NHL PREVIEW: 10 Players To Watch This Season

The ice has been painted. The zamboni has been tested. Training camp has begun.

That’s right, the start of the National Hockey League season is just days away, as regular season action kicks off Oct. 8 with four games on the schedule. Like every season, the 2014-15 campaign has a plethora of stories surrounding it – everything from if Sidney Crosby can overcome his healing wrist, to if Henrik Lundqvist can once again carry the New York Rangers and much more.

To help get you set for the season, we decided to dive – we served a two-minute minor penalty – into some of this season’s potential standout players. Everyone knows the Alexander Ovechkins, Ryan Getzlafs and Claude Girouxs of the league, so we thought we’d share a few names you might not know. 

10: Seth Jones (Nashville Predators) – The Nashville Predators defenseman, the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft, still has a lot to live up to in the Music City. With new coach Peter Laviolette implementing a new system, Jones hopes to improve on last season – which yielded 25 points in 77 games. As much as the Predators could use his offense, it’s Jones’ defense that’ll prove vital. He should average more than 20 minutes a game this season and spend some time playing alongside defensive juggernaut Shea Weber. The end result could warrant a Norris Trophy candidate in Nashville.

09: Jonathan Drouin (Tampa Bay Lightning) – Drouin’s name has been flung around a lot this offseason and with good reason. The third overall pick in last year’s draft, Drouin set the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League on fire the last two seasons and hopes to do the same in Tampa. With Martin St. Louis now in New York, general manager Steve Yzerman drafted the 19-year-old to give Steven Stamkos, the NHL’s goal scoring machine, a little help from the left side. The Drouin and Stamkos connection should make Tampa among the league’s most entertaining teams this season.

08: Brandon Saad (Pictured Above) (Chicago Blackhawks) – If last season is any indication, Blackhawks faithful will soon be kneeling before Saad. Bad Superman puns aside, the 21-year-old left winger proved he can provide Chicago with an offensive spark last season, thanks to 47 points in 78 games. Let’s not forget that he’s got plenty of talent around him with guys like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. Coach Joel Quenneville’s system is perfect for Saad to thrive. He’s won a Stanley Cup, been named a Calder Trophy finalist and earned World Juniors gold – but Saad’s only just begun. 

07: Ryan Miller (Vancouver Canucks) – Most of you will remember Miller for his ridiculous play at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics for Team USA. But it’s been almost a steady decline for the 34-year-old since. After years in Buffalo, Miller was dished off to St. Louis last season but things hardly went as planned. Now, Miller has a fresh start in a city that often gives goaltenders nightmares. A 2.64 goals-against average, 25 wins and a .918 save percentage last season? Vancouver will expect much better results.

06: Tyler Seguin (Dallas Stars) – Last season, the Stars forward was fourth in the league in scoring with 84 points and this year, the trend should continue. The 22-year-old, former Boston Bruins second overall pick, moved back to the center position last winter and with the help of Jamie Benn, proved he’s an elite NHL player. He’s also got experience, thanks to Boston’s Stanley Cup run in 2011. It’s difficult to argue with his resumé, so we expect 90 points this season from Seguin.

05: Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche) – MacKinnon exploded onto the scene early last season, after being selected first overall in the 2013 draft. He went on to put up 24 goals and 39 assists in 82 games – and resuscitate new life into a stale Colorado franchise. This season, the 19-year-old is close to the top in most mock drafts and with good reason. The skill set on MacKinnon is miles above most players his age and given the talent around him – Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Jamie McGinn – it’s likely those skills will only prosper. Did we mention he’s so much fun to watch?

04: Semyon Varlamov (Colorado Avalanche) – Another Avalanche makes the list, but Varlamov made it for far different reasons. This choice was more based on curiosity, than anything. See, Varlamov has been in the league for a while now and has always been average, but last season he led the league in wins with 41, had a 2.41 goals-against and finished with a .927 save percentage. He can’t possibly do that again, can he? We will just have to wait and see – but our bet would be no. 

03: Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers) – This is one of personal interest, as Huberdeau gets little notice playing just outside of Miami. Huberdeau, 21, is entering his third NHL season and has yet to live up to being the third overall pick back in 2011. He came into the league touted to do great things, but with only 59 points in 117 games, it’s been anything but that. The big advantage for Huberdeau is that he’s still very young and should continue to mature and come into his own. In fact, we believe that, given the pieces the Panthers have put around him, the former Calder Trophy winner is going to prove just why he went so early in the draft. Watch this dude, so you can tell your friends you saw it coming!

02: Max Pacioretty (Montreal Canadiens) – Pacioretty has long been a decent NHL player but last season he put up career numbers – 39 goals, 21 assists in 72 games. He was a big reason for Montreal’s success and it paid off as he’s now being considered for the captaincy – a true honor in those parts. The 25-year-old fitness freak might not have spent as much time prepping this summer as most, though he appears ready to try and bring the Canadiens their first Stanley Cup in over two decades. It certainly won’t be easy in that fishbowl city, where nothing goes unnoticed.

01: T.J. Oshie (St. Louis Blues)

Oshie is fun to watch, no question. You don’t have to go back too far to realize that – just to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he scored the shooutout winner against Russia. Oshie likely won’t blow up and put up league leading numbers, however the 27-year-old, former first round pick, fits the St. Louis – and coach Ken Hitchcock’s – system, consistently putting up solid numbers. Speaking of shootouts, in six NHL seasons, Oshie has gone 27-for-48 in the breakaways. Last season, he put up 60 points in 79 games but this year, with some new additions and the typical suspects, Oshie should garner between 75 and 80 points. How can you not root for “Captain America”?

Ed Miller is a contributor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @PhillyEdMiller or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.

Photo Credit: Getty