The season can’t start without predictions. Most predictions are grounded in some sort of fact and/or analysis. These predictions will not have a shred of empirical evidence to back them. Every prediction that follows is based purely on speculation and gut instinct. Just like last year and the year before. As always, at some point next summer (hopefully very late in June), we’ll review these predictions to see how I did.
Oh, and it should be noted that I accept all responsibilities for these predictions. No other member of the Raw Charge staff has been consulted, in fact most would probably disavow any association, with anything that follows in this post. Please don’t blame them.
Nikita Kucherov will not reach the 100 point mark this season.
It’s not like 100-point seasons are all the rage in the NHL these days. Despite the glut of talent, hitting the century mark is not easy. Since 2013-14 only five players have done it and only Connor McDavid has done it twice.
McDavid has limited offensive help on his team, so in order for Edmonton to succeed he has to score all of the points. Kucherov almost has too much help. While he’s likely to see his name on the scoresheet the majority of the times Steven Stamkos or JT Miller scores, there is still a pretty good second line with Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde and Ondrej Palat to take points away from him.
It’ll be an interesting dynamic with Stamkos on his line. While the numbers show the Lightning captain transitioning to more of a puck distributor it sounds like he wants to get back to scoring goals. Will that lead to Kucherov deferring to him in instances where it would be better if the Russian took the shot? Possibly. When Kucherov goes into a funk it’s usually because he isn’t taking enough shots. He has to be greedy to be good.
Even if he only ends up with 90-95 points, it’ll be a pretty good season for Kucherov and the Lightning. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to hit the 40 goal mark again if he’s healthy all season long.
Slater Koekkoek - more points then healthy scratches
For the third straight season we have a question revolving around Slater Koekkoek and his playing time with the Lightning. The good news is that his playing time and point production has improved over the last two seasons. The bad news is that the actual numbers (29 games in 2016-17 with 4 points and 35 games with 8 points in 2017-18) aren’t world beating.
Koekkoek, now 24-years-old, has passed the threshold of potential prospect. As Hardev mentioned in one of our Slack chats, players in his age bracket “are who they are at this point”. He isn’t going to jump from 8 points and 12 minutes a game to 40 points and 20 minutes a game.
Luckily, the Lightning don’t have to rely on him to do that. Their top four is pretty well stacked. With Andrej Sustr in Anaheim and Jake Dotchin in limbo, he’s no longer in competition for playing time as the seventh defenseman. Having survived the purge, perhaps he can focus on adapting his style of play to what Coach Jon Cooper is looking for out of his defenders. If he does, his playing time should increase and hopefully his production will as well.
Over/Under on Syracuse Crunch players getting called up this season - 3.5
This doesn’t include Mathieu Joseph who made the team out of training camp. Still, there’s a good chance that if Julien BriseBois needs to fill any holes in the roster, he’s going to do it from within. The young players in Syracuse are maturing rapidly as professional hockey players and are on the cusp of being ready.
Alex Volkov had his second strong training camp. Should a top six forward (how you doing Ondrej Palat?) go down at some point, he should be at the top of the speed dial list for BriseBois. The same goes with Erik Cernak, who despite being a tender age of 21, is the closest to NHL ready among the Crunch’s blueline.
The Lightning were reasonably lucky when it comes to injuries last season .With the exception of Palat and Ryan Callahan, the Bolts were pretty healthy. That’s not likely to continue. Luckilym they have some players with NHL experience ready to go. Andy Andrehoff and Gabriel Dumont are ready if the Lightning need some more replacements. Add a quick call up or two to cover the random day-to-day injuries that happen over a long season and the number of players called up could quickly get to four.
Random NHL predictions
Sidney Crosby is no longer the best player in hockey
So, this may have actually happened last season. Last year I argued Sidney Crosby could hold off the young guns for at least one more season. I was wrong. Connor McDavid racked up 108 points and wrestled the title away from Crosby. McDavid is 21 and entering the prime of his career. Should any of his teammates show up this season, he could actually improve on that point total this year. Even if his left wing ends up being a beer vendor, McDavid wins his third straight Art Ross.
Crosby has posted back-to-back 89 point seasons, which isn’t shabby, but somewhat underwhelming for the Penguin. He will once again have Jake Guentzel on his line and the young winger has adapted well alongside the gifted playmaker. Even if Crosby gets back above 90 points, this is no longer his league.
Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc Edouard Vlasic outscore the Ottawa Senators top line
Karlsson racked up 62 points with Ottawa last season while Burns had 67 points and Vlasic had 32 for San Jose. Granted they will siphon off some points from each other playing on the same side of the ice, but the trio should headline one of the most exciting blue lines in a long time.
Meanwhile, the line of Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Bobby Ryan totaled 123 points last season. They may struggle to return to that number this season as the Senators will not be a good hockey team. Heck, that trio might not even finish the season in Ottawa (should they be so lucky) as the team hasn’t been completely burned to the ground yet.
The Big Predictions
The Lightning finish third in the Atlantic
Before you light the torches, I think it’s going to be a brutal fight to the top of the Atlantic this season. The division is top heavy with Tampa Bay, Toronto and Boston head and shoulders above the rest of the teams. Still, with the exception of Ottawa (I hate to pile on, but if Craig Anderson ends up with more than 20 wins on this team, please hand him the Vezina the day the season ends), the other teams in the division all improved or at least stayed the same.
Buffalo added the top draft pick Rasmus Dahlin and actual good prospect Casey Mittelstadt. Florida should have a healthy Jonathan Huberdeau all season and Montreal has real actual centers in their line-up. Detroit isn’t going to scare anyone but have a couple of young players that may be a bit frisky game-to-game.
It’s going to be difficult for the Lightning to repeat their 113 point performance from last year and if they shed 5-10 points, it could be enough for Toronto and Boston to leapfrog them in the standings. They should still make it to the playoffs with no problem and all bets are off if that happens.
No need to go out on a limb. I’m going to go with San Jose and Toronto.