Fresh off a nine-game winning streak, the Washington Capitals are the team to beat in the East. With balanced scoring and forward Alexander Ovechkin as dangerous as ever, the Capitals have been fiery on offence so far this season. In Columbus, the Blue Jackets are one of the league’s hottest teams. Netminder Sergei Bobrovsky is in Vezina Trophy form while forward Cam Atkinson and rookie defenceman Zach Werenski are having breakout seasons under Coach John Tortorella. Positional depth and continued success from superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have the Pittsburgh Penguins in position to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. The one surprise of the league this season comes from Toronto, where first overall pick Auston Matthews and a bevy of young stars are propelling the Leafs into playoff position.
Under new Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, the Minnesota Wild have surged to the top of the Western Conference. Goalie Devan Dubnyk leads the league in save percentage and the acquisition of veteran forward Eric Staal has paid dividends for the team. As always, the Chicago Blackhawks are one of the top teams in the West. The usual suspects, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith, are still getting it done for Chicago. With Vladimir Taransenko having another stellar season, the St. Louis Blues round out the top-three teams in the highly competitive Central Division. Iffy goaltending, however, threatens to cut the season short for the Blues.The Edmonton Oilers, carried by their 20-year-old captain and league-leading scorer Connor McDavid, have jumped from the mediocrity of last season to become playoff contenders this year. While they lack defensive depth, their talent on offence could lead to some surprises come playoff time.
Hart Trophy (League MVP)
The race at the halfway point is between McDavid and Crosby. While Crosby has more goals in fewer games, McDavid plays on a much worse team. The young superstar has carried Edmonton from the bottom of the standings last to a potential playoff spot in his first full NHL season. At the moment, McDavid deserves the Hart Trophy.
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year)
As their first and second overall draft slots would suggest, Matthews and the Winnipeg Jets’ Patrick Laine are the top two candidates for the Calder Trophy. Matthews recently caught up to Laine in point and goal totals. As the Finnish star is currently recovering from a concussion, Matthews will likely jump ahead soon. At this point, Matthews has shown that he deserves the Calder Trophy most.
Coming out of the East, the Penguins will once again use their star power and depth to make another run at the Stanley Cup. In the West, the Wild will show that their season is no fluke and Dubnyk will lead the franchise to its first finals appearance. In a series of contrasting playing styles, Pittsburgh will win the Cup, the first repeat winners since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-1998.