1 – Evgeny Kuznetsov Becomes A Superstar
Ok, so this one isn’t really that bold. Anyone who’s been paying attention saw the lightbulb come on this past spring. A summer spent in DC working hard will pay off in a big way. Look no further than the pre season to see the growth in Kuznetsov’s game. He’s playing with confidence, and he’ll be surrounded by the most talent he’s ever had to work with. The chemistry he’s shown with Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie has not only eased fears of missing Nick Backstrom to begin the season, but it puts new pressure on Backstrom when he returns. Expect a fast start to the season for Kuznetsov playing with the first line, and even perhaps even better all around results with the second line once Backstrom returns. Not having Ovechkin to pass to on the second line would hurt anyones stats, but playing against 2nd line defensive pairings will offset any drop. 30 goals and 70 points will be the breakout season Caps fans have been waiting for since Kuznetsov was drafted.
2 – The Capitals Top Line Will be The Best In The NHL
On paper it’s hard to miss the potential damage an Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line could do. What’s seriously underrated is that with all the firepower of that trio, it’s probably the best defensive line Ovechkin has ever been a part of. Oshie takes the all around play of the line to another level. We’ve already seen in the pre season that you can’t just focus on Ovechkin, or Oshie will burn you. With all due respect to Mike Knuble, Ovechkin and Backstrom are both better players today, and Oshie has a more left in the tank and more raw talent with a willingness to shoot the puck. At the other end of the ice, all three are a threat coming the other way. Ovechkin is better defensively than he’s ever been. Backstrom should be a Selke candidate every year and Oshie’s defense is better than advertised. A handful in the offensive zone, the trio may be even more deadly on the rewind.
3 – T.J. Oshie Will Set A Career High In Goals
How high? 30 goals and 60 points. He’ll hit those numbers because there is no weak point on the first line that allows opponents to lean in any one direction. Take away Ovechkin? Backstrom and Oshie will burn you if Carlson doesn’t from the point. You can expect different teams to take various approaches, but focusing on Oshie seems unlikely given the others on the ice. Worst case he’ll see straight up coverage. On many nights he’ll see space open up as teams try to take away Ovechkin. Add in the boost from playing in front of the net on the best power play in the league, and it all adds up to Oshie having a breakout season.
I’d like to say Carlson can win it, and he will have the numbers to make a serious case, but this is one award where the first is the hardest. The automatic contenders will just be too much to overcome this year. Expect this to be the first of many years as a serious Norris contender.
5 – Braden Holtby Wins His First Vezina Trophy (But Not His Last)
Holtby won’t play 70 games again but 65 is probably a good bet. He’ll have a better defense in front of him with the forward upgrades. He has a year under his belt with goalie guru Mitch Korn and so a faster start is a fair bet. He’ll also have two lines playing in front of him that are the definition of “the best defense is a good offense”. Teams will have to limit the risk taking going the other way, which will reduce the number of quality scoring chances against. It all ads up to a great year with both Holtby and Carey Price in the mix at the end. Unless Price can duplicate or better his last season, if it’s at all close, Holtby gets some added love for his playoff numbers. It’s just a matter of time, but there are a lot of reasons to believe this is the year. He should have been a finalist this past season but his youth worked against him. That won’t happen again!
6 – The Washington Capitals Will Lift The Stanley Cup
After more than 40 years the Capitals will finally win it all. This is the year all of the ghosts of the past will be exorcised once and for all. In 40 years of watching Capital hockey, this is by far the strongest all around team I’ve seen them put on the ice. The top two lines are as good or better than any in hockey, and the 3rd line could easily develop into the best 3rd line in the NHL. The defense is solid top to bottom with a responsible offensive defenseman in every pairing. For the first time in the Ovechkin era, there is no one person we could lose for a month, who would cripple our chances. That will ensure Ovechkin’s quest for another Hart Trophy will be a tall order, there’s just too much talent and depth on this team. There are no weak areas for opponents to focus on and attack. Face-offs were the one area of concern but with the lines Trotz’s has put together in practice, thats been addressed. Moving Jay Beagle to the 3rd line, and using Michael Latta on the 4th, gives the Capitals three strong lines in the circle. Kuznetsov should continue to improve in that area and any limitations there can be masked by limiting defensive zone starts for the 2nd line. Players, coach, system and fans; everything is in place to get the job done!
By Ernie Mudd