Welcome back to your yearly NHL season preview. It’s good to be back to give my opinions, analysis, and predictions for the 2021 Stanley Cup! Although teams will play only 56 games, as opposed to the usual 82, all fans are excited to have hockey back on the big screen again.
This year, there is an unconventional format for the league. There are always four divisions; however, this year, conferences were re-configured to fit covid protocol. The North Division consists of all Canadian teams; the Central division consists of mid-western and southeastern teams; the East division tackles the metropolitan north-east, and the West division takes on the west coast and mountain region. Teams are only allowed to play opposing teams in their respective divisions due to travel restrictions between Canada and the United States. Many Canadian fans are raving over the new format because it exacerbates rivalries in the Great North. If you live in Alberta, getting to watch the Flames vs. Oilers seven times will be a treat.
We are a week into the season, and the average team has players about 5-6 games. The Dallas Stars, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, and Tampa Bay Lightning are the only teams to play under five games due to potential covid cases in their organizations.
Two teams leading the league are the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Golden Knights have a respectable record of 5-1, and are at the head of the Western division. The Leafs lead the north division with a 5-2 record. Other intriguing teams are the Tampa Bay Lightning, Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Montreal Canadians, and the Minnesota Wild. The Minnesota Wild have defied many expectations so far, mainly because of new addition Kirill Kaprizov. Kaprizov was a 2015 draft pick for the Wild, but could not come over from Russia until now due to his contract with the KHL. He has been a very anticipated prospect for the Wild, and fans in Minnesota already cannot get enough of him.
With team success comes individual success as well. As of January 24th, Anze Kopitar, Connor McDavid, and Mitch Marner all lead the league stats for the highest point total. Each of the men has 10 points, averaging well over 1 point per game. Mikko Rantanen, Tyler Toffoli, Bo Horvat, and Travis Konecny are all tied for most goals accumulated. This list of top goal scorers is slightly different from last year, which is nice to see as a fan of the game. Islander goalie Semyon Varlamov posts the best save percentage with an outstanding 0.988 SV %.
Jack Hughes is another name that has been receiving a lot of buzz in the media. The 2019 first overall pick had decent point totals last year for a New Jersey Devils team that was below par. He did this while just being eighteen years old. However, this year Hughes is on fire and is proving everyone who criticized him in the past wrong. He already has seven points in just five games, and the Devils are a commendable 3-1-1. On the topic of first overall picks, many Rangers fans are anxiously awaiting for the 2020 first overall pick, Alexis Lafreniere, to score his first point. Lafreniere is just nineteen years old and was an absolute standout four Rimouski of the QMJHL. He posted 35 goals and 77 assists in a mere 52 games. Tonight the Rangers will play NHL veteran Sidney Crosby, who also played for Rimouski of the QMJHL, so it would be nice for Alexis to score his first point against one of his idols.
All in all, this season is going better than I expected it would. Although it is quite early, I love to make predictions for the 2021 Stanley Cup. As of right now, I think it will be a matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning. I think Colorado will make it happen this year if all players are healthy, but then again, last year, I also predicted they would reign victorious. The Vegas Golden Knights also look promising, and I wouldn’t sleep on a team like the Flyers.
By: Julia Marotti’21, Editor-in-Chief