Predicting NHL Captains for 2022-23

Having the “C” stitched onto a jersey has been a tradition in hockey for over a century. Arguably the biggest honor a team can bestow upon a player, the NHL has had many iconic captains over the years from Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux to Scott Niedermayer and Mark Messier. The modern era has also seen its share of legendary leaders like Sidney Crosby, who has won three Stanley Cups and Steven Stamkos, who has two.

Predicting NHL Captains

Last season saw two long-time captains leave their respective teams in Claude Giroux – who was traded to the Florida Panthers at the trade deadline – and Ryan Getzlaf, who retired after a tremendous 17-season career with the Anaheim Ducks. Five other teams are also without a defacto leader going into the 2022-23 season. As such, here are some predictions on who will be honored with the “C” next.

Anaheim Ducks – Troy Terry

As mentioned, Getzlaf retired from the NHL after 17 seasons that included 282 goals and 1,019 points in 1,157 games – all with the Ducks. Initially drafted 19th overall all the way back in 2003, he currently leads the franchise in points, assists, and games played. Named captain at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, he held the role for 11 seasons – the longest since Paul Kariya, who had it for only five.

Related: Anaheim Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf: Hall of Fame Worthy?

Clearly, whoever takes over the captaincy will have massive shoes to fill. When Getzlaf was named captain in 2010, he was 25 years old and had basically established himself as the leader of the next core after the one led by Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer. Although Selanne was still on the team and would be until he retired in 2014, Getzlaf was handed the “C”, not the franchise’s most exciting player and all-time goalscorer. Could the Ducks go a similar way in 2022-23 and give it to a youngster rather than a veteran? THW’s own Charlie Hiller seems to think so.

“[Troy] Terry has already shown success at every level he’s played, and this season is a big step towards proving it at the highest levels of the sport. Assuming his trajectory continues upward, Terry will prove himself to be a worthy successor to Getzlaf as captain.”

Troy Terry Anaheim Ducks
Troy Terry, Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

While Terry has yet to establish himself as a consistent contributor in the NHL (like Getzlaf did), he has the star power and ability to change the tides with a goal or spectacular play. He also has experience coming through in the clutch as he scored the shootout winner for Team USA at the 2017 World Junior Championship and led University of Denver to a National Championship only a few months later. Last season, he broke out to the tune of 37 goals and 67 points, all while playing on a line with the aforementioned Getzlaf, someone he has looked up to since starting his journey in the NHL. If he can emulate even a fraction of what Getzlaf did for the Ducks, Terry will also go down as a memorable captain as well.

Arizona Coyotes – Clayton Keller

After Shane Doan retired in 2017 following a long tenure in the desert with the “C”, Oliver Ekman-Larsson was given the mantel for the 2018-19 season. Then, after three seasons with it stitched to his chest, the Arizona Coyotes decided to trade him to the Vancouver Canucks in 2021 for a package that included a handful of veterans and a first-round pick that became the dynamic Dylan Guenther.

Related: Canucks: Revisiting the Oliver Ekman-Larsson & Conor Garland Trade

While the Coyotes decided against naming a captain for the 2021-22 season, they might be inclined to do so before the start of 2022-23. Due to the team entering a massive rebuild, veterans are few and far between, so the next player to don the “C” will most likely be someone they want to build the new core around. Enter Clayton Keller.

Selected seventh-overall by the Coyotes in 2016, Keller hit the ground running in his 2017-18 rookie season – at the youthful age of 19, no less – scoring 23 goals and 65 points in 82 games. Naturally, fans thought that was just the beginning of his greatness as he finished third in Calder voting and was named to the Rookie All-Star Team. Unfortunately, the dreaded sophomore slump hit him hard in 2018-19. He ended up with only 14 goals and 47 points and took two more seasons to hit 20 goals again.

Clayton Keller Arizona Coyotes
Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Still only 23 years old, Keller had a coming out party in 2021-22 when he hit a career-high 28 goals and led the Coyotes in scoring and ice-time amongst forwards. He probably would have eclipsed 30 too, if he hadn’t fractured his leg in March and missed the rest of the season. THW’s Haynes Evans believes his game and personality are perfect for what the team needs in their next leader of the pack.

“Keller best embodies what it means to be a captain. The energy he brings to the locker room is unparalleled. He shows up and plays his game, giving his all, while motivating and making the team around him better. He wants to be here. He wants to lead this team through their lengthy rebuild. In Keller, the Coyotes have themselves a bonafide leader”

Buffalo Sabres – Dylan Cozens

The Buffalo Sabres have not had a lot of luck recently with captains as their longest-tenured in the last decade has been Jack Eichel, who held the “C” for three seasons before he was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights in 2021. Before that, it was Craig Rivet, who only had it for two. In fact, the captain who held it the longest was the legendary Gilbert Perreault; splitting the duties with Lindy Ruff and Danny Gare from 1981 to 1987. And still, that was only six years.

Eichel, who took over the captaincy from Brian Gionta in 2018-19 after they went without one in 2017-18, was only 22 at the time. Again, like the Ducks, it’s unclear whether they want to name a veteran to settle the new core down or a youngster who will likely lead it into the next era. For me, even though I seem to be in the minority, Dylan Cozens is my pick to take over the “C” in 2022-23. Yes, he’s younger than Eichel was when he took over, but I believe Cozens’ personality and attitude are better equipped to be named captain at this point in his development.

Dylan Cozens Buffalo Sabres
Dylan Cozens, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Sabres may also share my sentiment as Cozens was their representative for the NHL Media Tour last season over veterans like Kyle Okposo and Jeff Skinner. He also has experience being a leader as he captained the Lethbridge Hurricanes in 2019-20, a season he scored a career-high 38 goals and 85 points, and Team Canada at the 2021 World Juniors, where he led the team in scoring with eight goals and 16 points in seven games en route to a silver medal. On top of that, he shone on the big stage at the 2022 World Championship scoring seven goals and 13 points in 10 games. Long story short, I think he’s ready to take on his next challenge of being a captain in the NHL.

Alternate Predictions: Kyle Okposo or Alex Tuch

“I think Alex Tuch is the most likely next captain for the Sabres. What’s tough is that the team legitimately has like 4 or 5 different guys that are fitting for the role. But Tuch came in and transformed into a team leader almost overnight and his impact was incredibly evident. I think it’ll be him.” – Matthew Morris

Alex Tuch Buffalo Sabres
Alex Tuch, Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

“For the Sabres’ captaincy, the best choice for the coming season is Kyle Okposo. He has been a leader on and off the ice since his arrival in Buffalo and after his bounce-back performance last year he has earned it. Long term, however, the best choice is Dylan Cozens. Giving the captaincy to a young player has hurt this team in the past and making that mistake again would be foolish, so grooming him for another season or two is highly likely. He has all the right tools to be a leader and he’s someone that is clearly respected by his teammates, so he will make an amazing long-term captain.” – Jacob Strozyk

Calgary Flames – Mikael Backlund

Like the Sabres, the Calgary Flames decided not to name a captain for the 2021-22 season after Mark Giordano was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 Expansion Draft. Matthew Tkachuk was believed to be the frontrunner for the job, but that never came to fruition as he was eventually dealt to the Florida Panthers for Jonathan Huberdeau. Another candidate would have likely been Johnny Gaudreau if he had signed a long-term extension, but as Flames fans know, he went a different direction and eventually joined the Columbus Blue Jackets on a seven-year deal.

So, who is left? Well, if the Flames want to go the veteran, been-through-it-all route, the answer has to be Mikael Backlund. Selected 24th overall all the way back in 2007, the now 33-year-old has played his entire 15-season career in Calgary where he has 166 goals and 436 points in 826 games. He currently ranks third on the all-time games played list, and while he can’t touch the goalscorers, he is 14th in points and should eclipse the 500-point mark sometime in the next two seasons. He’s also experienced all the highs and lows of the franchise alongside former captain Giordano and even played four seasons with the legendary Jerome Iginla, who famously wore the “C” for almost a decade.

Mikael Backlund Calgary Flames
Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Basically what I am saying is, that Backlund is ready to go from understudy to the lead role. While Huberdeau has done and said all the right things coming into Calgary, he doesn’t have the experience and finger on the pulse of the franchise that Backlund does. Thus, he’s really the only choice when it comes to who should take up the mantle next. Ryan Gagne, who covers the Flames for The Hockey Writers wholeheartedly agrees.

“Should the Flames management and coaching staff decide to add an extra C to any player’s jersey, it has to be Backlund. Not only does he have the experience, but he has the pedigree to handle the duties of playing in one of the country’s largest hockey markets. Although he is not the same kind of superstar his departed teammates were, he is the type of player others would follow into the trenches. The Battle of Alberta isn’t for the faintest of hearts, and Backlund has seen his fair share of blood, sweat, and tears entrenched in one of the game’s greatest rivalries for over a decade.”

Alternate Prediction – Jonathan Huberdeau

“To me, it’s Huberdeau’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if they wait one more season so he doesn’t have even more additional pressure without first getting comfortable around his teammates and the city, but with the support he has from the fan base already and the commitment he made despite not playing a game with the organization leads me to believe he will be their next captain” – Colton Pankiw

Montreal Canadiens – Nick Suzuki

Another team that recently lost a grizzled veteran leader was the Montreal Canadiens, who unfortunately had to trade away Shea Weber and his contract after it was revealed that he was battling career-threatening injuries to his foot and ankle. Now in the midst of a rebuild, new general manager Kent Hughes is trying to create a new core of players that will eventually get his team back to being perennial playoff contenders. It remains to be seen who will take over the captain’s chair from Weber, but if I was a betting man, it would be 23-year-old Nick Suzuki.

Nick Suzuki Montreal Canadiens
Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Acquired in 2018 from the Vegas Golden Knights along with Tomas Tatar for Max Pacioretty, Suzuki has now established himself as a legitimate top-six center in the NHL since debuting with the team in 2019-20 as a 20-year-old. Despite the team around him imploding and ending up at the bottom of the NHL standings, he set new career highs across the board with 21 goals and 61 points in 82 games. Along with that, he also hit highs in average ice time (20:31), faceoff win percentage (49.6) and powerplay goals (8). Clearly, he’s become a key part of the Canadiens and their ongoing rebuild, so why not make him the captain?

Suzuki is an excellent fit as captain of the Canadiens. He is already the future face of the franchise, is seen as a leader and respected by his peers, and is under contract for the long term with his prime years still ahead of him.

Blain Potvin, The Hockey Writers

While the Canadiens could make another veteran like Brendan Gallagher captain, I agree with Blain that Suzuki is the right choice as Weber’s successor. Gallagher is on the downturn of his career, while Suzuki is just getting started and fits well with the young core that is being built around a system of skill and speed. His strong personality on and off the ice is also perfect for the pressure cooker that is Montreal.

Philadelphia Flyers – Sean Couturier

A common theme in this article is long-time captains retiring or getting traded. That’s exactly what happened in Philadelphia when Giroux was dealt to the Panthers for a package full of draft picks and 23-year-old Owen Tippett. While he does not sit at the top of his team’s leaderboard in goals, he does have the distinction of being only the second Flyer to play at least 1,000 games and record 900 points in the orange and black – behind only Bobby Clarke (1,144 games and 1,210 points).

As it was with Getzlaf, the next captain in Philadelphia will have his work cut out for him, as Giroux hit the 20-goal plateau nine times in his tenure along with a career-high 34 goals and 102 points in 2017-18 becoming only the ninth player to do so in the Flyers’ 55-year existence. So, who is best equipped to attempt the feat? At this point, I would say it is 29-year-old Sean Couturier.

Sean Couturier Philadelphia Flyers
Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Drafted eighth overall by the Flyers in 2011, Couturier has carved out a role in the NHL as a matchup two-way center in the mould of Patrice Bergeron. Granted, he has a long way to go to match Bergeron’s NHL-record five Selke Trophies, four more to be exact, Couturier has all the tools to thrive as a leader in the City of Brotherly Love.

Couturier is the de facto choice as the next captain of the Flyers. He is the longest-tenured player on the roster in addition to the most talented. His experience as an alternate captain and a respected veteran in the dressing room makes him the obvious favorite to take over the vacant captaincy.

Colin Newby, The Hockey Writers

As Colin said, Couturier is now the uber-veteran of the Flyers following the departure of Giroux and is arguably the most talented two-way player they have on the roster right now. He also embodies the characteristics that new head coach John Tortorella loves to see in his players – tough and hard to play against – attributes many of the past captains in Philadelphia have possessed over the years, Clarke and Giroux chief among them.

Seattle Kraken – Jordan Eberle

Only one season into its existence, the Kraken already have a history of captains. With Giordano now in Toronto, who served as the captain for only 55 games, Seattle is in the market for another player to take the helm. On a team with only an 82-game log book, the criteria will come down to either a veteran of the NHL or a rookie that they are looking to lead the still-developing core into the future. As of right now, it will probably be the former – at least until 19-year-old, Matty Beniers is ready for the weight of it.

If that’s the case, which veteran will they choose? I think it will come down to three players, Jordan Eberle, Adam Larsson or Brandon Tanev. If they want to go with an intense, emotional leader, Tanev is without a doubt the guy. A player that will come through in the clutch and possibly be the difference maker in a playoff series? Well, that’s clearly Eberle. Finally, a veteran who has been through the pressure of succeeding as a top-five draft pick? That’s Larsson. All in all, each of them has the attributes of a future captain. But if it came down to it, I would probably have to choose Eberle at this point.

Jordan Eberle Seattle Kraken
Jordan Eberle, Seattle Kraken (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Now a proud member of the 500-point club, Eberle has been in the NHL for 12 seasons and has been a consistent scorer since he entered the league in 2010-11 with the Edmonton Oilers. In fact, he has never seen a campaign without double-digits in the goal column, recording seven 20-goal seasons in that time. Even on a team that struggled to put up offence in 2021-22, he still put together 21 goals and 44 points, which was the most since he scored 25 in 2017-18. He is also no stranger to clutch goals and producing in the playoffs, something that great captains are always proficient at.

It started early for Eberle when he scored the game-tying goal in the waning seconds of the 2009 World Junior Semifinals to keep his country’s hopes alive in a tournament that they eventually won gold. If that wasn’t enough, he also scored the game-deciding goal in the shootout. If that isn’t clutch, I don’t know what is.

While Eberle has yet to play in a Stanley Cup Final, it hasn’t been for lack of trying as he was a key player for the New York Islanders in their two runs to the Eastern Conference Final in 2020 and 2021. In total, he has 13 goals and 36 points in 62 playoff games spread over four years between the Islanders and Oilers. If the Kraken end up making it to the playoffs in the next couple of seasons, look for him to be front and center. His ability to come through in the clutch alone makes him the right choice to be the second captain in franchise history.

Alternate Prediction – Adam Larsson

“I think Beniers will one day captain the Kraken, but unlike other young, high-drafted prospects, that day is not today. It would be a veteran, like Eberle or Larsson. They’re both under contract for at least the next two years, and both have held leadership roles for teams before including serving as alternate captains during the Kraken’s inaugural season. If I had to pick one, I think it would be Larsson.” – Sean Raggio, The Hockey Writers

Several NHL Teams Might Not Have a Captain in 2022-23

As you can see there are several worthy candidates to take over the “C” for the seven aforementioned teams. While some will get filled in the coming weeks, others might stay vacant for the 2022-23 season and beyond as the Sabres and Flames rotated alternate captains throughout 2021-22. We will just have to wait and see which players will end up receiving the distinction as the clock ticks down to opening night on Oct. 11.