10 NHL players to watch in 2023-24

10 NHL players to watch in 2023-24

Hockey fans are wondering whether the Vegas Golden Knights are destined to repeat as Stanley Cup champions in 2023-24. Yet, there are also many storylines about individual players to follow during the upcoming NHL season. 

Could we witness a new NHL scoring champion? Who will be the NHL’s rookie of the year? Which superstar might finally end a long Stanley Cup drought?

A great way to answer burning questions like these is to dive into our list of 10 NHL players to watch in 2023-24. And of course, watch all the games on NHL CENTER ICE.

Connor McDavid: Edmonton Oilers

If Connor McDavid is healthy, it’ll be hard to stop the ultra-speedy Edmonton center from winning his sixth NHL scoring title. That feat would tie McDavid, 26, with all-time legends Gordie Howe and Mario Lemieux, trailing only Wayne Gretzky (10 scoring titles). 

Yet, while the reigning league MVP had an astounding 155-point season last year, he still hasn’t won a Stanley Cup. “It’s Cup or bust for this group,” said McDavid after falling to Vegas in the second round of the playoffs in May. Now, the Oilers captain must deliver.

Erik Karlsson: Pittsburgh Penguins

Erik Karlsson featured in the NHL’s biggest blockbuster deal this off-season. The 33-year-old offensive defenseman, who is a three-time Norris Trophy winner, went from the San Jose Sharks to the Pittsburgh Penguins on August 6. Karlsson’s Steel City performance will receive heavy scrutiny.

That includes whether the Swede can rival the surprising career-best 101 points he recorded in 2022-23, whether he’s worth his $11.5-million annual cap hit and whether his presence will turbocharge 36-year-old Sidney Crosby and 37-year-old Evgeni Malkin, as those two greats seek their fourth Cup with Pittsburgh. New Penguins GM Kyle Dubas is betting on a resounding “Yes!”

Connor Bedard: Chicago Blackhawks

This kid is the most-anticipated No. 1 overall draft pick since McDavid in 2015. After the Chicago Blackhawks parted ways with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who led them to three Stanley Cups (2010, 2013, 2015), the question is whether Connor Bedard can spark this Original Six club to renewed glory.

Blessed with a lethal, deceptive shot, the record-setting 18-year-old Canadian ace — a two-time World Junior champion — is widely projected to score 30 goals and win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.

Linus Ullmark: Boston Bruins

NHL goaltending history includes one-hit wonder Vezina Trophy winners like Washington’s Jim Carey (1996) and Montreal’s Jose Theodore (2002). Longtime journeyman Linus Ullmark, 30, wants to prove it was no fluke that he was named the NHL’s best goalie last year, backstopping the Boston Bruins to an NHL-record 135 points.

With Boston icons like Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retiring, Ullmark’s performance becomes even more important now.

Cale Makar: Colorado Avalanche

Injuries limited Cale Makar to 66 points in 60 games in 2022-23. And the spectacular blueliner, who was named playoff MVP when his Colorado Avalanche won the 2022 Stanley Cup, created controversy with his hit on Jared McCann of the Seattle Kraken during last year’s first-round playoff exit.

EA Sports chose Makar, 24, as its NHL 24 video game cover athlete. He’s eyeing a big bounce-back season.

Tage Thompson: Buffalo Sabres

Some NHLers falter after signing a long-term deal. Yet, Tage Thompson did the opposite after inking a seven-year, $50-million extension in 2022. The towering center exploded for a personal-best 47 goals and 94 points to lead the Buffalo Sabres.

If Thompson can threaten the 100-point mark again, it’ll be a massive boost for the Sabres, who haven’t cracked the post-season since 2011.

Mitch Marner: Toronto Maple Leafs

Among active NHLers with at least 250 career games played, Mitch Marner enters 2023-24 with more assists per game (0.761) than anyone but McDavid (0.961) and Crosby (0.800).

The nifty 26-year-old power play specialist is under the microscope since — like fellow Toronto Maple Leaf ace William Nylander — he could hit unrestricted free agency next summer. NHL insider Elliotte Friedman recently speculated that Marner may get $13 million a year on his next deal. The Leafs must determine whether he truly can help them end a Cup drought that dates to 1967.

Quinn Hughes: Vancouver Canucks

Quinn Hughes is more than a points machine, even though he made headlines in 2022-23 as the fastest defenseman in league history to record 200 assists (263 career games). The Vancouver Canucks appreciate the savvy 24-year-old’s two-way game and leadership qualities, naming him their new captain in September.

Hughes averaged a team-high of 25 minutes and 39 seconds in ice time per game last year. A serious bid for the Norris Trophy would enhance Vancouver’s chances of earning its first playoff berth since 2020.

Alex DeBrincat: Detroit Red Wings

After twice scoring 41 goals (2019, 2022) for the Chicago Blackhawks, Alex DeBrincat was never really at home with the Ottawa Senators last year, falling to 27 goals.

Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman acquired the diminutive Michigan-born sniper on July 9 and gave him a four-year, $31.5-million extension. Yzerman is confident that the 25-year-old DeBrincat will rebound in familiar surroundings.

Leon Draisaitl: Edmonton Oilers

Although McDavid is considered the world’s best forward, Leon Draisaitl actually outscored him all-time in the playoffs with 77 points to McDavid’s 75 (both in 49 games).

The hulking German’s devastating one-timer helped him win the 2020 NHL scoring title (110 points). Draisaitl must reach new heights this year if the Oilers are to capture their first Cup since 1990.

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