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By: Daniel Rebain – NHL/UFC Staff Writer
Do you smell that? That’s the fresh smell of Hockey in the morning. January 13th is the beginning of the 2021 season and there is a lot that will happen in a short period of time. But lets jump into the future a couple of months from now. These are my predictions for what will happen this season, from the four division winners, to the Blitz NHL Award Show and ultimately the Morning Blitz “Pre-Season” Stanley Cup Champion. As Lazlo Holmes would say, “Let’s do that Hockey”.
Division Winners (Each division will have a representative in the Conference Finals)
Honda NHL Western Division: Colorado Avalanche
With only having to worry about two teams, Vegas Golden Knights and St. Louis Blues, the Colorado Avalanche will build off their season in 2019-2020. Returning their core group of players like Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, Nazem Kadri, plus adding to their already solid depth with additions like LW Brandon Saad, D Devon Toews, they will be in the running for the Stanley Cup from the jump. Not to even mention that they get top defensive prospect Bowen Byram for a full season; the Avalanche could easily be the team to win the Presidents Trophy. You add in that with a topline off Gabrial Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen, the Avalanche could be set to have a record-setting year.
Scotia NHL North Division: Edmonton Oilers
Probably the easiest division that we will see this season will most certainly be the North (funny that it is the all Canadian one huh). There’s really only two teams that you can pick to win this division, the Maple Leafs and the Oilers. In this situation, i will take the Oilers. Why you might ask? 4 words, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. We have seen these two take a team that had no business being in the playoffs look like they had a chance, even if it was the slightest of chances. If the Oilers figure out their goalie situation they could make a run. The Oilers strength will be their offense, being able to roll without hesitation is not something all 31 teams can say. Where the Oilers will improve the most is on defense, with the addition of Tyson Barrie to a young defensive core that includes Ethan Bear, Darnell Nurse with the likes of Adam Larsson, the Oilers will most certainly give up less in their own end while scoring more goals themselves.
Discover NHL Central Division: Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning will be without last years Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov, but that will not matter for the defending Stanley Cup champions. With Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, Victor Headmen leading the way, the Lightning will be lead by their depth this season which is the best in the NHL. With no body to really deter them this season, the Lightning will cruise through the Central Division.
Mass Mutual NHL Eastern Division: Philadelphia Flyers
Now the Mass Mutual East Division will most certainly be the toughest to predict this season. Now this might difficult for me to say, but my prediction is that the Philadelphia Flyers will come out of the East. Not much separates the top from the bottom of this division, but what the Flyers have is goaltending and Defense. Carter Hart and the Flyers young defensive core gave up the 8th least amount of goals last season and that will only improve as they get more games together. The team they will be up against will be the Boston Bruins, but Boston lost it’s top defensive pairing and Tuukka Rask is an unknown after leaving the bubble last year early. With so many questions in the back with the B’s, the Flyers will take the division.
Pre-Season Awards Prediction
Stanley Cup Prediction: Colorado Avalanche in 6 games over the Tampa Bay Lightning
Hart Trophy (MVP): Nathan MacKinnon C, Avalanche
MacKinnon might have been overshadowed by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl the past three seasons but that will all change this year. Last season, the Avs had so many problems with injures and still McKinnon was able to drag his team to the playoffs with 93 points (35g, 58a) in 69 games. MacKinnon, who has now recorded 90+ points in each of the last three seasons, has been a Hart finalist in two of those years (18’ & 20’) but lost to the likes of Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl. In last years Playoffs, he led his team to a series win before losing to the eventual Western Conference champs in the Dallas Stars. But he showed everyone what he has been capable of since entering the league back in 13-14 putting up 22 points (8g, 14a) in just 12 games. In 2021 the Avalanche have everyone back and added some much-needed depth in Brandon Saad, Devon Toews, and have top D prospect Bowen Byram for a full year. With a healthy Avalanche team to go with his two line-mates Gabriel Landeskog & Mikko Rantanen, this will be the season where Nathan MacKinnon takes home the Hart, while also leading the Avalanche to the President’s Trophy.
Vezina Trophy (Best Goalie): Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
After having a somewhat down year last season with a 2.56 goals-against average and a .917%, Andrei Vasilevskiy lost the Vezina to Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets. Since Vasilevskiy took over the net from Ben Bishop in 2016-2017, he’s been a workhorse. At just 26 years old, Vasilevskiy is just beginning his prime. Vasilevskiy at 6’3″, 225 pounds, is one of the most mobile goalies in the league. And with his size, Vasilevskiy covers essentially the whole net, and his mobility allows him to cover even more. But it also helps to have one of the best defensive cores in all of the NHL with Victor Headman, Ryan McDonagh, and Mikhail Sergachev leading the way. With all that, signs point to Vasilevskiy winning the Vezina for the second time in three seasons.
Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman): Alex Pietrangelo, Golden Knights
This might be the most under-rated award pick of this whole season and i do not know why he is not getting more press with his move to Vegas but Alex Pietrangelo is my pick to win the Norris. The Norris over the years has kind have turned into “who can score more points as a defensemen” trophy, but Pietrangelo can put up points as well. Over the last four seasons as the captain of the Blues, he put up 40+ points while playing a minimum of 70 games in each. Since 2016-17, Pietrangelo is tied with Columbus’ Zach Werenski for third among all NHL defensemen in goals (58) while averaging nearly 25 minutes of ice time per game. What separates the good defensemen from a Norris winner, is being able to put up numbers while also keeping the puck out of the net. Pietrangelo plays all situations, provides offensive numbers, and plays defense at an exceptional level.
Calder Trophy (Best Rookie): Kirill Kaprizov LW, Wild
Most likely when you hear 2021 Calder Trophy, you are gonna think of Alexis Lafreniere, the #1 overall pick by the Rangers a couple of months ago, and that thinking is not wrong. But this year’s Calder Trophy race has the same feel to it as in 2015. The favorite was the #1 overall pick that season but an undrafted Russian would capture the trophy instead. That Russian’s name was Artiemi Panarin. Panarin was 24 in his rookie campaign, winning the Calder over a guy named CONNOR MCDAVID. The “Bread Man” was able to develop in the KHL for six years before coming to the NHL and putting up 77 points with the Chicago Blackhawks. Kirill Kaprizov is skating down the same path as Panrin did in 15’.
Kaprizov, a fifth-round pick of the Minnesota Wild back in 2015 (ironically enough) has scored 30+ goals in each of his last two seasons in the KHL with CSKA Moskva and put up more than a point per game with 62 points in 57 contests in the second-best league in the world. Kaprizov has the same creative offensive skill set, I.Q and a magnet of a stick, as Panarin did when he came to the NHL. Playing first-line minutes with Zach Parise and Nick Bjugstad while also being on the first power-play unit just stinks of a minimum 60 point season.
Art Ross Trophy (Most Points): Connor McDavid C, Oilers
Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (Most Goals): Mikko Rantanen RW, Avalanche
Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Foward): Anthony Cirelli C, Lightning
Jack Adams Trophy (Best Coach): Jared Bednar, Colorado Avalanche
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