Predictions on breakout NHL stars, Avs' Cup chances, more

ByESPN staff ESPN logo
Saturday, October 8, 2022

Opening night of the 2022-23 NHL season is on Oct. 11, with a doubleheader slated to be broadcast by ESPN: Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers at 7:30 ET, followed by Vegas Golden Knights at Los Angeles Kings at 10 ET.

Although we've learned a lot about all 32 teams throughout the preseason, some lingering questions remain. We've gathered a panel of our reporters and analysts to tackle five of the biggest:

  • What player will take a leap to stardom?
  • Which rookie are you most excited to watch?
  • What has to happen for the Avs to repeat?
  • Which team will disappoint?
  • Which team will be a pleasant surprise?

How to watch the 2022-23 NHL season on ESPN networks -- including 103 exclusive games and over 1,050 games on NHL Power Play on ESPN+.

What player will take a leap to stardom this season?

Ryan S. Clark, NHL reporter: Moritz Seider made a jump last season, scoring 52 points in 82 games en route to winning the Calder Trophy. It's possible he could raise his profile even more with another standout season and potentially attract some Norris Trophy consideration.

Leah Hextall, NHL broadcaster:Fresh off a four-year, $31 million deal, Jason Robertson is motivated and has the ability to repeat and build on his 40-plus goal season in Dallas. He's set to be a star in Dallas and a household hockey name.

Victoria Matiash, NHL analyst: I don't believe we've seen anything near what Lucas Raymond is capable of yet. He leveled out a bit last April, suggesting the gas tank neared empty after a full 82-game season. The 20-year-old will be better prepared, and even more productive, through his second tour on a Detroit top line with center Dylan Larkin.

Arda cal, NHL broadcaster: Jack Hughes. He had some sweet highlight-reel goals last season, including throwing his stick into the crowd after an overtime winner. In terms of on-ice flash, he andTrevor Zegrasseem to be cut from the same cloth, and I'm here for all of it.

Kristen Shilton, NHL reporter: Cole Caufield. The Canadiens' youngster came to life late last season under Martin St. Louis. And there's a big opportunity up for grabs in Montreal's lineup. Caufield has good hands around the net and a great shot; he could light it up this season for a team that needs it.

Greg Wyshynski, NHL reporter: Tim Stützle has been centering Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat during the preseason for the Ottawa Senators, which I imagine is a pretty good spot if you're Tim Stützle. He had 58 points in 79 games last season. This line could be a multiplier.

Which rookie are you most excited to watch?

Clark: Matty Beniers scoring nine points in his first 10 games last season has created expectations he should challenge for the Calder Trophy. Now it is a matter of how he looks over a full 82-game season.

Hextall: Jake Sanderson. The University of North Dakota product is everything you want in an NHL defenseman. He's an elite skater, moves the puck, makes good decisions and is mature beyond his years.

Matiash: Cole Perfetti. Tucked in the Jets' top six, the No. 10 overall pick from 2020 is going to hit 65 points. Goodness knows that team could use such a boost -- productively and emotionally.

cal: Other than Shane Wright vs. the Habs, I'd love to see howJuraj Slafkovskyslots into that Montreal lineup. Does he start the season there, and does he make an immediate impact? He's certainly got the size and hands, along with loads of confidence, even if he's a little inconsistent at times (as expected of a rookie).

Shilton: Mason McTavish. The Anaheim Ducks freshman showed off at the World Juniors in August, earning MVP honors while leading Canada to gold with eight goals and 17 points. He'll bring top-end skill, speed and creativity to a rising Ducks' squad.

Wyshynski: A lot of the rookies listed here sound very exciting, but do any of them hold the very fate of their team in their tender gloves? Logan Thompson could very well determine whether or not the Vegas Golden Knights make the playoffs, with starting goalie Robin Lehner out for the season.

What has to happen for the Avs to repeat -- and how likely do you think it is to happen?

Clark: Finding a consistent second-line center. Nazem Kadri's departure leaves a hole the team believes can be filled internally. If so, then, it solves a major concern. If not, they could be pressed to find the answer elsewhere. Whoever it is, they will play a vital role in the Avs' chances for a consecutive title.

Hextall: To repeat, the Avalanche need to pick up where the team left off and most importantly stay healthy -- which takes a little luck. But the window to win is wide open, and it looks like the Avs will have a good shot. Oh, and Nathan MacKinnon hasn't settled down because he won -- now he wants more.

Matiash: One of Pavel Francouz or Alexandar Georgiev has to run with the starter's gig in net. Someone --J.T. Compheror Alex Newhook or someone else -- has to somewhat replace Nazem Kadri at second-line center. I don't think either happens.

cal: The Avs didn't win the Stanley Cup because of goaltending. But they won. Now that Darcy Kuemper is gone -- just the fourth time in NHL history a starting goalie who won the Cup went to another team that offseason -- they have Pavel Francouz and Alexandar Georgiev. If the goaltending can be good -- not stellar, just good -- the team will be in a fine position to make another Cup run.

Shilton: Colorado needs Newhook to take hold of a second-line center job and Georgiev to enter the best phase of his career. The Avalanche have no reason to be complacent otherwise. With the right retooling, Colorado has a great chance at going back-to-back.

Wyshynski: It's a bit cliché, but locating that previously insatiable hunger to win. It's one thing to use years of motivation as fuel for a Stanley Cup championship run. It's another to conjure that desire for a second straight Cup. Sidney Crosby did it. Victor Hedman did it. Can Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar do it?

Which team is most likely to disappoint?

Clark: The Winnipeg Jets. They have the talent to challenge for at least a wild-card berth. But the same thing could be said about the Vancouver Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights, who also missed the postseason last year. It's possible the Jets could get back into the playoffs. But it is also plausible they could miss out considering the Western Conference appeared to get stronger.

Hextall: The Boston Bruins. Early-season injuries will provide a tough task for new head coach Jim Montgomery. First-line wing Brad Marchand, No. 1 defensemen Charlie McAvoy and top 4 defenseman Matt Grzelcyk will all miss the opening months. The B's will be competitive, but not a contender.

Matiash: The Washington Capitals. Too old and/or too banged up. Alex Ovechkin will score, and newbieDarcy Kuemperwill steal a few, but neither will do enough of either to emerge from what's shaping up to be an even tougher Metropolitan Division this season.

cal: One of the Pittsburgh Penguins or Washington Capitals. It feels like one of these two teams might not make the postseason, which would be a shame for many long-time hockey fans because Sid and Ovi carried the star power of this league for many years. But with many of the same faces, particularly the "band is back together" vibe in Pittsburgh, one has to wonder if Father Time will catch up and if legacy will make room in the postseason for more energetic youth. But hey, if there are two guys that could easily prove someone wrong ...

Shilton: The Minnesota Wild. Did they do anything to improve upon last season's finish? There's talent in Minnesota for sure, but standing pat rarely bodes well in the NHL. It seems like other teams could blow right by the Wild.

Wyshynski: The Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have Bruce Boudreau, a Vezina Trophy-caliber goalie in Thatcher Demko and a strong collection of offensive players. But I don't like their defense. I'm not sold on their depth, and there are at least four teams better than they are in the division. Plus, there's a weird dysfunctionality in that organization, as Boudreau's offseason negotiation signified.

Which team is most likely to surprise in a positive way?

Clark: The Ottawa Senators. Getting Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux further strengthens their top-six options with two productive players. Jake Sanderson could be the latest homegrown talent to represent what makes the Sens' plans so promising. But Cam Talbot's injury does raise questions about how they will manage in net to start the season.

Hextall: The Detroit Red Wings. GM Steve Yzerman went to work in free agency signing David Perron, Andrew Copp, Dominik Kubalik,Ben Chiarot and Olli Maatta, to name a few. He found a solution in net, trading for and signing Ville Husso, who played well for St. Louis. Add this to Detroit's young stars and we could see a big step forward by the Wings under new head coach Derek Lalonde.

Matiash:The Columbus Blue Jackets. Youngsters Kent Johnson and Cole Sillinger are going to make a greater impact sooner than expected. The underrated addition of Erik Gudbranson helps fortify the blue line, and while he's just one player, Johnny Gaudreau is about as dynamic an addition as they come.

cal: The New York Islanders. Last season will prove to be a series of unfortunate events. One of their foundational players, Mathew Barzal, is now inked long-term. Ilya Sorokin is poised to claim his spotlight as a top goaltender in the league. This team has what it takes to prove that last season was an anomaly and remind the league why they made two straight conference finals.

Shilton: The Buffalo Sabres. There's a real sense of optimism around that growing group, from Tage Thompson to Rasmus Dahlin to Alex Tuch. The addition of Eric Comrie in net was a highly underrated offseason move. It seems certain the Sabres won't be an easy out this season.

Wyshynski: The New Jersey Devils. The Devils will make the leap to the playoffs if new assistant coach Andrew Brunette fixes the power play, they finally get competent goaltending, and they aren't crushed by injuries to top players likeJack Hughesagain. I think all of that happens for a young and talented team.

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