NHL Season Preview: NESN Experts Make Stanley Cup, Annual Awards Picks


The day finally has arrived.

On Wednesday night, the puck will drop on the 2020-21 NHL season, in which the Tampa Bay Lightning will try to defend their Stanley Cup title.

NESN.com’s Lauren Campbell and Logan Mullen make not only their Stanley Cup picks, but also their preseason choices for the annual awards.

Stanley Cup
Lauren: Avalanche over Lightning — I was big on the Avs last year and have no reason to think they’ll regress this season. Colorado averaged 3.37 goals in 2019 and was without three of its top-four forwards at points during the season. So with Nazem Kadri, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog back in the mix with Nathan MacKinnon, coupled with the goalie tandem of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz, this Avalanche team will be dangerous.

Tampa is a tough team, there’s no denying that. But the Lightning won’t be able to make it back-to-back Stanley Cup championships against a complete Avalanche team.

Logan: Avalanche over Maple Leafs— I think the Avs are the undisputed best team in the NHL entering the season, and the Leafs might benefit from coming out of the North Division, which is guaranteed to have one of the final four teams.

Maybe this is the year all the pieces come together in Toronto, and the highly-paid forward group makes up for just an OK defense. Even still, the buzzsaw that is Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche proves too much.

Hart
Lauren: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche — MacKinnnon was snubbed last year, but this year will be different as he’ll be a Stanley Cup champ and a Hart Trophy winner.

If MacKinnon stays healthy (which his track record is positive) and continue to find the back of the net, he should have no issue locking up the award.

Logan: Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers — I’ve got news for you, it should’ve been Panarin last year. He without question was more valuable to his team than any other player on any other team in the NHL.

*Steps off soapbox*

However, maybe since the Rangers likely will take a jump this year, thus earning more respect nationally, if Panarin can lead the way while New York fights through a tough East Division, he’ll get the credit he’s due.

Norris
Lauren: John Carlson, Washington Capitals — Carlson long has been a top defenseman in the league, and 2021 will be the year he gets his due.

Carlson carries a heavy workload of minutes each game and never seems to falter. And with a 56-game season ahead of him, this may be the perfect time to finally get his first Norris Trophy.

Logan: Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars — The Stars have been so loaded on defense the last few years that it’s overshadowed just how good Heiskanen is individually.

He’s a really solid defender, and his offensive numbers were rising last season. If his offensive play keeps climbing (something too many voters take into account for the award), he has the defensive ability to back it up. I’m rolling with the 21-year-old Finn.

Selke
Lauren: Anže Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings — Kopitar usually is in the Selke conversation, and rightfully so, but 2021 will mark the third time he’ll win the award.

Kopitar may never rack up 92 points in a shortened season, but he did manage to amass 42 in 47 games during partially locked out 2012-13 season. Even though that was eight years ago, Kopitar still is a capable player who takes on plenty of minutes and racks up plenty of his points to help his team.

Logan: Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning — Part of the reason Cirelli’s contract negotiations took so long is because he deserves to be paid well, and the Bolts were cash-strapped this offseason.

The Bolts pivot absolutely is on his way to becoming part of the Patrice Bergeron/Kopitar ilk of always being up for the Selke. It was good to see him pop up on some ballots last season, and he should hopefully keep progressing.

Vezina
Lauren: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins — Rask has proven season after season that he deserves to be in the Vezina conversation. He was beat out by Connor Hellebuyck last year, but with the 33-year-old playing in a contract year with what’s sure to be a tough workload ahead of him, Bruins fans may get the best version of Rask they’ve seen.

Logan: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins — The Boston Bruins are going through a youth movement on defense, which means there likely will be some growing pains. And with growing pains on defense comes plenty of shots for the netminder to handle.

That means Rask, who was nails last season and a Vezina finalist, should see plenty of action, and it’ll come in a contract year. That’s a lot of things positioning Rask for a huge year.

Calder
Lauren: Alexis Lafrenière, New York Rangers — Taking the No. 1 overall NHL Draft pick seems like the easy way out, I will admit. But it’s hard for me to against Lafrenière.

The young forward is coming off a 112-point campaign in the QMJHL and will immediately be slotted into a Rangers offense that’s stacked with veteran talent that will help him have a strong rookie season.

Logan: Tim Stutzle, Ottawa Senators— I might have recency bias here because he was such a horse in World Juniors, but Stutzle seems plenty NHL-ready.

And unlike Alexis Lafreniere, who likely will get a more sheltered role with the Rangers loaded up front, Stuzle should get a ton of ice time in big situations for Ottawa right off the jump.

Thumbnail photo via Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports Images

Source: NESN

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