan.
Dallas GM Jim Lites publicly ripped into Benn and fellow Stars forward Tyler Seguin last December, saying they “are not good enough.” The criticism came in the midst of a season where Benn had 27 goals and 26 assists in 78 games. The 30-year-old Victoria-born left-winger added another 10 points in the playoffs, but the performance was still well below the 89 points he tallied for Dallas in 2015-16.
He went through something of a sophomore slump with the Arizona Coyotes last year, but a new teammate and big new contract could reinvigorate Keller this season. The 21-year-old right-winger had 14 goals and 33 assists in 82 games last year, down from the 65 points he registered in his rookie campaign. Still, earlier this month Keller signed an eight-year deal with an average annual value of $7.15 million and he could get a boost from forward Phil Kessel, who joined the Coyotes via a trade in June.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press