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Fantasy Hockey bold predictions for 2021-22 NHL season

·6 min read
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By Sasha Yodashkin, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

With the puck set to drop on the 2021-22 NHL season in just a few hours, there's still time to sneak in a few bold predictions you can use as you prepare for your last-minute drafts.

Some may come true, some will not, but keep reading below and see which ones you think have a shot ...

Mika Zibanejad will finish top-three in goals

Zibanejad endured horrific shooting luck and was simultaneously getting over a bout of COVID-19 early last season, but he finished the campaign on a tear, potting 21 goals in his final 29 games. That strong finish was reminiscent of Zibanejad's excellent 2019-20 when he ranked fifth league-wide with 41 goals in just 57 games and led all NHL regulars with 0.72 goals per game. With the added peace of mind of having secured an eight-year extension just before the season and surrounded by plenty of talent on an up-and-coming Rangers team, Zibanejad's primed for a massive year.

Patrick Kane will score more goals than Alex DeBrincat

DeBrincat more than doubled Kane's goal total (32-15) in four fewer games last season, but the two Blackhawks wingers could see a reversal in fortunes this year. Kane totaled 77 goals in 151 games over the two prior years and maintained a shooting percentage of at least 12, so he's likely to bounce back from last year's career lows in both goals (15) and shooting percentage (7.9).

DeBrincat, on the other hand, has experienced some wild shooting swings over the past three years, scoring 41 goals on 18.6 percent of his shots, then dipping to 18 goals on 8.7 before bouncing back up to 32 on a career-best 20.6. Maybe 2019-20 will prove to be an outlier and DeBrincat can sustain a conversion rate in the upper teens or low 20s, but even a moderate reversal in puck luck could depress DeBrincat's scoring output significantly — especially if Kane shifts his mindset from setup man back to finisher when they share the ice.

Semyon Varlamov won't reach 20 wins ... again

Neither season went a full 82 games, but Varlamov has failed to reach the 20-win mark in either of his two campaigns with the Islanders. While New York has made deep runs in the playoffs both years thanks to a mix of luck and adherence to Barry Trotz's unexciting but effective system, the Islanders have been mediocre over the long haul of the regular season, finishing fifth in their division in 2019-20 and fourth in 2020-21. Throw in stiff competition for playing time from fellow Russian Ilya Sorokin, who's eyeing the lead role after a strong rookie campaign, and Varlamov's opportunities to stack up wins will remain limited. Varlamov has also been sidelined by lingering soreness throughout the entirety of the preseason, so it's fair to wonder whether he'll be able to put together a healthy season at age 33.

Colorado sweeps the regular-season trophy cabinet

That's a Hart Trophy for Nathan MacKinnon — who by my estimation probably deserves to have at least two on his mantel already yet is still searching for his first — as well as a Norris for Cale Makar as the league's best defenseman and a Vezina for Darcy Kuemper in net. We can even throw in a second consecutive Presidents' Trophy for the league's best record and a Jack Adams for coach Jared Bednar, though that will be the extent of my predicted hardware for the Avalanche (MacKinnon's a candidate for the Art Ross as the league's point leader, but the Rocket Richard is reserved for Zibanejad, per above).

Nathan MacKinnon #29, Mikko Rantanen #96 and Devon Toews #7 of the Colorado Avalanche
Could the Avalanche just run away with everything this season? (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Consequently, MacKinnon will surprise nobody by finishing among the league's most productive forwards, Makar's ready to put together his first full season and eclipse last year's point-per-game pace to lead all defensemen in points, and the oft-injured Kuemper will stay healthy and effective in his first year with the Avalanche while thriving in a workhorse role en route to a league-leading win total.

Jakob Chychrun will lead all defensemen in goals again

The last player to lead all defensemen in goals in consecutive seasons was Brent Burns, who did so with 27 goals in 2015-16 and 29 in 2016-17. Five years later, Chychrun's in a position to repeat that feat, as improbable as it may seem on its face after Arizona's offseason fire sale. No blueliner has exceeded 20 goals since Burns' 29-goal season, and Chychrun was just two shy of reaching the 20-goal mark in last year's 56-game campaign. Some regression from last season's 10.2 shooting percentage is certainly on the table, but Chychrun has topped 8.0 three times in five seasons, so last year's astronomical number (by defenseman standards) was more a product of skill than luck. At just 23 years of age, Chychrun actually has room to improve further and establish himself as a premier blue-line goal-scorer of Burns' ilk, even with a mediocre supporting cast in the desert.

Jake Guentzel will have a career year

Even though he's missing the season-opener after recently testing positive for COVID-19, Guentzel's poised to exceed his diminished expectations for the injury-riddled Penguins, who will be without both Sidney Crosby (wrist) for the first couple weeks and Evgeni Malkin (knee) until at least late November. In fact, the 27-year-old winger's career highs of 40 goals and 76 points from 2018-19 could be within reach. Guentzel has historically thrived when thrust into the spotlight as Pittsburgh's go-to guy, with a 13-18-31 line and plus-12 rating in 26 career games without Crosby, so expect him to perform at a level that's at least commensurate with last year's 23-34-57 production in 56 games.

Alex Barre-Boulet will lead the Kraken in goals

On a Kraken team that lacks established scoring forwards, nobody has been as productive as Barre-Boulet over the past three seasons. There's just one tiny caveat: He's been doing it at the AHL level. With a 69-67-136 line in 144 games for the Syracuse Crunch, the 24-year-old sniper has been the cream of the crop when it comes to AHL production, but he had just three goals in 15 NHL games with Tampa Bay, where he was blocked from prominent scoring roles by the Lightning's glut of talented forwards.

No Nikita Kucherov or Brayden Point is walking through the door in Seattle, however. In fact, fellow Lightning transplant Yanni Gourde is close to the pinnacle of offensive ability found on the Kraken. After being claimed on waivers from the Lightning, Barre-Boulet has the chance to prove that all he's needed was a meaningful opportunity in the NHL.

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