By Sasha Yodashkin, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
The 2021 NHL season is right around the corner, but if you're still doing some last-second research, these predictions can shed light on some untapped upside for certain players, and the potential downside for others.
(Yahoo average draft position and general unlikeliness played a factor in these predictions, for the record).
Anthony Duclair will set a new career high in goals
Duclair lit the lamp a career-high 23 times in 66 games with Ottawa last season despite managing just two goals in his final 29 games. That slump down the stretch likely led to the Senators souring on Duclair, but the separation between the two sides should prove to be a positive for the 25-year-old winger, who landed in a much more fantasy-friendly situation with the Panthers in free agency.
Even with only 56 games on the schedule this season, Duclair should top last year's goal total if he can maintain his current spot on Florida's top line alongside Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Duclair's 21 goals in his first 37 games last year show he has elite sniping ability when he's rolling and few wingers will start the season in a more favorable situation. After all, Barkov and Huberdeau are both elite setup men, having combined for 97 assists last season and 123 helpers the year before.
Kevin Fiala will be a top-10 goal scorer in the NHL this season
While Duclair fizzled in Ottawa, Fiala sizzled down the stretch in Minnesota. Fiala scored 14 goals and 26 points in his last 18 regular-season games before adding three goals and an assist over four playoff contests. Those scoring numbers weren't just the result of a lucky shooting streak, as Fiala had at least four shots on goal in 17 of those 22 games. While he almost certainly won't maintain the pace from last year's finish and score 43 goals in 56 games, the 11th overall selection from the 2014 draft should show that his recent improvement was no fluke and stake his claim among the league's top snipers while playing in the Honda NHL West Division, which features four of the 10 teams that finished below the Wild in the standings last season.
Jake Guentzel will lead the Penguins in points
After potting 40 goals in 2018-19, Guentzel was limited to 39 games last year due to a shoulder injury, but he ranked third on the Penguins with 1.10 points per game, trailing usual suspects Evgeni Malkin (1.35) and Sidney Crosby (1.15). Guentzel has the best chance of the three to stay healthy through this grueling sprint of a season and will need only a small edge in games played to emerge as the Penguins' points leader in 2021 given his success over the past two years. Before last season, the 26-year-old had gone two years without missing a game. Meanwhile, Malkin has missed at least 13 contests in all but one of the last eight seasons, while Crosby played only two more games than Guentzel last year and had wrist surgery in the offseason at age 33.
J.T. Miller will lead the Canucks in scoring (again)
Miller’s 72 points in 69 games edged out Elias Pettersson's 66 points in 68 games to pace the team, and the pair shared the team lead in goals with 27. It's widely assumed that Pettersson will only continue to progress while Miller will stagnate or decline, as evidenced by Pettersson being drafted in the middle of the second round and Miller's going in the late fourth. That doesn't have to be the case, however, as the players had nearly identical campaigns across the board, with Miller posting one more power-play point and three more shots. There was nothing unsustainable about Miller's career-best scoring output, as it was simply the product of moving up to a first-line role after he’d been used in the middle six with the Rangers and Lightning. Furthermore, after never skating more than 17:01 per game in any of his previous seven seasons, Miller was one of 24 forwards who averaged over 20 minutes of ice time last year.
Meanwhile, Pettersson stagnated after scoring 66 points as a rookie with 66 as a sophomore, while Bo Horvat has never topped 61 points and Brock Boeser hasn't been able to stay healthy for a full season. All told, Miller should remain king of the hill when it comes to piling up points in Vancouver. Keep in mind though, that J.T. Miller will reportedly miss Opening Night due to COVID-19 concerns.
Shea Theodore will outscore new teammate Alex Pietrangelo
Pietrangelo just signed a seven-year, $61.6 million contract with Vegas, and while he brings much more than scoring, you’d think it’d be safe to assume a defenseman with an $8.8 million cap hit would lead his team's blue line in points. Well, with Theodore around, that’s not a given at all. Theodore scored 46 points in 71 games to lead Vegas defensemen last season while Pietrangelo racked up 52 points in 70 games with St. Louis, but those totals don't tell the whole story. While the 30-year-old Pietrangelo is a known commodity whose point total routinely tops out in the low 50s, Theodore's still growing his game at age 25. Just look at Theodore's play down the stretch last season, which included seven goals and 13 points in his last 16 regular-season games followed by seven goals and 19 points in 20 postseason contests — that 36-game stretch prorates to a 32-goal, 73-point season. Throw in the fact of Pietrangelo adjusting to life with a new team coupled with the possibility that his ability to play in all situations could lead to an edge in power-play time for Theodore as Vegas looks to keep Pietrangelo fresh, and it wouldn't be all that surprising to see Theodore maintain the mantle of top scorer on the Vegas blue line.
Tyson Barrie will finish top-5 in power-play points among defensemen
Barrie ranked third among defensemen in power-play points with 30 in 2017-18 and tied for fifth with 25 in 2018-19 before dropping to 27th last season with just 12. He just wasn't a good fit in Toronto last year, but the power-play proficiency he showed in Colorado should resurface in Edmonton, where Barrie's slated to work on Edmonton's top unit. The Oilers scored on a league-high 29.5 percent of power-play opportunities last season, and Leon Draisaitl (44) and Connor McDavid (43) were the league's top two finishers in points with the extra man. Oscar Klefbom manned the point on the team's top power-play unit and racked up a career-best 18 points there in 62 games last year, and Barrie should exceed that total given his history of success in such situations.
Tuukka Rask will fail to reach 20 wins
Boston has limited Rask's workload in recent seasons, and the risk of tiring out the goaltender will be even greater given the condensed schedule, so Jaroslav Halak should continue to take a sizable chunk of the playing time. If the workload distribution from the past two seasons (86 starts for Rask, 66 for Halak) remains consistent in 2021, that would mean 32 starts for Rask and 24 for Halak. The last time Rask started fewer than 40 games, he went 19-10-5 in 2012-13, and he could earn even fewer wins in a stacked MassMutual East Division, where every team besides the Devils has realistic playoff aspirations. In addition to dealing with a tougher schedule, Rask will be backstopping a Boston squad that lost captain Zdeno Chara and fourth-leading scorer Torey Krug on the blue line to free agency — not to mention the fact they’ll be without leading scorer David Pastrnak (hip) for the first month of the season.