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Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News previews the NHL season with a look at the top players, championship contenders and more.

Top 3 Hart Trophy candidates

Connor McDavid, Edmonton – McDavid had a real good preseason, proof he wants to erase the Oilers’ misery from last year. He should solidify his standing as the NHL’s best player.

Auston Matthews, Toronto – Another player who looked awesome in the preseason, he has the pieces around him to dominate.

Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg – On a loaded Jets team, Scheifele is the heart and soul, one of the best all-around centers in the NHL.

More: Ted Kulfan's team-by-team NHL preview

More: Five things the Red Wings need to make the playoffs

Top 5 West forwards

Connor McDavid, Edmonton – It’s generally agreed he’s passed Sidney Crosby as NHL’s best player.

Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg – Was dominant in the playoffs last spring, taking Winnipeg to the Final Four.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado – Practically carried the Avalanche on his shoulders and into the playoffs last season.

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles – Another big, strong center who carried his team for long stretches last season.

Patrik Laine, Winnipeg – He possesses one of the best shots in the NHL.

Top 5 East forwards

Auston Matthews, Toronto – Matthews and John Tavares as teammates? Should be fun to watch.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh – Age (31) isn’t slowing him down. Who would you rather have in the playoffs but Crosby?

John Tavares, Toronto – Tavares goes home to Toronto, and many fans will get to see how truly good he is, now that he’s off the Islanders.  

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh – Like Crosby, age (32) doesn’t appear to be diminishing the talent of this premier player.  

Taylor Hall, New Jersey – Hall had a breakthrough season, and the best could still be on the horizon.

Top 5 West defensemen

Erik Karlsson, San Jose – Away from the circus in Ottawa, Karlsson should return to his Norris Trophy-winning ways.

Brent Burns, San Jose – Can you imagine Burns and Karlsson on the same team, and the same power play?

P.K. Subban, Nashville – He’s been exactly what the Predators hoped for, and more. Prolific on the power play.

Drew Doughty, Los Angeles – The Kings made a wise move tying up Doughty through 2026-27.

Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg – He’s a bit hidden playing in Winnipeg, but Byfuglien is a genuine force.

Top 5 East defensemen

Victor Hedman, Tampa – Finally earned a Norris last season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him win another in his career.

Seth Jones, Columbus – Growing into a multi-faceted star on an improving Blue Jackets roster.

Zach Werenski, Columbus – The Grosse Pointe native and former Michigan star is quickly rising to the elite of the NHL.

Aaron Ekblad, Florida – One of the central pieces on a rapidly-improving Panthers roster.

John Carlson, Washington – Showed his worth last spring, helping lead the Capitals to a Stanley Cup victory.

Top 5 West goalies

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles – Quick’s athleticism still stands out among the top goalies in the league.

Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg – The Commerce Township native gives the Jets plenty of confidence with his calmness in net.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas – Reclaimed his spot among the NHL’s best with a sensational season for the Golden Knights.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville – Still an imposing figure, no doubt, but he needs to take this Predators’ roster deep into the playoffs.

Martin Jones, San Jose – You rarely hear about Jones being in a slump or giving up many bad goals. Just a consistent figure at such an important position.

Top 5 East goalies

Carey Price, Montreal – Still one of the best in the world, but Price has work to do erasing last year’s ugly season.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus – It’ll be interesting to see how the pending free agent handles all the talk about where he’ll be next year.

Braden Holtby, Washington – Always on the outside of the discussion, it was nice to see Holtby get much of the credit for the Capitals’ Stanley Cup victory.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa – It was astonishing how good Vasilevskiy was at times last season.

Henrik Lundqvist, N.Y. Rangers  – He’s not on a playoff team anymore, but that doesn’t diminish Lundqvist’s value.

Top 3 rookies

Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo – Should we award the Calder Trophy to Dahlin already? Showed in the preseason all the hype was warranted.

Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina – Svechnikov is going to be a dangerous goal-scorer for the improving Hurricanes.

Elias Pettersson, Vancouver – There’s plenty of hype around this rangy, lanky center, who’ll step into a top-six role on the rebuilding Canucks.

5 coaches on the hot seat

Randy Carlyle, Anaheim – At some point this season the Ducks might need a boost, and going away from the crusty Carlyle could do them good.

Joel Quenneville, Chicago – It would be shocking in-season, but after the Blackhawks miss the playoffs, a shake-up could be in order.

Guy Boucher, Ottawa – Not necessarily Boucher’s fault, but the Senators are a mess and they might as well bring in a new coach for this massive deconstruction.

Todd McLellan, Edmonton – If the Oilers miss the playoffs, McLellan and GM Peter Chiarelli are both likely to begin searching the help wanted ads.

Bruce Boudreau, Minnesota – There’s a sense the Wild have gone as far as they can under Boudreau.

5 championship contenders

Pittsburgh – The Penguins are refreshed, and there’s more than enough talent to win one more Stanley Cup.

Tampa Bay – One of these years this talented roster is going to win a Stanley Cup.

Toronto – Never mind defense, the Leafs could simply outscore teams on their way to a Stanley Cup.

Winnipeg – The maturing Jets appear ready to take that final step.

San Jose – The Sharks seem on the brink of winning their first Stanley Cup.

3 dark horses

Boston – Difficult to call the Bruins a dark horse, but they might be the third-best team in the Atlantic.

Nashville – Same with the Predators – they’re awfully good, but might not make it out of first round.

Vegas – Won’t sneak up on teams again this season. The Golden Knights are deep and maybe even stronger.

5 bottom feeders

Ottawa – It’s sad for the Senators’ fans, having to see this roster being decimated with no real plan in place.

Vancouver – The Canucks seem to be stuck between rebuilding and still wanting to be a playoff team.

Detroit – There is hope for the future, but in the present, this roster could struggle.

New York Rangers – If Henrik Lundqivst gets hurts, this team might totally dive.

Chicago – If the goaltending struggles, and the defense isn’t stable, the Blackhawks are going to be bad.

 

 

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