Summer is the land of preseason predictions and since we recently looked back at the hits and misses of last year, it’s time to send out a fresh batch of new ones for the upcoming season.
Many of these are a bit bold and reaching, because “Matt Murray has a good but not great year” doesn’t really have the sizzle of...
#1 Matt Murray, Vezina finalist
Go big or go home, right? Murray was one of the league’s best from December 15th on last season.
Now all he has to do is stay healthy and keep it up. In a contract year for Murr, bet on him being focused and dialed in. Not saying he will start 65+ games to get this honor — after all, the three Vezina finalists last year started just 43, 45 and 53 games.
So this prediction ISN’T saying Murray will be an iron man or totally injury-free, it’s more centered around performance than health.
#2 Malkin’s awaited “bounce back” season will be somewhat unsatisfying
This one stings to say, but time comes for us all. Evgeni Malkin is now 33 years old. He’s not quite the player he once was. While it’s easy to see him having a more fulfilling and better 2019-20 than he did in 2018-19 (it would be difficult to have a worse one), it’s going to be a measured improvement. The days of scoring 50 goals or winning scoring titles are likely over for Malkin.
It’s tough to bet against greatness and Malkin might prove to be fully motivated to demonstrate why he truly is one of the best players of this generation from an organization that wasn’t fully publicly committed to him this summer.
There’s also the availability issue being as Malkin has played: 68, 78, 62, 57 and 69 games in the last five years. It’s tough to have a really transcendent type of bounce back and play to full potential (which is vast!) when missing 10-20 games most seasons. Players don’t get healthier as they get older.
So we’ll go a round prediction of 65 games, 30 goals, 40 assists for Malkin. A great year for most of the league, but just more of a “meh” for Geno.
The real key will be Malkin improves heavily in 2019-20 over some very poor metrics in team Goals For/60 (2.71) to Goals Against/60 (2.83) at 5v5. There’s no reason he should be a negative like that, and he won’t be in 2019-20 which will be more important than the boxcar numbers he ends up with.
#3 Gudbranson regresses hard
Erik Gudbranson truly made a good impression in Pittsburgh. What was a train-wreck of a defender in Vancouver and Florida actually, and instantly, became a passable third player player. Limited in skill and moving the puck but able to surprisingly suppress chances and goals against.
2019-20 won’t be so kind. Gudbranson will revert back towards old form. It seems easy to predict being as initial signs are the team wants Marcus Pettersson to grow into a second pair player (and they should he was great!). But this leaves Gudbranson in the lurch, who will prop him up? Juuso Riikola? Nope, not based on his play. Jack Jhahahaha ok can’t even say that and let’s not think about it until we have to.
Gudbranson may not be one of the truly worst defenders in the league, but his past performance says it is a real possibility. What he won’t be is coming anywhere close to the metrics he put up in his short stint in Pittsburgh last year — a 54.7% CorsiFor, 1.51 GA/60, 58.4% Scoring Chances For%, 52.9 Goals For%.
That’s the easy prediction. The win or loss for Gudbranson will be just how much does he regress?
(via natural stat trick)
Seeing just how much he can (or can’t) hold the numbers will be interesting to watch, especially if/when Pens’ goalies aren’t stopping .946% of the shots while he’s on the ice.
The regression monster is coming for Gudbranson.
#4 A young forward shines in a big way
With Phil Kessel gone, it’s going to be someone’s turn to step up. Whether that’s Alex Galchenyuk, Jared McCann, Dominik Kahun or even Dominik Simon, the Pens are going to have a young winger who does better than expected.
And by that I mean 40+ points (or 55+ in Galchenyuk’s case).
Now all of them can’t score that much, only so many points to go around, but I think there’s a player out there who will catch lightning in a bottle and get a chance to really make the most of it.
Identifying who that will be is a challenge, because there are a ton of candidates for the Pens this year. Sort of exciting to have a lot of unsettled spots on the team, but no shortage of players to vie for the spots.
To be bold and make a call, this will be the year Simon puts it together and not only tips the ice in the Pens’ favor, but starts to get some points out of it too. Not saying he’s scoring 25+ or going to be an All-Star or the next Jake Guentzel, but by the end of the year watch him have about 15 goals, 28 assists and a firm grip on an important roster spot.
If not Simon, it will be someone though. McCann will likely be the popular breakout player, and perhaps the correct one!
#5 Pens make the playoffs
Maybe at this point 13 years in a row of making the playoffs that it’s inertia. A body in motion will stay in motion and all that. So our prediction is the Pens will get to the playoffs again next spring.
The division is improved and interesting. However, while the upgrades and new faces are spurring a lot of optimism right now, there’s still some questionable areas if you look for them for just about every team.
The Devils have real questions in net. Ditto everyone’s new darling upstart team in Carolina — Petr Mrazek is notoriously streaky and asking James Reimer to replace a sneakily good year from Curtis McElhinney feels like very a overlooked and wishful major issue at this point.
The Islanders lost Robin Lehner and still don’t have a lot of appreciable offensive threats. They have good team defense, effort, buy-in and coaching — but also a lot of smoke and mirrors.
Philadelphia and the Rangers both are mish-mashed pieces of youth and talent, neither fully rebuilding, nor fully ready to contend with a philosophy stuck somewhere in the middle. That’s usually not a good sign.
Columbus went all in last year and busted when Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky skated away in free agency, they have no business being players this season. (Doesn’t mean they can’t be, just means it shouldn’t be expected).
Pittsburgh has a better roster talent, depth, coaching, goalie combination than these teams right now. Could any finish above them? Sure it’s a league of parity and practically anything could happen in the NHL today. 12 months ago no one was calling for the Islanders to make the playoffs and they did.
But until something changes, pick Washington and the Penguins to finish at the top of the Metro. Both should be locks to make the playoffs in 2020 in a competitive division.